Here’s everything Amazon announced at its latest hardware event

From new Ring flying indoor drone cameras to an adorable new kids version of one of its most popular Amazon home products, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle retailer unveiled a slew of new hardware goodies just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Echo updates

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon kicked off its latest hardware showcase by unveiling a new version of the company’s Echo devices, which now include spherical speakers (with a version for kids featuring cute animal graphics). Amazon also unveiled an updated, more personalized Echo capabilities and a new tracking feature for its Show 10 that mirrors Facebook’s Portal in its ability to follow users as they move around a room.

Ring’s new things

Ring also had plenty to pitch at the Amazon hardware show. The security camera company is updating its line with the Always Home Cam, a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which users can determine themselves.

It also rolled out new hardware for the automotive market with three different devices focused on car owners. A Ring Car Alarm that will retail for $59.99; and the Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm provides basic features that work with the Ring app, sending alerts to trigger a series of potential responses. The alarm also integrates with other Ring devices or Amazon Alexa hardware and connects using Amazon’s low-bandwidth Sidewalk wireless network protocol.

Meanwhile, the Car Cam allows users to check in on their car via video as long as users are in range of a wifi network, or opt-in to the additional LTE companion plan Ring is selling. The cam also includes an Emergency Crash Assist feature that alerts first responders, and a recording feature that turns on if a user says “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”. Finally, the car connect is an API that manufacturers, starting with Tesla, can use to provide Ring customers with mobile alerts for events detected around vehicles or watch footage recorded with onboard cameras.

Ring also added new opt-in end-to-end video encryption for those users who want it.

New ways to Fire TV

Image Credits: Amazon

The company’s TV platform got several updates. The biggest is probably the addition of the new, lower cost Fire TV Stick Lite at $29.99. For $39.99, meanwhile, you can pick up the new Fire TV Stick, which features a process that’s 50% faster. The platform is also adding Video Calling — a nice addition in the era of working from home — along with a new, improved layout.

Amazon goes ga-ga for gaming

Last, but certainly not least, Amazon announced its new game-streaming platform, Luna.

The long-awaited gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is launching an early access version at a price of $5.99 per-month, the company said. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading games and can play across PC, Mac, and iOS (via the web).

Initially, the company will have more than 50 titles in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s control. There’s a partnership with Ubisoft in the works, but access to those games may require a separate subscription.

 

Here’s everything Amazon announced at its latest hardware event

From new Ring flying indoor drone cameras to an adorable new kids version of one of its most popular Amazon home products, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle retailer unveiled a slew of new hardware goodies just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Echo updates

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon kicked off its latest hardware showcase by unveiling a new version of the company’s Echo devices, which now include spherical speakers (with a version for kids featuring cute animal graphics). Amazon also unveiled an updated, more personalized Echo capabilities and a new tracking feature for its Show 10 that mirrors Facebook’s Portal in its ability to follow users as they move around a room.

Ring’s new things

Ring also had plenty to pitch at the Amazon hardware show. The security camera company is updating its line with the Always Home Cam, a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which users can determine themselves.

It also rolled out new hardware for the automotive market with three different devices focused on car owners. A Ring Car Alarm that will retail for $59.99; and the Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm provides basic features that work with the Ring app, sending alerts to trigger a series of potential responses. The alarm also integrates with other Ring devices or Amazon Alexa hardware and connects using Amazon’s low-bandwidth Sidewalk wireless network protocol.

Meanwhile, the Car Cam allows users to check in on their car via video as long as users are in range of a wifi network, or opt-in to the additional LTE companion plan Ring is selling. The cam also includes an Emergency Crash Assist feature that alerts first responders, and a recording feature that turns on if a user says “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”. Finally, the car connect is an API that manufacturers, starting with Tesla, can use to provide Ring customers with mobile alerts for events detected around vehicles or watch footage recorded with onboard cameras.

Ring also added new opt-in end-to-end video encryption for those users who want it.

New ways to Fire TV

Image Credits: Amazon

The company’s TV platform got several updates. The biggest is probably the addition of the new, lower cost Fire TV Stick Lite at $29.99. For $39.99, meanwhile, you can pick up the new Fire TV Stick, which features a process that’s 50% faster. The platform is also adding Video Calling — a nice addition in the era of working from home — along with a new, improved layout.

Amazon goes ga-ga for gaming

Last, but certainly not least, Amazon announced its new game-streaming platform, Luna.

The long-awaited gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is launching an early access version at a price of $5.99 per-month, the company said. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading games and can play across PC, Mac, and iOS (via the web).

Initially, the company will have more than 50 titles in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s control. There’s a partnership with Ubisoft in the works, but access to those games may require a separate subscription.

 

Atlanta gets a billion dollar startup business as Greenlight’s family-focused fintech nabs $215 million

Greenlight Financial Technology, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $215 million in a new round of funding.

The round gives the Atlanta-based startup a $1.2 billion valuation thanks to backing from Canapi Ventures, TTV  Capital, BOND, DST Global, Goodwater Capital and Fin VC.

It’s a huge win for the Canadian-based venture investor Relay Ventures .

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 2 million parents and children, who have saved more than $50 million through the app.

“Greenlight’s rapid growth is a testament to the value they bring to millions of parents and kids every day. My wife and I trust Greenlight to give us the modern tools to teach our children how to manage money,” said Gardiner Garrard, Founding Partner at TTV Capital, in a statement. “TTV Capital is thrilled to provide continued investment to help the company empower more parents.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend.

It’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, and Current which are pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America.

“Greenlight’s smart debit card is transforming the way parents teach their kids about responsible money management and financial literacy,” said Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND. “Having achieved phenomenal growth year-over-year, this is a company on the fast-track to becoming a household name. We look forward to working alongside the Greenlight team to support their continued growth.”

Ohio-based collaboration service for biotech and pharma research, Within3, raises $100 million

Within3, a collaboration and communication service for the biotech and pharma industries, has raised over $100 million in new financing, the company said.

The investment came from Insight Partners with participation from Silversmith Capital Partners.

Most of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies already use the Lakewood, Ohio-based company’s service to publish clinical studies, host advisory boards, and collaborate with researchers and other participants in the drug development process, according to a statement from the company.

Within3 said it would use the new funding to continue its product development and build additional capacity to support its growth.

“Investment opportunities in companies like Within3 don’t come around very often,” said Deven Parekh, Managing Director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “The company has seen explosive growth over the last 12 quarters and continues to break new records each month… At a time when collaboration, communication and cooperation is more critical than ever across the global life sciences ecosystem, we are excited to bring our strategic operations expertise to help Within3 scale.”

Parekh, and Insight Partners’ Managing Directors Adam Berger and Ross Devor, will join Within3’s board as a result of the financing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an increasing number of companies in a variety of industries to pursue virtual collaboration tools and the pharmaceutical and biotech business is no different.

Indeed, given the regulatory requirements, it makes sense that a bespoke toolkit designed around the industry’s more robust needs would raise a heaping amount of cash.

Within3 boasts of users in over 150 countries.

“Global demand for our solution is surging at an unprecedented rate,” said Lance Hill, CEO of Within3, in a statement. “Life science companies are looking for virtual work solutions that exceed the level of engagement of traditional live interactions, meets all their compliance needs, and that will scale across the enterprise. They have found that solution with Within3.”

Sneaker culture staple GOAT hits $1.75 billion valuation on new $100 million round

In this case, money, it really is the shoes.

GOAT, the proprietor of online and physical retail locations for reselling the collectible kicks and kits that are the currency of street cred and cultural cool among the youths, is now worth a whopping $1.75 billion thanks to $100 million in new financing.

It’s a big number, and a big day, for the Los Angeles-based startup. But the no-longer nascent sneaker and streetwear market is a big market, with the potential to reach $30 billion in sales globally by 2030, according to a recent report by the research firm, Cowen (cited by The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the financing).

These days, GOAT is about more than just shoes, at least according to the company. Since it launched in 2015 it has expanded into adjacent categories and become one of the biggest retailers of the current e-commerce craze.

“Our mission is to bring the world’s great products together from the past, present and future, while providing a premier end-to-end customer experience with a point of view on culture and style,” said co-founder and chief executive Eddy Lu, in a statement.

Setting aside Lu’s apparent access to a Delorean and ability to go back… to the future, the company has managed to rack up some major milestones on its way to becoming a commercial touchstone for a new generation of shoppers.

The company has managed to raise $200 million from investors including Accel, Upfront Ventures, and the shoe retail giant, Foot Locker and counts retailers like Alexander McQueen, Nike, and others among the brands that sell their wares directly on the platform.

It’s also not alone in getting a billion dollar valuation for giving people a way to resell luxury and lifestyle goods. StockX, the company’s major competitor, also managed to score a $1 billion valuation on a $110 million round late last year.

According to a statement, the company will use the new round of financing to double down on its research and development and expand internationally.

“We witnessed the impressive success that catapulted GOAT to become a top player in the sneaker space and were drawn to their disciplined operational approach and differentiated value proposition,” said Dan Sundheim, the founder of D1 Capital Partners (a statement that definitely doesn’t translate into we weren’t allowed into the StockX round). “As GOAT continues to grow its core business and expand into new categories, it is rapidly emerging as one of the best positioned next generation global e-commerce platforms.”

Money, it’s gotta be the shoes.

California will require all passenger vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission by 2035

California Governor Gavin Newsom href="https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/09/23/governor-newsom-announces-california-will-phase-out-gasoline-powered-cars-drastically-reduce-demand-for-fossil-fuel-in-californias-fight-against-climate-change/"> issued an executive order on Wednesday requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles be zero-emission by 2035.

The new order would be a huge boost for electric vehicles, and vehicles using alternative fuels like hydrogen, and could boost a sector that’s already surging in California.

As an announcement from the California Governor’s office indicates the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all of California’s carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog-forming pollution and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” said Governor Newsom, in a statement. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

After the order, the California Air Resource Board will develop regulations that will mandate 100 percent of sales of passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035.

Setting the 2035 target would achieve reductions in greenhouse gases above 35 percent and an 80 percent improvement in oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars.

The board will also develop regulations that require operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be fully zero-emission by 2045 where feasible.

Under the order, state agencies in partnership with the private sector will be required to accelerate deployment of affordable fueling and charging options. The order also requires broad accessibility to zero-emission vehicles, according to a statement.

What it won’t require is for Californians who own gasoline-powered cars to give them up or deny car owners the ability to sell their gas-powered cars in the used car market.

With the initiative, California is joining fifteen countries that have already committed to phasing out gas-powered cars, according to a statement.

Built into the order is an assumption that zero-emission vehicles will be cheaper and better than fossil fuel powered cars, but there are significant hurdles — and opportunities before the market gets there.

There’s going to need to be a massive buildout of charging stations and fueling stations for electric and hydrogen powered vehicles. New charging technologies will need to be put in place to enable faster charging, and new financing models will need to be put in place to ensure the kind of accessibility that the California government is requiring.

All of these opportunities should have startups chomping at the bit, and several companies like the new electric vehicle manufacturers launching to compete with Tesla, the new charging technology developers and others will have Newsom to thank for the sudden boost in their valuations.

 

Tesla experienced an hour-long network outage early Wednesday

Tesla owners were locked out of their vehicles and the accompanying app for about an hour Wednesday morning, thanks to an outage that affected the company’s entire network, according to several sources.

The Tesla outage was caused by an internal break of their application programming interface (or API), according to sources familiar with the outage.

There’s a chance that the glitch could have something to do with the rollout of new two-factor authentication security features, which Tesla chief executive Elon Musk called “embarrassingly late”, in an August tweet.

Two-factor authentication, which is also known as two-step verification, combines something you know, like a password, with something you have, like your phone. It allows the app, verify that the real account holder — or car owner — is logging in and not a hacker.

Some websites do this by sending you a code by text message. But hackers can intercept these. A more secure way of doing it is by sending a code through a phone app, often called an authenticator, which security experts prefer.

While Tesla’s cars have had pin code entry since 2018, and they include GPS features that let owners track the vehicle, the lack of two-factor authentication has been an issue.

The Tesla app is a critical tool for owners, giving them control over numerous functions on their vehicles. Tesla owners have been calling out for the two-factor feature as an extra layer of security.

Glitches like these are not a great look for the automaker, which needs to convince an increasingly large consumer population that its electric vehicles are the ones to choose as more options emerge to challenge Tesla’s dominance in the electric vehicle marketplace.

A slew of cars will be hitting the road in 2021 and 2022 to challenge Tesla across nearly each of its price points and locking out owners for an extended period of time is not a great way to convince would-be buyers to shell out money for Tesla cars.

Still, the company is moving forward with plans that could sway consumer sentiment — specifically by working towards reducing the cost of its cars through battery innovations like the kind the company announced yesterday.

At the company’s much ballyhooed battery press conference Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Drew Baglino, the SVP of powertrain and energy engineering at the company, laid out plans and progress to eventually have 10 to 20 terawatt hours of annual battery production. The eventual goal is to reduce batteries enough to be able to build and sell an electric vehicle for $25,000.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Tesla claims it can drive battery costs down even lower with new material science innovations

Amid a packed afternoon of announcements from Tesla around innovations the company is pursuing to slash the cost of electric vehicle production and energy storage through better battery design, the company said it’s made new advancements in material science for anodes and cathodes — key components of the lithium-ion batteries that are the heart of all of its products.

Tesla took an all-of-the-above approach to improving its battery from the manufacturing process that is still under development to the materials used in cathode and anode, the basic building blocks of any battery system.

The upshot: a reduction in cost of the cathode and anode materials, while boosting performance that on its own could extend the range of its batteries by 20%, Tesla said.

On the anode side, the company is looking at ways to integrate more silicon into its batteries by using metallurgical grade silicon. One of the most abundant materials on earth, most of the silicon used in microchips, batteries, and even solar panels has been highly processed using expensive treatments to make it work for different applications. With batteries, the issue is its propensity to degrade when it’s fully charged with lithium.

“With silicon, the cookie crumbles and gets gooey,” said Elon Musk during the company’s “battery day” presentation. That gooeyness means that the material loses its energy retention and storage capacity. Every time a battery charges, the degradation means shorter life cycles for the battery.

That’s why most companies use some sort of treatment on silicon to make the material hardier — or use as little silicon as possible in their batteries. “They enable some of the benefits of silicon, but they don’t enable all of it and they’re not scalable enough,” said Andrew Baglino, the company’s SVP of powertrain and energy engineering.

Instead of throwing the silicon out, Tesla said it is working with a new treatment method that can take cheap, metallurgical grade silicon and incorporate that into its new battery designs.

“What we’re proposing is a step-change in capability and a step-change in cost and to go to the raw metallurgical silicon itself,” said Baglino. “Design for it to expand [and] think of it in the electrode design … If you use simple silicon it is dramatically less than the silicon that is used in batteries today.

Baglino expects that by using new treatment methods, the company could drop the cost to $1.20 a kilowatt hour.

That involves starting with raw, metallurgical silicon that’s stabilized with a low-cost, elastic, ion-conducting polymer that’s integrated into the electrode with a highly elastic binder. 

That innovation alone could increase the range of Tesla vehicles by 20%. “When we take that anode cost production, we’re look at a 5% dollar-per-kilowatt reduction at the battery pack level,” Baglino said.

But the company doesn’t intend to stop at the anode. It’s also looking at using different material science innovations to increase the efficiency of the cathode too.

Both the anode and the cathode need to be able to maintain their structure while having charged particles bounce off of them. They’re basically storage containers for electricity even as that electricity is moving around — charging and discharging.

Baglino and Musk likened the materials to bookshelves, where the charged particles are the books and the shelves are the cathodes.

Batteries in this analogy are basically libraries, where the cathodes store the books and the anodes are the librarians moving the books (energy) out into the world where they can be read or used (I think I’ve taken that analogy about as far as it can go).

“You need a stable structure to contain the ions. You want a structure that hold its shape with ion. As you move the ion back and forth you lose cycle life and your battery capacity drops very quickly,” said Musk. 

Several different materials can be used as cathodes, but the cheapest, by far, is nickel. It also has the highest energy density. But most batteries use cobalt because it’s a more stable material.

Tesla said today that it is working on a way to stabilize nickel for use as a more robust storage material. That means the nickel can store the energy (books) without the risk of toppling or degrading.

“We can get a 15% reduction in cathode dollar per kilowatt hour,” said Baglino.

Musk said that Tesla wouldn’t be throwing out its existing chemistries, but that the addition of new nickel-based batteries would enable the company to pursue some of its other goals.

“We need to have a three-tiered approach to batteries,” Musk said. “Iron — medium range, nickel manganese as medium-plus, and high nickel for the Cybertruck and the Semi.”

Tesla introduces its tabless battery design on the road to 10 terawatt hours of production

For Tesla to reach the ambitious goal of 10 to 20 terawatt hours of battery production per year that the company has set, it will need to advance the battery and its production.

Today, during Tesla’s self-described Battery Day event, the company laid out a series of innovations that its CEO Elon Musk said will get it there. And it all starts with a new construction of the battery itself.

As part of its announcements, the company has announced the creation of a new cell design, which the company said has a new 80 millimeter length that will give the cells five times the energy density, six times the power, and enable a 16% increase in range.

“We’re starting to ramp up manufacturing of these cells at our pilot 10 gigawatt manufacturing facility just around the corner,” said Drew Baglino, the SVP of powertrain and energy engineering at Tesla.

However, it should be noted that this new cell manufacturing system isn’t actually working yet. It’s “close to working” at the pilot plant level, Musk added.

Traditional batteries are made of three components: the anode, the cathode and the separator. In addition to that basic battery structure, there are tabs that allow a cell’s energy to be transferred to an external source. Large-format lithium-ion cells have a “foil-to-tab” weld to collect the foils inside a cell and join them to a tab.

Lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode through the separator to discharge and charge the battery. The process has been the same for batteries for decades and the changes have been mostly in the material science, and changes to the size of the battery.

Image of a traditional lithium ion battery and its components: the anode, cathode and separator. Image Credit: Tesla 

Those changes in size to increase power and density come with thermal issues, Baglino said.

“This was the challenge that our team set its sights on to overcome,” Baglino said. “We came up with this tabless architecture that removes the thermal problem from the equation that allows us to go to the absolute lowest cost form factor and the simplest manufacturing process.”

Tesla took the existing foils and laser patterned them and enabled dozens of connections into the active material through a shingled spiral. That new design means simpler manufacturing, fewer parts and a shorter electrical path length, which is how Tesla gets the thermal benefits it claims, according to Baglino.

“For cylindricals to be able to get rid of the tabs dramatically simplifies winding and coating and has an awesome thermal and performance benefit,” said Baglino.

Musk agrees. “It’s really a huge pain in the ass to have tabs,” Musk said during the event.

By reducing the distance the electron has to travel, the cell has less thermal issues and a shorter path length in a larger tabless cell, according to Musk, who explained that though the cell is bigger, the power to weight ratio is better than a smaller cell with tabs.

“This is quite hard to do,” said Musk. “Nobody’s done it before. So… it really took a tremendous amount of effort within Tesla engineering to figure out how do we make a fricking tabless cell and make it actually work and connect it to the top cap.”

It’s the first of several steps that the company is taking to ramp up energy storage on its quest to move the world that much closer to renewable energy.

“It took us a lot of trials but we’re very happy where we ended up,” said Baglino.

Papa raises $18 million to expand its business connecting older adults with virtual and in-person companions

The Miami-based startup Papa has raised an additional $18 million as it looks to expand its business connecting elderly Americans and families with physical and virtual companions, which the company calls “pals.”

The company’s services are already available in 17 states and Papa is going to expand to another four states in the next few months, according to chief executive Andrew Parker.

Parker launched the business after reaching out on Facebook to find someone who could serve as a pal for his own grandfather in Florida.

After realizing that there was a need among elderly residents across the state for companionship and assistance that differed from the kind of in-person care that would typically be provided by a caregiver, Parker launched the service. The kinds of companionship Papa’s employees offer range from helping with everyday tasks — including transportation, light household chores, advising with health benefits and doctor’s appointments, and grocery delivery — to just conversation.

With the social isolation brought on by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic there are even more reasons for the company’s service, Parker said. Roughly half of adults consider themselves lonely, and social isolation increases the risk of death by 29%, according to statistics provided by the company.

“We created Papa with the singular goal of supporting older adults and their families throughout the aging journey,” said Parker, in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately only intensified circumstances leading to loneliness and isolation, and we’re honored to be able to offer solutions to help families during this difficult time.” 

Papa’s pals go through a stringent vetting process, according to Parker, and only about 8% of all applicants become pals.

These pals get paid an hourly rate of around $15 per hour and have the opportunity to receive bonuses and other incentives, and are now available for virtual and in-person sessions with the older adults they’re matched with.

“We have about 20,000 potential Papa pals apply a month,” said Parker. In the company’s early days it only accepted college students to work as pals, but now the company is accepting a broader range of potential employees, with assistants ranging from 18 to 45 years old. The average age, Parker said, is 29.

Papa monitors and manages all virtual interactions between the company’s employees and their charges, flagging issues that may be raised in discussions, like depression and potential problems getting access to food or medications. The monitoring is designed to ensure that meal plans, therapists or medication can be made available to the company’s charges, said Parker.

Now that there’s $18 million more in financing for the company to work with, thanks to new lead investor Comcast Ventures and other backers — including Canaan, Initialized Capital, Sound Ventures, Pivotal Ventures, the founders of Flatiron Health and their investment group Operator Partners, along with Behance founder, Scott Belsky — Papa is focused on developing new products and expanding the scope of its services.

The company has raised $31 million to date and expects to be operating in all 50 states by January 2021. The company’s companion services are available to members through health plans and as an employer benefit.

“Papa is enabling a growing number of older Americans to age at home, while reducing the cost of care for health plans and creating meaningful jobs for companion care professionals,” said Fatima Husain, principal at Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “