New Nvidia Shield Android TV streaming device leaks via Amazon listing

The fact that Nvidia is updating its Shield TV hardware has already been telegraphed via an FCC filing, but a leak earlier today paints much more of a detailed picture. An Amazon listing for a new Nvidia Shield Pro set-top streaming device went live briefly before being taken down, showing a familiar hardware design and a new remote control and listing some of the forthcoming feature updates new to this generation of hardware.

The listing, captured by the eagle-eyed Android TV Rumors and shared via Twitter, includes a $199.99 price point, specs that include 3GB of RAM, 2x USB ports, a new Nvidia Tegra X1+ chip and 16GB of on-board storage. In addition to the price, the Amazon listing had a release date for the new hardware of October 28.

If this Amazon page is accurate (and it looks indeed like an official product page that one would expect from Nvidia), the new Shield TV’s processor will be “up to 25% faster than the previous generation,” and will offer “next-generation AI upscaling” for improving the quality of HD video on 4K-capable displays.

It’ll offer support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus surround sound with Dolby Atmos support, and provide “the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player.” There’s also built-in Google Assistant support, which was offered on the existing hardware, and it’ll work with Alexa for hands-free control.

The feature photos for the listing show a new remote control, which has a pyramid-like design, as well as a lot more dedicated buttons on the face. There’s backlighting, and an IR blaster for TV control, as well as a “built-in lost remote locator” according to the now-removed Amazon page.

This Amazon page certainly paints a comprehensive picture of what to expect, and it looks like a compelling update to be sure. The listing is gone now, however, so stay tuned to find out if this is indeed the real thing, and if this updated streamer will indeed be available soon.

UPDATE: Yet another Nvidia leak followed the first, this time through retailer Newegg (via The Verge). This is different, however, and features a Shield TV device (no “Pro” in the name) that has almost all the same specs, but a much smaller design that includes a microSD card, and seems to have half the amount of on-board storage (8GB versus 16GB) and a retail price of around $150.

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Every angle of Volvo’s first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge

Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, an all-electric vehicle that CTO Henrik Green described as “a car of firsts and a car of the future.”

The XC40 Recharge is hardly the first electric vehicle on the market. But for Volvo the XC40 is a “car of firsts.” This is the company’s first all-electric vehicle. It’s also the first Volvo to have an infotainment system powered by Google’s Android operating system as well as have the ability to make over-the-air software updates.

Before we move on to the photos, here are some of the specs.

The XC40 Recharge is equipped with an all-wheel drive powertrain and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates. The EPA estimates are not yet available, but it’s likely the XC40 Recharge will hit around the 200-mile range.

That would put the range of the Volvo XC40 Recharge below the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.

The vehicle’s electric motor produces the equivalent of 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that allows the vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The battery charges to 80% of its capacity in 40 minutes on a fast-charger system.

The XC40 Recharge is expected to go on sale in the U.S. late 2020.

Here’s what this car of “many firsts” looks like.

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Live Caption, Google’s automatic captioning technology, is now available on Pixel 4

Live Caption, Google’s automatic captioning system first introduced at its I/O developer conference this May, is now officially available, alongside the launch of the new Pixel 4. But unlike some of the other technologies highlighted at the company’s Pixel hardware event yesterday, Live Caption won’t be limited to Google’s new smartphone alone. After the initial debut on Pixel 4, the automatic captioning technology will roll out to Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL before the year-end, says Google, and will become more broadly available in 2020.

The company has already offered automatic captions on YouTube for a decade, but that same sort of experience isn’t available across the wider web and mobile devices. For example, Google explains, you can’t read captions for things like the audio messages sent by your friends, on trending videos published elsewhere on social media, and on the content you record yourself.

There’s a significant accessibility issue with the lack of captions in all these places, but there’s a convenience issue, as well.

If you’re in a loud environment, like a commuter train, or trying to watch content privately and forgot your headphones, you may need to just use the captions. Or maybe you don’t want to blare the audio, which disturbs others around you. Or perhaps, you want to see the words appear because you’re having trouble understanding the audio, or just want to be sure to catch every word.

With the launch of the Pixel 4, Live Caption is also available for the first time to the general public.

The technology will capture and automatically caption videos and spoken audio on your device, except for phone and video calls. This captioning all happens in real-time and on your device — not in the cloud. That means it works even if your device lacks a cell signal or access to Wi-Fi. The captions also stay private and don’t leave your phone.

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This is similar to how the Pixel 4’s new Recorder app functions. It, too, will do its speech-to-text processing all on your device, in order to give you real-time transcriptions of your meetings, interviews, lectures, or anything else you want to record, without compromising your privacy.

You can launch the Live Captions feature with a tap from the volume slider that appears, then reposition the caption box anything on your screen so it doesn’t get in the way of what you’re viewing.

Currently, the feature supports English only. But Google says it’s working to add more languages in the future.

After today’s launch on Pixel 4 and the rollout to the rest of the modern Pixel line of smartphones this year, it will start to show up in other new Android phones. Google says it’s working with other manufacturers to make the technology available to more people as soon as next year.

 

WhatsApp is testing a self-destructing messages feature

WhatsApp users may soon get the ability to have their messages self-destruct after a set period of time. That’s according to a highly-reliable tipster who spotted the feature combing through the code of a beta version of the app.

Twitter user WABetaInfo said on Tuesday that the recently released public beta of WhatsApp for Android — dubbed v2.19.275 — includes an optional feature that would allow users to set their messages to self-destruct.

The ability to have messages disappear forever after a fixed amount of time could come in handy to users who share sensitive information with friends and colleagues on the app. It’s one of the most popular features on instant messaging client Telegram, for instance.

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Image: WABetaInfo

Telegram offers a “secret chat” feature wherein users can engage with each other and their messages disappear from their devices after a set amount of time. The messaging platform says it does not store the text on its servers and restricts users from forwarding the messages, or take a screenshot of the conversation, to ensure there is “no trail” of the texts.

“All secret chats in Telegram are device-specific and are not part of the Telegram cloud. This means you can only access messages in a secret chat from their device of origin. They are safe for as long as your device is safe in your pocket,” it explains.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, also offers a “secret chat” feature on its Messenger app. But there, the secret chat feature only encrypts end-to-end messages and media content shared between two users. On WhatsApp, messages between users are end-to-end encrypted by default.

Currently, WhatsApp is testing the feature in a group setting that supports participation from multiple individuals. Messages could be set to self-destruct as soon as five seconds after they have been sent and as late as an hour. Additionally, an image shared by WABetaInfo shows that group administrators will have the ability to prevent other participants in the group from texting.

Some third-party WhatsApp apps have allowed self-destructing messages feature in the past. But in recent years, WhatsApp has started to crack down on third-party services to ensure safety of its users. WhatsApp is used by more than 1.5 billion users each month.

It remains unclear how soon — if ever — WhatsApp plans to roll out this feature to all its users. We have reached out to them for comment.

Google brings its Jacquard wearables tech to Levi’s Trucker Jacket

Back in 2015, Google’s ATAP team demoed a new kind of wearable tech at Google I/O that used functional fabrics and conductive yarns to allow you to interact with your clothing and, by extension, the phone in your pocket. The company then released a jacket with Levi’s in 2017, but that was expensive, at $350, and never really quite caught on. Now, however, Jacquard is back. A few weeks ago, Saint Laurent launched a backpack with Jacquard support, but at $1,000, that was very much a luxury product. Today, however, Google and Levi’s are announcing their latest collaboration: Jacquard-enabled versions of Levi’s Trucker Jacket.

These jackets, which will come in different styles, including the Classic Trucker and the Sherpa Trucker, and in men’s and women’s versions, will retail for $198 for the Classic Trucker and $248 for the Sherpa Trucker. In addition to the U.S., it’ll be available in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

The idea here is simple and hasn’t changed since the original launch: a dongle in your jacket’s cuff connects to conductive yarns in your jacket. You can then swipe over your cuff, tap it or hold your hand over it to issue commands to your phone. You use the Jacquard phone app for iOS or Android to set up what each gesture does, with commands ranging from saving your location to bringing up the Google Assistant in your headphones, from skipping to the next song to controlling your camera for selfies or simply counting things during the day, like the coffees you drink on the go. If you have Bose noise-canceling headphones, the app also lets you set a gesture to turn your noise cancellation on or off. In total, there are currently 19 abilities available, and the dongle also includes a vibration motor for notifications.

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What’s maybe most important, though, is that this (re-)launch sets up Jacquard as a more modular technology that Google and its partners hope will take it from a bit of a gimmick to something you’ll see in more places over the next few months and years.

“Since we launched the first product with Levi’s at the end of 2017, we were focused on trying to understand and working really hard on how we can take the technology from a single product […] to create a real technology platform that can be used by multiple brands and by multiple collaborators,” Ivan Poupyrev, the head of Jacquard by Google told me. He noted that the idea behind projects like Jacquard is to take things we use every day, like backpacks, jackets and shoes, and make them better with technology. He argued that, for the most part, technology hasn’t really been added to these things that we use every day. He wants to work with companies like Levi’s to “give people the opportunity to create new digital touchpoints to their digital life through things they already have and own and use every day.”

What’s also important about Jacquard 2.0 is that you can take the dongle from garment to garment. For the original jacket, the dongle only worked with this one specific type of jacket; now, you’ll be able to take it with you and use it in other wearables as well. The dongle, too, is significantly smaller and more powerful. It also now has more memory to support multiple products. Yet, in my own testing, its battery still lasts for a few days of occasional use, with plenty of standby time.

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Poupyrev also noted that the team focused on reducing cost, “in order to bring the technology into a price range where it’s more attractive to consumers.” The team also made lots of changes to the software that runs on the device and, more importantly, in the cloud to allow it to configure itself for every product it’s being used in and to make it easier for the team to add new functionality over time (when was the last time your jacket got a software upgrade?).

He actually hopes that over time, people will forget that Google was involved in this. He wants the technology to fade into the background. Levi’s, on the other hand, obviously hopes that this technology will enable it to reach a new market. The 2017 version only included the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. Now, the company is going broader with different styles.

“We had gone out with a really sharp focus on trying to adapt the technology to meet the needs of our commuter customer, which a collection of Levi’s focused on urban cyclists,” Paul Dillinger, the VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, told me when I asked him about the company’s original efforts around Jacquard. But there was a lot of interest beyond that community, he said, yet the built-in features were very much meant to serve the needs of this specific audience and not necessarily relevant to the lifestyles of other users. The jackets, of course, were also pretty expensive. “There was an appetite for the technology to do more and be more accessible,” he said — and the results of that work are these new jackets.

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Dillinger also noted that this changes the relationship his company has with the consumer, because Levi’s can now upgrade the technology in your jacket after you bought it. “This is a really new experience,” he said. “And it’s a completely different approach to fashion. The normal fashion promise from other companies really is that we promise that in six months, we’re going to try to sell you something else. Levi’s prides itself on creating enduring, lasting value in style and we are able to actually improve the value of the garment that was already in the consumer’s closet.”

I spent about a week with the Sherpa jacket before today’s launch. It does exactly what it promises to do. Pairing my phone and jacket took less than a minute and the connection between the two has been perfectly stable. The gesture recognition worked very well — maybe better than I expected. What it can do, it does well, and I appreciate that the team kept the functionality pretty narrow.

Whether Jacquard is for you may depend on your lifestyle, though. I think the ideal user is somebody who is out and about a lot, wearing headphones, given that music controls are one of the main features here. But you don’t have to be wearing headphones to get value out of Jacquard. I almost never wear headphones in public, but I used it to quickly tag where I parked my car, for example, and when I used it with headphones, I found using my jacket’s cuffs easier to forward to the next song than doing the same on my headphones. Your mileage may vary, of course, and while I like the idea of using this kind of tech so you need to take out your phone less often, I wonder if that ship hasn’t sailed at this point — and whether the controls on your headphones can’t do most of the things Jacquard can. Google surely wants Jacquard to be more than a gimmick, but at this stage, it kind of still is.

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This Week in Apps: AltStore, acquisitions and Google Play Pass

The app industry shows no signs of slowing down, with 194 billion downloads in 2018 and over $100 billion in consumer spending. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. In other words, apps aren’t just a way to spend idle hours — they’re a big business. And one that often seems to change overnight. In this new Extra Crunch series, we’ll help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps — including everything from the OS’s to the apps that run upon them, as well as the money that flows through it all.

This week, alternatives to the traditional app store is a big theme. Not only has a new, jailbreak-free iOS marketplace called AltStore just popped up, we’ve also got both Apple and Google ramping up their own subscription-based collections of premium apps and games.

Meanwhile, the way brands and publishers want to track their apps’ success is changing, too. And App Annie — the company that was the first to start selling pickaxes for the App Store gold rush — is responding with an acquisition that will help app publishers better understand the return on investment for their app businesses.

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AltStore is an alternative App Store that doesn’t need a jailbreak

An interesting alternative app marketplace has appeared on the scene, allowing a way for developers to distribute iOS apps outside the official App Store, reports Engadget — without jailbreaking, which can be difficult and has various security implications. Instead, the new store works by tricking your device into thinking you’re a developer sideloading apps. And it uses a companion app on your Mac or PC to re-sign the apps every 7 days via iTunes WiFi syncing protocol. Already, it’s offering a Nintendo emulator and other games, says The Verge. And Apple is probably already working on a way to shut this down. For now, it’s live at Altstore.io.

For the third time in a month, Google mass-deleted Android apps from a big Chinese developer.

Does Google Play have a malicious app problem? That appears to be the case as Google has booted some 46 apps from major Chinese mobile developer iHandy out of its app store, BuzzFeed reported. And it isn’t saying why. The move follows Google’s ban of two other major Chinese app developers, DO Global and CooTek, who had 1 billion total downloads.

Google Firebase gets new tools

‘We are seeing volume and interest in Peloton explode,’ says company president on listing day

This morning, Peloton (NASDAQ: PTON), the tech-enabled stationary bicycle and fitness content streaming company, raised $1.2 billion in its NASDAQ initial public offering. Despite dropping more than 10% in its first day of trading — ultimately closing down 11% at $25.84 per share — the IPO was a bona fide success. Peloton, once denied (over and over again) by VC skeptics, now has hundreds of millions of dollars to take its business into a new era. One in which, the media, hardware, software, logistics and social company attempts to become a generation-defining company akin to Apple.

Founded in 2012 — six years after Soul Cycle opened its first cycling studio in New York’s Upper East Side and two years before a Soul Cycle founder, Ruth Zukerman, jumped ship to launch her own indoor cycling business, Flywheel Sports — a man by the name of John Foley made the ambitious, some might say foolish, decision to start a company that would sell these exercise bikes direct-to-consumer. That way, you could take a Soul Cycle class, in essence, in the comfort of your own home. Even better, technology would improve the experience.

As my colleague Josh Constine recently described it, these bikes come outfitted with a 22-inch Android screen, transforming an outdated exercising experience and bringing it into 2019: “It makes lazy people like me work out. That’s the genius of the Peloton bicycle. All you have to do is Velcro on the shoes and you’re trapped. You’ve eliminated choice and you will exercise,” Constine writes.

Peloton’s ability to get people exercise — a feature driven by its talented instructors (some of whom were poached from competitor Flywheel Sports) — ultimately had venture capital investors funneling $1 billion, roughly, into the business. Today, Peloton operates dozens of showrooms across the U.S., counts 1.4 million total community members — defined as any individual who has a Peloton account — and over 500,000 paying subscribers. Why? Because the company, as stated in its IPO prospectus, “sells happiness.”

“Peloton is so much more than a Bike — we believe we have the opportunity to create one of the most innovative global technology platforms of our time,” writes Foley. “It is an opportunity to create one of the most important and influential interactive media companies in the world; a media company that changes lives, inspires greatness, and unites people.”

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Peloton’s flagship product, a tech-enabled stationary bike.

Peloton’s community coupled with the high margins on sales of its $2,245 bikes had the company reporting $915 million in total revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, an increase of 110% from $435 million in fiscal 2018 and $218.6 million in 2017. Its losses, meanwhile, hit $245.7 million in 2019, up significantly from a reported net loss of $47.9 million last year.

What’s next for Peloton? The opportunities are endless, given the company’s firm seat at the intersection of hardware, software, media content and more. A third product may be in the works, expansion to international markets or new instructors. Peloton is going after a massive market ripe for disruption. What’s certain is that we’ll see a whole lot of cash flowing into fitness tech copycats in the next couple of years.

Peloton, following a number of lukewarm consumer IPOs (Uber), nearly doubled its valuation to $8.1 billion this morning after pricing its IPO at the top of its range, $29 per share. To answer some of our most burning questions, we chatted with Peloton’s president William Lynch, the former CEO of Barnes & Noble, about the float.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Peloton president and former Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch.


Kate Clark: What’s next for Peloton?
William Lynch: We now have over a billion in capital to fuel more growth, especially in the area of product innovation.

Is Amazon’s Alexa ready to leave home and become a wearable voice assistant?

Amazon’s device event today played host to a dizzying number of product announcements, of all stripes — but notably, there are three brand new ways to wear Alexa on your body. Amazon clearly wants to give you plenty of options to take Alexa with you when you leave the house, the only place it’s really held sway so far — but can Amazon actually convince people that it’s the voice interface for everywhere, and not just for home?

Among the products Amazon announced at its Seattle event, Echo Frames, Echo Loop and Echo Buds all provide ways to take Alexa with you wherever you go. What’s super interesting — and telling — about this is that Amazon went with three different vectors to try to convince people to wear Alexa, instead of focusing its efforts on just one. That indicates a stronger than ever desire to break Alexa out of its home environment.

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The company has tried to get this done in different ways before. Alexa has appeared in Bluetooth speakers and headphones, in some cars (including now GM, as of today) and via Amazon’s own car accessory — and though the timing didn’t line up, it would’ve been a lock for Amazon’s failed Fire Phone.

Notice that none of these existing examples have helped Amazon gain any apparent significant market share when it comes to Alexa use on the go. While we don’t have great stats on how well-adopted Alexa is in-car, for instance, it stands to reason that we’d be hearing a lot more about its success if it was indeed massively successful — in the same way we hear often about Alexa’s prevalence in the home.

Amazon lacks a key vector that other voice assistants got for free: Being the default option on a smartphone. Google Assistant manages this through both Google’s own, and third-party Android, phones. Apple’s Siri isn’t often celebrated for its skill and performance, but there’s no question that it benefits from being the only really viable option on iOS when it comes to voice assistant software.

Amazon had to effectively invent a product category to get Alexa any traction at all — the Echo basically created the smart speaker category, at least in terms of significant mass market uptake. Its success with its existing Echo devices proves that this category served a market need, and Amazon has reaped significant reward as a result.

But for Amazon, a virtual assistant that only operates in the confines of the home covers only a tiny part of the picture when it comes to building more intelligent and nuanced customer profiles, which is the whole point of the endeavor to begin with. While Americans seem to be spending more time at home than ever before, a big percentage of peoples’ days is still spent outside, and this is largely invisible to Alexa.

The thing is, the only reliable and proven way to ensure you’re with someone throughout their entire day is to be on their smartphone. Alexa is, via Amazon’s own app, but that’s a far cry from being a native feature of the device, and just a single tap or voice command away. Amazon’s own smartphone ambitions deflated pretty quickly, so now it’s casting around for alternatives — and Loop, Frames and Buds all represent its most aggressive attempts yet.

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A smart spread of bets, each with their own smaller pool of penetration among users versus a general staple like a smartphone, might be Amazon’s best way to actually drive adoption — especially if they’re not concerned with the overall economics of the individual hardware businesses attached to each.

The big question will be whether A) these products can either offer enough value on their own to justify their continued use while Alexa catches up to out-of-home use cases from a software perspective, or B) Amazon’s Alexa team can iterate the assistant’s feature set quickly enough to make it as useful on the go as it is at home, which hasn’t seemed like something it’s been able to do to date (not having direct access to smartphone functions like texting and calling is probably a big part of that).

Specifically for these new products, I’d put the Buds at the top of the list as the most likely to make Alexa a boon companion for a much greater number of people. The buds themselves offer a very compelling price point for their feature set, and Alexa coming along for the ride is likely just a bonus for a large percentage of their addressable market. Both the Frames and the Loop seem a lot more experimental, but Amazon’s limited release go-to-market strategy suggest it has planned for that as well.

In the end, these products are interesting and highly indicative of Amazon’s direction and ambition with Alexa overall, but I don’t think this is the watershed moment for the digital assistant beyond the home. Still, it’s probably among the most interesting spaces in tech to watch, because of how much is at stake for both winners and losers.

Canoo takes the covers off of its debut electric vehicle

The Los Angeles-based startup Canoo has finally unveiled its first model, the eponymously named canoo.

The Canoo designers have departed pretty radically from the traditional designs that other electric vehicle manufacturers have favored going with something that looks more like a VW Microbus than the sport utility vehicle that Byton is aiming for, or Tesla and Fisker’s sportscars and sedans or Rivian’s electric trucks.

Remarkably, Canoo has completed the design and engineering of its first model in just 19 months and is preparing its vehicles for production through a contract manufacturer. The first cars are slated to appear on the road by 2021, according to the company’s current leader, Ulrich Kranz.

Kranz, who initially came on board as the company’s chief technology officer, took over the day-to-day operations of Canoo after Stefan Krause, Canoo’s co-founder and chief executive, stepped away from the company in August for personal reasons, as The Verge previously reported. 

The two key features that Canoo was designing for were space and value, according to a statement from Kranz, and the first car from the company has plenty of both.

Canoo has beta cars on site at its Los Angeles headquarters where prospective partners and customers can test out the vehicles, which were made by an undisclosed contract manufacturer based in Michigan. “We will crank out a couple of cars which will be used to verify and confirm the simulations we have done so far,” says Kranz.

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Canoo has spent the past year discussing the development of its prototype vehicle with the manufacturer so the company could provide advice on how to design and develop the car.

Canoo will launch its first vehicles in the Los Angeles market and expects to not only provide its “skateboard” platform for its own vehicles, but potentially work with other customers that would put their own cabin on top of the Canoo platform, Kranz says.

The company intends to go to market with an entirely new business model by providing customers with its cars for a monthly subscription fee. That service will likely include perks like automatic vehicle registration, maintenance, insurance management and charging through a single app on a customer’s phone. The idea, the company says, is to bring convenience and afforability of a Netflix movie service to the auto industry.

The first vehicle will have enough room for seven people, with the interior space of a large sport utility vehicle in a car with the footprint of a small compact car, the company says. In the back, seats are positioned in a semicircular formation against the sides and rear of the vehicle, while the front cabin is arranged like a sofa, according to Kranz.

“Cars always have been designed to convey a certain image and emotion; however, we chose to completely rethink car design and focus on what future users will actually need. Thus, we came up with this loft-inspired vehicle,” says Richard Kim, in Charge of Design at Canoo. “When you subscribe, you think differently about a car – now the value is defined by the user benefit. We implemented the Bauhaus philosophy, which is centered around minimalism and functionality, and started with the reduction to the absolute minimal need. Next, we applied that approach to the seamless connectivity with the personal devices customers care most about – their phones.”

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Entertainment systems are dependent on customers’ own devices and the canoo is compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. Rather than having a central display, the company expects that drivers and passengers will want to use their own navigation and apps in the vehicle.

Kranz says it was also made with autonomy in mind, and while the current system is arrayed with seven cameras, five radars and 12 ultra sonic sensors to provide level two autonomy. Kranz is especially proud of a new feature which has a video camera focused on the driver to monitor their actions and avoid unnecessary alerts when they’re operating a vehicle safely.

We watch the face and the meaning of the driver with the camera” Kranz says. “When the camera recognizes that the driver pays attention… like looking to the right side and checking blind spots, we don’t warn them with an alert… Because people sometimes turn off  the warning systems.” 

The heart of the Canoo system though, is its “skateboard” architecture, which houses the batteries and the electric drivetrain in a chassis underneath the vehicle’s cabin. All of the companies vehicles will have the same base and different cabins to create all sorts of vehicles for different applications, the company says.

The first vehicle has a five-star safety rating and includes driver and passenger airbags throughout the canoo. The skateboard platform can also support dual, front, or rear motor configurations the company said.  

Finally, the company says it will have the first truly steer-by-wire vehicle on the market without a hardware connection between the steering wheel and the wheels.

Steering is conducted by electric signals only, with a fully redundant control system that the company says has some long-term benefits for future designs. Steer-by-wire offers both weight savings and gives Canoo flexibility on where to locate the steering wheel to accommodate different designs and . driver positions.

As for range, the company’s first car has a range of 250 miles and can reach an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes. Its battery pack is fastened directly to the skateboard structure and saves more space since there’s no separate structure. The battery also is able to provide torsional rigidity and support for the vehicle since its resting directly on the chassis.

Kranz wouldn’t say how much Canoo will charge for its subscription service, but said that the company can reduce its cost because it can depreciate the vehicle’s value over a seven-to-ten year timeframe. “These savings we will be able to give back to the customer,” he said. And even with the low price, Kranz expects to make a mint with his new company. “We want to be the first EV company that makes a profit with an EV,” he says.

The rental model will help as will the company’s conservative rollout plan. Kranz says that Canoo will start offering its subscription vehicles in one geography and scale slowly from there.

“We will roll out city-by-city,” he says. “Eight to ten cities represent more than 70% of all the electric vehicle population [so] there is no need to provide our EV nationwide.”

The plan for 2021 is to launch in Los Angeles and have another eight cities account for the company’s U.S. market. That means four on the West Coast and four on the East Coast, according to Kranz.

“After the launch in the  U.S. we are considering launching the vehicle in China… There are 18 cities that represent 75% of the EV population in China,” he said.

The controlled expansion plans and modest goals for geographical reach should be a big benefit for the company, according to Kranz.

“It gives us the big advantage that we can  easily control our fleet and we are ramping up in a more conservative way and we are not bragging that we can churn out hundred thousand of cars,” he says. “We know how difficult it is to manufacture a good quality car at a high pace.”

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Tibetans hit by the same mobile malware targeting Uyghurs

A recently revealed mobile malware campaign targeting Uyghur Muslims also ensnared a number of senior Tibetan officials and activists, according to new research.

Security researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab say some of the Tibetan targets were sent specifically tailored malicious web links over WhatsApp, which, when opened, stealthily gained full access to their phone, installed spyware and silently stole private and sensitive information.

The exploits shared “technical overlaps” with a recently disclosed campaign targeting Uyghur Muslims, an oppressed minority in China’s Xinjiang state. Google last month disclosed the details of the campaign, which targeted iPhone users, but did not say who was targeted or who was behind the attack. Sources told TechCrunch that Beijing was to blame. Apple, which patched the vulnerabilities, later confirmed the exploits targeted Uyghurs.

Although Citizen Lab would not specify who was behind the latest round of attacks, the researchers said the same group targeting both Uyghurs and Tibetans also utilized Android exploits. Those exploits, recently disclosed and detailed by security firm Volexity, were used to steal text messages, contact lists and call logs, as well as watch and listen through the device’s camera and microphone.

It’s the latest move in a marked escalation of attacks on ethnic minority groups under surveillance and subjection by Beijing. China has long claimed rights to Tibet, but many Tibetans hold allegiance to the country’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Rights groups say China continues to oppress the Tibetan people, just as it does with Uyghurs.

A spokesperson for the Chinese consulate in New York did not return an email requesting comment, but China has long denied state-backed hacking efforts, despite a consistent stream of evidence to the contrary. Although China has recognized it has taken action against Uyghurs on the mainland, it instead categorizes its mass forced detentions of more than a million Chinese citizens as “re-education” efforts, a claim widely refuted by the west.

The hacking group, which Citizen Lab calls “Poison Carp,” uses the same exploits, spyware and infrastructure to target Tibetans as well as Uyghurs, including officials in the Dalai Lama’s office, parliamentarians and human rights groups.

Bill Marczak, a research fellow at Citizen Lab, said the campaign was a “major escalation” in efforts to access and sabotage these Tibetans groups.

In its new research out Tuesday and shared with TechCrunch, Citizen Lab said a number of Tibetan victims were targeted with malicious links sent in WhatsApp messages by individuals purporting to work for Amnesty International and The New York Times. The researchers obtained some of those WhatsApp messages from TibCERT, a Tibetan coalition for sharing threat intelligence, and found each message was designed to trick each target into clicking the link containing the exploit. The links were disguised using a link-shortening service, allowing the attackers to mask the full web address but also gain insight into how many people clicked on a link and when.

“The ruse was persuasive,” the researchers wrote. During a week-long period in November 2018, the targeted victims opened more than half of the attempted infections. Not all were infected, however; all of the targets were running non-vulnerable iPhone software.

One of the specific social engineering messages, pretending to be an Amnesty International aid worker, targeting Tibetan officials (Image: Citizen Lab/supplied)

The researchers said tapping on a malicious link targeting iPhones would trigger a chain of exploits designed to target a number of vulnerabilities, one after the other, in order to gain access to the underlying, typically off-limits, iPhone software.

The chain “ultimately executed a spyware payload designed to steal data from a range of applications and services,” said the report.

Once the exploitation had been achieved, a spyware implant would be installed, allowing the attackers to collect and send data to the attackers’ command and control server, including locations, contacts, call history, text messages and more. The implant also would exfiltrate data, like messages and content, from a hardcoded list of apps — most of which are popular with Asian users, like QQMail and Viber.

Apple had fixed the vulnerabilities months earlier (in July 2018); they were later confirmed as the same flaws found by Google earlier this month.

“Our customers’ data security is one of Apple’s highest priorities and we greatly value our collaboration with security researchers like Citizen Lab,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The iOS issue detailed in the report had already been discovered and patched by the security team at Apple. We always encourage customers to download the latest version of iOS for the best and most current security enhancements.”

Meanwhile, the researchers found that the Android-based attacks would detect which version of Chrome was running on the device and would serve a matching exploit. Those exploits had been disclosed and were “obviously copied” from previously released proof-of-concept code published by their finders on bug trackers, said Marczak. A successful exploitation would trick the device into opening Facebook’s in-app Chrome browser, which gives the spyware implant access to device data by taking advantage of Facebook’s vast number of device permissions.

The researchers said the code suggests the implant could be installed in a similar way using Facebook Messenger, and messaging apps WeChat and QQ, but failed to work in the researchers’ testing.

Once installed, the implant downloads plugins from the attacker’s server in order to collect contacts, messages, locations and access to the device’s camera and microphone.

When reached, Google did not comment. Facebook, which received Citizen Lab’s report on the exploit activity in November 2018, did not comment at the time of publication.

“From an adversary perspective what makes mobile an attractive spying target is obvious,” the researchers wrote. “It’s on mobile devices that we consolidate our online lives and for civil society that also means organizing and mobilizing social movements that a government may view as threatening.”

“A view inside a phone can give a view inside these movements,” they said.

The researchers also found another wave of links trying to trick a Tibetan parliamentarian into allowing a malicious app access to their Gmail account.

Citizen Lab said the threat from the mobile malware campaign was a “game changer.”

“These campaigns are the first documented cases of iOS exploits and spyware being used against these communities,” the researchers wrote. But attacks like Poison Carp show mobile threats “are not expected by the community,” as shown by the high click rates on the exploit links.

Gyatso Sither, TibCERT’s secretary, said the highly targeted nature of these attacks presents a “huge challenge” for the security of Tibetans.

“The only way to mitigate these threats is through collaborative sharing and awareness,” he said.