Diligent’s Vivian Chu and Labrador’s Mike Dooley will discuss assistive robotics at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI

Too often the world of robotics seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Assistive robotics, on the other hand, are among one of the primary real-world tasks existing technology can seemingly address almost immediately.

The concept for the technology has been around for some time now and has caught on particularly well in places like Japan, where human help simply can’t keep up with the needs of an aging population. At TC Sessions: Robotics+AI at U.C. Berkeley on March 3, we’ll be speaking with a pair of founders developing offerings for precisely these needs.

Vivian Chu is the cofounder and CEO of Diligent Robotics. The company has developed the Moxi robot to help assist with chores and other non-patient tasks, in order to allow caregivers more time to interact with patients. Prior to Diligent, Chu worked at both Google[X] and Honda Research Institute.

Mike Dooley is the cofounder and CEO of Labrador Systems. The Los Angeles-based company recently closed a $2 million seed round to develop assistive robots for the home. Dooley has worked at a number of robotics companies including, most recently a stint as the VP of Product and Business Development at iRobot.

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Meet MarsCat, a robot cat with lots of love to give and room to grow

At CES 2020, one of the more well-represented gadget categories was definitely consumer robots – but none was more adorable than MarsCat, a new robo-pet from industrial robot startup Elephant Robotics. This robot pet is a fully autonomous companion that can respond to touch, voice and even play with toys, and it’s hard not to love the thing after spending even just a brief amount of time with it.

MarsCat’s pedigree is a bit unusual, since Elephant Robotics is focused on building what’s known as ‘cobots,’ or industrial robots that are designed to work alongside humans in settings like factories or assembly plants. Elephant, which was founded in 2016, already produces three lines of these collaborative robots and has sold them to client companies around the world, including in Korea, the U.S., Germany and more.

This new product is designed for the home, however, not the factory or the lab. MarsCat is the startup’s first consumer product, but it obviously benefits immensely from the company’s expertise and experience in their industrial robotics business. With its highly articulated legs, tail and head, it can sit up, walk play and watch your movements, all working autonomously without any additional input required.

While MarsCat provides that kind of functionality out of the box, it’s also customizable and programmable by the user. Inside, it’s powered by a Raspberry Pi, and it ships with MarsCat SDK, which is an open software development library that allows you to fully control and program all of the robots functions. This makes it an interesting gadget for STEM education and research, too.

MarsCat is currently up for crowdfunding on Kickstarter, with Elephant having already surpassed its goal of $20,000 and on track to raise at least $100,000 more than that target. Elephant Robotics CEO and co-founder Joey Song told me that it actually plans to ship its first batch of production MarsCats to users in March, too, so backers shouldn’t have to wait long to enjoy their new robotic pet.

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There are other robotic pets available on the market, but Song thinks that MarsCat has a unique blend of advanced features at a price point that’s currently unmatched by existing options. The robot can respond to a range of voice commands, and will also evolve its personality over time based on how you interact with it: Talk to it a lot, and it’ll also become ‘chatty;’ play with it frequently and it’ll be a playful kitty. That, combined with the open platform, is a lot to offer for the asking backer price of just $699 to start.

Sony’s Aibo, the canine equivalent of MarsCat, retails for $2,899 in the U.S., so it’s a bargain when considered in that light. And unlike the real thing, MarsCat definitely doesn’t shed, so it’s got that going for it, too.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Vinted, the second-hand clothes marketplace, raises $141M at a $1B+ valuation

The market for second-hand clothes — the “circular economy” as it’s sometimes called — has been on the rise in the last several years, fuelled by economic crunches, a desire to make more responsible and less wasteful fashion choices, and a wave of digital platforms that are bringing the selling and buying of used clothes outside the charity shop. Today, one of the bigger companies in Europe working in the third of these areas is announcing a huge round of funding to double down on the trend.

Vinted, a site where consumers can sell and buy second-hand fashion, has raised €128 million (around $140.9 million) in a round that is being led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with previous backers Sprints Capital, Insight Venture Partners, Accel and Burda Principal Investments also participating.

With this investment, the startup — founded and headquartered out of Vilnius, Lithuania — has passed a valuation of $1 billion (it is not specifying an exact amount), making it one of the biggest startups to come out of the country (but not the Baltics’ first unicorn… Estonian Uber competitor Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, is also valued at over $1 billion.)

The company is going to use the money to continue expanding in Europe, and building out more features on its platform to improve the buying and selling process, while sticking to its goal of providing a platform for consumers to list and buy used fashion.

“We want to make sure we don’t have new products,” CEO Thomas Plantenga said in an interview earlier. “All our sellers are regular people.” Some 75% of Vinted’s customers have never bought or sold second hand clothes in their lives before coming to the platform, he added. “The stigma is no longer there.”

Vinted’s growth comes on the heels of a remarkable turnaround for the startup. Founded in 2008 by Milda Mitkute and Justas Janauskas as a way to help Mitkute clear out here wardrobe before a house move, the company expanded fast, but at a price: by 2016, it was close to running out of money and business had slowed down to a crawl. Investors brought in Plantenga to turn it around.

“We changed the business model in 2016 to make the costs as low as possible for users to list clothes,” Pantenga said today. “That produced a dramatic change in our growth trajectory.”

The company, more specifically, went through some drastic changes. First, it clawed back a lot of its pricey international expansion strategy (and along with that a lot of the costs associated with it); and second, it removed all listing fees to encourage more people to list. Now, Vinted charges a 5% commission only if you conduct transactions on Vinted itself, bundling in buyer protection and shipping to sweeten the deal. (You can still post, sell and buy for free if you pay offline but you don’t get those perks.)

The turnaround worked, and the company bounced back, and two years later, in 2018, it went on to raise €50 million. Today, Vinted has some 180 million products live on its platform, 25 million registered users in 12 markets in Europe (but not the US) and 300 employees. It expects to sell €1.3 billion in clothes in 2019, has seen sales grow 4x in the last 17 months.

From fast fashion to fashion that lasts

Vinted’s rise has matched a wider trend in the region.

Europe is the home to some of the world’s biggest “fast fashion” businesses: companies like H&M, Zara and Primark have built huge brands around making quick copies of the hottest styles off the fashion presses, and selling them for prices that will not break the bank (or at least, no more than you might have previously paid to buy a pair of average jeans on the discount rack of a Gap).

But it turns out that it’s also home to a very thriving market in second-hand clothes. One estimate has it that two out of every three Europeans has bought a second-hand good, and 6 out of 10 have sold their belongings using platforms dedicated to second-hand trade.

Even as the company continues to hold back on expanding into the US — perhaps burned a little too much by its previous efforts there; or simply aware of the wide competition from the likes of Ebay, OfferUp, Letgo, Poshmark, and many more — Vinted’s growth in Europe has caught the eye of investors in the that market.

“At Lightspeed, we look for outlier management teams building generational companies. We’ve been impressed by the team’s ability to build an incredible product and value proposition for their community, and adapt and expand their business along the way,” said Brad Twohig, a partner at Lightspeed. “Vinted is defining its market and has built a global brand in C2C commerce and communities. We’re proud to partner with Vinted and leverage our global platform and resources to help them continue to build on their success and achieve their goals.”

While charity shops have traditionally dominated this market, sites like eBay, followed by a secondary wave of platforms like Vinted and another competitor in this space, Depop, have made selling and buying items into an established, low-barrier business.

All the same, given that extending the life of one’s goods feeds into a do-good ethos, it’s noticeable to me that Vinted hasn’t quite replaced the Salvation Army: there is virtually no way to sell on Vinted and give the proceeds to charity, if you so choose.

It appears that this might be something Vinted will try to address in the future.

“We are looking at making fashion circular for our users so that clothing that they bought doesn’t go to waste,” Plantenga said. “[Giving proceeds to charity] is super interesting and we should explore it as part of our growth story. To be honest, those things have been in the background and not developed because we’ve just been trying to keep up with everything, but the idea fits into our culture.”

E-commerce — in particular startups nipping at the heels of bigger players like Amazon and eBay by focusing on specific areas of the market that aren’t as well served by them — has had a bumper day in Europe, after brick-and-mortar marketplace Trouva earlier today also raised a sizeable round.

MIT’s self-propelled block robots can now manage basic swarm coordination

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has come up with a clever way for its small cube-like robots, which can move on their own, to communicate and coordinate with one another for self-assembly. The behavior is described by MIT researchers as somewhat “hive-like;” in the video above you can see what they mean by that.

These cube bots can roll across the ground, navigate up and across each other and even jump short distances. And thanks to recent improvements made by the team working on the project, they also can communicate in a basic way using unique barcode identifiers on the faces of the blocks to allow them to identify one another. These 16 blocks can now use their communication system and their ability to move themselves around to perform tasks including producing various shapes, or even following arrows or light signals.

Their current abilities are pretty limited, but the researchers envision a time when a larger and more advanced version of this system could be used to deploy efficiently self-assembling bots that can create structures like bridges, ramps or even staircases for use in disaster response or rescue scenarios. Of course, they also theorize these things might be pretty attractive for more mundane applications, like gaming, too.

Billionaire clothing dynasty heiress launches Everybody & Everyone to make fashion sustainable

Veronica Chou’s family has made its fortune at the forefront of the fast fashion business through investments in companies like Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger . But now, the heiress to an estimated $2.1 billion fortune is launching her own company, Everybody & Everyone, to prove that the fashion industry can be both environmentally sustainable and profitable.

There’s no argument about the negative impacts of the fashion industry on the environment.

The textiles industry primarily uses non-renewable resources — on the order of 98 million tons per year. That includes the oil to make synthetic fibers, fertilizers to grow cotton, and toxic chemicals to dye, treat, and produce the textiles used to make clothes. The greenhouse gas footprint from textiles production was roughly 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2015 — more than all international flights and maritime shipments combined (and a lot of those maritime shipments and international flights were hauling clothes).

The litany of catastrophes that can be attributed to the clothing industry extends to pollution as well. About 20% of industrial water pollution globally can be traced to the dyeing and treatment of textiles — and microplastics from polyester, acrylic and nylon are polluting the world’s oceans.

Meanwhile, the rise of fast fashion has encouraged consumers to accelerate waste. Roughly one garbage truck full of clothes is landfilled around the world every second, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That means consumers are throwing away around $400 billion worth of valuable goods every year as low prices and more “seasons” create an illusion of disposability.

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Image courtesy of World Resources Institute

As the fashion business has expanded so has the wealth of the Chou family. South Ocean Knitters, the knitwear manufacturer started by Chou’s grandfather was responsible for one of the first foreign investments into mainland China in 1974. It is now one of the largest suppliers of knitwear in the world and together with the Hong Kong manufacturer Li & Fung, is behind the Cobalt Fashion Holding, conglomerate.

And her father, Silas Chou, made millions as an investor in Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger. As an executive at Iconix Brand Group China, Veronica Chou played a role in the acceleration of the industry — bringing American brands to Chinese consumers. Chou also served as the cofounder of the Beijing-based private equity fund China Consumer Capital and a director of Karl Lagerfeld Greater China.

For Chou, an understanding of the environmental toll that the family business was taking on the planet began six years ago — a few years before Iconix Brand Group acquired the China subsidiary she had co-founded with her father in a transaction reportedly worth $56 million.

It was around the time that Chou had her children, she says, that she realized the importance of making a brand that was both environmentally sustainable and inclusive.

“It was six years ago I started learning about sustainability and five years ago that I said that I needed to have a sustainable brand,” says Chou. 

Since that revelation Chou dove into the world of sustainable manufacturing head-first. Through her family’s investment vehicles she has worked with companies like Modern Meadow, which uses bio-engineering to make leather goods in a lab. Chou has also led investments in Thousand Fell, a soon-to-launch manufacturer of fully recyclable shoes; Dirty Labs, which is developing more sustainable laundry cleaning products; and Carbon Engineering, which is developing a direct air capture technology for carbon dioxide.

Everybody & Everyone applies the lessons that Chou has learned about sustainability to a new fashion brand that she hopes can serve as a model for how to weave sustainability into every facet of the industry.

The new brand, which sells women’s clothes for every size from 00 to 24 and at prices ranging from $18 to $288 (most fall in the $50 to $150 range, given a quick scroll through the company’s new website) partners with companies like Naadam and Ecoalf for sustainable cashmere and recycled fabrics made from plastic.

“For our brand, recycled is a big story for us,” says Chou. “Our t-shirts, our socks, our packaging, our mailers, our labels, our stickers are all made from recycled materials that can be recycled again.”

The company’s attention to its environmental impact also extends to its supply chain. “Most of our fabrics are knit close to where our garments are manufactured. That is definitely reducing our carbon footprint,” says Chou. “I put an emphasis on having factories in America… our denim is manufactured in America and in the future we’re looking at t-shirts and athletics to be manufactured in America.”

Some clothes are also made with fabrics that have recycled silver in them — so that the clothes can be worn multiple times without smelling or the need for a wash. 

Digital printing is used in place of screens to prevent tons of water waste, the company said, and several of the company’s fabrics are not dyed at all. instead, the company relies on an upcycling process by separating recycled fibers mechanically by color.

Everybody & Everyone has also partnered with the organization One Tree Planted to plant a tree for each purchase that’s made with the company. In addition, the company has calculated its carbon footprint from all of its pre-launch activities and has bought and retired offsets to balance its emissions, Chou says.

“I started building Everybody & Everyone from the ground-up, first by getting the best team in place then by finding the right vendors, manufacturers and partners who were already making strides in the sustainability space,” Chou said in a statement. “I wanted this brand to be for every woman, so body positivity, inclusivity and sustainability were going to be the backbone of everything we did. We then constructed the brands sustainable & technical pillars, which consist of activation, recycled, dyeing & printing, naturals done better, bio-based fibers and end use to ensure our products would minimize negative impacts. We are sustainable down to the labels sewn into each garment.”

VC Ben Horowitz on WeWork, Uber, and one cultural value his employees can’t break

Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, has a new book coming out this coming Monday titled “What You Do is Who You Are,” that takes a look at how to create “culture” at a company.

It’s a word that’s thrown around a lot but very hard grasp, let alone implement in a sustainable way. Horowitz learned firsthand as a CEO how elusive it can be when he took stock of his company, only to discover it was made up of “screamers who intimidated their people,” others who “neglected to give any feedback,” and at least one compulsive liar who excelled at sucking up to Horowitz and also making up stories from whole cloth.

Horowitz says creating culture was a missing part of his education, and in this new book — a follow-up to his best-selling “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” — he does his best to fill that gap for other CEOs, using his own experience, as well as lessons gleaned from historical figures Toussaint Louverture and Genghis Khan, along with Shaka Senghor, a contemporary who served time for murder and today is a criminal justice reform advocate.

It’s an instructive and novel combination, and we suggest picking up the book, especially if you love history. In the meantime, we sat down recently with Horowitz to talk about its timing and whether some of the biggest cultural blow-ups in the startup industry — Uber and WeWork — could have been avoided. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity. Note that we’ll have more of the conversation — including Horowitz’s thoughts about dual-class shares —  for readers of Extra Crunch on Monday.

TC: You’ve just written a book about culture that’s coming out just as a lot of questions are being raised about culture because of WeWork. What happened there?

BH: [Cofounder Adam Neumann] had a certain kind of culture there. He had some holes — some great strengths and great holes. And sometimes that happens. When you’re really good at part of it, you can delude yourself into thinking that you’ve got everything you need, when you have some massive incompleteness.

Adam is so amazing. Like, the way they got all the money and everything. And the vision was so spectacular. And everybody there believed it, and they recruited some phenomenal talent. But when you’re that optimistic, it does help to have something in the culture that says [allows] people to bring you the bad news, like, if the accounting is all over the place or what have you.

TC: As with Uber’s Travis Kalanick, whose culture also came under fire, Neumann operated in very plain sight. He wasn’t hiding who he was or what he was spending. 

BH: Right, everybody knew how Travis was running the company. Everyone in Silicon Valley knew, let alone everyone on the board. The culture was published. You can look up Uber’s values [from that period].

Travis designed, I think, a really compelling culture, and believed in it, and published it. And the consequences of what he was missing were also super well-known. It’s only when board members think people are coming after them that [they take an interest in these things].

TC: What are the biggest lessons in these two cases?

BH: I obviously know more about Uber [as a Lyft investor who follows the space]. In Uber’s case, it’s a very subtle thing. Travis had a really good code. But he had a bug in it.

I think it was reported that, like, Travis encouraged bad behavior. I don’t think he did at all. I just think he didn’t make it clear that legal and ethical [considerations] were more important than competitiveness. As a result, when left to their own devices, in a distributed organization where there was a lot of distributed power, that combination had people doing things that were out of bounds.

And he was making everybody so much money. And the company was growing so fast that, for the board members, I suspect they were like, ‘As long as it’s making money, I’m not going to worry about what happens next.’

To me, the unfair part is, like, they shouldn’t get any credit at the end. Whatever you’re blaming Travis for [you should blame them, too] because they didn’t see it, either. I think that’s a charitable way of putting it.

The reason I wanted to go through [how to create business culture] in the book is so if you’re a new CEO, you can see, look, this thing looks like a small problem, but it’s going to become a big problem. Ethics are a bit like security issues. They’re not a problem at all until they’re a problem. Then they’re existential.

TC: Why was this issue on your mind?

BH: A few things. First, it was the thing that I had the most difficult time with as a CEO. People would say, ‘Ben, pay attention to culture, it really is the key.’ But when you were like, ‘Okay, great, how do i do that?’ it was like, ‘Um, maybe you should have a meeting about it.’ Nobody could convey: what it was, how you dealt with it, how you designed it. So I felt like I was missing a piece of my own education.

Also, when I look at the work I do now, it’s the most important thing. What I say to people at the firm is that nobody 10 or 20 or 30 years from now is going to remember what deals we’ve won or lost or what the returns were on this or that. You’re going to remember what it felt like to work here and to do business with us and what kind of imprint we put on the world. And that’s our culture. That’s our behavior. We can’t have any drift from that. And I think that’s true for every company.

On top of that, the companies in Silicon Valley have grown so fast and become so powerful that they’re getting a lot of criticism about their culture now, which, some of it is fair enough. But the proposed solutions are wacky  . . . so it kind of felt like somebody had to make a positive contribution and not just a critique about, like, okay, here’s what you ought to do.

TC: They’re also distributed, as you noted with Uber, but I don’t think you talk about remote workforces in this book. Do you have thoughts about establishing a culture where individuals are scattered here and there? 

BH: I didn’t talk about remote workforces and that one is interesting because it’s evolving because the tool sets are changing. It used to be nearly impossible for an engineering organization to be distributed and to be effective, because the information flow wasn’t good enough and the build systems weren’t good enough. And so for years, Microsoft would only buy companies that they could move to Redmond.

Lately, due to things like Slack and Tandem, people are getting better results with it. And I think a lot of the cultural techniques intersect with the tools quite a bit. But then you have to set the culture through electronic media more than you would walking around, catching somebody doing thing in a meeting.

We just did a thing on email the other day. We have this cultural value, which is: we don’t like to criticize entrepreneurs. I don’t care if we think your idea is stupid or whatever. You’re trying to create something from nothing. You’re trying to chase your dream. We support that, period. So if you get on Twitter and do what Bill Gurley does and say, ‘That company is a stupid piece of shit. It’ll never made a $1 and blah blah blah,’ like, you get fired for that. [Similarly] on our podcast, we have a news segment and I didn’t want us to do a story on ‘WeWork, the cautionary tale.’ That’s not us. And it’s a cultural statement. There are a million people who are going to write that story; we were like, let them write that story.

So you don’t have to be in person to set the tone, but you do have to be thoughtful about the way you do it, and who all hears it.

TC: Why weave in the cultural figures that you have? There are so many people you could have included, and you focused on these three individuals.

BH: It’s a weird origin story, but Prince years ago put out an album called 3121, and he opened this club in Vegas called the 3121, and he would perform there, like, every weekend. And the show would start at 10 and he would show up at midnight or 1 a.m., but during that time in between, he would show these old films with these really interesting dancers in these elaborate clothes. And you’d just be watching these old guys, and then Prince would start to splice in [his own movies, including] “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Purple Rain,” and you’d go, well those are the dance moves from those guys [in the older films] and that’s a quote from those guys And you realize: that was what he was trying to express. And I thought, you know, I finally really understand him. And I thought, you know, [these three] have really influenced my views on culture [for a variety of reasons] and it would be a good way to tell this story.

More on Monday . . .

How ‘the Internet broke America’ with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz

When Elizabeth Warren took on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook earlier this week, it was a low moment for what New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz calls “techno-utopianism.”

That the progressive, populist Massachusetts Senator and leading Democratic Presidential candidate wants to #BreakUpBigTech is not surprising. But Warren’s choice to spotlight regulating and trust-busting Facebook was nonetheless noteworthy, because of what it represents on a philosophical level. Warren, along with like-minded political leaders, social activists, and tech critics, has begun to offer the first massively popular alternative to the massively popular wave of aggressive optimism and “genius” ambition that characterized tech culture for the past decade or two.

“No,” Warren and others seem to say, “your vision is not necessarily making the world a better place.” This is a major buzzkill for tech leaders who have made (positive) world-changing their number one calling card — more than profits, popularity, skyscrapers like San Francisco’s striking Salesforce Tower, or any other measure.

Enter Marantz, a longtime New Yorker staff writer and Brooklyn, N.Y. resident who has recently trained his attention on tech culture, following around iconic figures on both sides of what he sees as the divide of our time — not between tech greats whose successes make us all better and those who would stop them, but between the alternative figures on the “new right” and the self-understood liberals of Silicon Valley who, according to Marantz, have both contributed to “hijacking the American conversation.”

Author Photo Andrew Marantz credit Luke Marantz fix

Image via Penguin Random House

Marantz’s first book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation,” will be released next week, and I recently had a chance to talk with him for this series the ethics of technology.

Greg Epstein: Congratulations on your absolutely fascinating new book Antisocial, and on everything you’ve been up to.

Postmates lands permit to test its Serve autonomous delivery robots in SF

Postmates has officially received the green light from the city of San Francisco to begin testing its Serve wheeled delivery robot on city streets, as first reported by the SF Chronicle and confirmed with Postmates by TechCrunch. The on-demand delivery company told us last week that it expected the issuance of the permit to come through shortly after a conditional approval, and that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday this week.

The permit doesn’t cover the entire city — just a designated area of a number of blocks in and around Potrero Hill and the Inner Mission, but it will allow Postmates to begin testing up to three autonomous delivery robots at once, at speeds of up to 3 mph. Deliveries can only take place between 8 AM and 6:30 PM on weekdays, and a human has to be on hand within 30 feet of the vehicles while they’re operating. Still, it’s a start — and from a city regulatory environment that has had a somewhat rocky start with some less collaborative early pilots from other companies.

Autonomous delivery bot company Marble also has a permit application pending with the city’s Public Works department, and will look to test its own four-wheeled, sensor-equipped rolling delivery bots within the city soon, should it be granted similar testing approval.

Postmates revealed Serve last December, taking a more anthropomorphic approach to the vehicle’s overall design. Like many short-distance delivery robots of its ilk, it includes a lockable cargo container and screen-based user interface for eventual autonomous deliveries to customers. The competitive field for autonomous rolling delivery bots is growing continuously, with companies like Starship Technologies, Amazon and many more throwing their hats in the ring.

Ethical fashion is on the rise

The fashion industry has historically relied on exploitative, unsustainable and unethical labor practices in order to sell clothes — but if recent trends are any indication, it won’t for much longer. Over the last several years, the industry has entered a remarkable period of upheaval, with major and small fashion brands alike ditching traditional methods of production in favor of eco-friendly and cruelty-free alternatives. It’s a welcome, long-overdue development, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Tradition fashion is unethical in almost too many ways to count. There is, of course, the monstrous toll on animal life. Every year, over one billion animals are slaughtered for their fur or pelts, usually after living their lives in horrific factory farms.

Cows, including newborn and even unborn calves, are skinned alive in order to make leather, while animals killed for their fur are executed through anal electrocution, neck-snapping, drowning and other ghastly ways in order to avoid damaging their pelts. Even wool, traditionally perceived as a more humanely-produced animal product, involves horrors on par with those at a slaughterhouse.

But animals aren’t the only ones who suffer under the traditional fashion industry. In Cambodian garment factories, which export around $5.7 billion in clothes every year, workers earning 50 cents an hour are forced to sit for 11 hours a day straight without using the restroom, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mass faintings in oppressively hot factories are common, and workers are routinely fired for getting sick or pregnant. In Bangladesh — the world’s second-largest importer of apparel behind China — a poorly-maintained garment factory collapsed in 2013, killing 1,132 people and injuring around 2,000 others. When Cambodian garment workers protested in 2014 for better working conditions, police shot and killed three of them.

Lastly, traditional fashion is killing the planet. Every year, the textile industry alone spits out 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases — more than all marine shipping vessels and international flights combined — and consumes 98 million tons of oil. Textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of clean water, and on the whole, the apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of all greenhouse emissions worldwide. Worst of all, the clothes produced by this massive resource consumption produces clothes are rapidly discarded: In 2015, 73 percent of the total material used to make clothes ended up incinerated or landfilled, according to a study by the Ellen MacArthur foundation.

Thankfully, as big and small clothing manufacturers alike are realizing, there are plenty of ways to sell fashionable clothing and accessories that don’t destroy the environment, endanger workers, or cause suffering to animals.

Vegan clothes are becoming increasingly popular, and there’s no shortage of them to choose from. Some brands, like Keep Company and Unicorn Goods, offer an expansive generalized catalogue of vegan shirts, jackets, accessories and more. Other brands are more specialized: Unreal Fur has a beautiful line of vegan faux-fur, Ahisa, Beyond Skin and SUSI Studio all sell stylish vegan shoes, and Le Buns specializes in vegan swimwear. There are upscale vegan clothing retailers, such as Brave Gentleman, as well as more casual budget options, like The Third Estate.

Strict veganism isn’t the only way to manufacture clothing ethically. Hipsters For Sisters’ products are made entirely with recycled, upcycled, or deadstocked materials, earning the approval of PETA. Reformation utilizes a carbon-neutral production process to make its clothes (and offers customers a $100 store credit if they switch to wind energy), while Stella McCartney’s entire product line is vegetarian.

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British fashion designer Stella McCartney poses prior her presentation during the men and women’s spring/summer 2019 collection fashion show in Milan, on June 18, 2018. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP) (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Many vegan clothing companies, such as In The Soulshine and Della, have found ways to sell cruelty-free clothing while also providing humane working conditions to their factories’ workers. Amanda Hearst’s Maison de Mode features a combination of Fair Trade, recycled, cruelty-free, and organic products — as well as a comprehensive labeling system to inform customers which is which.

There are plenty of small, niche companies offering ethical clothing options, but make no mistake: The transition to sustainable and ethical fashion is an industry-wide phenomenon. Well-established brands like Dr. Marten’s, Old Navy, H&M and Zara all now sell vegan clothes. Gap, Gucci, and Hugo Boss have banned fur from their stores, and three of the largest fashion conglomerates — H&M Group, Arcadia Group and Inditex — recently pledged to stop selling mohair products by 2020.

Companies are rapidly investing in new ethical alternatives to traditional clothing as well: Save The Duck’s PLUMTECH jackets feature a cruelty-free alternative to down feathers, while companies like Modern Meadow are developing new biofabricated leather made from collagen protein and other essential building blocks found in animal skin that don’t require the slaughter of any animals.

There are, of course, some holdouts. Canada Goose still traps and kills coyotes to make its fur jackets, and uses a device that’s been banned in dozens of countries for its cruelty in order to do so. As a result, its store openings regularly draw protesters.

But by and large, the trend is in the opposite direction. From up-and-coming brands to the biggest names in fashion, the industry is moving away from the destructive practices of years past and toward cleaner, ethical ways of making clothes.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, being successful in fashion has always required changing with the times — and in 2019, basing an industry on labor abuse, destruction of the environment and animal torture to make their products is no longer a sustainable business model.

These humanoid robots can autonomously navigate cinder block mazes thanks to IHMC

Programming robots to walk on flat, even ground is difficult enough, but Florida’s Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) is tackling the grander challenge of making sure bipedal robots can successfully navigate rough terrain. The research organization has been demonstrating its work in this area since 2016, but its latest video (via Engadget) shows the progress it has made.

In the new video, IHMC’s autonomous footstep planning program is at work on both Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, and the NASA-developed Valkyrie robot (humanoid robots have the coolest names). This video shows off navigation of a heaping pile of cinder blocks, as well as narrower paths, which are trickier to navigate because of limited navigation options.

Basically, IHMC manages these complex navigation operations by specifying a beginning and end point for the robot, and then mapping all possible paths on a footstep-by-footstep basis, evaluating the cost of each and ultimately arriving at a best possible path — all of which can occur relatively quickly on modern hardware.

These robots can also quickly adapt to changes in the environment and path blockage thanks to IHMC’s work, and can even manage single-path tightrope-style walking (albeit on a narrow row of cinder books, not on an actual rope).

There’s still work to be done — the team at IHMC says that it’s having about a 50% success rate on narrow paths, but its ability to navigate rough terrain with these robots and its software is at a much higher 90%, and it’s pretty near a perfect track record on flat ground.