Astranis reaches key milestone with MicroGEO communication satellite, aims for service to begin next summer

Satellite telecommunications startup Astranis has achieved a key technical milestone with its MicroGEO product, a small geosynchronous communications satellite that it will use to launch its first commercial service starting next summer for customers in Alaska. This is a big milestone for Astranis because the MicroGEO satellite test article that passed this round of thermal-vacuum qualification testing will serve as the basis for a whole planned line of first products, designed to affordably provide low-cost broadband to specific geographic markets using individual spacecraft, region-by-region.

Having already successfully met its technical requirements in terms of radiation, which is particularly powerful in the target orbital band where the Astranis MicroGEO will operate in a fixed position above the Earth, this means that the startup’s tech has passed the last major technical milestone on its path to launch and operation. I spoke to Astranis CEO and founder John Gedmark about the achievement, and he said that while the MicroGEO qualification test article will still undergo a range of remaining tests ahead of its launch on a SpaceX rocket next year ahead of its planned Summer 2021 operational date, this is a big achievement that represents years of work from the team.

“It was a huge amount of work for the team, and I’m sure as you can imagine, these things do not do not come easy,” Gedmark said. “People maybe don’t understand just how extreme the temperatures are that a satellite has to operate within: We were doing testing all the way from 150 degrees Fahrenheit to -180 degree Fahrenheit. Just imagine that temperature swing on a big box of electronics.”

That is incredibly impressive, given that while they’ve improved significantly over the years, even modern consumer electronics can have challenges with much less extreme temperature swings. And qualification testing for equipment designed to work in space is actually done to a standard of both 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and colder than expected orbital temperatures, just to provide the equipment with a safe operational buffer. Temperatures can vary so wildly because the orbital environment lacks the insulating layer of the atmosphere, meaning it gets very cold when the sun is on the far side of the Earth, and extremely hot when the sun is shining directly on the spacecraft.

The Astranis MicroGEO satellites will operate in geostationary orbit (LEO), which means they’ll sit in a high orbit (higher than what’s known as ‘low Earth orbit’ or LEO, which you may have heard of because that’s where SpaceX’s Starlink satellites work). The GEO band is where existing satellite-based communication infrastructure operates today – but these consist of very large, mostly aging and expensive satellites that provide the backbone of networks including those used for in-flight wifi and on cruise ships.

Astranis is outfitting its GEO satellites with much more modern telecommunications equipment, and making its spacecraft significantly smaller, too. The company is betting that it can deploy smaller GEO satellites much more affordably, in order to serve very specific geographies. Its first satellite will serve Alaska, as mentioned, through a partnership with existing satellite TV and internet provider Pacific Dataport. This is expected to triple the available bandwidth to the state, while keeping costs to customers affordable. After that, the goal is to continue to build and launch similar satellites to serve individual small-to-medim sized countries, states and other regions.

This model differs significantly from what SpaceX and others working on LEO communications constellations are doing. Gedmark outlined the costs and benefits of both, and why he believes what Astranis is doing is likely the better fit in terms of business model and efficiencies for a small, young company to pursue.

“We’re huge fans of what some of these other companies are trying to do with LEO constellations – it’s just very different approach,” he said “We have the ability to put up one satellite at a time and focus bandwidth right where it’s needed, and do that quickly. The smaller constellations, they are very much an all-or-nothing proposition – the entire constellation has to be in place to begin service. And then they have some other challenges ahead of them as well, like ground antennas, unique tracking.”

Gedmark notes that you need to deploy many gateway dishes all around the world in order for LEO constellations to be effective, which caries its own costs and risks. Astranis, however, is compatible with existing infrastructure already used in satellite-based internet and communications, making it much easier to get serving customers. Plus, since it can launch satellites individually to serve specific regions, it can add revenue in stages over time, whereas LEO networks will need an immense up-front capital investment before any money actually starts coming in from commercial customers.

“They certainly can be successful,” he said. “I just think I think it’s gonna take them some time and we’re optimized for speed. Whether it be a U.S. state like Alaska, or a small- or medium-sized country we can offer them some extra bandwidth they can use as soon as possible and, and get it to them at the right price.”

Bird shuts down Circ operations in Middle East, scraps as many as 10,000 scooters

Bird has shut down scooter sharing in several cities in the Middle East, an operation that was managed by Circ, the micromobility startup it acquired in January. About 100 Circ employees have been laid off and as many as 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to a third-party UAE-based company for recycling, according to multiple industry and company sources who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak with the media.

The shutdown — which Bird has couched as “pausing of operations” — comes less than six months after LA-based Bird announced it had acquired its European counterpart and touted plans to expand. Bird’s decision to shut down Circ’s entire Middle East business affects operations in Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to EnviroServe, a UAE-based company that recycles electronics and other products, multiple sources who asked not to be named told TechCrunch. Almost 1,000 of the Circ scooters were new, according to one source.

Bird said in a statement that it is not leaving the Middle East. Instead, the company said it is “pausing operations” and plans to return to the region in the fall. Bird is still operating its own service in Tel Aviv.

“Bird is currently operating in Tel Aviv and we have temporarily paused operations in other parts of the Middle East as they become increasingly hotter at this time of the year,” the company said in an emailed statement. “During this pause, we are taking the opportunity to responsibly recycle parts of the old Circ fleet that were previously used in the region. Following extreme wear and tear, the Circ vehicles no longer met our rigorous quality standards. Selling or re-use of these vehicles would potentially result in safety and reliability issues, which would not have been fair or ethical to the purchasers or potential riders. We look forward to resuming our service throughout more parts of the region later this year.”

TechCrunch learned that several companies, including Berlin-based Tier Mobility, offered to buy the Circ-branded scooters that have been taken off the streets in Dubai and other Middle East cities. Bird declined these offers, according to two sources.

In the past two months, tens of thousands of electric scooters and bikes have been scrapped in the U.S., Canada, Europe and now the Middle East as micromobility companies pull back from markets in an effort to cut costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos and videos showing piles of scrapped bright red JUMP bikes spread across Twitter last month and sparked widespread criticism and anger among bike advocates, urban planners and industry watchers. The bikes were part of the collateral damage that stemmed from a complex deal between Lime and Uber. Last month, Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber. As part of the deal, Uber offloaded JUMP, which it had acquired in 2018 for $200 million, to Lime. All 400 JUMP employees were laid off and at least 20,000 bikes and scooters were scrapped in the U.S. alone. Reports of JUMP bikes being pulled off streets and sent for recycling have popped up in Canada as well.

Tier Mobility CEO and co-founder Lawrence Leuschner had offered to buy the JUMP bikes. Tier Mobility also reached out to Bird.

“That has nothing to do with sustainable mobility and it needs to have consequences,” Leuschner said in a recent interview discussing the decision by companies to scrap scooters and bikes. “This is not what the industry should stand for and that’s why I have to speak up.”

Leuschner, who previously founded reBuy, a European market leader in used electronics, has said it is possible to properly and safely refurbish scooters and sell them to consumers. Tier Mobility refurbished and sold its old e-scooters to consumers after it replaced most of its fleet with newer hardware.

Circ burst on the scene in January 2019 with €55 million in Series A funding. The Berlin-based e-scooter startup, which was initially called Flash before it was rebranded, was founded by Delivery Hero and Team Europe founder Lukasz Gadowski.

The company expanded quickly across Europe and eventually into the Middle East. Just six months after it came out of stealth, Circ was in 21 cities across 7 countries — and it expanded even further throughout the rest of the year. But it encountered some of the same setbacks that other scooter-sharing companies faced in 2019. The company laid off staff in November at its regional operations and Berlin headquarters. The reduced headcount was driven by the fluctuation in users across seasons, “operational learnings” and a move to e-scooters with swappable batteries, Gadowski told TechCrunch at the time.

R&D Roundup: ‘Twisted light’ lasers, prosthetic vision advances and robot-trained dogs

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

In this edition: a new type of laser emitter that uses metamaterials, robot-trained dogs, a breakthrough in neurological research that may advance prosthetic vision and other cutting-edge technology.

Twisted laser-starters

We think of lasers as going “straight” because that’s simpler than understanding their nature as groups of like-minded photons. But there are more exotic qualities for lasers beyond wavelengths and intensity, ones scientists have been trying to exploit for years. One such quality is… well, there are a couple names for it: Chirality, vorticality, spirality and so on — the quality of a beam having a corkscrew motion to it. Applying this quality effectively could improve optical data throughput speeds by an order of magnitude.

The trouble with such “twisted light” is that it’s very difficult to control and detect. Researchers have been making progress on this for a couple of years, but the last couple weeks brought some new advances.

First, from the University of the Witwatersrand, is a laser emitter that can produce twisted light of record purity and angular momentum — a measure of just how twisted it is. It’s also compact and uses metamaterials — always a plus.

The second is a pair of matched (and very multi-institutional) experiments that yielded both a transmitter that can send vortex lasers and, crucially, a receiver that can detect and classify them. It’s remarkably hard to determine the orbital angular momentum of an incoming photon, and hardware to do so is clumsy. The new detector is chip-scale and together they can use five pre-set vortex modes, potentially increasing the width of a laser-based data channel by a corresponding factor. Vorticality is definitely on the roadmap for next-generation network infrastructure, so you can expect startups in this space soon as universities spin out these projects.

Tracing letters on the brain-palm

Xiaomi’s investment house of IoT surpasses 300 companies

Xiaomi, the Chinese comapny famous for its budget smartphones and a bevy of value-for-money gadgets, said in a filing on Thursday that it has backed more than 300 companies as of March, totaling 32.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion) in book value and 225.9 million yuan ($32 million million) in net gains on disposal of investments in just the first quarter.

The electronics giant has surely lived up to its ambition to construct an ecosystem of the internet of things, or IoT. Most of its investments aim to generate strategic synergies, whether it is to diversify its product offerings or build up a library of content and services to supplement the devices. The question is whether Xiaomi’s hardware universe is generating the type of services income it covets.

Monetize from services

Back in 2013, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun vowed to invest in 100 hardware companies over a five-year period. The idea was to acquire scores of users through this vast network of competitively-priced devices, through which it could tout internet services like fintech products and video games.

That’s why Xiaomi has kept margins of its products razor-thin, sometimes to the dismay of its investees and suppliers. Its vision hasn’t quite materialized, as it continued to drive most of its income from smartphones and other hardware devices. Services comprised 12% of total revenue in the first quarter, although the segment did record a 38.6% increase from the year before.

Over time, the smartphone maker has evolved into a department store selling all sorts of everyday products, expanding beyond electronics to cover categories like stationaries, kitchenware, clothing and food — things one would find at Muji. It makes certain products in-house — like smartphones — and sources the others through a profit-sharing model with third parties, which it has financed or simply partners with under distribution agreements.

Xiaomi’s capital game

Many consumer product makers are on the fence about joining Xiaomi’s distribution universe. On the one hand, they can reach millions of consumers around the world through the giant’s vast network of e-commerce channels and physical stores. On the other, they worry about margin squeeze and overdependence on the Xiaomi brand.

As such, many companies that sell through Xiaomi have also carved out their own product lines. Nasdaq-listed Huami, which supplies Xiaomi’s Mi Band smartwatches, has its own Amazfit wearables that rival Fitbit. Roborock, an automatic vacuum maker trading on China’s Nasdaq equivalent, STAR Market, had been making Xiaomi’s Mi Home vacuums for a year before rolling out its own household brand.

With the looming economic downturn triggered by COVID-19, manufacturers might be increasingly turning to Xiaomi and other investors to cope with cash-flow liquidity challenges.

Along with its earnings, Xiaomi announced that it had bought an additional 27.44% stake in Zimi, the main supplier of its power banks, bringing its total stakes in the company to 49.91%. Xiaomi said the acquisition would boost Xiaomi’s competitiveness in “5G + AIoT,” a buzzword short for the next-gen mobile broadband technology and AI-powered IoT. For Zimi, the investment will likely alleviate some of the financial pressure it’s feeling under these difficult times.

Competition in the Chinese IoT industry is heating up as the country races to roll out 5G networks, which will enable wider adoption of connected devices. Just this week, Alibaba, which has its finger in many pies, announced pumping 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) into ramping up its Alexa-like smart voice assistant Genie, which will be further integrated into Alibaba’s e-commerce experience, online entertainment services and consumer hardware partners.

UK femtech startup Astinno, which is working on a wearable to combat hot flushes, picks up grant worth $450k

London-based femtech hardware startup Astinno has picked up an Innovate UK grant worth £360k ($450k) to fund further testing of a wearable it’s developing for women experiencing a perimenopause symptom known as hot flushes.

The sensor-packed device, which it’s calling Grace, is being designed to detect the onset of a hot flush and apply cooling to a woman’s wrist to combat the reaction — in a process it likens to running your wrists under a cold tap.

The aim is for algorithmically triggered cooling to be done in a timely enough manner to prevent hot flushes from running their usual unpleasant and uncomfortable course. While the bracelet wearable itself is being designed to look like a chunky piece of statement jewellery.

The femtech category in general has attracted an influx of funding in recent years, as venture capitalists slowly catch up to the opportunities available in products and services catering to women’s health issues.

But it’s fair to say menopause remains a still under-addresed segment within the category. Although there are now signs that more attention is being paid to issues that affect many hundreds of millions of middle aged (and some younger) women around the world.

The team working on Grace has built several prototypes to date, per founder Peter Astbury. He says some limited user tested has also been done. But they’ve yet to robustly prove efficacy of the core tech — hence taking grant funding for more advanced testing. At this stage of development there’s also no timeline for when a product might be brought to market.

Astinno and Morgan IAT, its commercial partner on the project, have been awarded the Innovate UK money via a publicly funded UK SMART grants scheme (the pair are getting match funding via the scheme, with the public body putting up 70% and Astinno and Morgan IAT funding the other 30% of their respective costs).

Loughborough University — Astbury’s alma mater — is also involved as a research party, and is being funded for 100% of its grant costs.

“Several prototypes have been created so far, mainly by myself having received electronics and design training as part of my degree at Loughborough University,” says Astbury. “Shortly after leaving university I also briefly worked with an electronics company who helped to refine some of the components within the Grace product.

“Morgan IAT has the crucial technical role of developing a number of prototypes in conjunction with Astinno. This includes both hardware and software development, building many more advanced prototypes that are being tested, refined and then tested again.

“We’re working with three researchers from Loughborough University which brings together industry leading expertise in menopause psychology and physiology. Based at the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, the researchers are using their fantastic lab facilities to test Grace, meaning that everything we’re doing is being validated by professional research. Once this step is complete, we’ll have more of an idea regarding product release time-frames.”

Astbury founded the startup last summer — but had begun work on the concept for Grace several years before, during his final year at Loughborough, back in 2016.

“As a member of Loughborough’s business incubator, ‘The Studio’, I was awarded an enterprise grant which helped to fund the business. I have also been putting my User Experience design skills and expertise to good use, contracting for start-ups and larger healthcare companies on a part-time basis to ‘bootstrap’ development,” he adds.

The idea for the wearable came after Astbury conducted user research by talking to women about their menopausal symptoms and hearing about their coping strategies for hot flushes and the night sweats that can be induced.

“A woman was telling me about her symptoms and how she coped with them until now. She would wake up ten to fifteen times each night due to her night sweats. Each time, she would go to the bathroom and run her wrists under cold water which helped the flush to subside. Looking into this method in more depth, it became clear that cooling an area of skin can indeed be extremely effective and there are lots of women that use this technique,” he explains.

“During a hot flush, your brain mistakenly thinks that you are becoming too warm and causes your body to lose heat. This results in sweating, a reddening of the skin and shortness of breath. The skin, however, acts like your body’s thermometer, passing information to your brain. By applying cooling to the skin at the right time, we’re harnessing the body’s natural temperature regulation system. The brain receives signals that you are cool and, in turn, the body reacts in a way that is directly opposite to a hot flush.”

“The real key to Grace is accurately and reliably pre-empting hot flushes (the automated nature of the bracelet) so that cooling can be applied at the earliest stage possible,” he adds. “We’re doing that using a specific line-up of sensor technology and algorithms all working together but I’m afraid the details of that can’t be disclosed publicly yet.”

Astbury says he was keen to get grant funding at this stage of product development to avoid dilution of the business, given VCs would require their chunk of equity.

“One of the best things about Innovate UK for a science-based start-up like Astinno is that it doesn’t contribute to the dilution of your business,” he notes. “By the end of a successful grant project, a company becomes a much more attractive investment from the perspective of both investors and the start-up. I have had discussions with multiple angels/VC’s and will maintain those relationships, however a grant was the best option for us at this stage.”

Africa e-tailer Jumia reports first full-year results post NYSE IPO

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia got into the black (by a small amount) on its gross profit vs. fulfillment expenses, expanded financial services and still posted losses.

The online sales company, with an operations center in China, also anticipates some negative impact on 2020 growth from the coronavirus outbreak, CEO Sacha Poigonnec said.

These were highlights today for Jumia’s fourth-quarter and full-year results — 10 months after the company became the first vc-backed startup in Africa to go public on a major exchange.

The results

Jumia — with online goods and services verticals in 11 countries — posted 2019 revenues of €160 million, representing growth of 24% over 2018. The company increased its annual active customer base in the fourth-quarter by 54%, to 6.1 million, from 4.0 million for the same period last year.

Jumia’s 2019 Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) — the total amount of goods sold over the period — contracted by 3% to €301 million in the fourth-quarter.

Poignonnec attributed the decline to “business mix re-balancing”, which entailed reducing expenditures on promotions. The company also saw a contraction in sales of phones and electronics, which impacted GMV.

The online retailer had a 49% increase in orders from 5.5 million in Q4 2018 to 8.3 million in Q4 2019.

Perhaps the brightest spot in Jumia’s 2019 performance was the company’s ability to reach a gross profit of €1.0 million after deducting fulfillment expenses in Q4.

That obviously doesn’t get them to profitability over all the company’s other expenses, but fulfillment costs have been historically high for Jumia as an online-retailer in Africa.

The overall pattern of growing revenues and customers YoY has been consistent for Jumia.

But so too have the company’s losses, which widened 34% in 2019 to €227.9 million, compared to €169.7 million in 2018. Negative EBITDA for Q4 increased 5% to €51.2 million from €48.6 over the same period in 2018.

CEO Sacha Poignonnec pointed to Jumia’s ability in Q4 to reach positive gross-profit over fulfillment expenses — one of the company’s largest costs — as a sign it could eventually get into the black overall.

“As we reach these milestones we’ll bring new milestones. This year we were profitable after fulfillment expenses and one day we’ll be profitable after marketing [expenses] and so on and so forth,” he said.

What’s new

Jumia exited several countries in 2019 — suspending e-commerce operations in Tanzania, Cameroon, and Rwanda. “We believe those countries have…potential in the long-term but decided to allocate our resources to the countries that best support our long-term growth and path to profitability,” said Poignonnec.

Jumia also saw lift in its JumiaPay digital finance product — and notably — is developing new financial services (including for SMEs) aided by its big financial investors, Mastercard and Axa.

Jumia launched an Axa money market fund product in Nigeria in 2019 and some promotional programs on Mastercard’s network, as noted in page 10 of its investor presentation.

 

Total payment volume on JumiaPay increased 57% year-over-year to €45.6 million in 2019 and JumiaPay was used for 29% of Jumia e-commerce orders.

This is significant, as the company has committed to generate more revenues from higher margin digital payment products and offer JumiaPay as a standalone service across Africa.

Since its founding in 2012, Jumia has been forced to adapt to slower digital payments integration in its core market Nigeria and allow cash-on-delivery payments, which are costly and more problematic than digital processing.

Poignonnec also acknowledged the company’s 2020 revenues could be negatively impacted by the coronavirus. “The recent…outbreak in China is likely to affect growth over the coming quarters, and here we are starting to face some challenges to fulfill our cross-border sales,” he said.

Share price

Surprisingly absent from Jumia’s earnings call (and the subsequent Q&A) was discussion of the company’s share price, which spiked then plummeted after its April 2019 NYSE listing.

The online retailer gained investor confidence out of the gate, more than doubling its $14.50 opening share price post IPO.

That lasted until May, when Jumia’s stock came under attack from short-seller Andrew Left, whose firm Citron Research issued a report accusing the company of fraud — which sent the company’s share price plummeting — from $49 to $26.

Then on its second-quarter earnings call in August, Jumia offered greater detail on the fraud perpetrated by some employees and agents of its JForce sales program. 

The company declared the matter closed, but Jumia’s stock price plummeted more after the August earnings call (and sales-fraud disclosure), and has lingered in single-digit value for several months.

That’s 50% below the company’s IPO opening in April and 80% below its high.

For the remainder of 2020, bringing back growth in GMV and building on positive metrics, such as attaining gross profit after fulfillment expenses, could revive investor confidence in Jumia and its share price.

It could also put the company in a better position to match competition — such as the Marketplace Africa e-commerce platform of MallforAfrica and DHL — and possible expansion in Africa of China’s Alibaba.

Here’s our pick of the top six startups from Pause Fest

We’ve been dropping into the Australian startup scene increasingly over the years as the ecosystem has been building at an increasingly faster pace, most notably at our own TechCrunch Battlefield Australia in 2017. Further evidence that the scene is growing has come recently in the shape of the Pause Fest conference in Melbourne. This event has gone from strength to strength in recent years and is fast becoming a must-attend for Aussie startups aiming for both national international attention.

I was able to drop in ‘virtually’ to interview a number of those showcased in the Startup Pitch Competition, so here’s a run-down of some of the stand-out companies.

Medinet Australia
Medinet Australia is a health tech startup aiming to make healthcare more convenient and accessible to Australians by allowing doctors to do consultations with patients via an app. Somewhat similar to apps like Babylon Health, Medinet’s telehealth app allows patients to obtain clinical advice from a GP remotely; access prescriptions and have medications delivered; access pathology results; directly email their medical certificate to their employer; and access specialist referrals along with upfront information about specialists such as their fees, waitlist, and patient experience. They’ve raised $3M in Angel financing and are looking for institutional funding in due course. Given Australia’s vast distances, Medinet is well-placed to capitalize on the shift of the population towards much more convenient telehealth apps. (1st Place Winner)

Everty
Everty allows companies to easily manage, monitor and monetize Electric Vehicle charging stations. But this isn’t about infrastructure. Instead, they link up workplaces and accounting systems to the EV charging network, thus making it more like a “Salesforce for EV charging”. It’s available for both commercial and home charging tracking. It’s also raised an Angel round and is poised to raise further funding. (2nd Place Winner)

AI On Spectrum
It’s a sad fact that people with Autism statistically tend to die younger, and unfortunately, the suicide rate is much higher for Autistic people. “Ai on Spectrum” takes an accessible approach in helping autistic kids and their families find supportive environments and feel empowered. The game encourages Autism sufferers to explore their emotional side and arms them with coping strategies when times get tough, applying AI and machine learning in the process to assist the user. (3rd Place Winner)

HiveKeeper
Professional bee-keepers need a fast, reliable, easy-to-use record keeper for their bees and this startup does just that. But it’s also developing a software+sensor technology to give beekeepers more accurate analytics, allowing them to get an early-warning about issues and problems. Their technology could even, in the future, be used to alert for coming bushfires by sensing the changed behavior of the bees. (Hacker Exchange Additional Winner)

Relectrify
Rechargeable batteries for things like cars can be re-used again, but the key to employing them is being able to extend their lives. Relectrify says its battery control software can unlock the full performance from every cell, increasing battery cycle life. It will also reduce storage costs by providing AC output without needing a battery inverter for both new and 2nd-life batteries. Its advanced battery management system combines power and electric monitoring to rapidly the check which are stronger cells and which are weaker making it possible to get as much as 30% more battery life, as well as deploying “2nd life storage”. So far, they have a project with Nissan and American Electric Power and have raised a Series A of $4.5M. (SingularityU Additional Winner)

Gabriel
Sadly, seniors and patients can contract bedsores if left too long. People can even die from bedsores. Furthermore, hospitals can end up in litigation over the issue. What’s needed is a technology that can prevent this, as well as predicting where on a patient’s body might be worst affected. That’s what Gabriel has come up with: using multi-modal technology to prevent and detect both falls and bedsores. Its passive monitoring technology is for the home or use in hospitals and consists of a resistive sheet with sensors connecting to a system which can understand the pressure on a bed. It has FDA approval, is patent-pending and is already working in some Hawaiin hospitals. It’s so far raised $2m in Angel and is now raising money.

Here’s a taste of Pause Fest:

An app tasked with reporting the results of the Iowa caucus has crashed

A smartphone app tasked with reporting the results of the Iowa caucus has crashed, delaying the result of the first major count in nominating a Democratic candidate to run for the U.S. presidency.

The result of the Iowa caucus was due to be transmitted by smartphone apps from delegates across the state on Monday, but a “quality control” issue was detected shortly before the result was expected.

“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” said Mandy McClure, a spokesperson for the Iowa Democrats.

“In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to value that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report,” said McClure, saying this was “not a hack or an intrusion.”

“The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results,” she said.

Some reports say that the result may not be called before Tuesday.

A report by NPR in January said the smartphone app was designed to save time in reporting the results, but bucked the trend in the use of smartphones in the voting process during a time where there are concerns that voting machines and other election infrastructure are feared vulnerable to hackers. Security concerns were raised about the app, whose developer has not yet been named nor its security practices, fearing that doing so would help hackers break into the system.

But the app was reportedly described as buggy and problematic by officials hours before the final results were due to be called.

Screenshots in tweets seen by TechCrunch, but have since been deleted, showed problems with the app as early as 6 pm local time.

One of the precinct chairs in Shelby County said they would call in her results instead.

Iowa is an important first round of votes to nominate a Democratic candidate for the presidency. The final candidate will be chosen later this year to run against presumed Republican candidate President Donald Trump.

EU lawmakers take fresh aim at Apple’s Lightning connector with latest e-waste push

The European parliament has voted overwhelmingly for tougher action to reduce e-waste, calling for the Commission to come up with beefed up rules by July 2020.

Specifically, the parliament wants the Commission to adopt the delegated act foreseen in the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive by that deadline — or else table a legislative measure by the same date, at the latest.

The resolution, which was approved by 582 votes to 40, points out that MEPs have been calling for a single charger for mobile devices for more than a decade now. But the Commission has repeatedly postponed taking steps to force an industry-wide shift. Subtext: We’re tired of the ongoing charging cable nightmare.

The parliament says there is now “an urgent need” for EU regulatory action on the issue — to shrink e-waste, empower consumers to make sustainable choices, and allow EU citizens to “fully participate in an efficient and well-functioning internal market”.

The resolution notes that around 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated globally per year, with an average of more than 6 kg per person.

While, in Europe in 2016, the figure for total e-waste generated was 12.3 million metric tonnes, equivalent to 16.6 kg on average per inhabitant — with the parliament asserting this represents “an unnecessary environmental footprint that can be reduced”.

To date, the Commission’s approach to the charger e-waste issue has been to lean on industry to take voluntary steps to reduce unnecessary variety. Which has resulted in a reduction of the number of charger types on the market — down from 30+ in 2009 to just three today — but still no universal charger which works across brands and device types (phones, tablets, e-readers etc).

Most notably, Apple continues to use its own Lightning port charger standard — while other device makers have switched to USB-based charging (such as the newest, USB-C standard).

When news emerged earlier this month of the parliament’s intention to vote on tougher measures to standardize mobile chargers Apple attacked the plan — arguing that regulation would ‘stifle innovation’.

But the tech giant has had plenty of years to chew over clever ways to switch from the proprietary charging port only it uses to one of two USB standards used by everyone else. So the ‘innovation’ argument seems a pretty stale one.

Meanwhile Apple has worked around previous EU attempts to push device makers to standardize charging on Micro USB by expanding its revenue-generating dongle collection — and selling Europeans a Lighting to Micro USB adaptor. Thereby necessitating even more e-waste.

Perhaps picking up on Apple’s ‘innovation’ framing sidestep, i.e. to try to duck the e-waste issue, the parliament also writes:

… that the Commission, without hampering innovation, should ensure that the legislative framework for a common charger will be scrutinised regularly in order to take into account technical progress; reiterates the importance of research and innovation in this domain to improve existing technologies and come up with new ones;

It also wants the Commission to grapple with the issue of wireless chargers — and take steps to ensure interoperability there too, so that wireless chargers aren’t locked to only one brand or device type.

Consumers should not be obliged to buy new chargers with each new device, per the resolution, with the parliament calling on the Commission to introduce strategies to decouple the purchase of chargers from a new device alongside a common charger solution — while making sure any decoupling measures do not result in higher prices for consumers.

It also wants the Commission to look at legislative options for increasing the volume of cables and chargers that are collected and recycled in EU member states.

We’ve reached out to the Commission for comment.

Per Reuters, officials in the executive are in agreement that the voluntary approach is not working and have said they plan to introduce legislation for a common charger this year.

Nvidia’s new 360Hz G-Sync displays are tailor-made for esports

Nvidia has developed new technology that enables 360Hz refresh rates on PC displays, achieving unprecedented responsiveness that’s perfectly suited to esports, where any advances in terms of refresh speeds can translate to improved performance during play.

Nvidia’s new G-sync tech that delivers the 360Hz refresh speeds will be coming to market first through a partnership with Asus, via the Asus ROG Swift 360 monitor that’s debuting at this week’s annual CES show in Las Vegas. It works in combination with Nvidia’s RTX line of GPUs, and will provide refresh rates that translate to less than 3 milliseconds of input latency, all available on a 24.5-inch, fully 1080p HD gaming panel.

Nvidia’s G-Sync tech debuted in 2013, and works by introducing Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) that syncs up the refresh rate of the display (provided it’s G-sync certified) with the GPU’s frame rate, so that you get optimized performance. Since its debut, Nvidia has been especially focused on optimizing G-Sync and its features for use by esports players and professionals, to ensure best possible reaction times in genres like shooters where every millisecond counts when it comes to aiming at and actually hitting your target.

The Asus ROG Swift 360 monitor will be coming out sometime “later this year,” and pricing isn’t yet available but you can bet it’ll be more than your average gaming monitor, given its advanced performance features and esports target market.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch