The Station: Canoo hits the road, Coup shutters and Samsung shifts

Welcome back to The Station, the go-to newsletter for keeping up-to-date on what the heck is going on in the world of transportation. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

Portions of the newsletter are published as an article on the main site after it has been emailed to subscribers (that’s what you’re reading now). The Station is emailed every Saturday morning. To get everything, you have to sign up. And it’s free. To subscribe, go to our newsletters page and click on The Station.

We love tips and feedback. Please reach out anytime and tell us what you love and don’t love so much. Email me at [email protected] to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Shared mopeds might be popular, but that doesn’t mean companies operating these services are guaranteed to succeed. This week, TechCrunch reporter Romain Dillet reported that Coup, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bosch that operates an electric moped scooter-sharing service in Berlin, Paris and Madrid, is shutting down.

The closure might surprise some, considering Coup has brand recognition and, according to the company a loyal customer base that uses its services. That’s not enough to be a profitable enterprise. Coup said that operating the service is “economically unsustainable” in the long term.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh learned from two sources familiar with the deal that Bangalore-based startup Bounce has raised about $150 million as part of an ongoing financing round led by existing investors Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and Accel Partners India. Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, operates more than 17,000 electric and gasoline scooters in three dozen cities in India.

The new round values the startup “well over $500 million,” the people said, requesting anonymity. This is a significant increase since the year-old startup’s Series C financing round, which closed in June, when it was worth a little more than $200 million.

Bounce, which is known for its cheap rental costs, along with competitors Vugo and Yulu are trying to carve market share away from ride-hailing companies like Uber . The big attraction isn’t necessarily price either. Traffic congestion is prompting people to turn to two wheels as well, giving Bounce and others a boost.

Subscriptions are so hot right now

the station electric vehicles1

Remember Canoo, the Los Angeles startup that revealed a minibus-type electric vehicle a few months back? We have an update. In short, the company’s rapid ramp continues to accelerate despite some legal headwinds.

Canoo is taking an interesting approach to EVs. It aims to offer a “subscription only” electric vehicle in the U.S. and China.

The company began life as Evelozcity in late 2017 after ex-BMW executives Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz left Faraday Future amid an internal power struggle. Evelozcity rebranded as Canoo in spring 2019 and unveiled its prototype electric vehicle several months later.

Now, the company is beta testing its EV on public roads. Canoo tells me that its focus is to validate the powertrain, steer-by-wire system, battery, chassis and body structure.

Canoo is building a fleet of more than 30 beta vehicles for various types of testing. The bulk of the beta testing is expected to take place over the next six months in various locations, including near Canoo’s Torrance, California headquarters, Toyota’s Arizona proving grounds and on public roads in Ohio.

Canoo said it’s also conducting hot and cold testing as well as focusing on the advanced driver assistance system in various locations.

Canoo electric vehicle

A subscription reboot

Automakers including Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen have been testing subscription programs with mixed success. Now, one failed pilot is coming back.

At an event in Los Angeles, GM’s Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl said the subscription service Book by Cadillac will return next year. GM’s luxury brand Cadillac will pilot the next-generation of the subscription service in San Francisco starting in the first quarter of 2020.

“We learned a lot from the first pilot… first, it verified that there is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to personal transportation,” Wahl said at the event. “Second, we learned that the BOOK model is enormously effective as a conquest mechanism: 70% of Book subscribers were new to Cadillac.”

Moving forward, Cadillac plans to integrate the subscription service into the retail dealer network, Wahl said.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

Samsung appears to be yet another company stepping back from a pursuit of full autonomy and refocusing efforts and investments towards advanced driver assistance technology. At least for now.

Several years ago, Samsung was all in on autonomous vehicle technology.  At CES in 2018, the company introduced its new Samsung DRVLINE platform — an “open, modular, and scalable hardware and software-based platform for the autonomous driving market. But Samsung is changing up its strategy.

The DRVLINE/Smart Machines team based out of its Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center has been shuttered, a source with direct knowledge of the events told me. This move also includes closing offices in Germany.

Let’s get wonky

the station autonomous vehicles1

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is keen to change how the 5.9 GHz band is used and that matters for connected car technology and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles.

For the unfamiliar, the 5.9 GHz band has been reserved for the past two decades to be used by the Dedicated Short Range Communications, a service in the Intelligent Transportation System that was designed to enable vehicle communication. (ITS is a joint operation that overlaps five offices under the Department of Transportation.)

In the FCC’s view, the DSRC service has evolved slowly and has not been widely deployed. The commission issued this month a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to take, what it calls “a fresh and comprehensive look” at the 5.9 GHz band rules and propose changes to how the spectrum is used.

The upshot: the FCC wants to carve up the band. The commission proposed dedicating the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band to meet current and future needs for transportation and vehicle safety-related communications, while repurposing the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of this proposed change is the FCC’s views on DSRC and what sounds like a strong endorsement for Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X). The FCC wants to revise the rules and give C-V2X the upper 20 megahertz of the band reserved for vehicle communications. The commission plans to seek comment on whether this segment of the spectrum should be reserved for DSRC or C-V2X systems.

C-V2X, which the 5G Automotive Association supports, would use standard cellular protocols to provide direct communications between vehicles as well as infrastructure like traffic signals. But here’s the thing. C-V2X is incompatible with DSRC-based operations.

It’s pretty clear which way the FCC is leaning. In a speech Nov. 20, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he believes the government “should encourage the expansion and evolution of this new vehicle-safety technology.” Pai insists that the FCC is not “closing the door” on DSRC, but instead allowing for both.

“So moving forward, let’s resist the notion that we have to choose between automotive safety and Wi-Fi,” Pai said in his speech. “My proposal would do far more for both automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo.”

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model, after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system that is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening up the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a ‘bloom’ gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation ‘holographic processing unit.’

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors that allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latencies when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.

Porsche pilots online vehicle sales in the U.S. and Germany

Porsche will begin selling its vehicles online in the U.S. for the first time, the company announced on Monday. To begin with, the company is proceeding with a pilot program that will be offered with 25 of its U.S.-based dealer partners, but the automaker says it could expand to cover the U.S. market more broadly across a larger group of the 191 independent Porsche dealers that currently operate in the U.S.

The pilot project will let Porsche buyers pick out and submit an order for both new and used in-stock vehicles, but the process isn’t entirely online – buyers will still have to show up at a dealership to sign the final paperwork, and to take delivery of their new car. All the heavy lifting is handled online, however, including things like financing and payment calculators, as well as credit approvals and any insurance options that a buyer chooses to append to their purchase.

U.S. online shoppers will be able to do all of this through new sections integrated into the websites of the dealers participating into the program. Meanwhile, at the same time in Germany, Porsche is introducing online vehicle sales centralized through their own ‘www.porsche.de’ website, which itself is a pilot designed to test the waters for a broader European roll-out.

Online auto sales are not new, but they still aren’t really a widespread thing in most markets, especially in the U.S. where the existing independent dealership system persists. Tesla leaned heavily into online vehicle sales, however, due in part to its unwillingness to work with independent dealer partners, and to the inflexibility of state laws that protect that system. The automaker’s investment in automotive ecommerce has clearly inspired others to follow suit, however, and I don’t expect Porsche will be the last to dip its toes in these waters.

Morpheus Space’s modular, scalable satellite propulsion could be a game-changer for orbital industry

Building effective propulsion systems for satellites has traditionally been a highly bespoke affair, with expensive, one-off systems tailor-made to big, expensive spacecraft hardware. But increasingly, companies including startups are looking at ways to provide propulsion tech that can scale with the projected boom in demand for orbital satellites, including cube sats and small sats, as the commercialization of space and advances in sensor, communication and launch technology broaden the scope of those working in this bold new frontier.

Morpheus Space, which began life as a research project at the University of Western Germany, has accomplished a lot when it comes to propulsion in the short time since its official founding around a year and a half ago. The Dresden-based startup already has sent some of its thrusters to space where they’re actually providing propulsion, and it’s working with a number of clients and potential clients including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The startup also just wrapped up its participation in Techstars’ inaugural Starburst Space Program in LA.

“Our motivation behind starting Morpheus Sapce was the lack of maneuverability of, especially small satellites in space,” explained Morpheus CEO and co-founder Daniel Bock, who I spoke to at last week’s International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C. “We have around 2,000active satellites in space, and in the next few years this will increase by 10x. We have to deal with that. So the first step in how we want to solve that is with our proportion systems, to give mobility to small satellites.”

The startup has seen a ton of inbound interest, and has even had conversations with the CTO of NASA and the CEO of Aerospace Corporation based on the strength of its technology. But what’s so special about what they’re doing, vs. what has already been available for satellite propulsion? Put simply, “it’s the world’s smallest and most efficient propulsion system,” according to Morpheus Space co-founder István Lőrincz.

NanoFEEP V2 SingelUnit Assembly V1.0 transparent Unschärfe

A single Morpheus NanoFEEP thruster propulsion system.

Morpheus’ thruster uses gallium as its fuel source, which allows it to be very efficient, with an operating linespace of up to three or more years – non-stop, Lőrincz told me. When you factor in the low cost of these thrusters vs. other solutions, and the ability to make them incredibly small (one thruster, along with electronics, is not that much larger than your average USB charger), you get a product that’s tailor made for the cost-sensitive emerging new space industry. Ensuring the mass of these thrusters is small pays off big dividends when it comes to thinking about launch costs, and the fact that these are ‘LEGO-like’ in their modularity means they can suit a variety of different clients’ needs.

“You can build propulsion systems for satellites that are below one kilogram, up to those the size of trucks, just by creating arrays,” Lőrincz says.

3U Satellite Rendering MF transparent

An example of a Morpheus multi-thruster array used in a 3U-sized small satellite.

Size is important, but so is scalability, and that’s another strength that the Morpheus thrusters bring to the market. Lőrincz told me that their technology allows you quickly and easily build a large batch of the thrusters, instead of having to tailor-make your propulsion system to fit the satellite, which provides big benefits in terms of manufacturing and design costs – which Morpheus can then pass on to its customers, opening up the possibility of including true orbital maneuvering capabilities to a whole new, much more price-sensitive segment of the market.

Next up for Morpheus Space, after it gets its hardware business fully up and running, is to develop and deploy software that complements its thrusters and can offer clients things like fully automated route planning and navigation, Bock told me.

“For example, you can imagine you just have to command ‘Okay I want to go from A to B,’ and everything is handled on board,” he said. So when and how you turn, all the routing. And the next step will be an automated way of handling whole constellations.”

It’s a big goal, but there’s a big potential pay-off. More and more companies are getting into the constellation game, including SpaceX and Amazon, and there’s a lot more to come on that front as companies build out new use cases for collecting and making use of data gathered from orbit. Orbital traffic management and collision avoidance is one reason big industry groups like the Space Safety Coalition are being formed, and anyone who can help supply players at all budget levels of the industry with a solution stands to benefit.

Duffel raises $30M led by Index Ventures to disintermediate legacy travel platforms

Huge travel platforms that run airline booking systems like Sabre and Amadeus were invented eons ago and are so large and cumbersome that innovating with them is no easy feat. In the same way that challenger banks have come along to re-invent the banking software Starck, UK startup Duffel has done the same in the travel market, linking up airlines directly with travel agents with a 21st Century platform.

Today it’s announced a $30m Series B funding round from investors Index Ventures, and they were joined by existing investors Benchmark Capital and Blossom Capital . Its airline partners already include American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa Group, Aegean Airlines, Vueling, and Iberia.

Duffel will use the new funds to hire more engineers and increase its broader team. It is focusing on expanding in North America and Europe, with its first customers drawn from the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany and Spain.

Duffel enables travel agencies to plug in directly to airlines’ reservation systems via an API so that they can pull real-time flight offers, make bookings, access live seat availability, and buy extra services. This means new digital and mobile app-based travel agencies – Duffel’s target market – can bypass the long lead times and high costs associated with the legacy flight booking systems. They are then able to see live seat availability from some of the world’s biggest airlines, as well as additional offers on in-flight meals or luggage allocations.

Steve Domin, co-founder and CEO of Duffel, said: “A new breed of online agencies want to access reservation systems quickly and seamlessly. By reinventing the underwiring between online agents and airlines we can transform the world of travel booking and reduce barriers to entry for innovative new companies that are offering travelers a whole new way of creating a holiday or trip.”

In the same way that banking systems have been opened up by deregulation, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) created a new industry standard, known as New Distribution Capability (NDC), which transformed the way air products are retailed through the use of modern XML technology. The problem was, the legacy platforms didn’t take much interest. Duffel has obviously come along to take advantage of that.

Jan Hammer, partner at Index Ventures, said: “We are incredibly impressed by the Duffel team, who we have supported since the days of their seed funding. There is an opportunity here to transform the booking experience for travelers and ease many of the pain points in the industry. From the launch of budget airlines to sharing economy businesses like Airbnb, travel has changed and Duffel will provide the tools, built from the ground up, that make the next wave of innovation possible.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, Domin said: “Historically it’s been very hard to sell travel products to agencies. Integrations are hard. There is too much complexity. We are bundling it all into a very simple API and 2 hours later you can have it running on a site or a mobile app.”

“We are connecting directly to airlines’ reservation systems. If you go on a site that uses Duffel, we will forward – to the airline – the right search request, and the airline generates the offer in real-time.”

“Airlines were trying to modernize their booking systems with Amadeus and Sabre but they have not moved quickly on adapting to what the airlines wanted. When the IATA came up with its new XML platform, no-one wanted to use it. So we did.”

Is Duffel a threat to the legacy platforms? “Potentially,” he says, “but I don’t think they see it that way. They don’t see the benefit of engineering and developer experience. In a way, I hope we will be a threat but I don’t think we are right now.”

He said Duffel has future plans to expand to other products like trains and hotels.

Europe’s top court sets new line on policing illegal speech online

Europe’s top court has set a new line for the policing of illegal speech online. The ruling has implications for how speech is regulated on online platforms — and is likely to feed into wider planned reform of regional rules governing platforms’ liabilities.

Per the CJEU decision, platforms such as Facebook can be instructed to hunt for and remove illegal speech worldwide — including speech that’s “equivalent” to content already judged illegal.

Although any such takedowns remain within the framework of “relevant international law”.

So in practice it does not that mean a court order issued in one EU country will get universally applied in all jurisdictions as there’s no international agreement on what constitutes unlawful speech or even more narrowly defamatory speech.

Existing EU rules on the free flow of information on ecommerce platforms — aka the eCommerce Directive — which state that Member States cannot force a “general content monitoring obligation” on intermediaries, do not preclude courts from ordering platforms to remove or block illegal speech, the court has decided.

That decision worries free speech advocates who are concerned it could open the door to general monitoring obligations being placed on tech platforms in the region, with the risk of a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Facebook has also expressed concern. Responding to the ruling in a statement, a spokesperson told us:

“This judgement raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular country. At Facebook, we already have Community Standards which outline what people can and cannot share on our platform, and we have a process in place to restrict content if and when it violates local laws. This ruling goes much further. It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country. It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is “equivalent” to content that has been found to be illegal. In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what ”identical” and ”equivalent” means in practice. We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

The legal questions were referred to the CJEU by a court in Austria, and stem from a defamation action brought by Austrian Green Party politician, Eva Glawischnig, who in 2016 filed suit against Facebook after the company refused to take down posts she claimed were defamatory against her.

In 2017 an Austrian court ruled Facebook should take the defamatory posts down and do so worldwide. However Glawischnig also wanted it to remove similar posts, not just identical reposts of the illegal speech, which she argued were equally defamatory.

The current situation where platforms require notice of illegal content before carrying out a takedown are problematic, from one perspective, given the scale and speed of content distribution on digital platforms — which can make it impossible to keep up with reporting re-postings.

Facebook’s platform also has closed groups where content can be shared out of sight of non-members, and where an individual could therefore have no ability to see unlawful content that’s targeted at them — making it essentially impossible for them to report it.

While the case concerns the scope of the application of defamation law on Facebook’s platform the ruling clearly has broader implications for regulating a range of “unlawful” content online.

Specifically the CJEU has ruled that an information society service “host provider” can be ordered to:

  • … remove information which it stores, the content of which is identical to the content of information which was previously declared to be unlawful, or to block access to that information, irrespective of who requested the storage of that information;
  • … remove information which it stores, the content of which is equivalent to the content of information which was previously declared to be unlawful, or to block access to that information, provided that the monitoring of and search for the information concerned by such an injunction are limited to information conveying a message the content of which remains essentially unchanged compared with the content which gave rise to the finding of illegality and containing the elements specified in the injunction, and provided that the differences in the wording of that equivalent content, compared with the wording characterising the information which was previously declared to be illegal, are not such as to require the host provider to carry out an independent assessment of that content;
  • … remove information covered by the injunction or to block access to that information worldwide within the framework of the relevant international law

The court has sought to balance the requirement under EU law of no general monitoring obligation on platforms with the ability of national courts to regulate information flow online in specific instances of illegal speech.

In the judgement the CJEU also invokes the idea of Member States being able to “apply duties of care, which can reasonably be expected from them and which are specified by national law, in order to detect and prevent certain types of illegal activities” — saying the eCommerce Direction does not stand in the way of states imposing such a requirement.

Some European countries are showing appetite for tighter regulation of online platforms. In the UK, for instance, the government laid out proposals for regulating a board range of online harms earlier this year. While, two years ago, Germany introduced a law to regulate hate speech takedowns on online platforms.

Over the past several years the European Commission has also kept up pressure on platforms to speed up takedowns of illegal content — signing tech companies up to a voluntary code of practice, back in 2016, and continuing to warn it could introduce legislation if targets are not met.

Today’s ruling is thus being interpreted in some quarters as opening the door to a wider reform of EU platform liability law by the incoming Commission — which could allow for imposing more general monitoring or content-filtering obligations, aligned with Member States’ security or safety priorities.

“We can trace worrying content blocking tendencies in Europe,” says Sebastian Felix Schwemer, a researcher in algorithmic content regulation and intermediary liability at the University of Copenhagen. “The legislator has earlier this year introduced proactive content filtering by platforms in the Copyright DSM Directive (“uploadfilters”) and similarly suggested in a Proposal for a Regulation on Terrorist Content as well as in a non-binding Recommendation from March last year.”

Critics of a controversial copyright reform — which was agreed by European legislators earlier this year — have warned consistently that it will result in tech platforms pre-filtering user generated content uploads. Although the full impact remains to be seen, as Member States have two years from April 2019 to pass legislation meeting the Directive’s requirements.

In 2018 the Commission also introduced a proposal for a regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online — which explicitly included a requirement for platforms to use filters to identify and block re-uploads of illegal terrorist content. Though the filter element was challenged in the EU parliament.

“There is little case law on the question of general monitoring (prohibited according to Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive), but the question is highly topical,” says Schwemer. “Both towards the trend towards proactive content filtering by platforms and the legislator’s push for these measures (Article 17 in the Copyright DSM Directive, Terrorist Content Proposal, the Commission’s non-binding Recommendation from last year).”

Schwemer agrees the CJEU ruling will have “a broad impact” on the behavior of online platforms — going beyond Facebook and the application of defamation law.

“The incoming Commission is likely to open up the E-Commerce Directive (there is a leaked concept note by DG Connect from before the summer),” he suggests. “Something that has previously been perceived as opening Pandora’s Box. The decision will also play into the coming lawmaking process.”

The ruling also naturally raises the question of what constitutes “equivalent” unlawful content? And who and how will they be the judge of that?

The CJEU goes into some detail on “specific elements” it says are needed for non-identical illegal speech to be judged equivalently unlawful, and also on the limits of the burden that should be placed on platforms so they are not under a general obligation to monitor content — ultimately implying that technology filters, not human assessments, should be used to identify equivalent speech.

From the judgement:

… it is important that the equivalent information referred to in paragraph 41 above contains specific elements which are properly identified in the injunction, such as the name of the person concerned by the infringement determined previously, the circumstances in which that infringement was determined and equivalent content to that which was declared to be illegal. Differences in the wording of that equivalent content, compared with the content which was declared to be illegal, must not, in any event, be such as to require the host provider concerned to carry out an independent assessment of that content.

In those circumstances, an obligation such as the one described in paragraphs 41 and 45 above, on the one hand — in so far as it also extends to information with equivalent content — appears to be sufficiently effective for ensuring that the person targeted by the defamatory statements is protected. On the other hand, that protection is not provided by means of an excessive obligation being imposed on the host provider, in so far as the monitoring of and search for information which it requires are limited to information containing the elements specified in the injunction, and its defamatory content of an equivalent nature does not require the host provider to carry out an independent assessment, since the latter has recourse to automated search tools and technologies.

“The Court’s thoughts on the filtering of ‘equivalent’ information are interesting,” Schwemer continues. “It boils down to that platforms can be ordered to track down illegal content, but only under specific circumstances.

“In its rather short judgement, the Court comes to the conclusion… that it is no general monitoring obligation on hosting providers to remove or block equivalent content. That is provided that the search of information is limited to essentially unchanged content and that the hosting provider does not have to carry out an independent assessment but can rely on automated technologies to detect that content.”

While he says the court’s intentions — to “limit defamation” — are “good” he points out that “relying on filtering technologies is far from unproblematic”.

Filters can indeed be an extremely blunt tool. Even basic text filters can be triggered by words that contain a prohibited spelling. While applying filters to block defamatory speech could lead to — for example — inadvertently blocking lawful reactions that quote the unlawful speech.

The ruling also means platforms and/or their technology tools are being compelled to define the limits of free expression under threat of liability. Which pushes them towards setting a more conservative line on what’s acceptable expression on their platforms — in order to shrink their legal risk.

Although definitions of what is unlawful speech and equivalently unlawful will ultimately rest with courts.

It’s worth pointing out that platforms are already defining speech limits — just driven by their own economic incentives.

For ad supported platforms, these incentives typically demand maximizing engagement and time spent on the platform — which tends to encourage users to spread provocative/outrageous content.

That can sum to clickbait and junk news. Equally it can mean the most hateful stuff under the sun.

Without a new online business model paradigm that radically shifts the economic incentives around content creation on platforms the tension between freedom of expression and illegal hate speech will remain. As will the general content monitoring obligation such platforms place on society.

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.

jacquard dongle

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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‘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.

William Lynch

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.

Remagine secures $35M fund backed by media giants to focus on entertainment and media tech

Remagine Ventures is a relatively new European VC fund which focuses on investments in entertainment tech, including AI, gaming, sports & eSports, AR/VR, consumer and commerce. It’s now completed $35 million in funding from a number of entertainment and media corporations, including Axel Springer and ProsiebenSat1, Japanese Adways and American Liontree LLC. Last year global media group Sky put $4 million into the fund as part of the launch of its new innovation office in Berlin.

To date, the fund has invested in six entertainment start-ups, including: Minute Media, a user-generated content platform for sports, Syte.ai a visual search startup, Novos, a gamer training platform, HourOne, which operates in the world of synthetic media, Vault-ai.com, predictive analytics for film and television and Madskil, an eSports company in stealth.

Started by investor/entrepreneurs Kevin Baxpehler and Eze Vidra, Remagine focuses on early-stage (seed and pre-seed) investments in Israel and UK, with synergies between the two territories.
Traditionally, Israel has been better know for it’s ‘deep tech’capabilities but there’s a growing ecosystem of entertainment tech and consumer startups looking to disrupt traditional traditional industries.

Vidra established Campus London, Google’s first physical hubs for startups and later expanded the Campus model internationally. He was also a general partner Google Ventures (GV), the company’s investment arm in Europe.

Baxpehler, is a former entrepreneur and investment banker from in Germany. He most recently led the investment activity of German entertainment giant ProSiebenSat.1 in Israel, investing in Dynamic Yield (which recently sold for $300 million to McDonalds) and Magisto, which was acquired by Vimeo for $200 million.

Vidra said: “We operate in a relatively new market in the Israeli ecosystem. The Entertainment-tech sector has tremendous momentum, and Israeli founders are expanding at a rapid pace in this world and we recognize huge potential in it.” Baxpehler added: “Eze and I have experience in the investment world, the entrepreneurial world and the corporate world. We want to meet startups very early, to accompany and guide them even before investing.”

Wikipedia blames malicious DDOS attack after site goes down across Europe, Middle East

Wikipedia was forced offline in several countries Friday after a cyber attack hit the global encyclopedia.

Users across Europe and parts of the Middle East experienced outages shortly before 7pm, BST, according to downdetector.com.

Wikimedia’s German Twitter account posted: “The Wikimedia server…is currently being paralysed by a massive and very broad DDOS [distributed denial of service] attack.”

The site issued the following statement:

Today, Wikipedia was hit with a malicious attack that has taken it offline in several countries for intermittent periods. The attack is ongoing and our Site Reliability Engineering team is working hard to stop it and restore access to the site.

As one of the world’s most popular sites, Wikipedia sometimes attracts “bad faith” actors. Along with the rest of the web, we operate in an increasingly sophisticated and complex environment where threats are continuously evolving. Because of this, the Wikimedia communities and Wikimedia Foundation have created dedicated systems and staff to regularly monitor and address risks. If a problem occurs, we learn, we improve, and we prepare to be better for next time.

We condemn these sorts of attacks. They’re not just about taking Wikipedia offline. Takedown attacks threaten everyone’s fundamental rights to freely access and share information. We in the Wikimedia movement and Foundation are committed to protecting these rights for everyone.

Right now, we’re continuing to work to restore access wherever you might be reading Wikipedia in the world. We’ll keep you posted.”

The site was reported to be down in large parts of the UK as well as Poland, France, Germany and Italy.