Deep data running wearable NURVV closes $9M Series A led by Hiro Capital

Launched at CES 2020, NURVV, a biomechanics startup, has closed a $9m Series A round, led by Hiro Capital, the sports/Esports VC fund, along with co-investment from Ian Livingstone CBE (Games Workshop co-founder) and Cherry Freeman (co-founder of LoveCrafts).

It turns out that if you can figure out how to protect a smartphone from smashing, you can also work out how high a basketball player can jump.

Jason Roberts founded Tech21, one of the world’s leading smartphone case manufacturers. He and his co-founder and wife Ulrica have now used that knowledge to launch new wearable tech product, which, when inserted into the sole of a shoe, can measure the strike of a foot on the ground, or the leap of its wearer.

The wearable uses 32 sensors fitted inside lightweight insoles to capture data from the feet at 1,000 times per second, per sensor.

The money will be used to bring NURVV’s debut product, NURVV Run, to a global market and fund further R&D.

Featured among the best lists of Wired, CNET and Gear Patrol, the wearable has also been tested by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory over the past three years,

It can measure running metrics such as cadence, step length, footstrike, pronation and balance, feeding the data into the NURVV Run coaching app to show a picture of the wearer’s running technique, and thus helping runners improve their technique and pace.

While runners are already able to collect a huge amount of data about their run, the data is always after the run. Jason Roberts, founder and CEO, says NURVV Run captures a runner’s metrics “directly from the point of action at the foot, before using live coaching to help them improve in a simple, easy-to-understand way.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, Jason Roberts told me that the technology built into the sole is more “accurate than watches for steps, strides or energy dissipated. It will even detect when you are injured.”

He said “you could even broadcast a player’s live steps. Imagine if you could see that data from basketball?”

Co-founder Ulrica Roberts (pictured) added: “We kept coming back to the same question: ‘Why is running measured from the wrist, when most of the important metrics happen at the feet?… We sought out the expertise to make it happen.”

Luke Alvarez, managing Partner of Hiro, said in a statement: “Hiro is delighted to be investing in NURVV as our Fund’s fourth deal and our first Sports tech investment. NURVV’s success comes from putting the athlete’s body at the heart of everything they do. Nurvv is based on fundamental patented sensor technologies combined with deep biomechanics and data science that have revolutionary potential across sports, gaming, VR/AR and wellness.  Jason and Ulrica are extraordinary entrepreneurs and we are excited to be working with them and their team to take NURVV to the next level.”

MicroEJ is taking over IoT on Earth and beyond

The internet of things (IoT) market is expanding at a rate where distinguishing it as a separate category is beginning to seem a bit absurd. Increasingly, new products — and updates of existing ones — are smart and/or connected. One company is changing the fundamental calculus behind this shift by lowering the barrier considerably when it comes to what it costs to make something ‘smart,’ both in terms of the upfront bill of materials, along with subsequent support and development costs.

MicroEJ CEO Fred Rivard took me through his company’s history from its founding in 2004 until now. Much of those earlier years were spent in development, but since around 2012 or so, the French company has been deploying for IoT devices what Android is to smartphones — a flexible, extensible platform that can operate on a wide range of hardware profiles while being relatively easy to target for application and feature developers. MicroEJ takes the ‘code once, deploy anywhere’ maxim to the extreme, since its platform is designed from the ground up to be incredibly conservative when it comes to resource consumption, meaning it can run on hardware with as little as one-tenth or more the bill of materials cost of running more complex operating platforms — like Android Things, for instance.

“We take category of device where currently, Android is too big,” Rivard said. “So it doesn’t fit, even though you would like to have the capability to add software easily devices, but you can’t because Android is too big. The cost of entry is roughly $10 to $15 per unit in hardware and bill of material — that’s the cost of Android […] So it would be great to be able to run an Android layer, but you can’t just because of the cost. So we managed to reduce that cost, and to basically design a very small layer that’s1000 times smarter than Android.”

Arduino launches a new modular platform for IoT development

Arduino, the open-source hardware platform, today announced the launch of a new low-code platform and modular hardware system for IoT development. The idea here is to give small and medium businesses the tools to develop IoT solutions without having to invest in specialized engineering resources.

The new hardware, dubbed the Arduino Portenta H7,  features everything you’d need to get started with building an IoT hardware platform, including a crypto-authentication chip and communications modules for WiFi, Bluetooth Low Energy and LTE, as well as Narrowband IoT. Powered by 32-bit Arm microcontrollers, either the Cortex-M7 or M4, these low-power modules are meant for designing industrial applications, as well as edge processing solutions and robotics applications. It’ll run Arm’s Mbed OS and support Arduino code, as well as Python and Javascript applications.

“SMBs with industrial requirements require simplified development through secure development tools, software and hardware to economically realize their IoT use cases,” said Charlene Marini, the VP of strategy for Arm’s IoT Services Group. “The combination of Mbed OS with Cortex-M IP in the new Arduino Portenta Family will enable Arduino’s millions of developers to securely and easily develop and deploy IoT devices from prototypes through to production.”

The new H7 module is now available to beta testers, with general availability slated for February 2020.

2019 was a hot mess for cybersecurity, but 2020 shows promise

It’s no secret that I hate predictions — not least because the security field changes rapidly, making it difficult to know what’s next. But given what we know about the past year, we can make some best-guesses at what’s to come.

Ransomware will get worse, and local governments will feel the heat

File-encrypting malware that demands money for the decryption key, known as ransomware, has plagued local and state governments in the past year. There have been a near-constant stream of attacks in the past year — Pensacola, Florida and Jackson County, Georgia to name a few. Governments and local authorities are particularly vulnerable as they’re often underfunded, unresourced and unable to protect their systems from many major threats. Worse, many are without cybersecurity insurance, which often doesn’t pay out anyway.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said ransomware is designed to “inflict fear and uncertainty, disrupt vital services, and sow distrust in public institutions.”

“While often viewed as basic digital extortion, ransomware has had materially adverse impacts on markets, social services like education, water, and power, and on healthcare delivery, as we have seen in a number of states and municipalities across the United States,” he said earlier this year.

As these kinds of cyberattacks increase and victims feel compelled to pay to get their files back, expect hackers to continue to carry on attacking smaller, less prepared targets.

California’s privacy law will take effect — but its repercussions won’t be immediately known

On January 1, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) began protecting the state’s 40 million residents. The law, which has similarities to Europe’s GDPR, aims to put much of a consumer’s data back in their control. The law gives consumers a right to know what information companies have on them, a right to have that information deleted and the right to opt-out of the sale of that information.

But many companies are worried — so much so that they’re lobbying for a weaker but overarching federal law to supersede California’s new privacy law. The CCPA’s enforcement provisions will kick in some six months later, starting in July. Many companies are not prepared and it’s unclear exactly what impact the CCPA will have.

One thing is clear: expect penalties. Under GDPR, companies can be fined up to 4% of their global annual revenue. California’s law works on a sliding scale of fines, but the law also allows class action suits that could range into the high millions against infringing companies.

More data exposures to be expected as human error takes control

If you’ve read any of my stories over the past year, you’ll know that data exposures are as bad, if not worse than data breaches. Exposures, where people or companies inadvertently leave unsecured information online rather than an external breach by a hacker, are often caused by human error.

The problem became so bad that Amazon has tried to stem the flow of leaks by providing tools that detect inadvertently public data. Those tools will only go so far. Education and awareness can go far further. Expect more data exposures over the next year, as companies — and staff — continue to make mistakes with their users’ data.

Voter databases and election websites are the next target

Whatever happened to the Next Big Things?

In tech, this was the smartphone decade. In 2009, Symbian was still the dominant ‘smartphone’ OS, but 2010 saw the launch of the iPhone 4, the Samsung Galaxy S, and the Nexus One, and today Android and iOS boast four billion combined active devices. Smartphones and their apps are a mature market, now, not a disruptive new platform. So what’s next?

The question presupposes that something has to be next, that this is a law of nature. It’s easy to see why it might seem that way. Over the last thirty-plus years we’ve lived through three massive, overlapping, world-changing technology platform shifts: computers, the Internet, and smartphones. It seems inevitable that a fourth must be on the horizon.

There have certainly been no shortage of nominees over the last few years. AR/VR; blockchains; chatbots; the Internet of Things; drones; self-driving cars. (Yes, self-driving cars would be a platform, in that whole new sub-industries would erupt around them.) And yet one can’t help but notice that every single one of those has fallen far short of optimistic predictions. What is going on?

You may recall that the growth of PCs, the Internet, and smartphones did not ever look wobbly or faltering. Here’s a list of Internet users over time: from 16 million in 1995 to 147 million in 1998. Here’s a list of smartphone sales since 2009: Android went from sub-1-million units to over 80 million in just three years. That’s what a major platform shift looks like.

Let’s compare each of the above, shall we? I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison. Each has had champions arguing it will, in fact, be That Big, and even people with more measured expectations have predicted growth will at least follow the trajectory of smartphones or the Internet, albeit maybe to a lesser peak. But in fact…

AR/VR: Way back in 2015 I spoke to a very well known VC who confidently predicted a floor of 10 million devices per year well before the end of this decade. What did we get? 3.7M to 4.7M to 6M, 2017 through 2019, while Oculus keeps getting reorg’ed. A 27% annual growth rate is OK, sure, but a consistent 27% growth rate is more than a little worrying for an alleged next big thing; it’s a long, long way from “10xing in three years.” Many people also predicted that by the end of this decade Magic Leap would look like something other than an utter shambles. Welp. As for other AR/VR startups, their state is best described as “sorry.”

Blockchains: I mean, Bitcoin’s doing just fine, sure, and is easily the weirdest and most interesting thing to have happened to tech in the 2010s; but the entire rest of the space? I’m broadly a believer in cryptocurrencies, but if you were to have suggested in mid-2017 to a true believer that, by the end of 2019, enterprise blockchains would essentially be dead, decentralized app usage would still be measured in the low thousands, and no real new use cases would have arisen other than collateralized lending for a tiny coterie — I mean, they would have been outraged. And yet, here we are.

Chatbots: No, seriously, chatbots were celebrated as the platform of the future not so long ago. (Alexa, about which more in a bit, is not a chatbot.) “The world is about to be re-written, and bots are going to be a big part of the future” was an actual quote. Facebook M was the future. It no longer exists. Microsoft’s Tay was the future. It really no longer exists. It was replaced by Zo. Did you know that? I didn’t. Zo also no longer exists.

The Internet of Things: let’s look at a few recent headlines, shall we? “Why IoT Has Consistently Fallen Short of Predictions.” “Is IoT Dead?” “IoT: Yesterday’s Predictions vs. Today’s Reality.” Spoiler: that last one does not discuss about how reality has blown previous predictions out of the water. Rather, “The reality turned out to be far less rosy.”

Drones: now, a lot of really cool things are happening in the drone space, I’ll be the first to aver. But we’re a long way away from physical packet-switched networks. Amazon teased Prime Air delivery way back in 2015 and made its first drone delivery way back in 2016, which is also when it patented its blimp mother ship. People expected great things. People still expect great things. But I think it’s fair to say they expected … a bit more … by now.

Self-driving cars: We were promised so much more, and I’m not even talking about Elon Musk’s hyperbole. From 2016: “10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020.” “True self-driving cars will arrive in 5 years, says Ford“. We do technically have a few, running in a closed pilot project in Phoenix, courtesy of Waymo, but that’s not what Ford was talking about: “Self-driving Fords that have no steering wheels, brake or gas pedals will be in mass production within five years.” So, 18 months from now, then. 12 months left for that “10 million” prediction. You’ll forgive a certain skepticism on my part.

The above doesn’t mean we haven’t seen any successes, of course. A lot of new kinds of products have been interesting hits: AirPods, the Apple Watch, the Amazon Echo family. All three are more new interfaces than whole new major platforms, though; not so much a gold rush as a single vein of silver.

You may notice I left machine learning / AI off the list. This is in part because it definitely has seen real qualitative leaps, but a) there seems to be a general concern that we may have entered the flattening of an S-curve there, rather than continued hypergrowth, b) either way, it’s not a platform. Moreover, the wall that both drones and self-driving cars have hit is labelled General Purpose Autonomy … in other words, it is an AI wall. AI does many amazing things, but when people predicted 10M self-driving cars on the roads next year, it means they predicted AI would be good enough to drive them. In fact it’s getting there a lot slower than we expected.

Any one of these technologies could define the next decade. But another possibility, which we have to at least consider, is that none of them might. It is not an irrefutable law of nature that just as one major tech platform begins to mature another must inevitably start its rise. We may well see a lengthy gap before the next Next Big Thing. Then we may see two or three rise simultaneously. But if your avowed plan is that this time you’re totally going to get in on the ground floor — well, I’m here to warn you, you may have a long wait in store.

Many smart home device makers still won’t say if they give your data to the government

A year ago, we asked some of the most prominent smart home device makers if they have given customer data to governments. The results were mixed.

The big three smart home device makers — Amazon, Facebook and Google (which includes Nest) — all disclosed in their transparency reports if and when governments demand customer data. Apple said it didn’t need a report, as the data it collects was anonymized.

As for the rest, none had published their government data-demand figures.

In the year that’s past, the smart home market has grown rapidly, but the remaining device makers have made little to no progress on disclosing their figures. And in some cases, it got worse.

Smart home and other internet-connected devices may be convenient and accessible, but they collect vast amounts of information on you and your home. Smart locks know when someone enters your house, and smart doorbells can capture their face. Smart TVs know which programs you watch and some smart speakers know what you’re interested in. Many smart devices collect data when they’re not in use — and some collect data points you may not even think about, like your wireless network information, for example — and send them back to the manufacturers, ostensibly to make the gadgets — and your home — smarter.

Because the data is stored in the cloud by the devices manufacturers, law enforcement and government agencies can demand those companies turn over that data to solve crimes.

But as the amount of data collection increases, companies are not being transparent about the data demands they receive. All we have are anecdotal reports — and there are plenty: Police obtained Amazon Echo data to help solve a murder; Fitbit turned over data that was used to charge a man with murder; Samsung helped catch a sex predator who watched child abuse imagery; Nest gave up surveillance footage to help jail gang members; and recent reporting on Amazon-owned Ring shows close links between the smart home device maker and law enforcement.

Here’s what we found.

Smart lock and doorbell maker August gave the exact same statement as last year, that it “does not currently have a transparency report and we have never received any National Security Letters or orders for user content or non-content information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).” But August spokesperson Stephanie Ng would not comment on the number of non-national security requests — subpoenas, warrants and court orders — that the company has received, only that it complies with “all laws” when it receives a legal demand.

Roomba maker iRobot said, as it did last year, that it has “not received” any government demands for data. “iRobot does not plan to issue a transparency report at this time,” but it may consider publishing a report “should iRobot receive a government request for customer data.”

Arlo, a former Netgear smart home division that spun out in 2018, did not respond to a request for comment. Netgear, which still has some smart home technology, said it does “not publicly disclose a transparency report.”

Amazon-owned Ring, whose cooperation with law enforcement has drawn ire from lawmakers and faced questions over its ability to protect users’ privacy, said last year it planned to release a transparency report in the future, but did not say when. This time around, Ring spokesperson Yassi Shahmiri would not comment and stopped responding to repeated follow-up emails.

Honeywell spokesperson Megan McGovern would not comment and referred questions to Resideo, the smart home division Honeywell spun out a year ago. Resideo’s Bruce Anderson did not comment.

And just as last year, Samsung, a maker of smart devices and internet-connected televisions and other appliances, also did not respond to a request for comment.

On the whole, the companies’ responses were largely the same as last year.

But smart switch and sensor maker Ecobee, which last year promised to publish a transparency report “at the end of 2018,” did not follow through with its promise. When we asked why, Ecobee spokesperson Kristen Johnson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Based on the best available data, August, iRobot, Ring and the rest of the smart home device makers have hundreds of millions of users and customers around the world, with the potential to give governments vast troves of data — and users and customers are none the wiser.

Transparency reports may not be perfect, and some are less transparent than others. But if big companies — even after bruising headlines and claims of co-operation with surveillance states — disclose their figures, there’s little excuse for the smaller companies.

This time around, some companies fared better than their rivals. But for anyone mindful of their privacy, you can — and should — expect better.

Two security researchers earned $60,000 for hacking an Amazon Echo

Two security researchers have been crowned the top hackers in this year’s Pwn2Own hacking contest after developing and testing several high profile exploits, including an attack against an Amazon Echo.

Amat Cama and Richard Zhu, who make up Team Fluoroacetate, scored $60,000 in bug bounties for their integer overflow exploit against the latest Amazon Echo Show 5, an Alexa-powered smart display.

The researchers found that the device uses an older version of Chromium, Google’s open-source browser projects, which had been forked some time during its development. The bug allowed them to take “full control” of the device if connected to a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot, said Brian Gorenc, director of Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, which put on the Pwn2Own contest.

The researchers tested their exploits in a radio-frequency shielding enclosure to prevent any outside interference.

“This patch gap was a common factor in many of the IoT devices compromised during the contest,” Gorenc told TechCrunch.

Amat Cama (left) and Richard Zhu (right), who make up Team Fluoroacetate. (Image: ZDI)

An integer overflow bug happens when a mathematical operation tries to create a number but has no space for it in its memory, causing the number to overflow outside of its allotted memory. That can have security implications for the device.

When reached, Amazon said it was “investigating this research and will be taking appropriate steps to protect our devices based on our investigation,” but did not say what measures it would take to fix the vulnerabilities — or when.

The Echo wasn’t the only internet-connected device at the show. Earlier this year the contest said hackers would have an opportunity to hack into a Facebook Portal, the social media giant’s video calling-enabled smart display. The hackers, however, could not exploit the Portal.

Small satellite startup Kepler opens sign-ups for its IoT developer kits

Kepler Communications, the Toronto-based startup that’s focused on developing and deploying shoebox-sized satellites to provide telecommunications services, is opening up registration for those interested in getting their first developer kits. These developer kits, designed to help potential commercial customers take advantage of its Internet of Things (IoT) narrowband connectivity deploying next year, will then be made available to purchase for elect partners next year.

This kind of early access is designed to give companies interested in using the kind of connectivity Kepler intends on providing a head start on testing and integration. Kepler‘s service is designed to provide global coverage using a single network for IoT operators, at low costs relative to the market, for applications including tracking shipping containers, railway networks, livestock and crops and much more. Kepler says that its IoT network, which will be made up of nanosatellites designed specifically for this purpose it plans to launch throughout next year and beyond, is aimed at industries where you don’t need high-bandwidth, as you would for say HD consumer video streaming, but where coverage across large, often remote areas on a consistent basis is key.

IoT connectivity provided by constellations of orbital satellites is an increasing are of focus and investment, as large industries look to modernize their monitoring and tracking operations. Startup Swarm got permission from the FCC to launch its 150-small satellite constellation earlierr this month, for instance, to establish a service to address similar needs.

Kepler, founded in 2015, has raised over $20 million in funding so far, and has launched two small satellites thus far, including one in January and one in November of 2018. The company announced a contract with ISK and GK Launch Services to deploy two more sometime in the middle of next year aboard a Soyuz rocket.

HTC’s new CEO discusses the phonemaker’s future

On September 17, HTC announced that cofounder Cher Wang would be stepping down as CEO. In her place, Yves Maitre stepped into the role of Chief Executive, after more than a decade at French telecom giant, Orange.

It’s a tough job at an even tougher time. The move comes on the tail of five consecutive quarterly losses and major layoffs, including a quarter of the company’s staff, which were let go in July of last year.

It’s a far fall for a company that comprised roughly 11 percent of global smartphone sales, some eight years ago. These days, HTC is routinely relegated to the “other” column when these figures are published.

All of this is not to say that the company doesn’t have some interesting irons in the fire. With Vive, HTC has demonstrated its ability to offer a cutting edge VR platform, while Exodus has tapped into an interest in exploring the use of blockchain technologies for mobile devices.

Of course, neither of these examples show any sign of displacing HTC’s once-booming mobile device sales. And this January’s $1.1 billion sale of a significant portion of its hardware division to Google has left many wondering whether it has much gas left in the mobile tank.

With Wang initially scheduled to appear on stage at Disrupt this week, the company ultimately opted to have Maitre sit in on the panel instead. In preparation for the conversation, we sat down with the executive to discuss his new role and future of the struggling Taiwanese hardware company.

5G, XR and the future of the HTC brand

Amazon Sidewalk is a new long-range wireless network for your stuff

At its annual hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced Sidewalk, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol the company is developing to connect all of the IoT devices in and around your house.

Amazon argues that Bluetooth and WiFi don’t have enough range, while 5F takes too much power and is too complex.

“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk,” Amazon’s device chief Dave Limp said at the event today. “Amazon Sidewalk is a brand new low bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over the air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date — but first and foremost, it will extend in the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.

The details here remain a bit vague, but Amazon says that you may be able to use Sidewalk to connect to devices that can be up to a mile away, depending on how the base station and devices are positioned.

Image from iOS 3 1

Amazon already sent out 700 test devices to households in L.A. to test the access points — and once you have a lot of access points, you create a network with some pretty broad coverage.

Amazon says it’ll publish the protocol so that other device makers can also integrate it into their devices.

The first product that uses Sidewalk? A dog tag, so that you’ll hopefully see fewer lost dogs on your local Nextdoor in the near future because if your dog now leaves the perimeter, you’ll get an alert. This new tag, the Ring Fetch, will launch next year.

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