Save over $200 with discounted student tickets to Robotics + AI 2020

If you’re a current student and you love robots — and the AI that drives them — you do not want to miss out on TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020. Our day-long deep dive into these two life-altering technologies takes place on March 3 at UC Berkeley and features the best and brightest minds, makers and influencers.

We’ve set aside a limited number of deeply discounted tickets for students because, let’s face it, the future of robotics and AI can’t happen without cultivating the next generation. Tickets cost $50, which means you save more than $200. Reserve your student ticket now.

Not a student? No problem, we have a savings deal for you, too. If you register now, you’ll save $150 when you book an early-bird ticket by Feb. 14.

More than 1,000 robotics and AI enthusiasts, experts and visionaries attended last year’s event, and we expect even more this year. Talk about a targeted audience and the perfect place for students to network for an internship, employment or even a future co-founder.

What can you expect this year? For starters, we have an outstanding lineup of speaker and demos — more than 20 presentations — on tap. Let’s take a quick look at just some of the offerings you don’t want to miss.

  • Saving Humanity from AI: Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor and AI authority, argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.
  • Opening the Black Box with Explainable A.I: Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI International will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.
  • Engineering for the Red Planet: Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades and is about to send its fifth robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian, general manager of robotics at Maxar, will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

That’s just a sample — take a gander at the event agenda to help you plan your time accordingly. We’ll add even more speakers in the coming weeks, so keep checking back.

TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 takes place on March 3 at UC Berkeley. It’s a full day focused on exploring the future of robotics and a great opportunity for students to connect with leading technologists, founders, researchers and investors. Join us in Berkeley. Buy your student ticket today and get ready to build the future.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics & AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including which floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than three meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information, such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington, D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.

Mozilla lays off 70 as it waits for new products to generate revenue

Mozilla laid off about 70 employees today, TechCrunch has learned.

In an internal memo, Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker specifically mentions the slow rollout of the organization’s new revenue-generating products as the reason for why it needed to take this action. The overall number may still be higher, though, as Mozilla is still looking into how this decision will affect workers in the U.K. and France. In 2018, Mozilla Corporation (as opposed to the much smaller Mozilla Foundation) said it had about 1,000 employees worldwide.

“You may recall that we expected to be earning revenue in 2019 and 2020 from new subscription products as well as higher revenue from sources outside of search. This did not happen,” Baker writes in her memo. “Our 2019 plan underestimated how long it would take to build and ship new, revenue-generating products. Given that, and all we learned in 2019 about the pace of innovation, we decided to take a more conservative approach to projecting our revenue for 2020. We also agreed to a principle of living within our means, of not spending more than we earn for the foreseeable future.”

Baker says laid-off employees will receive “generous exit packages” and outplacement support. She also notes that the leadership team looked into shutting down the Mozilla innovation fund but decided that it needed it in order to continue developing new products. In total, Mozilla is dedicating $43 million to building new products.

“As we look to the future, we know we must take bold steps to evolve and ensure the strength and longevity of our mission,” Baker writes. “Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances. This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency.”

The organization last reported major layoffs in 2017.

Over the course of the last few months, Mozilla started testing a number of new products, most of which will be subscription-based once they launch. The marquee feature here is including its Firefox Private Network and a device-level VPN service that is yet to launch, but will cost around $4.99 per month.

All of this is part of the organization’s plans to become less reliant on income from search partnerships and to create more revenue channels. In 2018, the latest year for which Mozilla has published its financial records, about 91% of its royalty revenues came from search contracts.

We have reached out to Mozilla for comment and will update this post once we hear more.

Update (1pm PT): In a statement posted to the Mozilla blog, Mitchell Baker reiterates that Mozilla had to make these cuts in order to fund innovation. “Mozilla has a strong line of sight on future revenue generation from our core business,” she writes. “In some ways, this makes this action harder, and we are deeply distressed about the effect on our colleagues. However, to responsibly make additional investments in innovation to improve the internet, we can and must work within the limits of our core finances”


Here is the full memo:

Office of the CEO <[email protected]>
to all-moco-mofo

Hi all,

I have some difficult news to share. With the support of the entire Steering Committee and our Board, we have made an extremely tough decision: over the course of today, we plan to eliminate about 70 roles from across MoCo. This number may be slightly larger as we are still in a consultation process in the UK and France, as the law requires, on the exact roles that may be eliminated there. We are doing this with the utmost respect for each and every person who is impacted and will go to great lengths to take care of them by providing generous exit packages and outplacement support. Most will not join us in Berlin. I will send another note when we have been able to talk to the affected people wherever possible, so that you will know when the notifications/outreach are complete.

This news likely comes as a shock and I am sorry that we could not have been more transparent with you along the way. This is never my desire. Reducing our headcount was something the Steering Committee considered as part of our 2020 planning and budgeting exercise only after all other avenues were explored. The final decision was made just before the holiday break with the work to finalize the exact set of roles affected continuing into early January (there are exceptions in the UK and France where we are consulting on decisions.) I made the decision not to communicate about this until we had a near-final list of roles and individuals affected.

Even though I expect it will be difficult to digest right now, I would like to share more about what led to this decision. Perhaps you can come back to it later, if that’s easier.

You may recall that we expected to be earning revenue in 2019 and 2020 from new subscription products as well as higher revenue from sources outside of search. This did not happen. Our 2019 plan underestimated how long it would take to build and ship new, revenue-generating products. Given that, and all we learned in 2019 about the pace of innovation, we decided to take a more conservative approach to projecting our revenue for 2020. We also agreed to a principle of living within our means, of not spending more than we earn for the foreseeable future.

This approach is prudent certainly, but challenging practically. In our case, it required difficult decisions with painful results. Regular annual pay increases, bonuses and other costs which increase from year-to-year as well as a continuing need to maintain a separate, substantial innovation fund, meant that we had to look for considerable savings across Mozilla as part of our 2020 planning and budgeting process. This process ultimately led us to the decision to reduce our workforce.

At this point, you might ask if we considered foregoing the separate innovation fund, continuing as we did in 2019. The answer is yes but we ultimately decided we could not, in good faith, adopt this. Mozilla’s future depends on us excelling at our current work and developing new offerings to expand our impact. And creating the new products we need to change the future requires us to do things differently, including allocating funds, $43M to be specific, for this purpose. We will discuss our plans for making innovation robust and successful in increasing detail as we head into, and then again at, the All Hands, rather than trying to do so here.

As we look to the future, we know we must take bold steps to evolve and ensure the strength and longevity of our mission. Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances. This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency.

I ask that we all do what we can to support each other through this difficult period.

Mitchell

Waymo’s Anca Dragan and Ike Robotics CTO Jur van den Berg are coming to TC Sessions: Robotics+AI

The road to “solving” self-driving cars is riddled with challenges from perception and decision making to figuring out the interaction between human and robots.

Today we’re announcing that joining us at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI on March 3 at UC Berkeley are two experts who play important roles in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology: Anca Dragan and Jur van den Berg.

Dragan is assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department as well as a senior research scientist and consultant for Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet. She runs the InterACT Lab at UC-Berkeley, which focuses on on algorithms for human-robot interaction. Dragan also helped found and serve on the steering committee for the Berkeley AI Research Lab, and is co-PI of the Center for Human-Compatible AI.

Last year, Dragan was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Van den Berg is the co-founder and CTO of Ike Robotics, a self-driving truck startup that last year raised $52 million in a Series A funding round led by Bain Capital  Ventures. Van den Berg has been part of the most important, secretive and even controversial companies in the autonomous vehicle technology industry. He was a senior researcher and developer in Apple’s special projects group, before jumping to self-driving trucks startup Otto. He became a senior autonomy engineer at Uber after the ride-hailing company acquired Otto .

All of this led to Ike, which was founded in 2018 with Nancy Sun and Alden Woodrow, who were also veterans of Apple, Google and Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program

TC Sessions: Robotics+AI returns to Berkeley on March 3. Make sure to grab your early-bird tickets today for $275 before prices go up by $100. Students, grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Startups, book a demo table right here and get in front of 1,000+ of Robotics/AI’s best and brightest — each table comes with four attendee tickets.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020: Boris Sofman of Waymo and Nancy Sun of Ike

You have might heard: a mobility revolution is in the making. TechCrunch is here for it — and we’re not just along for the ride. We’re here to uncover new ideas and startups, root out vaporware and dig into the tech and people spurring this change.

In short, we’re helping drive the conversation around mobility. And it’s only fitting we have an event dedicate to the topic. TC Sessions: Mobility — a one-day event on May 14, 2020 in San Jose, Calif., that’s centered around the future of mobility and transportation— is back for a second year and we’re already putting together a fantastic group of the brightest engineers, investors, founders and technologists.

TechCrunch is excited to announce our first two guests for TC Sessions: Mobility.

Drum roll, please …..

We’re excited that Boris Sofman, engineering director at Waymo and former co-founder and CEO of Anki, will join us on stage. But wait there’s more. TechCrunch is also announcing Nancy Sun, the co-founder and chief engineer of Ike Robotics, will be a guest at TC Sessions: Mobility.

Here’s a bit about these bright and accomplished people.

Sofman is leading the engineering for trucking at Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet. Sofman came to Waymo from consumer robotics company Anki, which shut down in April 2019. Nearly the entire technical team at Anki headed over to Waymo and

Anki built several popular products, starting with Anki Drive in 2013 and later the popular Cozmo robot. The Bay Area-startup had shipped more than 3.5 million devices with annual revenues approaching $100 million.

Previously, Sofman worked on off-road autonomous vehicles and ways to leverage machine learning approach to improve navigational capabilities in real-time.

Sun has also had an incredibly interesting ride in the world of automated and robotics. She is chief engineer and co-founder of Ike, the self-driving truck startup. Prior to Ike, Sun was the senior engineering manager of self-driving trucks at Uber ATG, a company she came to through the acquisition of Otto .

Prior to Otto, Sun was engineering manager of Apple’s secretive special projects group.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

$250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9 when you book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Air taxi company EHang flies autonomously in the U.S. for the first time

Aerial passenger drone startup EHang flew its EHang 216 two-seat self-flying taxi fully autonomously in North Carolina last night, a first for the company both in the U.S. and North America. EHang, which is based in Guangzhou, China, has already demonstrated its vehicle in flight both at home, and in different parts of Europe and Asia, but this is the first time its aircraft has received approval to fly by the FAA, and EHang is now working towards extending that approval to flying with passengers on board which is a key requirement for EHang’s eventual goals of offering commercial service in the U.S.

This demonstration flight, which took place in Raleigh, included flying North Carolina governor Roy Cooper on board the two-seat aircraft. Eventually, EHang hopes to deploy these for use across a number of different industries, for transportation of both passengers and cargo along autonomous, short-distance routes in and around urban areas.

EHang had a busy 2019, too – the company began trading publicly on the Nasdaq in December. It also revealed plans to begin operating an aerial shuttle service in Guangzhou, with a pilot citywide drone taxi service intended to show off not only its individual autonomous vehicle capabilities, but also how it can deploy and operate multiple EHang aircraft working in concert with one another and with other aircraft sharing the air space over the city.

Towards the end of 2019, EHang actually completed two trial flights of its 216 vehicles flying simultaneously as an early step towards building out that pilot. The company has already delivered around 40 of its aircraft to paying customers, too, and if all goes to plan, by next month it will have completed a pilot program with the Civil Aviation Administration of China that will allow it to move on to full approval of the airworthiness of its aircraft in the country for commercial flight.

Going fast: Buy a demo table at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI 2020

Startup founders, set your sites on TC Sessions: Robotics+AI, which takes place on March 3, 2020. This annual day-long event draws the brightest minds and makers from these two industries — 1,500 attendees last year alone. And if you really want to make 2020 a game-changing year, grab yourself a demo table and showcase your early-stage robotics or AI startup in front of those big names and serious influencers.

Simply purchase an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package — the price includes four tickets to the event, so bring your crew, flex your networking mojo and take in some of the many discussions throughout the day. Get yours before they’re gone — only eight left.

The day’s programming covers a wide range of crucial issues focused on robotics and AI. TC editors conduct in-depth interviews and moderate panel discussions and Q&As with the industries’ leading minds, makers, technologists, researchers and investors. You’ll enjoy workshops, demos and plenty of networking opportunities.

We’re talking topics that appeal to every hungry startup founder. Like a panel discussion on investing featuring Eric Migicovsky, Kelly Chen and Dror Berman — all top VCs in robotics and AI.

These folks have their fingers on the pulse of robotics, AI and automation. They’ll be on hand to share insights on future industry trends, talk about the most compelling startups and what they look for when it comes to funding.

We’ll be sharing details and the names of plenty more speakers in the coming weeks, so keep checking back. You can always check out last year’s program to get a sense of what to expect.

Did you know we have a new twist to this year’s Session? It’s a pitch competition — Pitch Night. It takes place the night before, it doesn’t cost a thing and it’s open to founders of early-stage startups focused on robotics and AI. There’s only one small hoop to jump through: apply here by February 1.

TC Sessions: Robotics+AI takes place on March 3, 2020 at UC Berkeley. Buy your Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package today, and come impress the top technologists, makers, thinkers, researchers and investors. Make 2020 your game-changing year.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Mobileye expands its robotaxi footprint with a new deal in South Korea

Mobileye announced Tuesday an agreement to test and eventually deploy a robotaxi service in Daegu City, South Korea, the latest example of the company’s strategy to expand beyond its traditional business of supplying automakers with computer vision technology that power advanced driver assistance systems.

Under the agreement, which was announced at CES 2020, Mobileye will integrate its self-driving system — a kit that includes visual perception, sensor fusion, its REM mapping system, software algorithms and its driving policy that will “drive” the cars — to enable a driverless mobility-as-a-service operation in South Korea. This system’s driving policy, or the decision-making of the car, is influenced by “Responsibility Sensitive Safety,” or RSS, a mathematical model introduced in 2017 by Mobileye in a white paper.

Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel, has long dominated a specific niche in the automotive world as a developer of computer vision sensor systems that help prevent collisions. The company generated nearly $1 billion in sales from this business and its tech made it into 17.5 million new cars in 2019, Amnon Shashua, Mobileye’s president and CEO and Intel senior vice president, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

But in recent years, the company has also turned its attention and resources to mapping as well as developing the full self-driving stack to support higher levels of automated driving. Mobileye’s REM mapping system essentially crowdsources data by tapping into the millions of vehicles equipped with its tech to build high-definition maps that can be used to support in ADAS and autonomous driving systems.

In 2018, the company expanded its focus beyond being a mere supplier and towards operating robotaxi services. Intel and Mobileye began testing self-driving cars in Jerusalem in May 2018. Since then, the company has racked up agreements, first with Volkswagen and Champion Motors. The companies formed a joint venture called New Mobility in Israel with a plan to  self-driving ride-hailing service there.

Mobileye then made an agreement with RATP in partnership with the city of Paris to bring robotaxis to France. The company also partnered with Chinese electric car startup Nio in late 2019 to develop autonomous vehicles that consumers can buy. Under the agreement, Nio will supply vehicles to Mobileye for China and other markets.

Mobileye also announced Tuesday that China’s SAIC will use its REM mapping technology to map China for Level 2+ — a newer industry term that is meant to cover higher levels of automated driving that still require a human driver to be in the loop. Level 2+ systems often cover highway autonomy, which means the system handles driving on highways in certain conditions but requires the human driver to take over.

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.

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.

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