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The well-funded startups driven to own the autonomous vehicle stack – TechCrunch

At some point in the future, while riding along in a car, a kid may ask their parent about a distant time in the past when people used steering wheels and pedals to control an automobile. Of course, the full realization of the “auto” part of the word — in the form of fully autonomous automobiles — is a long way off, but there are nonetheless companies trying to build that future today.

However, changing the face of transportation is a costly business, one that typically requires corporate backing or a lot of venture funding to realize such an ambitious goal. A recent funding round, some $128 million raised in a Series A round by Shenzhen-based Roadstar.ai, got us at Crunchbase News asking a question: Just how many independent, well-funded autonomous vehicles startups are out there?

In short, not as many as you’d think. To investigate further, we took a look at the set of independent companies in Crunchbase’s “autonomous vehicle” category that have raised $50 million or more in venture funding. After a little bit of hand filtering, we found that the companies mostly shook out into two broad categories: those working on sensor technologies, which are integral to any self-driving system, and more “full-stack” hardware and software companies, which incorporate sensors, machine-learned software models and control mechanics into more integrated autonomous systems.

Full-stack self-driving vehicle companies

Let’s start with full-stack companies first. The table below shows the set of independent full-stack autonomous vehicle companies operating in the market today, as well as their focus areas, headquarter’s location and the total amount of venture funding raised:

Note the breakdown in focus area between the companies listed above. In general, these companies are focused on building more generalized technology platforms — perhaps to sell or license to major automakers in the future — whereas others intend to own not just the autonomous car technology, but deploy it in a fleet of on-demand taxi and other transportation services.

Making the eyes and ears of autonomous vehicles

On the sensor side, there is also a trend, one that’s decidedly more concentrated on one area of focus, as you’ll be able to discern from the table below:

Some of the most well-funded startups in the sensing field are developing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technologies, which basically serve as the depth-perceiving “eyes” of autonomous vehicle systems. CYNGN integrates a number of different sensors, LiDAR included, into its hardware arrays and software tools, which is one heck of a pivot for the mobile phone OS-maker formerly known as Cyanogen.

But there are other problem spaces for these sensor companies, including Nauto’s smart dashcam, which gathers location data and detects distracted driving, or Autotalks’s DSRC technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. (Back in April, Crunchbase News covered the $5 million Series A round closed by Comma, which released an open-source dashcam app.)

And unlike some of the full-stack providers mentioned earlier, many of these sensor companies have established vendor relationships with the automotive industry. Quanergy Systems, for example, counts components giant Delphi, luxury carmakers Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz and automakers like Hyundai and Renault-Nissan as partners and investorsInnoviz supplies its solid-state LiDAR technology to the BMW Group, according to its website.

Although radar and even LiDAR are old hat by now, there continues to be innovation in sensors. According to a profile of Oryx Vision’s technology in IEEE Spectrum, its “coherent optical radar” system is kind of like a hybrid of radar and LiDAR technology in that “it uses a laser to illuminate the road ahead [with infrared light], but like a radar it treats the reflected signal as a wave rather than a particle.” Its technology is able to deliver higher-resolution sensing over a longer distance than traditional radar or newer LiDAR technologies.

Can startups stack up against big corporate competitors?

There are plenty of autonomous vehicle initiatives backed by deep corporate pockets. There’s Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which is subsidized by the huge amount of search profit flung off by Google . Uber has an autonomous vehicles initiative too, although it has encountered a whole host of legal and safety issues, including holding the unfortunate distinction of being the first to kill a pedestrian earlier this year.

Tesla, too, has invested considerable resources into developing assistive technologies for its vehicles, but it too has encountered some roadblocks as its head of Autopilot (its in-house autonomy solution) left in April. The company also deals with a rash of safety concerns of its own. And although Apple’s self-driving car program has been less publicized than others, it continues to roll on in the background. Chinese companies like Baidu and Didi Chuxing have also launched fill-stack R&D facilities in Silicon Valley.

Traditional automakers have also jumped into the fray. Back in 2016, for the price of a cool $1 billion, General Motors folded Cruise Automation into its R&D efforts in a widely publicized buyout. And, not to be left behind, Ford acquired a majority stake in Argo AI, also for $1 billion.

That leaves us with a question: Do even the well-funded startups mentioned earlier stand a chance of either usurping market dominance from corporate incumbents or at least joining their ranks? Perhaps.

The reason why so much investor cash is going to these companies is because the market opportunity presented by autonomous vehicle technology is almost comically enormous. It’s not just a matter of the car market itself — projected to be over 80 million car sales globally in 2018 alone — but how we’ll spend all the time and mental bandwidth freed up by letting computers take the wheel. It’s no wonder that so many companies, and their backers, want even a tiny piece of that pie.

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Yes, Google’s SERP is Changing: Here’s How to Optimize Your Campaigns to Drive the Most Clicks

Google is always updating its algorithm and adapting to trends. As consumers behaviors evolve, so do their search habits, causing Google to make hundreds of updates since back in 2000. While some of the updates have had little impact on SERPs and the way businesses bring in traffic and drive clicks, others have completely altered the way websites do SEO.

Google updating its ranking factors is nothing new; by this point, most companies should be used to Google rolling out a continuous wave of updates and tweaks to constantly offer a search results page that fits user’s behaviors and wants. Over the past year it has become increasingly evident that page speed will play an even more dominant role in determining mobile rank. In a January 2018 blog post, the 180Fusion team discussed the speed factor and even offered insights for companies to get ahead of the update before it officially becomes a ranking factor in July of 2018. From implementing tools like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse, organizations have an array of options to choose from to improve the performance and speed of their sites. As evidence in this blog post, one of the most important takeaways about Google’s ever evolving rank factors is that they typically give organizations time to adjust and revamp their strategies.

Since the start of 2018, Google has done two major updates that have already taken effect. From a core update to a mobile-first index roll-out, these updates are already affecting SERPs and, in turn, the businesses which depend on website clicks to thrive. Whether you’ve already noticed a change or simply want to stay ahead of the game, here are the 2018 updates, what they mean for you, and how to optimize your campaigns and make the most of the changes.

Major 2018 Updates (So Far)

Brackets Core Update – On March 7, Google released a core update named Brackets. The core update covered a number of smaller updates which cause some volatility and disruption—some sites reported gaining or losing rich snippets, for example.

Mobile-First Index Roll-Out – On March 26, Google started rolling out the mobile-first index. While the roll-out had been anticipated for a year and a half, it wasn’t until now that Google started migrating sites to the mobile-first indexing.

What These Updates Mean for You

One of the biggest changes you’ll notice from the Brackets update is the switch to rich snippets. Rich snippets consist of information other than the meta title and description. Rich snippets will sometimes include a photo, star rating, more in-depth description of a page, etc. Because it provides more information, having a rich snippet can improve click rates and the number of page visitors.

When it comes to rich snippets, Google looks at quality, so when the Brackets update (which focused heavily on quality) rolled out, a lot of people saw rich snippets appear or disappear on their listings. Rich snippets aren’t the only thing affected by the update, though—content, advertising methods, user-friendliness, and anything quality-controlled could be affected.

When it comes to the mobile-first roll-out, nobody was taken by surprise—as mentioned, Google has been working on it for a year and a half now. It could have a serious impact on those who have been slow to make mobile a priority, though. In their announcement, Google said, “To recap, our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking…”

The mobile-first roll-out will shake things up in a big way and could result in businesses which were not previously in the top search results to attain a high rank because their mobile site was well-optimized, while businesses previously dominating the top search results could drop significantly.

How to Optimize Your Campaigns and Make the Most of the Updates

Optimize site speed. Nobody likes waiting for a page to load. In the day of ultra-fast Internet, nobody has time for that, especially on mobile. Go through your site and fully optimize it to increase speed and responsiveness so your site visitors won’t have to wait.

Don’t block images. Images, CSS, JavaScript — all were notorious for making sites run slowly. Nowadays, though, devices are capable of handling them without much of a delay. Blocking images and other elements will only frustrate your visitors and detract from their experience.

Redesign for mobile. With mobile becoming the priority, redesigning your site to optimize is imperative. This means getting rid of flash and pop-ups, making sure text is large, legible, and clickable, incorporating readily displayed calls to action, and so on. Instead of designing a mobile site as an afterthought, put mobile first.

Revamp your content. The shift to mobile means there will need to be a shift in content. The length, keywords used, and way you word things all need to change. Mobile is a whole different ball game compared to desktop, and it will take some work.

Focus on quality. If there’s anything to be learned from the most recent Google updates, it’s that quality (along with mobile) should be the biggest priority. This means your content, images, marketing techniques, and everything in between should be high-quality. If that means you have to go through your entire site with industry experts to revamp from the ground up, it will be worth it in the end.

Final Thoughts

While some Google updates won’t have a noticeable effect, others change the way businesses market completely. The most recent updates have already had a big impact on businesses across all industries and are causing a shift in focus from desktop to mobile and quantity to quality. If you haven’t already, now is the time to optimize your site for both to make the most of the recent updates and those to come.






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Gfycat starts rolling out 360 degree GIF content – TechCrunch

GIFs offer a way to compress a ton of information into a small amount of space, and while Gfycat has positioned itself as more of a short-form video centric platform, it’s going to take a step further to see what a step beyond a standard GIF looks like.

The company today said it would be rolling out 360 degree GIF-like short form videos, which will allow users to plant themselves in the middle of what is effectively a looping video like a GIF. While that presents much more of a challenge to users for generating content, CEO Richard Rabbat said the proliferation of tools like 3D cameras and content from the actual producers like video studios would make it an increasingly popular way to interact with short-form content in a compact form factor.

“We’ve always thought that GIFs are amazing from many perspectives,” Rabbat said. “That goes beyond whether you’re looking at the content to use it in messaging, or you’re consuming it for entertainment value, or you’re using it for decoration in the case of the augmented reality effort we’re working on. We want people to really get excited about how they consume the content to the point where they can see the subjects of the content in a much more lifelike way, and really get excited about that.”

It’s not going to be all that unfamiliar from 360 degree videos you might find on Facebook or other platforms. Users on desktop can use their mouse to move a GIF around, while on mobile devices users can pan their phone around in order to see different parts of the GIF. The idea is to give users a way to have a more robust interaction with a piece of content like a GIF in a compact experience without having to strap on a VR headset or anything along those lines.

The company is starting off by rolling out some 360 degree content from Paramount, which is producing 360 degree content around its Mission Impossible films. And while a lot of content on Gfycat — or other platforms — comes from shows, movies or games along those lines, it makes more sense for those studios to use these kinds of tools to increase awareness for their shows or movies.

via Gfycat

There are a lot of companies working on figuring out the best messaging experiences around GIFs. But Google acquiring Tenor, a GIF search tool that works across multiple platforms, may have set a bare minimum bar for the value of companies that are looking to help users share GIFs with their friends. Gfycat positions itself as something that’s geared toward more creator tools, and recently said it hit 180 million monthly active users.

“We’re creating experiences that we think are going to enable others and inspire others to create that same kind of content,” Rabbat said.” We expect it’s going to be a subset of what people do with 2D, but a much more immersive experience where people will spend more time looking at the content. From a consumption perspective, by not requiring people to put on VR headsets, we’re making it much more consumer friendly.”

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Google to acquire cloud migration startup Velostrata – TechCrunch

Google announced today it was going to acquire Israeli cloud migration startup, Velostrata. The companies did not share the purchase price.

Velostrata helps companies migrate from on-premises datacenters to the cloud, a common requirement today as companies try to shift more workloads to the cloud. It’s not always a simple matter though to transfer those legacy applications, and that’s where Velostrata could help Google Cloud customers.

As I wrote in 2014 about their debut, the startup figured out a way to decouple storage and compute and that had wide usage and appeal. “The company has a sophisticated hybrid cloud solution that decouples storage from compute resources, leaving the storage in place on-premises while running a virtual machine in the cloud,” I wrote at the time.

But more than that, in a hybrid world where customer applications and data can live in the public cloud or on prem (or a combination), Velostrata gives them control to move and adapt the workloads as needed and prepare it for delivery on cloud virtual machines.

“This means [customers] can easily and quickly migrate virtual machine-based workloads like large databases, enterprise applications, DevOps, and large batch processing to and from the cloud,” Eyal Manor VP of engineering at Google Cloud wrote in the blog post announcing the acquisition.

This of course takes Velostrata from being a general purpose cloud migration tool to one tuned specifically for Google Cloud in the future, but one that gives Google a valuable tool in its battle to gain cloud marketshare.

In the past, Google Cloud head Diane Greene has talked about the business opportunities they have seen in simply “lifting and shifting” data loads to the cloud. This acquisition gives them a key service to help customers who want to do that with the Google Cloud.

Velostrata was founded in 2014. It has raised over $31 million from investors including Intel Capital and Norwest Venture partners.

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Google’s Android development studio gets a new update with visual navigation editing – TechCrunch

Android’s development studio is getting a new update as Google rolls out Android Studio 3.2 Canary, adding new tools for visual navigation editing and Jetpack.

The new release includes build tools for the new Android App Bundle format, Snapshots, a new optimizer for smaller app code and a new way to measure an app’s impact on battery life. The Snapshots tool is baked into the Android Emulator and is geared toward getting the emulator up and running in two seconds. All this is geared toward making Android app development easier as the company looks to woo developers — especially potentially early ones — into an environment that’s built around creating Android apps.

The visual navigation editing looks a bit like a flow chart, where users can move screens around and connect them. You can add new screens, position them in your flow, and under covers will help you manage the whole stack in the background. Google has increasingly worked to abstract away a lot of the complex elements of building applications, whether that’s making its machine learning framework TensorFlow more palatable by letting developers create tools using their preferred languages or trying to make it easier to build an app quickly. Visual navigation is one way to further abstract out the complex process of programming in different activities within an app.

As competition continues to exist between Apple and Google, it’s important that Google ensures that the apps are launching on Google Play in order to continue to drive Android device adoption. The sped-up emulator, in particular, may solve a pain point for developers that want to rapidly test parts of their apps and see how they may operate in the wild without having to wait for the app to load in an emulator or on a test device.

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Google will start investing in early-stage startups that use the Assistant – TechCrunch

Google is betting big on the Assistant ecosystem and it’s now putting its money where its mouth is. The company announced today it’s launching a new program that will provide investment capital and other resources to early-stage startups that build applications in the Google Assistant ecosystem.

Typically, companies announce these kinds of programs to kickstart an ecosystem around a new product. While developers have already launched plenty of services for the Google Assistant, the company says that it is launching this new program to “promote more of this creativity.”

Google VP for search and the Google Assistant Nick Fox echoed this. “With the Google Assistant, we’re focused on fostering an open ecosystem for developers, device makers, and content partners to build new experiences,” he told me. “We’re already seeing a lot of creativity from developers with the Google Assistant, and to help promote this, we’re opening a new investment program for early-stage startups.”

Investments are one part of this program, but Google will also work with these startups directly to provide them with mentorship and advice from engineers, product managers and design experts. The startups in the program will also get early access to new features and tools, as well as access to the Google Cloud Platform and promotional support. That sounds a bit like an accelerator program, though that’s not quite what Google is calling it.

Fox tells me that Google won’t put a cap on the investments. “We’ll invest as much as we see fit, and are focused on helping startups succeed in this emerging space,” he said. “And we’re not just offering investment capital. We’re eager to partner with these startups and leverage our company’s strengths to help these products come to market poised for success.”

The first startups in this program include GoMoment, a concierge service for hotels and Edwin, a personal English tutor, as well as the developer tools BotSociety and Pulse Labs.

These startups are good representatives of what Google is after. Fox tells me that Google is looking for startups that are “pursuing an interesting space for Assistants, such as vertical industries like travel or gaming.” In addition, Google is also looking to deepen some of its partnerships, but for the most part, it’s simply looking for startups that are pushing technologies like the Assistant forward.

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DeepCode cleans your code with the power of AI – TechCrunch

Zurich-based DeepCode claims that their system — essentially a tool for analyzing and improving code — is like Grammarly for programmers. The system, which uses a corpus of 250,000 rules, reads your public and private GitHub repositories and tells you how to fix problems, remain compatible and generally improve your programs.

Founded by Veselin Raychev, advisor Martin Vechev and Boris Paskalev, the team has extensive experience in machine learning and AI research. This project is a spin-off from ETH in Switzerland and is a standalone research project turned programming utility.

How does it work? Pretty well. I ran one of my public repositories through the system and received 49 suggestions in 449 files. The fixes range from literal code changes — changing name: String, to name: {type: String}, — to suggestions for code that might be actually missing in function calls. It’s an interesting tool, especially if you need help finding hidden bugs in your code. The advice this tool gives is also surprisingly precise. Because it can build its own recommendations based on large amounts of code it finds things humans might miss.

“We built a platform that understands the intent of the code,” said Paskalev. “We autonomously understand millions of repositories and note the changes developers are making. Then we train our AI engine with those changes and can provide unique suggestions to every single line of code analyzed by our platform.”

“Today we have more than 250K rules and growing daily,” said Paskalev. “Our competition has to manually create rules and the biggest competitor has 3-4,000 rules and they’ve been working for years.

The company is self-funded and recently raised $1.1 million from btov. The founders are serial entrepreneurs. Paskalev worked at VistaPrint and PPAG and Raychev worked for Google and is a researcher in the field of machine learning in programming language semantics.

More than a simple debugger, DeepCode “reads” and tries to compare code to other implementations, giving you best-of-class performance from every line. Now the team just has to get programmers to use it.

“We have a unique platform that understands software code the same way Grammarly understands written language,” Paskalev said. “This unique proposition is positioned us save billions of dollars within the software development community with our first service and then to be on the front end of transforming the industry towards fully autonomous code synthesis.”

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A closer look at Waymo’s new self-driving Jaguar I-PACE – TechCrunch

Waymo teamed up with Jaguar Land Rover to develop the first electric, fully self-driving premium car. Alongside five other models — including a small car, an SUV, the Pacifica minivan, the firefly prototype, and a semi-truck — the premium I-PACE’s large, fast-charging battery is a good fit for Waymo’s forthcoming self-driving ride service.

Waymo hopes to grow its I-PACE fleet to 20,000 over the next couple of years.

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Google is acquiring GIF platform Tenor – TechCrunch

Google will be acquiring Tenor, which powers a variety of GIF keyboards on phones and messengers like Facebook Messenger, the companies announced today.

Tenor will continue to operate as a separate brand within Google, the company said in a blog post. Tenor has increasingly positioned itself as a search company, using that as a metric for engagement and success as users tap into a massive database of GIFs. The company said it has more than 12 billion searches every month, and is one of the first major exits for a small but relatively hot space around tools that allow users to easily share GIFs. The company works with advertisers to create sponsored GIFs that slot into its searches, which are usually pretty compact and offer an opportunity to generate a lot of engagement.

GIFs have increasingly been pretty interesting because they offer an opportunity to compress a lot of information into something that’s easily shareable. Tenor CEO David McIntosh will often say that the company is about conveying emotion — and really, that isn’t something that often goes very well over text. If you’re watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, you’re probably better off searching for a GIF of your team rather than just blasting a text message to your group of friends.

“With their deep library of content, Tenor surfaces the right GIFs in the moment so you can find the one that matches your mood,” Google Images director of engineering Cathy Edwards said. “Tenor will help us do this more effectively in Google Images as well as other products that use GIFs, like Gboard. Tenor will continue to operate as a separate brand, and we’re looking forward to investing in their technology and relationships with content and API partners. So whether you’re using the Tenor keyboard or one of our other products, you can expect to see much more of this in your future:”

When you open Tenor, you’ll only find a small slice of GIFs that are available as the company is looking to compress the amount of time you actually spending digging around for a GIF you want to share. The theory is that if it’s easier to find and share one, you’ll do it again and again. This isn’t dissimilar from Google’s approach either, offering itself as a utility that’s a quick get-in, get-out experience that builds a level of stickiness that’s hard to unseat. Google is, of course, worth hundreds of billions of dollars off the back of a massive advertising business that basically prints money.

Tenor isn’t the only one in the space. Giphy, for example, also has a GIF keyboard and has a pretty large database of GIFs. Giphy says it has 300 million daily active users, though depending on who you talk to in the Valley that can mean a couple different things. Nevertheless, all of these companies have been able to attract venture financing. There’s also Gfycat, which positions itself as a tool for creators, that says it has 130 million monthly active users.

The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. But by positioning itself as a search company that slots into a messaging ecosystem, Tenor seems like a natural piece of the puzzle for Google. It also gives the company a small wedge into the messenger space as it’ll have an opportunity to touch all the platforms that are connected to Tenor like even Facebook messenger, though that one tends to flip between GIF platforms indiscriminately.

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Aurora hires SpaceX’s Jinnah Hosein, opens SF and Pittsburgh offices – TechCrunch

Self-driving technology company Aurora has made some key moves on its leadership team and overall company growth: It’s bringing on SpaceX’s now former head of software engineering, Jinnah Hosein, to lead its own software engineering team in a VP role. The autonomous software provider is also opening up two new offices, including one in San Francisco, and another in Pittsburgh, in addition to its existing HQ in Palo Alto.

Bringing on Hosein is a huge move for Aurora, which will now have some additional senior leadership taken to help direct and organize its growing engineering team, according to Aurora co-founder Chris Urmson . Hosein’s background includes his time as VP of Software Engineering at SpaceX, where he spent the past four years and oversaw projects including the recent successful Falcon Heavy launch. Before that, he was Director of Software Engineering at Google working on Google Cloud, site reliability and other software projects.

“It’s a pretty incredible set of experiences he has,” Urmson said. “We’re just excited about him bringing that leadership capability, that experience in building both cloud and incredibly reliable software to our team and working with the rest of the folks here.”

Hosein also worked for a brief time overseeing Tesla’s software operations as well as SpaceX’s when he served as acting VP of Tesla’s Autopilot Software prior to Tesla hiring Apple’s Chris Lattner for the role. Urmson says that Hosein’s proven track record launching rockets, and organizing software projects on that level of complexity is more important to Aurora than any brief time he may have spent on Autopilot, however.

Aurora is also opening two new physical offices and testing locations, as mentioned, including the San Francisco one that Urmson says will be a welcome relief to some of their employees currently commuting south to Palo Alto, as well as a way to attract more talent looking to work in the city proper. The Pittsburgh office gives them a new testbed, where they can prove their tech in inclement driving conditions and adverse winter weather, and it also puts them in close proximity to Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh’s robotics talent pool.

“When you combine that, between the offices we have in the South Bay, the San Francisco test areas that we’ll now have more access to and the Pittsburgh test areas, we have a pretty exciting diversity of test environments and places to operate,” Urmson added.

Aurora has already announced partnerships with Volkswagen, Hyundai, Byton and more, and recently added LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi to its board.

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