Tesla is taking reservations for its Cybertruck in China

Tesla has opened up reservations for its all-electric Cybertruck to customers in China, a move that will test the market’s appetite for a massive, futuristic truck.

The reservations page on Tesla’s China website was first posted in Reddit channel r/teslamotors by user u/aaronhry. Electrek also reported on the Reddit post.

The Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of U.S. consumers to plunk down a $100 refundable deposit for the truck. Just weeks after the official unveiling, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that there were 250,000 reservations for the vehicle.

Tesla is now testing potential interest among Chinese consumers.

It’s impossible to predict how many of these reservations — in China and the U.S. — will convert to actual sales. It will be more than a year before there are any answers. Tesla hasn’t even finalized its decision of where it will build the vehicle.

Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a factory that would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the Cybertruck.  At the time, Musk said that the factory would be located in the central part of the United States.

Initially, Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. The company has since turned its attention to Austin and Tulsa. Talks in Austin have progressed rapidly and it appears likely that the factory will end up in a location just outside of the city. Although Tulsa officials have been quick to note that talks with Tesla have continued there as well.

Tesla has said it will offer three variants of the Cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

R&D Roundup: Tech giants unveil breakthroughs at computer vision summit

Computer vision summit CVPR has just (virtually) taken place, and like other CV-focused conferences, there are quite a few interesting papers. More than I could possibly write up individually, in fact, so I’ve collected the most promising ones from major companies here.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all shared papers at the conference — and others too, I’m sure — but I’m sticking to the big hitters for this column. (If you’re interested in the papers deemed most meritorious by attendees and judges, the nominees and awards are listed here.)

Microsoft

Redmond has the most interesting papers this year, in my opinion, because they cover several nonobvious real-life needs.

One is documenting that shoebox we or perhaps our parents filled with old 3x5s and other film photos. Of course there are services that help with this already, but if photos are creased, torn, or otherwise damaged, you generally just get a high-resolution scan of that damage. Microsoft has created a system to automatically repair such photos, and the results look mighty good.

Image Credits: Google

The problem is as much identifying the types of degradation a photo suffers from as it is fixing them. The solution is simple, write the authors: “We propose a novel triplet domain translation network by leveraging real photos along with massive synthetic image pairs.” Amazing no one tried it before!

We need a new field of AI to combat racial bias

Gary M. Shiffman
Contributor

Gary M. Shiffman, Ph.D., is the author of “The Economics of Violence: How Behavioral Science Can Transform our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism“. He teaches economic science and national security at Georgetown University and is founder and CEO of Giant Oak, the creator of Giant Oak Search Technology.

Since widespread protests over racial inequality began, IBM announced it would cancel its facial recognition programs to advance racial equity in law enforcement. Amazon suspended police use of its Rekognition software for one year to “put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology.”

But we need more than regulatory change; the entire field of artificial intelligence (AI) must mature out of the computer science lab and accept the embrace of the entire community.

We can develop amazing AI that works in the world in largely unbiased ways. But to accomplish this, AI can’t be just a subfield of computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE), like it is right now. We must create an academic discipline of AI that takes the complexity of human behavior into account. We need to move from computer science-owned AI to computer science-enabled AI. The problems with AI don’t occur in the lab; they occur when scientists move the tech into the real world of people. Training data in the CS lab often lacks the context and complexity of the world you and I inhabit. This flaw perpetuates biases.

AI-powered algorithms have been found to display bias against people of color and against women. In 2014, for example, Amazon found that an AI algorithm it developed to automate headhunting taught itself to bias against female candidates. MIT researchers reported in January 2019 that facial recognition software is less accurate in identifying humans with darker pigmentation. Most recently, in a study late last year by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), researchers found evidence of racial bias in nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms.

In spite of the countless examples of AI errors, the zeal continues. This is why the IBM and Amazon announcements generated so much positive news coverage. Global use of artificial intelligence grew by 270% from 2015 to 2019, with the market expected to generate revenue of $118.6 billion by 2025. According to Gallup, nearly 90% Americans are already using AI products in their everyday lives – often without even realizing it.

Beyond a 12-month hiatus, we must acknowledge that while building AI is a technology challenge, using AI requires non-software development heavy disciplines such as social science, law and politics. But despite our increasingly ubiquitous use of AI, AI as a field of study is still lumped into the fields of CS and CE. At North Carolina State University, for example, algorithms and AI are taught in the CS program. MIT houses the study of AI under both CS and CE. AI must make it into humanities programs, race and gender studies curricula, and business schools. Let’s develop an AI track in political science departments. In my own program at Georgetown University, we teach AI and Machine Learning concepts to Security Studies students. This needs to become common practice.

Without a broader approach to the professionalization of AI, we will almost certainly perpetuate biases and discriminatory practices in existence today. We just may discriminate at a lower cost — not a noble goal for technology. We require the intentional establishment of a field of AI whose purpose is to understand the development of neural networks and the social contexts into which the technology will be deployed.

In computer engineering, a student studies programming and computer fundamentals. In computer science, they study computational and programmatic theory, including the basis of algorithmic learning. These are solid foundations for the study of AI – but they should only be considered components. These foundations are necessary for understanding the field of AI but not sufficient on their own.

For the population to gain comfort with broad deployment of AI so that tech companies like Amazon and IBM, and countless others, can deploy these innovations, the entire discipline needs to move beyond the CS lab. Those who work in disciplines like psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience are needed. Understanding human behavior patterns, biases in data generation processes are needed. I could not have created the software I developed to identify human trafficking, money laundering and other illicit behaviors without my background in behavioral science.

Responsibly managing machine learning processes is no longer just a desirable component of progress but a necessary one. We have to recognize the pitfalls of human bias and the errors of replicating these biases in the machines of tomorrow, and the social sciences and humanities provide the keys. We can only accomplish this if a new field of AI, encompassing all of these disciplines, is created.

GGV’s Jeff Richards: ‘There is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago’

Earlier this week, GGV Capital’s Jeff Richards and Hans Tung joined TechCrunch for an Extra Crunch Live session. During our hour-long chat, we touched on startup profitability, the global venture capital scene, why GGV doesn’t have an office in Europe, how the venture industry is responding to its stark lack of diversity and other issues.

When it comes to useful bits of information, this was perhaps the most useful Extra Crunch Live discussion in which I’ve participated. One moment that stood out came early in the chat when we were talking about COVID-19-driven headwinds and tailwinds and how many startups might be in trouble. Richards said the following (emphasis via TechCrunch):

“You know, the one thing that’s been remarkable for me — I was in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur in the ’99, 2000 dot-com bubble, and 9/11. I was here in ’08, ’09 — I think there is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago and 20 years ago. I don’t have data to point to that. But we have been saying now for a few months that we’ve been blown away at the level of maturity, calmness, perseverance [and] resiliency that our companies and the founders and management teams have. On an emotional level, it’s been very heartwarming, because you hope to back the kind of people that are building real companies that can withstand challenges.

I think the corollary to that is you’ve seen companies that raised a ton of money and were burning a ton of cash and weren’t building very good businesses, a lot of those frankly went under in Q1 or are going under now. They haven’t been able to raise more cash and they’re just kind of dead.”

Both Richards and Tung were positive about their own portfolio companies’ recent performance and financial health (cash position, really). But it appears that not only are their portfolios doing well, but other startups are a bit more solid than in previous downturns.

On the flip side, however, there is a separate cohort of startups that were running inefficiently before and are now perhaps unfundable. Reading both points in unison, it appears that the startup market is bifurcating between the companies that will come out of the COVID-19 era unwounded, and those that are suffering. And the companies that weren’t the most cash hungry probably have the highest chance of being in the first bucket.

There’s a lot more to get to. So hit the jump for the full video and audio, and a few more of the best bits from the transcript. (You can snag a cheap Extra Crunch trial here if you need one.)

Oh, and don’t forget to stay up to date on coming chats. There’s still a lot to do.

The full chat

Here’s the full video rewind. Our favorite bits of the transcript follow:

As Q3 kicks off, four more companies join the $100M ARR club

Welcome back to our $100 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) series, in which we take irregular looks at companies that have reached material scale while still private. The goal of our project is simple: uncovering companies of real worth beyond how they are valued by private investors.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


It’s all well and good to get a $1 billion valuation, call yourself a unicorn and march around like you invented the internet. But reaching material revenue scale means that, unlike some highly valued companies, you’re actually hard to kill. (And more valuable, and more likely to go public, we reckon.)

Before we dive into today’s new companies, keep in mind that we’ve expanded the type of company that can make it into the $100M ARR club to include companies that reach a $100 million annual run rate pace. Why? Because we don’t only want to collect SaaS companies, and if we could go back in time we’d probably draw a different box around the companies we are tracking.

$100M ARR or bust

If you need to catch up, you can find the two most recent entries in the series here and here. For everyone who’s current, today we are adding Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade to the club. Let’s go!

Snow Software

Just this week, Snow Software announced that it has crossed the $100 million ARR mark, according to a release shared with TechCrunch. The Swedish software asset management company has raised a few private rounds, including a $120 million private equity round in 2017. But, unlike many American companies that make this list, we don’t have a historical record of needing extensive private capital to scale.

How Have I Been Pwned became the keeper of the internet’s biggest data breaches

When Troy Hunt launched Have I Been Pwned in late 2013, he wanted it to answer a simple question: Have you fallen victim to a data breach?

Seven years later, the data-breach notification service processes thousands of requests each day from users who check to see if their data was compromised — or pwned with a hard ‘p’ — by the hundreds of data breaches in its database, including some of the largest breaches in history. As it’s grown, now sitting just below the 10 billion breached-records mark, the answer to Hunt’s original question is more clear.

“Empirically, it’s very likely,” Hunt told me from his home on Australia’s Gold Coast. “For those of us that have been on the internet for a while it’s almost a certainty.”

What started out as Hunt’s pet project to learn the basics of Microsoft’s cloud, Have I Been Pwned quickly exploded in popularity, driven in part by its simplicity to use, but largely by individuals’ curiosity.

As the service grew, Have I Been Pwned took on a more proactive security role by allowing browsers and password managers to bake in a backchannel to Have I Been Pwned to warn against using previously breached passwords in its database. It was a move that also served as a critical revenue stream to keep down the site’s running costs.

But Have I Been Pwned’s success should be attributed almost entirely to Hunt, both as its founder and its only employee, a one-man band running an unconventional startup, which, despite its size and limited resources, turns a profit.

As the workload needed to support Have I Been Pwned ballooned, Hunt said the strain of running the service without outside help began to take its toll. There was an escape plan: Hunt put the site up for sale. But, after a tumultuous year, he is back where he started.

Ahead of its next big 10-billion milestone mark, Have I Been Pwned shows no signs of slowing down.

‘Mother of all breaches’

Even long before Have I Been Pwned, Hunt was no stranger to data breaches.

By 2011, he had cultivated a reputation for collecting and dissecting small — for the time — data breaches and blogging about his findings. His detailed and methodical analyses showed time and again that internet users were using the same passwords from one site to another. So when one site was breached, hackers already had the same password to a user’s other online accounts.

Then came the Adobe breach, the “mother of all breaches” as Hunt described it at the time: Over 150 million user accounts had been stolen and were floating around the web.

Hunt obtained a copy of the data and, with a handful of other breaches he had already collected, loaded them into a database searchable by a person’s email address, which Hunt saw as the most common denominator across all the sets of breached data.

And Have I Been Pwned was born.

It didn’t take long for its database to swell. Breached data from Sony, Snapchat and Yahoo soon followed, racking up millions more records in its database. Have I Been Pwned soon became the go-to site to check if you had been breached. Morning news shows would blast out its web address, resulting in a huge spike in users — enough at times to briefly knock the site offline. Hunt has since added some of the biggest breaches in the internet’s history: MySpace, Zynga, Adult Friend Finder, and several huge spam lists.

As Have I Been Pwned grew in size and recognition, Hunt remained its sole proprietor, responsible for everything from organizing and loading the data into the database to deciding how the site should operate, including its ethics.

Hunt takes a “what do I think makes sense” approach to handling other people’s breached personal data. With nothing to compare Have I Been Pwned to, Hunt had to write the rules for how he handles and processes so much breach data, much of it highly sensitive. He does not claim to have all of the answers, but relies on transparency to explain his rationale, detailing his decisions in lengthy blog posts.

His decision to only let users search for their email address makes logical sense, driven by the site’s only mission, at the time, to tell a user if they had been breached. But it was also a decision centered around user privacy that helped to future-proof the service against some of the most sensitive and damaging data he would go on to receive.

In 2015, Hunt obtained the Ashley Madison breach. Millions of people had accounts on the site, which encourages users to have an affair. The breach made headlines, first for the breach, and again when several users died by suicide in its wake.

The hack of Ashley Madison was one of the most sensitive entered into Have I Been Pwned, and ultimately changed how Hunt approached data breaches that involved people’s sexual preferences and other personal data. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Hunt diverged from his usual approach, acutely aware of its sensitivities. The breach was undeniably different. He recounted a story of one person who told him how their local church posted a list of the names of everyone in the town who was in the data breach.

“It’s clearly casting a moral judgment,” he said, referring to the breach. “I don’t want Have I Been Pwned to enable that.”

Unlike earlier, less sensitive breaches, Hunt decided that he would not allow anyone to search for the data. Instead, he purpose-built a new feature allowing users who had verified their email addresses to see if they were in more sensitive breaches.

“The purposes for people being in that data breach were so much more nuanced than what anyone ever thought,” Hunt said. One user told him he was in there after a painful break-up and had since remarried but was labeled later as an adulterer. Another said she created an account to catch her husband, suspected of cheating, in the act.

“There is a point at which being publicly searchable poses an unreasonable risk to people, and I make a judgment call on that,” he explained.

The Ashely Madison breach reinforced his view on keeping as little data as possible. Hunt frequently fields emails from data breach victims asking for their data, but he declines every time.

“It really would not have served my purpose to load all of the personal data into Have I Been Pwned and let people look up their phone numbers, their sexualities, or whatever was exposed in various data breaches,” said Hunt.

“If Have I Been Pwned gets pwned, it’s just email addresses,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen, but it’s a very different situation if, say, there were passwords.”

But those remaining passwords haven’t gone to waste. Hunt also lets users search more than half a billion standalone passwords, allowing users to search to see if any of their passwords have also landed in Have I Been Pwned.

Anyone — even tech companies — can access that trove of Pwned Passwords, he calls it. Browser makers and password managers, like Mozilla and 1Password, have baked-in access to Pwned Passwords to help prevent users from using a previously breached and vulnerable password. Western governments, including the U.K. and Australia, also rely on Have I Been Pwned to monitor for breached government credentials, which Hunt also offers for free.

“It’s enormously validating,” he said. “Governments, for the most part, are trying to do things to keep countries and individuals safe — working under extreme duress and they don’t get paid much,” he said.

“There have been similar services that have popped up. They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted.”
Troy Hunt

Hunt recognizes that Have I Been Pwned, as much as openness and transparency is core to its operation, lives in an online purgatory under which any other circumstances — especially in a commercial enterprise — he would be drowning in regulatory hurdles and red tape. And while the companies whose data Hunt loads into his database would probably prefer otherwise, Hunt told me he has never received a legal threat for running the service.

“I’d like to think that Have I Been Pwned is at the far-legitimate side of things,” he said.

Others who have tried to replicate the success of Have I Been Pwned haven’t been as lucky.

“There have been similar services that have popped up,” said Hunt. “They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted,” he said.

LeakedSource was, for a time, one of the largest sellers of breach data on the web. I know, because my reporting broke some of their biggest gets: music streaming service Last.fm, adult dating site AdultFriendFinder, and Russian internet giant Rambler.ru to name a few. But what caught the attention of federal authorities was that LeakedSource, whose operator later pleaded guilty to charges related to trafficking identity theft information, indiscriminately sold access to anyone else’s breach data.

“There is a very legitimate case to be made for a service to give people access to their data at a price.”

Hunt said he would “sleep perfectly fine” charging users a fee to access their data. “I just wouldn’t want to be accountable for it if it goes wrong,” he said.

Project Svalbard

Five years into Have I Been Pwned, Hunt could feel the burnout coming.

“I could see a point where I would be if I didn’t change something,” he told me. “It really felt like for the sustainability of the project, something had to change.”

He said he went from spending a fraction of his time on the project to well over half. Aside from juggling the day-to-day — collecting, organizing, deduplicating and uploading vast troves of breached data — Hunt was responsible for the entirety of the site’s back office upkeep — its billing and taxes — on top of his own.

The plan to sell Have I Been Pwned was codenamed Project Svalbard, named after the Norweigian seed vault that Hunt likened Have I Been Pwned to, a massive stockpile of “something valuable for the betterment of humanity,” he wrote announcing the sale in June 2019. It would be no easy task.

Hunt said the sale was to secure the future of the service. It was also a decision that would have to secure his own. “They’re not buying Have I Been Pwned, they’re buying me,” said Hunt. “Without me, there’s just no deal.” In his blog post, Hunt spoke of his wish to build out the service and reach a larger audience. But, he told me, it was not about the money

As its sole custodian, Hunt said that as long as someone kept paying the bills, Have I Been Pwned would live on. “But there was no survivorship model to it,” he admitted. “I’m just one person doing this.”

By selling Have I Been Pwned, the goal was a more sustainable model that took the pressure off him, and, he joked, the site wouldn’t collapse if he got eaten by a shark, an occupational hazard for living in Australia.

But chief above all, the buyer had to be the perfect fit.

Hunt met with dozens of potential buyers, and many in Silicon Valley. He knew what the buyer would look like, but he didn’t yet have a name. Hunt wanted to ensure that whomever bought Have I Been Pwned upheld its reputation.

“Imagine a company that had no respect for personal data and was just going to abuse the crap out of it,” he said. “What does that do for me?” Some potential buyers were driven by profits. Hunt said any profits were “ancillary.” Buyers were only interested in a deal that would tie Hunt to their brand for years, buying the exclusivity to his own recognition and future work — that’s where the value in Have I Been Pwned is.

Hunt was looking for a buyer with whom he knew Have I Been Pwned would be safe if he were no longer involved. “It was always about a multiyear plan to try and transfer the confidence and trust people have in me to some other organizations,” he said.

Hunt testifies to the House Energy Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The vetting process and due diligence was “insane,” said Hunt. “Things just drew out and drew out,” he said. The process went on for months. Hunt spoke candidly about the stress of the year. “I separated from my wife early last year around about the same time as the [sale process],” he said. They later divorced. “You can imagine going through this at the same time as the separation,” he said. “It was enormously stressful.”

Then, almost a year later, Hunt announced the sale was off. Barred from discussing specifics thanks to non-disclosure agreements, Hunt wrote in a blog post that the buyer, whom he was set on signing with, made an unexpected change to their business model that “made the deal infeasible.”

“It came as a surprise to everyone when it didn’t go through,” he told me. It was the end of the road.

Looking back, Hunt maintains it was “the right thing” to walk away. But the process left him back at square one without a buyer and personally down hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

After a bruising year for his future and his personal life, Hunt took time to recoup, clambering for a normal schedule after an exhausting year. Then the coronavirus hit. Australia fared lightly in the pandemic by international standards, lifting its lockdown after a brief quarantine.

Hunt said he will keep running Have I Been Pwned. It wasn’t the outcome he wanted or expected, but Hunt said he has no immediate plans for another sale. For now it’s “business as usual,” he said.

In June alone, Hunt loaded over 102 million records into Have I Been Pwned’s database. Relatively speaking, it was a quiet month.

“We’ve lost control of our data as individuals,” he said. But not even Hunt is immune. At close to 10 billion records, Hunt has been ‘pwned’ more than 20 times, he said.

Earlier this year Hunt loaded a massive trove of email addresses from a marketing database — dubbed ‘Lead Hunter’ — some 68 million records fed into Have I Been Pwned. Hunt said someone had scraped a ton of publicly available web domain record data and repurposed it as a massive spam database. But someone left that spam database on a public server, without a password, for anyone to find. Someone did, and passed the data to Hunt. Like any other breach, he took the data, loaded it in Have I Been Pwned, and sent out email notifications to the millions who have subscribed.

“Job done,” he said. “And then I got an email from Have I Been Pwned saying I’d been pwned.”

He laughed. “It still surprises me the places that I turn up.”

Related stories:

Dating app S’More adds blurred video calling and launches in LA

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.

“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.

The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.

Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.

Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”

S'More video calling

Image Credits: S’More

To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”

So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).

S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.

“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”

When life gives you lemons, print money with Lemonade

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the that got cut, and more. It’s fun!

Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this:

Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

The UK government to acquire satellite company OneWeb in deal funded in part by India’s Bharti Global

Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.

The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.

OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.

The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.

OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.

Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.

US plans to rollback special status may erode Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem

For two months, the people of Hong Kong waited in suspense after China’s legislature approved a new national security law. The legislation’s details were finally made public yesterday and almost immediately went into effect. As many Hong Kong residents feared, the broadly written new law gives Beijing extensive authority over the Special Administrative Region and has the potential to sharply curtail civil liberties.

In response, the United States began the first measures to end the special status it gives to Hong Kong, with the Commerce and State Departments suspending export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and blocking the export of defense equipment.

Much remains uncertain. Hong Kong had also previously enjoyed many freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” principle put into place after the United Kingdom returned control to China. After announcing the new policies, the U.S. government said further restrictions are being considered. Under special status, Hong Kong had privileges including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation from mainland China, but now the future of those is unclear.

Equally opaque is how the erosion of special status and the new national security law will impact Hong Kong’s startups in the future. In conversations with TechCrunch, investors and founders said they believe the region’s ecosystem is resilient, partly because many companies offer online services — especially financial services — and have already established operations in other markets. But they are also keeping an eye on further developments and preparing for the possibility that key talent will want to relocate to other countries.

Lime puts Jump bikes back on London streets

Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime .

London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States.

Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step.

For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said.

Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London.

The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.

Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Intel said on Friday it will invest $253.5 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook, General Atlantic, and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator in recent months.

The American chipmaker’s investment arm said it is acquiring a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. Intel Capital is the 12th investor to buy a stake in Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $15.5 billion by selling a 25% stake since April this year.

“Jio Platforms’ focus on applying its impressive engineering capabilities to bring the power of low-cost digital services to India aligns with Intel’s purpose of delivering breakthrough technology that enriches lives. We believe digital access and data can transform business and society for the better,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital President, in a statement.

The announcement today comes weeks after Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries — the parent firm of Jio Platforms — suggested that Saudi Arabia’s PIF $1.5 billion investment on June 18 in his digital unit had marked the “end of Jio Platforms’ current phase of induction of financial partners.”

Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said on Friday that he was excited to “work together with Intel to advance India’s capabilities in cutting-edge technologies that will empower all sectors of our economy and improve the quality of life of 1.3 billion Indians.”

The new deal further illustrates the opportunities foreign investors see in Jio, a four-year-old subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm) that has upended the telecommunications market in India with cut-rate voice calls and mobile data tariffs. Jio has about 400 million subscribers.

Analysts at Bernstein said last month that they expect Jio Platforms to reach 500 million customers by 2023, and control half of the market by 2025. Jio Platforms competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between British giant Vodafone and Indian tycoon Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Aditya Birla Group.

Jio Platforms also operates a bevy of digital apps and services, including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service JioTV and payments app JioMoney, as well as smartphones and broadband business. These services are available to Jio subscribers at no additional charge.

On Thursday evening, Jio Platforms launched JioMeet, a video-conferencing service that offers unlimited calls with “up to 24 hours” time limit on each session. The service, which currently has no paid plans, looks uncannily like Zoom.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal ? pic.twitter.com/r7KpIfwIFC

— Avinash Raghava (@avinashraghava) July 3, 2020

Last month, Ambani said the funds in Jio Platforms had helped him clear oil-to-retail giant Reliance Industries’ net debt of about $21 billion. Ambani had originally pledged to clear Reliance’s debt due by early 2021.

Festo’s latest biomimetic robots are a flying feathered bird and ball-bottomed helper arm

You could be excused for thinking that German robotics company Festo does nothing but put together fabulous prototype robots built to resemble kangaroos, jellyfish, and other living things. They do in fact actually make real industrial robots, but it’s hard not to marvel at their biomimetic experiments; Case in point, the feathered BionicSwift and absurd BionicMobileAssistant motile arm.

Festo already has a flying bird robot — I wrote about it almost 10 years ago. They even made a flying bat as a follow-up. But the BionicSwift is more impressive than both because, in an effort to more closely resemble its avian inspiration, it flies using artificial feathers.

Image Credits: Festo

“The individual lamellae [i.e. feathers] are made of an ultralight, flexible but very robust foam and lie on top of each other like shingles. Connected to a carbon quill, they are attached to the actual hand and arm wings as in the natural model,” Festo writes in its description of the robot.

The articulating lamellae allow the wing to work like a bird’s, forming a powerful scoop on the downstroke to push against the air, but separating on the upstroke to produce less resistance. Everything is controlled on-board, including the indoor positioning system that the bird was ostensibly built to demonstrate. Flocks of BionicSwifts can fly in close quarters and avoid each other using an ultra wideband setup.

Festo’s BionicMobileAssistant seems like it would be more practical, and in a way it is, but not by much. The robot is basically an arm emerging from a wheeled base — or rather a balled one. The spherical bottom is driven by three “omniwheels,” letting it move easily in any direction while minimizing its footprint.

The hand is a showcase of modern robotic gripper design, with all kinds of state of the art tech packed in there — but the result is less than the sum of its parts. What makes a robotic hand good these days is less that it has a hundred sensors in the palm and fingers and huge motility for its thumb, but rather intelligence about what it is gripping. An unadorned pincer may be a better “hand” than one that looks like the real thing because of the software that backs it up.

Not to mention the spherical movement strategy makes for something of an unstable base. It’s telling that the robot is transporting scarves and not plates of food or parts.

Of course, it’s silly to criticize such a machine, which is aspirational rather than practical. But it’s important to understand that these fascinating creations from Festo are hints at a possible future more than anything.

Sprint 5G is no more, as T-Mobile focuses on its own network

A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch.

The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

As CNET notes, while most of the Sprint 5G handsets won’t be able to make the transition, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets.

T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.”

Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology.

At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.”

Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”

Update: The language of the post has been updated to reflect the impact on specific unsupported devices, rather than user base figures.

Uber adds another director to its board: Flex CEO Revathi Advaithi

Uber has a new, independent board member, shows a new SEC filing: CEO Revathi Advaithi of 51-year-old Flex, which is among the world’s largest electronic manufacturers and competes against Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology.

Advaithi, a mechanical engineer who grew up in India with four sisters, was appointed to the top job in February of last year after spending roughly 10 years with the electronic manufacturing company Eaton, where she was COO and oversaw its global electrical business.

Before that, she spent six years as a VP at Honeywell.

Advaithi came to the job at a tough time. Specifically, Flex once counted among its biggest customers the Chinese company Huawei, for which it provided contract services for products like smartphones and 5G base stations. But the U.S. government last year banned U.S. firms — and non-U.S. firms with more than 25% American components in their products — from doing business with Huawei after it was deemed a national security risk.

Indeed, Flex, which today enjoys a market cap of $5 billion, saw its shares trading in the high teens in 2018, but they’d fallen to around $10 a share before Advaithi was brought aboard, and they have largely stay there since.

The coronavirus has also put pressure on Flex’s supply chains, even while the company has been diversifying its factories. (It noted to analysts earlier this year that it doesn’t have a factory in China’s Hubei province, which, at the time, was the epicenter of the virus.)

Advaithi is currently Uber’s third female director. In February, it announced that Mandy Ginsberg had been appointed to the board.  GInsberg was CEO of the dating app company Match Group until January of this year, reportedly stepping down from the role after a tornado hit her home in Dallas and she separately underwent surgery. (Publicly traded Match Group was already expected at the time to be spun away from its majority shareholder, IAC, a maneuver that was completed yesterday.)

In 2017, Uber also appointed then Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello to its board. Martello left Nestlé in 2018.

Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington was the first woman brought into Uber’s boardroom back in 2016 by then CEO Travis Kalanick. She left her seat last year, citing the growth of her media company, Thrive Global, as the reason for her departure.

Advaithi began her career in the U.S. decades ago as a shop floor supervisor in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She took over as Flex CEO last year when its longtime chief, Michael McNamara, resigned to join the venture capital firm Eclipse.