Reed Hastings says Netflix won’t be part of Apple’s upcoming video streaming service

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during a Los Angeles press event tonight that it will not be part of the streaming video service Apple is expected to unveil next week at its Cupertino headquarters.

While it will have original content, Apple’s service will most likely initially focus on third-party content, competing against Amazon Channels with la carte subscriptions to third-party channels (Amazon’s lineup includes HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, but not Netflix, which prefers to control its own in-app experience).

Asked how Netflix will compete against rivals with a lot of money like Amazon and Apple, Hastings said “with difficulty,” adding that “it is definitely getting more expensive to source content” as the streaming video market becomes increasingly fragmented.

As the largest video streaming service in the United States, however, Netflix has been the subject of antitrust lawsuits and debates. When asked about potential antitrust regulations aimed at large tech companies, Hastings describe Netflix as “really mostly a content company powered by tech,” saying it spends much more on content than tech (Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos said last year that 85 percent of its total spending goes to new shows and movies, and in October the company announced plans to raise $2 billion in debt to fund new content).

Despite its focus on international growth, Hastings also said that even though Netflix once considered entering China by creating a joint venture with a local partner, it currently has no plans to do so, noting that the strategy still didn’t help competitors such as Apple’s iTunes.

SEC pushes court to hold Elon Musk in contempt over Tesla tweets

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in blatant violation of a settlement agreement reached last year over securities fraud allegations, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in a biting response to the court that argued the billionaire entrepreneur be held in contempt.

The response, which was filed late Monday, is the latest salvo in the agency’s fight with Musk that was sparked by the now infamous “funding secured” tweet. The SEC filed a complaint in federal district court in September alleging that Musk lied when he tweeted on August 7 that he had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share.

Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC without admitting wrongdoing. Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter.

It’s that final point about Musk’s use of Twitter that has raised the SEC’s hackles. Last month, the SEC asked a judge to hold Musk in contempt for violating the settlement agreement. The SEC argued that a tweet sent by Musk on February 19 violated their agreement. Musk is supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors.

Musk tweeted Feb. 19 that Tesla would produce “around” 500,000 cars this year, correcting himself hours later to clarify that he meant the company would be producing at an annualized rate of 500,000 vehicles by year end.

The next morning, Tesla announced that its general counsel, Dane Butswinkas, was leaving after just months on the job. Butswinkas said in a statement that he was “grateful for the opportunity” to work with Musk and Tesla and that he plans to return to the Washington, D.C. law firm for which he previously worked 30 years.

The SEC said in this latest response that it was stunned to discover that Musk had not sought pre-approval for a single one his tweets about Tesla.

The Court-ordered pre-approval requirement for Musk’s written communications lies at the heart of the settlement. Musk’s unchecked and misleading tweets about Tesla are what precipitated the SEC’s charges, and the pre-approval requirement was designed to protect against reckless conduct by Musk going forward.

It is therefore stunning to learn that, at the time of filing of the instant motion, Musk had not sought pre-approval for a single one of the numerous tweets about Tesla he published in the months since the Court-ordered pre-approval policy went into effect.

Many of these tweets were about the topics specifically identified by Tesla in its own policies as potentially material to shareholders. Musk reads this Court’s order as not requiring pre-approval unless Musk himself unilaterally decides his planned tweets are material. His interpretation is inconsistent with the plain terms of this Court’s order and renders its pre- approval requirement meaningless.

Musk has argued that the Feb 19 tweet was “immaterial” and complied with the settlement. He also said the SEC’s effort to find him in contempt infringed on the First Amendment and his right to free speech. The SEC has rejected that argument. “Submitting his written statements for pre-approval does not, as Musk baldly asserts, mean that he is prohibited from speaking,” the SEC wrote in its reply to Musk’s order to show cause. 

The SEC told a judge Monday that Musk has regularly published substantive information about Tesla and its business in tweets, beyond the February 19 instance. The SEC pointed to tweets about Tesla vehicle tax credits and pricing, vehicle maintenance costs, plans for expansion of charging stations internationally, the EPA rating of Tesla vehicles, construction and production plans for a new Shanghai factory, and the results of government safety testing of Tesla vehicles as evidence of Musk’s non compliance.

You can read the entire filing here.

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Here are the 85+ startups that launched at YC’s W19 Demo Day 1

Y Combinator’s incubator classes have gotten huge.

With over 200 companies, the Winter 2019 class is by far YC’s largest yet. Meanwhile, the incubator prepares to shift its headquarters from Mountain View to San Francisco.

It’s so large, in fact, it’s had to change the way it does Demo Day. Rather than all pitches happening on one stage, they were split across two stages (the “Pioneer” and “Mission” stages) running in parallel. So even if you were in the building, you couldn’t see all the pitches in person.

We were there — and as we do with each class, we’ve brought back our notes on everything we saw. Here are the 85+ companies that pitched today. Come back tomorrow for Day 2!

Pioneer Stage

Career Karma: Hundreds of millions of people will need to change jobs in the coming years. Career Karma gives them a placement quiz and gets them accepted at coding bootcamps and other training programs that pay the startup $1,000 per student. With income-sharing agreements growing in popularity, plenty of job skill providers will be willing to pay to enroll the highest potential students.

VanGo: An on-demand ride service for getting your kids and teens around. The founders say that, because “moms trust other moms,” 85 percent of drivers on their service are moms and all of them are women. They plan to expand into other verticals to help parents down the road.

Team Mobot: Simulated user interface testing doesn’t catch all the bugs and can be complex for less tech savvy companies to perform. Team Mobot offers a fleet of robots that physically test any app’s UI on real devices to perform QA testing and spot bugs. Team Mobot’s fleet learns over time to increase accuracy, and the startup plans to invade the Internet of Things and medical device verticals next.

Bento Club: Cheaper lunch delivery for office workers. Customers pre-order food from a select set of restaurants, and Bento picks it up and brings all orders to a shared pickup spot within one block of the customer’s office. Thirty-eight percent of customers come from referrals.

Basilica: Most teams trying to build artificial intelligence systems don’t have enough data, and that data can be expensive to collect. Basilica says its transfer learning method allows businesses to create accurate AI with just 1,000 data points instead of 1 million. Basilica generates network effect by using data from across its clients to improve efficiency for each vertical that teams will need to keep up with Google.

Keynua: In Latin America, signing documents requires tedious identity verifications. With Keynua you record a short video to verbally agree to a document, and they use existing records to verify your identity. This team’s previous product (Cinepapaya) was acquired by Fandango in 2016.

Lumos: Doctors use Google 40X more than professional tools for finding medical information, but Google is full of ads and results are meant for patients not doctors. Lumos offers a medical Q&A search engine for doctors who pay $15 per month. A trial at UPenn saw half of the med students using Lumos each day within weeks of launch. Lumos says it has more potential business opportunities based off understanding what studies and info doctors trust, and having access to them at critical decision points during treatment.

Traverse Technologies: Traverse uses software to identify potential sites for wind and hydro power generation. The company then buys and resells those sites. They estimate that a plot that they buy for $750k can be resold for $5 million. The currently have about $50 million worth of letters of intent.

Basement: A social network for your close friends. Feed broadcasting social networks feel impersonal, and inevitably bloat with distant acquaintances you’re shy about sharing with. Basement is designed for college students and grads to just add their best friends. It offers Instagram-style posting tools, but the intimacy leads to comment threads that feel more like WhatsApp chat. Basement will have to get users to break the social contract of courtesy so they don’t friend the wrong people, but has a chance to be where Facebook wants to go.

CosmicJS: A drop-in, easier to manage alternative to WordPress. The company says that KFC, MLB, and Dailymotion are already customers. Currently making roughly $10k in monthly recurring revenue, and they say that’s growing about 15 percent monthly.

Ravn: Looking around corners is one of the most dangerous parts of war for infantry. Ravn builds heads-up displays that let soldiers and law enforcement see around corners thanks to cameras on their gun, drones, or elsewhere. The ability to see the enemy while still being behind cover saves lives, and Ravn already has $490,000 in Navy and Air Force contracts. With a CEO who was a Navy Seal who went on to study computer science plus experts in augmented reality and selling hardware to the Department Of Defense, Ravn could deliver the inevitable future of soldier heads-up displays.

54gene: 54gene aims to be 23andMe for Africa. The company says that competitor data is limited because their users are mostly white. By focusing on Africa, the company can help detect and identify DNA markers that might otherwise go overlooked. Co-founder Abasi Ene-Obong has a PhD in cancer biology from the University of London.

Slapdash: Enterprise apps run slow and it can be tough to find files or messages across them. Slapdash creates a desktop software-speed container in which workers can run all their office software like Slack, Dropbox, Asana, Salesforce, and Google. Users can search across all their apps and be more productive, luring SaaS subscriptions from their employers.

YourChoice: Male contraceptive pill. With “two of the world’s leading sperm physiologists”, YourChoice says they’ve created a pill thats 100% effective with “no side effects” by targeting the ABHD2 and ANT4 proteins in sperm. They’re also working on a hormone-free contraceptive pill for women.

AccioJob: Only one-third of India’s college graduates get placed in jobs because their schools often only expose them to local recruiters. AccioJob charges colleges $10,000 per year to place their students in jobs, and charges employers per placement. Since it gains student contact info and grades, AccioJob can become the gateway to the best Indian college grads as more students from the country begin to enroll.

CentaurLabs: Hires doctors to label medical imagery datasets at scale, which can then be used to train AI. In the future, they’re aiming to build a diagnosis system to provide second opinions for doctors and patients.

Travelchime: Planning travel requires cobbling together Google Docs, maps, blogs, friend recommendations, inspiration apps, and booking sites. Travelchime combines travel planning tools into a Google Doc-style interface that automatically suggests contextual information and places popular amongst travel writing that it’s indexed. Users can then book from Travelchime, which hopes it can build a more helpful version of TripAdvisor.

Seawise Capital: Trade loans for exporters in India. The founders say they make 10% on every loan, and have taken on $550k in loans in the past 6 weeks. They plan to raise $5 million in debt by Q3 2019, and $25 million in debt by Q1 2020.

PerShop: Shopping online can be frustrating because you’re either hopping between individual brands without comparative pricing, seeing too many irrelevant products on aggregators, or can’t checkout on social apps. PerShop is a personalized shopping site that only recommends you items from your favorite brands, in your size, in your price range. Eventually it plans to sell personalized, targeted e-commerce ads. PerShop gets smarter as people use it to buy or just for entertainment.

Prometheus: Removes CO2 from the air to make gasoline. They say they can make gasoline for about $3.00 per gallon. Whereas past attempts required massive distillation columns, founder Rob McGinnis says he was working with carbon nanotube membranes when he discovered a cheaper way to do it with much less real estate.

Unicorn: Scooter companies that rent by the minute lose 2 percent of their fleet per day to damage and theft, and that means customers don’t have a safe scooter available when they want one. Unicorn rents scooters by the week or month and is already profitable. Vehicles aren’t left outside overnight and spend more time rented, while customers know there’s a scooter available for them without having to buy one outright. Unicorn’s founder started Tile and now he wants to build a better unit economics business than Lime and Bird.

Loonify Space: A bespoke launch system meant specifically for carrying small satellites into orbit. A balloon carries rocket to 35km and launches it mid-air. They have Letters of Intent for 155 satellite launches, worth a total of roughly $77 million. They intend to have their first launch on May 9th.

Supernova: Programming apps based on design mockups can be tough internally, but expensive and hard to maintain if outsourced. Supernova converts designs into production-ready code that follows best practices so it’s easy to update. Supernova’s AI can understand a product’s purpose and distinguish between navigation elements, buttons, and more. As more businesses try to modernize with tech products, Supernova could let them focus on their utility rather than computer science.

Kovi: Provides rental cars for on-demand drivers in Latin America. They currently have around 300 cars on the street, with 3,000 rental requests this year. The company estimates that 70 percent of drivers in Latin America rent/lease their vehicles.

Deel:  20 million international contractors work with US companies but it’s difficult to onboard and train them. Deel handles the contracts, payments, and taxes in one interface to eliminate paperwork and wasted time. Deel charges businesses $10 per contractor per month and a 1% fee on payouts, which earns it an average of $560 per contractor per year. As the globalization megatrend continues, businesses need better remote HR tools.

COUTURME: Custom, AI-designed wedding/formal dresses. The customer inputs their preferences, the software generates options, and the dress is produced and shipped within 30 days. It went live in January, and has been growing at roughly 15% weekly since. Co-founder Yuliya Raquel previously founded plus-size designer fashion company IGIGI.

Instapath Inc: Cancer biopsies can take a week to get you your results. Instapath is building a fully-automated pathology lab that can test a tissue sample and provide a diagnosis within five minutes while you’re still at the doctor’s office. This eliminates agonizing waiting periods and can get users treated more quickly. Instapath charges $200 per procedure, has already processed 500 biopsies, and claims to be on the path to FDA clearance in nine months.

Bensen: Bensen wants to replace the drive-thru window by allowing restaurants to receive orders via voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa in the car.. It’ll launch in two restaurant chains later this year, with Letters of Intent from companies with 800 locations. They’ll charge $3,000 per year per location.

Socrates Intelligence: There’s huge demand for reading in China but just one library per 480,000 citizens. Socrates Intelligence is the Netflix-style mailing business for books in China. For $56 per year, users can rent up to three books and get them within 48 hours. The startup already has 10,000 subscribers and plans to go after ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines next to become the ‘rent everything store’ for China.

Overview: Many factories use massive robots to manufacture goods overnight, but there’s not always someone watching. If something goes wrong but goes undetected, the robots can physically destroy themselves. Overview uses cameras and AI to monitor manufacturing robots, shutting them down if something goes wrong.

Sunsama: A task manager that integrates with SaaS tools like Trello, JIRA and Asana to help workers identify and manage the tasks they should be working on a specific day.

Kalshi: Instead of just betting on sports, Kalshi lets anyone bet on anything, like whether Brexit will happen by the end of the month or who will win an Oscar. Users bet against each other so it’s more like a futures market than gambling, and regulators like it since Kalshi doesn’t earn more when users lose. It already has 2 licenses making it legal in 200 countries and is in talks with US regulators to earn 7 percent transaction fees when people bet.

Volk Wireless: Volk is making an Android smartphone with a free data plan, no carrier required. The co-founders say they’re using long-range wireless hardware to share connections and build a network of phones. Co-Founder Greg Hazel was the Chief Architect at Bittorrent, while co-founder Straya Markovic was the lead engineer at mesh messaging platform Firechat.

Nowports: Half of shipping containers are lost or delayed in part because of inefficient routing and tracking. Nowports is the Flexport for Latin America, a freight forwarding business that helps pallets of goods get from factory to truck to boat to warehouse to retailer. Started by a third generation freight forwarder, Nowports could succeed where US companies lack the required local understanding.

Flower Co.: Memberships for cheaper weed sales and delivery. They’re currently selling $200k in marijuana per month to 700 members. They charge $100 a year for membership, and take 10% on product sales.

Middesk: It’s difficult to know if a business’ partners have paid their taxes, filed for bankruptcy, or are involved in lawsuits. That leads businesses to write off $120 billion a year in uncollectable bad debt. Middesk does due diligence to sort out good businesses from the bad to provide assurance for B2B deals loans, investments, acquisitions, and more. By giving clients the confidence that they’ll be paid, Middesk could insert itself into a wide array of transactions.

Eclipse Foods: Makes dairy product from plants, which they say are “indistinguishable” from those made from animal products. In their tests, 70% of consumers couldn’t tell the difference between their product and a leading competitor. The co-founders were previously the Director of R&D of Hampton Creek and an innovation specialist at the Good Food Institute (a non-profit focusing on plant-based meat/dairy alternatives).

Enemy on Board: By combining the excitement of League Of Legends with the strategy of Mafia, Enemy On Board is a game built for the Twitch era. 5 players team up to complete a mission, but 2 of them secretly are trying to sabotage it. The game’s beta launch is scheduled for June, but testers are already averaging 61 minutes per day, and people have spent 2000 hours watching gameplay on Twitch. Through microtransactions, Enemy On Board’s CEO who worked on League Of Legends believes they can build the next blockbuster freemium game.

Modoo Technology: A wearable for monitoring fetal health, measuring heart rate and baby movements. It has been selling in China for $200 since 2017, with $3.4 million in revenue in 2018. The company recently introduced a monthly subscription option for those who don’t want to buy outright.

Our World In Data: World leaders need easy-to-access, understandable data on issues like CO2 emissions or child mortality to make decisions. Our World In Data takes key findings from studies buried in paid journal articles and jargon, and put them on an open access website that has achieved top Google ranking for many queries. It already has 1 million users, and its team from University Of Oxford believes optimizing research data for the web could lead to better global policy.

Encarte: A browser extension bringing one-click checkout to any e-commerce store. Currently supports over 500,000 Shopify stores. It stores your data locally rather than in the cloud, and keeps track of all tracking numbers. They’re also building a “virtual e-commerce credit card” that will offer personalized promotions, amongst other things.

Atomic Alchemy: Radio cardiograms and PET/CT scans require nuclear medicine to visualize abnormalities. But five of the six reactors that generate this nuclear medicine are set to shut down in the next 10 years. Atomic Alchemy builds tiny, privately-owned reactors from off-the-shelf parts in order to generate nuclear medicine. The startup already has letters of intent it estimates are worth $50 million to $100 million, and hopes to be operational by 2024.

Jetpack Aviation: Jetpack is building a flying motorcycle. The company says its jet motorcycle is capable of getting from SF to Mountain View in ten minutes, and fits in a one-car garage. They estimate that their full-scale prototype should be done by the end of the year. They’ve received 9 pre-orders so far, worth about $4.1M in sales. The company’s founders previously built an FAA approved Jetpack called the JB10. We covered Jetpack Aviation on TechCrunch previously here.

Mission Stage

Trexo Robotics:  Trexo Robotics is developing a solution that gives those diagnosed with cerebral palsy a better solution than a wheelchair. The startup is focused on providing a robotics device for children with the disease, and the company’s first product will be available for $1,000 per month to families. The company says they currently have 5 units deployed and are approved for use in the U.S. and Canada.

Pachama: A verified marketplace for carbon credits focused on protecting and restoring the world’s forests. The startup uses machine learning, satellite imaging, drones and LIDAR to offset carbon emissions. Pachama connects carbon buyers — an organization seeking to offset their carbon emissions — to carbon projects.

Saratoga Energy: Over the course of six years, the company has developed and patented a production process to synthesize carbon nanotubes from CO2. The startup sells the carbon nanotubes, which are stronger and lighter than steel, at lower prices to aerospace, battery, concrete and other manufacturers. At the end of the week, the company will deliver their first batch for testing. Saratoga has raised $2 million in grant funding over the last two years.

Cherry: Cherry is an office perks solution for the modern startup. Rather than giving entire swaths of employees the same benefits, the co-founders want to let people choose their favorite internet services. People will be able to select services through a Slackbot interface and get things like ClassPass and HBO paid for by their company. The company says they have 24 companies in paid pilot programs. We previously covered Cherry on TechCrunch here.

CityFurnish: The provider of a furniture rental marketplace in India, CityFurnish delivers and installs furniture to customers in Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore for a monthly rental fee, offering free relocation and free maintenance services. The company doesn’t require any contracts and says it’s a cheaper option than actually buying furniture. CityFurnish has 10,000 subscribers today, $3 million in ARR and has been profitable for 18 months.

NaturAll Club: NaturAll Club wants you to refrigerate your haircare products. The startup’s products are made from fruit and vegetable pulp. The team’s first product is made with fresh avocado and did $2 million in sales in 6 months, the company says. While these may sound like Juicero packs for your hair, organic products are the fastest growing product category in beauty.

FlockJay: Operates an online sales academy that teaches job seekers from underrepresented backgrounds the skills and training they need to pursue a career in tech sales. The 12-week long bootcamp offers trainees coaching and mentorship. The company has launched its debut cohort with 17 students, 100 percent of which are already in job interviews and 40 percent of which have already secured new careers in the tech industry.

Demodesk: Demodesk is making a screen sharing tool to help companies reshape sales by demoing products directly for customers. What’s unique is that it isn’t your desktop, it’s a virtual machine where your demo presentation can live without potential customers having to wait through lengthy downloads while still being able to collaborate and edit what’s happening in the software.

Ultralight: A cross-platform app development tool used for rendering HTML UI within games and desktop applications. The company’s goal is to replace Chromium by providing a GPU-accelerated proprietary renderer. Ultralight says it will be compatible with most programming languages.

Keeper: Keeper wants to stop 1099 employees from getting ripped off by minutiae of tax forms. The company says that the average contractor overpays $1,249 per year in taxes. Keeper uses machine learning to automatically find tax write-offs inside the bank statements of users. They’re targeting the 50 million contractors in the U.S. to find their market.

Taobotics: A manufacturer of autonomous robots for supermarkets in China to help brands promote and advertise their products in stores. The startup, which employs a team of robotics experts, says people are 7x more likely to purchase a product from a robot than in-store sales help. Taobotics recently secured a deal to pilot 1,000 robots for Coca Cola.

Releaf: Releaf is building machinery to help African food factories operate more efficiently. The startup says that 90 percent of food factories are running under capacity because they can’t pre-process raw materials quickly enough. The startup says their machines quickly pay off for the factories and are already in use.

Synova Life Sciences: Synova Life Sciences is building a medical device that makes it easier to harvest stem cells from a patient’s fat. The company boasts that its device, which uses “modified shock waves”, can get stem cells from fat 30 times faster than current solutions, while yielding twice as many cells. They’ve already done 45 procedures with 14 different doctors.

Dyneti Technologies: Has invented a credit card scanner SDK that uses a smartphone’s camera to help prevent fraud by over 50 percent and improve conversion for businesses by 5 percent. The business was started by a pair of former Uber employees including CEO Julia Zheng, who launched the fraud analytics teams for Account Security and UberEATS. Dyneti’s service is powered by deep learning and works on any card format. In the two months since it launched, the company has signed contracts with Rappi, Gametime and others.

PreFlight: PreFlight is trying to fully automate UI testing and eliminate the need for companies to hire specifically for QA. The company’s Chrome extension can help developers record user actions and run robust testing. After launching just two weeks ago, users have collectively run 55,000 tests with PreFlight.

AmpUp: The “Airbnb for electric vehicle chargers.” AmpUp, preparing for a world in which the majority of us drive EVs, operates a mobile app that connects a network of thousands of EV chargers and drivers. Using the app, an electric vehicle owner can quickly identify an available and compatible charger and EV charger owners can earn cash sharing their charger at their own price and their own schedule. The service is currently live in the Bay Area. 

Docbot: An AI-enabled computer vision platform for gastroenterology practices to improve colonoscopy procedures. The service, which integrates with IT systems to make billing and documentation more efficient, tracks withdrawal time, intubation rate, bowel prep and adenoma detection rate. 20 million Americans get colonoscopies every year, though doctors aren’t always able to identify the colon polyps which can cause colon cancer. Docbot detects colon polyps in real-time. The service has been used in more than 2,000 procedures to date.

Edyst: Edyst is an online coding bootcamps geared towards college students in India hoping to find employment. The company guarantees that each student that graduates the course will get at least 5 job interviews. Right now, their course is paid for directly by colleges for students. Eventually, the co-founders believe that the bootcamp will be able to replace lower-tier universities in India.

Okteto: An application development platform for Kubernetes that helps developers to quickly iterate and improve their test decision time by 4x. The founders have decades of experience building application platforms for Docker and other businesses. Okteto’s goal is to become the standard way to develop cloud-based applications for Kubernetes.

Brew.com: A subscription-based podcasting app tackling the podcast monetization problem. Brew costs users $5 per month and helps creators of all levels earn money for their content by paying them on a per listen basis. The startup launched the app last week with exclusive shows from eight creators, including YouTubers Boogie2988 and Jack Vale, who each have millions of followers on YouTube. Brew currently has 200 creators on its waitlist. We previously covered Brew on TechCrunch here.

Sapling Intelligence: Sapling Intelligence wants to be a Grammarly for the enterprise. The company’s deep-learning writing assistant can help messaging stay on-brand with a uniform voice that can be tuned to approach different audiences. Their product is a browser extension that sits on top of products like Zendesk and Salesforce.

Evo.Do: The developer of a codeless test automation tool for the gaming industry and other digital products. The company says its AI-enabled bots are as smart and flexible at identifying bugs in games as a human. The bots are able to find bugs in minutes with no human intervention; one bot works faster and more efficiently than one human tester.

Reelables: Reelables is looking to ensure that enterprise companies lose fewer of their products. The company is building ultra-thin flexible bluetooth trackers that are build into labels that can be affixed to products. The “Tile for enterprise” startup has already launched a pilot program with GE.

Docucharm: The platform, co-founded by former Uber product manager Minh Tri Pham, turns documents into structured data a computer can understand to accurately automate document processing workflows and to take away the need for human data entry. Docucharm’s API can understand various forms of documents (like paystubs, for example) and will extract the necessary information without error. Its customers include tax prep company Tributi and lending businesses Aspire.

Closer Sports: Closer Sports is creating a live-streaming platform for athletes to connect with fans. The co-founders want their product to fill in the shortcomings of ESPN and existing social media services. Unlike Instagram, the startup lets athletes charge for access to their live-streams. The company is kicking things off with UFC fighters and had 500 paid subscribers after launching recently.

Datamode: The startup identifies bugs in businesses’ data pipelines. Debugging is very expensive and time-consuming for data engineering teams. Datamode diagnoses the root cause of pipeline failure showing businesses exactly when it failed and what is broken instantly. Datamode was started by repeat founders, including a co-founder of Movity, which sold to Trulia in 2010.

Schoolable: There are 65 million students in Africa attending private schools, but tuition payments can be a major pain point for parents paying for their child’s education. That’s because tuition payments are often due upfront and it’s more difficult than it should be for schools to keep track of payments. Schoolable is creating an invoicing app that helps ensure parents make payments on time, while also using the app to save directly for tuition.

Vectordash: Dubbing itself the “Netflix for gamers”, Vectordash turns your Macbook Air or other underpowered rig into a formidable machine through their cloud gaming service. Vectordash’s platform allows gamers to play games without rendering them locally, instead utilizing peer-to-peer rendering power via host GPUs. The company is charging $28 per month for the service. We previously covered Vectordash on TechCrunch here.

Doorport: They’ve built a small device that can be added to existing apartment intercom systems, allowing residents to unlock the building’s front door for themselves, guests, and delivery people with an app. Doorport is currently being piloted in San Francisco, Oakland, and New York.  The startup is still figuring out exactly how much their product will cost, and are testing different pricing models. We previously covered Doorport on TechCrunch here.

Intact Therapeutics: The makers of smart gels for local drug delivery for gastrointestinal diseases. The company’s gel was created for inflammatory bowel disease but can be used on several other diseases. Intact has already signed a deal with a large pharmaceutical gel maker to develop its products at scale.

Cuanto: Cuanto is building a payment product for Latin American businesses selling their goods on WhatsApp and Instagram, a sales pipeline that 80 percent of businesses there focus on. The company is planning to use the data they yield from sellers to facilitate loans to businesses in Latin America. The startup is already live in 5 countries.

Bottomless: Bottomless automatically restocks your coffee supply using an internet-connected scale which members place under their bag of coffee grounds. Tracking the weight of the bag, Bottomless’ scales determine when customers are low on grounds and ensure a new bag of previously selected freshly roasted coffee is on their doorstep before they run out. The service costs $36 per year. We previously covered Bottomless on TechCrunch here.

Heart Aerospace: The manufacturers of an electric regional airplane, the ES-19, expected to be certified for commercial flights by 2025. The airliners hold 19 passengers. The founder, Anders Forslund, has a Ph.D. in aircraft design and has already signed letters of intent with aerospace companies worth $1.6 billion.

Windsor: Windsor is building a platform that connects a company’s separate application data services. The company connects this data and builds timelines of runtime events, giving customers a closer eye into what is happening on their helping them answer more intimate questions about how their

CareerTu: A WeChat-based online digital marketing school targeting Chinese students living in the U.S. CareerTu wants to help those students who are lacking the necessary skills to succeed in U.S. jobs. In the year since it launched, the startup has brought in $700,000 in revenue from 160,000 users and is profitable. The company plans to expand to support Chinese students based in China.

Convictional: Convictional helps direct-to-consumer companies approach larger retailers more simply. It takes a lot of time for a supplier to build a relationship with a retailer and start selling their products. Convictional wants to speed things up by building a B2B self-service commerce platform that allows retailers to easily approach brands and make orders.

Dockup: Creates on-demand staging environments for engineering teams to save developers’ time. Large companies spend millions to scale staging, including Facebook and Google, while smaller startups are stuck with broken staging. Dockup, which launched this month with four paying customers, will reduce these staging headaches.

Thrive Agric: The company helps smallholder farmers in Nigeria access crowdfunded loans to help grow their crops, as well as help them sell their produce. The company has worked with 14,000 farmers to date, with plans to reach 1,000,000 farmers across Africa by 2022 in what it says is a $54 billion market opportunity.

Skill-lync: Skill-lync is another YC startup looking to approach the fact that Indian college students aren’t getting jobs in the fields they study. The startup is targeting mechanical engineering students with a set of online courses that can make up for outdated college curriculums. The team is already educating 2,800 students and earning $82,000 in monthly revenues.

Rebank: An automation tool for business banking that works with any bank and/or multiple banks at once. Rebank, which claims to have “hacked banking,” has 40 companies currently using the tool to save time. Rebank operates under a subscription model, charging its customers $50 per month for access to its platform.

AXDRAFT: The startup is building software that helps smaller companies automate documents that they’re having to fill out again and again, helping startups spend less time drafting and proofreading routine documents. The company is starting off with a solution for contracts that helps startups fill out the documents quickly and for free while charging $25 to review the contracts and ensure that everything is up to snuff.

Glide: There has been a pretty major trend towards services that make it easier to build web pages or mobile apps. Glide lets customers easily create well-designed mobile apps from Google Sheets pages. This not only makes it easy to build the pages, but simplifies the skills needed to keep information updated on the site.

Boundary Layer Technologies: High-speed container ships using hydrofoils. The tech-enabled ships allow transit time that is comparable to air travel but much more affordable. The company built its prototype in just 10 weeks at a cost of $150,000 and has a letter of intent from Flexport to build ships that will travel between Los Angeles and Shanghai.

Devin Nunes is suing Twitter over mean tweets from parody account of his mom

California Representative Devin Nunes announced that he will file a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, alleging that the company engages in “explicit censorship” and has allowed critics to defame him on the platform. Simultaneously complaining that Twitter silences its critics while asking Twitter to silence his critics is a curious legal strategy, but really it’s par for the course for one of President Trump’s most theatrically partisan and unabashed allies.

Nunes first threatened legal action against Twitter last year after claiming that the company was “shadow banning” conservatives, effectively burying their accounts. Twitter clarified that the network does not bury any user content based on ideology and that a since-resolved algorithmic issue failed to populate auto suggestions for some Twitter users, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In a complaint reported by Fox News, Nunes appears to be following through on last year’s threat.

“Nunes has no adequate remedy at law,” the complaint, filed today, claims. “Without Court intervention and an injunction, Nunes will suffer actual and irreparable injury to his property interests and personal rights by the mere fact that Defendants’ defamatory tweets can be retweeted and republished forever by third-parties.”

TechCrunch reached out to Nunes as well as Twitter to request a copy of the filed lawsuit, but for now we’re just going off the complaint. (It’s possible that Nunes won’t follow through with the filing, but a lawsuit like this is mostly a publicity stunt either way.)

As you can see above, the complaint’s defendants include not only Twitter itself and a Nunes critic named Liz Mair but also @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom, two accounts parodying the lawmaker’s cow and his mother, respectively.

The herd agrees? https://t.co/AhSmn4QtqC

— Devin Nunes’ cow (@DevinCow) February 26, 2019

Of particular note, the lawsuit objects to a colorful array of claims made by the since-suspended account @DevinNunesMom:

– “Nunes is ‘not ALL about deceiving people. He’s also about betraying his country and colluding with Russians’”

– “I don’t know about Baby Hitler, but would sure-as-shit abort baby Devin”

– “Alpha Omega wines taste like treason”

and

– “falsely [suggesting] that Nunes might be willing to give the President a ‘blowjob.’”

The lawsuit also accuses “Devin Nunes’ Cow” of spreading false claims to its 1,204 Twitter followers. Those claims include stating that “He’s udder-ly worthless and its [sic] pasture time to move him to prison” and “Devin is whey over his head in crime.”

Dairy puns notwithstanding, the allegedly “egregiously false, defamatory, insulting, abusive, hateful, scandalous and vile statements” that prompted Nunes to name the parody accounts are fairly tame compared to much of the hatespeech endured by Twitter users who don’t also happen to be members of Congress. Further, Nunes would need to prove that the three accounts in question acted with “actual malice,” a higher legal standard reserved for proving defamation against a public figure — and one intended to safeguard free speech.

When contacted by TechCrunch, Twitter declined to comment on the lawsuit.

For $1,500, you too can get custom Tesla Nikes just like Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s shoes — a custom pair of Nikes with a Tesla logo emblazoned above the toe box — were the belle of the company’s Model Y unveiling last week.

The reaction, during the event and later on the Tesla forums and social media, not only shot the company behind the custom kicks into the spotlight; it prompted the designers to make more.

DM Custom Sneakers, a Habra, California-based company run by father and son duo Marco Sr. and Marco Jr Acosta, will make six Limited Edition versions of the shoe identical to the pair worn by Musk. The Limited Edition sneakers are priced at $1,500 and will come numbered and in an acrylic display box, Acosta Jr told TechCrunch.

The original shoe worn by Musk was commissioned by a “close friend” of Musk’s and a Tesla investor, Acosta Jr said.

The bad news for sneaker and Tesla aficionados: the Limited Edition pairs are already sold out. Acosta has received hundreds of inquiries so far.

But don’t despair, DM Custom Sneakers plans to make more of Tesla-logoed shoes. The next batch won’t be “limited editions” Acosta says, although they’ll cost the same since the same materials will be used. Customers can reach Acosta through the company’s Instagram account or via email at: https://www.dmcustomsneakers.com/.

The popularity of the sneakers is just the latest example of the fascination and fervor that surrounds Musk and Tesla, regardless of headwinds or controversies that continue to pop up.

How to build The Matrix

Rizwan Virk
Contributor

Rizwan Virk is executive director of Play Labs @ MIT, a serial entrepreneur and author.

Released this month 20 years ago, “The Matrix” went on to become a cultural phenomenon. This wasn’t just because of its ground-breaking special effects, but because it popularized an idea that has come to be known as the simulation hypothesis. This is the idea that the world we see around us may not be the “real world” at all, but a high-resolution simulation, much like a video game.

While the central question raised by “The Matrix” sounds like science fiction, it is now debated seriously by scientists, technologists and philosophers around the world. Elon Musk is among those; he thinks the odds that we are in a simulation are a billion to one (in favor of being inside a video-game world)!

As a founder and investor in many video game startups, I started to think about this question seriously after seeing how far virtual reality has come in creating immersive experiences. In this article we look at the development of video game technology past and future to ask the question: Could a simulation like that in “The Matrix” actually be built? And if so, what would it take?

What we’re really asking is how far away we are from The Simulation Point, the theoretical point at which a technological civilization would be capable of building a simulation that was indistinguishable from “physical reality.”

[Editor’s note: This article summarizes one section of the upcoming book, “The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are in a Video Game.“] 

From science fiction to science?

But first, let’s back up.

“The Matrix,” you’ll recall, starred Keanu Reeves as Neo, a hacker who encounters enigmatic references to something called the Matrix online. This leads him to the mysterious Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne, and aptly named after the Greek god of dreams) and his team. When Neo asks Morpheus about the Matrix, Morpheus responds with what has become one of the most famous movie lines of all time: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”

Even if you haven’t seen “The Matrix,” you’ve probably heard what happens next — in perhaps its most iconic scene, Morpheus gives Neo a choice: Take the “red pill” to wake up and see what the Matrix really is, or take the “blue pill” and keep living his life. Neo takes the red pill and “wakes up” in the real world to find that what he thought was real was actually an intricately constructed computer simulation — basically an ultra-realistic video game! Neo and other humans are actually living in pods, jacked into the system via a cord into his cerebral cortex.

Who created the Matrix and why are humans plugged into it at birth? In the two sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” we find out that Earth has been taken over by a race of super-intelligent machines that need the electricity from human brains. The humans are kept occupied, docile and none the wiser thanks to their all-encompassing link to the Matrix!  

But the Matrix wasn’t all philosophy and no action; there were plenty of eye-popping special effects during the fight scenes. Some of these now have their own name in the entertainment and video game industry, such as the famous “bullet time.” When a bullet is shot at Neo, the visuals slow down time and manipulate space; the camera moves in a circular motion while the bullet is frozen in the air. In the context of a 3D computer world, this make perfect sense, though now the camera technique is used in both live action and video games.  AI plays a big role too: in the sequels, we find out much more about the agents pursuing Neo, Morpheus and the team. Agent Smith (played brilliantly by Hugo Weaving), the main adversary in the first movie, is really a computer agent — an artificial intelligence meant to keep order in the simulation. Like any good AI villain, Agent Smith (who was voted the 84th most popular movie character of all time!) is able to reproduce itself and overlay himself onto any part of the simulation.

“The Matrix” storyboard from the original movie. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood)

The Wachowskis, creators of “The Matrix,” claim to have been inspired by, among others, science fiction master Philip K. Dick. Most of us are familiar with Dick’s work from the many film and TV adaptations, ranging from Blade Runner, Total Recall and the more recent Amazon show, The Man in the High Castle.  Dick often explored questions of what was “real” versus “fake” in his vast body of work. These are some of the same themes we will have to grapple with to build a real Matrix: AI that is indistinguishable from humans, implanting false memories and broadcasting directly into the mind.

As part of writing my upcoming book, I interviewed Dick’s wife, Tessa B. Dick, and she told me that Philip K. Dick actually believed we were living in a simulation. He believed that someone was changing the parameters of the simulation, and most of us were unaware that this was going on. This was of course, the theme of his short story, “The Adjustment Team” (which served as the basis for the blockbuster “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt).

A quick summary of the basic (non-video game) simulation argument

Today, the simulation hypothesis has moved from science fiction to a subject of serious debate because of several key developments.

The first was when Oxford professor Nick Bostrom published his 2003 paper, “Are You Living in a Simulation?” Bostrom doesn’t say much about video games nor how we might build such a simulation; rather, he makes a clever statistical argument. Bostrom theorized that if a civilization ever got the Simulation Point, it would create many ancestor simulations, each with large numbers (billions or trillions?) of simulated beings. Since the number of simulated beings would vastly outnumber the number of real beings, any beings (including us!) were more likely to be living inside a simulation than outside of it!

Other scientists, like physicists and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking weighed in, saying they found it hard to argue against this logic.

Bostrom’s argument implied two things that are the subject of intense debate. The first is that if any civilization every reached the Simulation Point, then we are more likely in a simulation now. The second is that we are more likely all AI or simulated consciousness rather than biological ones. On this second point, I prefer to use the “video game” version of the simulation argument, which is a little different than Bostrom’s version.

Video games hold the key

Let’s look more at the video game version of the argument, which rests on the rapid pace of development of video game and computer graphics technology over the past decades. In video games, we have both “players” who exist outside of the video game, and “characters” who exist inside the game. In the game, we have PCs (player characters) that are controlled (you might say mentally attached to the players), and NPCs (non-player characters) that are the simulation artificial characters.

Toyota doubles down on Nvidia tech for self-driving cars

Toyota is deepening its relationship with Nvidia as the automaker, and its research arms in Japan and the U.S., ramps up its autonomous vehicle development program.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang announced Monday during his keynote at the 2019 GPU Technology Conference that Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development — the automaker’s Japan-based research arm — is using the chipmaker’s full end-to-end development and production to develop, train and validate its autonomous vehicle technology. The partnership builds on an ongoing collaboration with Toyota and is based on development between engineering teams from Nvidia, TRI-AD in Japan and Toyota Research Institute in the United States.

This new agreement means Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for training deep neural networks, testing, validation and eventual deployment for its cars. Toyota is also using Nvidia’s newly released AV simulator Drive Constellation, which is now available to customers. Toyota is the first customer to use Constellation, a cloud based platform that enables autonomous vehicle developers to test their technology in the virtual world. 

In short, Toyota is going to use Nvidia’s technology for the entire workflow or process to develop autonomous vehicles.

“Close collaboration is really our business model,” Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive said Monday. “It’s our way of developing jointly and building the Nvidia drivers platform.”

Nvidia and Toyota have been collaborating for several years now. Toyota announced in 2017 it would use Nvidia’s Drive PX supercomputer, a platform with a processor called Xavier, to power the autonomous driving systems inside its future cars.

Toyota, and its research arms TRI and Japan-based TRI-AD, are taking a dual approach to autonomy.

Toyota intends to eventually deploy fully autonomous cars that would serve elderly and disabled people under its so-called Chauffeur system. The automaker is also working on “Guardian,” a system for production vehicles that will operate in the background and step in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems. 

It’s unclear if Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for the development of the Guardian system or fully autonomous vehicles.

“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” TRI-AD CEO James Kuffner said in a statement. “Our technology collaboration with Nvidia is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”

Toyota is just one of several automotive partnerships Nvidia has locked in since 2015 when it introduced its original architecture for autonomous vehicles, a supercomputer platform called Drive PX. The original platform was designed to process all of the data coming from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors and then use an AI algorithm-based operating system and a cloud-based, high-definition 3D map to help the car understand its environment, know its location, and anticipate potential hazards while driving. 

Nvidia announces its next-gen RTX pods with up to 1,280 GPUs

Nvidia wants to be a cloud powerhouse. While its history may be in graphics cards for gaming enthusiasts, its recent focus has been on its data center GPUs for AI, machine learning inference, inference and visualization. Today, at its GTC conference, the company announced its latest RTX server configuration for Hollywood studios and others who need to quickly generate visual content.

A full RTX server pod can support up to 1,280 Turing GPUs on 32 RTX blade servers. That’s 40 GPUs per server, with each server taking up an 8U space. The GPUs here are Quadro RTX 4000 or 6000 GPUs, depending on the configuration.

NVIDIA RTX Servers — which include fully optimized software stacks available for Optix RTX rendering, gaming, VR and AR, and professional visualization applications — can now deliver cinematic-quality graphics enhanced by ray tracing for far less than just the cost of electricity for a CPU-based rendering cluster with the same performance,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

All of this power can be shared by multiple users and the backend storage and networking interconnect is powered by technology from Mellanox, which Nvidia bought earlier this month for $6.9 billion. That acquisition and today’s news clearly show how important the data center has become for Nvidia’s future.

System makers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus and Supermicro will offer RTX servers to their customers, all of which have been validated by Nvidia and support the company’s software tools for managing the workloads that run on them.

Nvidia also stresses that these servers would work great for running AR and VR applications at the edge and then serving the visuals to clients over 5G networks. That’s a few too many buzzwords, I think, and consumer interest in AR and VR remains questionable, while 5G networks remain far from mainstream, too. Still, there’s a role for these servers in powering cloud gaming services, for example.

Nvidia AI turns sketches into photorealistic landscapes in seconds

Today at Nvidia GTC 2019, the company unveiled a stunning image creator. Using generative adversarial networks, users of the software are with just a few clicks able to sketch images that are nearly photorealistic. The software will instantly turn a couple of lines into a gorgeous mountaintop sunset. This is MS Paint for the AI age.

Called GauGAN, the software is just a demonstration of what’s possible with Nvidia’s neural network platforms. It’s designed to compile an image how a human would paint, with the goal being to take a sketch and turn it into a photorealistic photo in seconds. In an early demo, it seems to work as advertised.

GauGAN has three tools: a paint bucket, pen and pencil. At the bottom of the screen is a series of objects. Select the cloud object and draw a line with the pencil, and the software will produce a wisp of photorealistic clouds. But these are not image stamps. GauGAN produces results unique to the input. Draw a circle and fill it with the paint bucket and the software will make puffy summer clouds.

Users can use the input tools to draw the shape of a tree and it will produce a tree. Draw a straight line and it will produce a bare trunk. Draw a bulb at the top and the software will fill it in with leaves producing a full tree.

GauGAN is also multimodal. If two users create the same sketch with the same settings, random numbers built into the project ensure that software creates different results.

In order to have real-time results, GauGAN has to run on a Tensor computing platform. Nvidia demonstrated this software on an RDX Titan GPU platform, which allowed it to produce results in real time. The operator of the demo was able to draw a line and the software instantly produced results. However, Bryan Catanzaro, VP of Applied Deep Learning Research, stated that with some modifications, GauGAN can run on nearly any platform, including CPUs, though the results might take a few seconds to display.

In the demo, the boundaries between objects are not perfect and the team behind the project states it will improve. There is a slight line where two objects touch. Nvidia calls the results photorealistic, but under scrutiny, it doesn’t stand up. Neural networks currently have an issue on objects it was trained on and what the neural network is trained to do. This project hopes to decrease that gap.

Nvidia turned to 1 million images on Flickr to train the neural network. Most came from Flickr’s Creative Commons, and Catanzaro said the company only uses images with permission. The company says this program can synthesize hundreds of thousands of objects and their relation to other objects in the real world. In GauGAN, change the season and the leaves will disappear from the branches. Or if there’s a pond in front of a tree, the tree will be reflected in the water.

Nvidia will release the white paper today. Catanzaro noted that it was previously accepted to CVPR 2019.

Catanzaro hopes this software will be available on Nvidia’s new AI Playground, but says there is a bit of work the company needs to do in order to make that happen. He sees tools like this being used in video games to create more immersive environments, but notes Nvidia does not directly build software to do so.

It’s easy to bemoan the ease with which this software could be used to produce inauthentic images for nefarious purposes. And Catanzaro agrees this is an important topic, noting that it’s bigger than one project and company. “We care about this a lot because we want to make the world a better place,” he said, adding that this is a trust issue instead of a technology issue and that we, as a society, must deal with it as such.

Even in this limited demo, it’s clear that software built around these abilities would appeal to everyone from a video game designer to architects to casual gamers. The company does not have any plans to release it commercially, but could soon release a public trial to let anyone use the software.

Nvidia’s T4 GPUs are coming to the AWS cloud

In the coming weeks, AWS is launching new G4 instances with support for Nvidia’s T4 Tensor Core GPUs, the company today announced at Nvidia’s GTC conference. The T4, which is based on Nvidia’s Turing architecture, was specifically optimized for running AI models. The T4 will be supported by the EC2 compute service and the Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes.

“NVIDIA and AWS have worked together for a long time to help customers run compute-intensive AI workloads in the cloud and create incredible new AI solutions,” said Matt Garman, vice president of Compute Services at AWS, in today’s announcement. “With our new T4-based G4 instances, we’re making it even easier and more cost-effective for customers to accelerate their machine learning inference and graphics-intensive applications.”

The T4 is also the first GPU on AWS that supports Nvidia’s raytracing technology. That’s not what Nvidia is focusing on with this announcement, but creative pros can use these GPUs to take the company’s real-time raytracing technology for a spin.

For the most part, though, it seems like Nvidia and AWS expect that developers will use the T4 to put AI models into production. It’s worth noting that the T4 hasn’t been optimized for training these models, but they can obviously be used for that as well. Indeed, with the new Cuda-X AI libraries (also announced today), Nvidia now offers an end-to-end platform for developers who want to use its GPUs fr deep learning, machine learning and data analytics.

It’s worth noting that Google launched T4 support in beta a few months ago. On Google’s cloud, these GPUs are currently in beta.

Intel and Cray are building a $500 million ‘exascale’ supercomputer for Argonne National Lab

In a way, I have the equivalent of a supercomputer in my pocket. But in another, more important way, that pocket computer is a joke compared with real supercomputers — and Intel and Cray are putting together one of the biggest ever with a half-billion-dollar contract from the Department of Energy. It’s going to do exaflops!

The “Aurora” program aims to put together an “exascale” computing system for Argonne National Laboratory by 2021. The “exa” is prefix indicating bigness, in this case 1 quintillion floating point operations, or FLOPs. They’re kind of the horsepower rating of supercomputers.

For comparison, your average modern CPU does maybe a hundred or more gigaflops. A thousand gigaflops makes a teraflop, a thousand teraflops makes a petaflop, and a thousand petaflops makes an exaflop. So despite major advances in computing efficiency going into making super powerful smartphones and desktops, we’re talking several orders of magnitude difference. (Let’s not get into GPUs, it’s complicated.)

And even when compared with the biggest supercomputers and clusters out there, you’re still looking at a max of 200 petaflops (that would be IBM’s Summit, over at Oak Ridge National Lab) or thereabouts.

Just what do you need that kind of computing power for? Petaflops wouldn’t do it? Well, no, actually. One very recent example of computing limitations in real-world research was this study of how climate change could affect cloud formation in certain regions, reinforcing the trend and leading to a vicious cycle.

This kind of thing could only be estimated with much coarser models before; Computing resources were too tight to allow for the kind of extremely large number of variables involved here (or here — more clouds). Imagine simulating a ball bouncing on the ground — easy — now imagine simulating every molecule in that ball, their relationships to each other, gravity, air pressure, other forces — hard. Now imagine simulating two stars colliding.

The more computing resources we have, the more can be dedicated to, as the Intel press release offers as examples, “developing extreme-scale cosmological simulations, discovering new approaches for drug response prediction and discovering materials for the creation of more efficient organic solar cells.”

Intel says that Aurora will be the first exaflop system in the U.S. — an important caveat, since China is aiming to accomplish the task a year earlier. There’s no reason to think they won’t achieve it, either, since Chinese supercomputers have reliably been among the fastest in the world.

If you’re curious what ANL may be putting its soon-to-be-built computers to work for, feel free to browse its research index. The short answer is “just about everything.”

Unity adds preview support for Nvidia’s ray tracing tech to push gaming realism

Ray tracing has been a major topic of conversation at both GDC and GTC so it seems fitting that that the overlapping conventions would both kick off with an announcement that touches both industries.

Today at GTC, Nvidia announced that it has built-out a number of major partnerships with 3D software makers including some apparent names like Adobe and Autodesk to integrate access with Nvidia’s RTX ray-tracing platform in their future software releases. The partnerships with Unity is perhaps the most interesting, given the excitement amongst game developers to bring real-time ray tracing to interactive works.

Epic Games had already announced Unreal Engine 4.22 support for Nvidia RTX ray-tracing, and it was only a matter of time before Unity made the plunge as well, but now the tech is officially coming to Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) today in preview.

The technology is all focused on how games render lighting more realistically, showing how light interacts with the atmosphere and the objects it strikes. This technique has already been in use elsewhere but rendering all of this can be pretty resource-intensive which has made the advancements of the past few years to cement this as a real-time system such an entrancing prospect.

Nvidia has certainly been tooting the horn of this technology, but there have been some doubts whether this is just another technology that’s still a few years out from popular adoption amongst game developers.

“Real-time ray tracing moves real-time graphics significantly closer to realism, opening the gates to global rendering effects never before possible in the real-time domain,” a Unity exec said in a statement. In their announcement, Nvidia boasted that their system enabled “ray traced images that can be indistinguishable from photographs” that “blur the line between real-time and reality.”

While the prospect of added realism in gaming is certainly something consumers will be psyched about, engine-makers will undoubtedly also be promoting their early access to the Nvidia tech to customers in other industries including enterprise.

General Catalyst just carved out an aggressive new seed-stage program — here’s what to know

General Catalyst is diving more seriously into the business of funding seed-stage startups. To wit, the venture firm is announcing today that it plans to invest at least $25 million each year in nascent teams that “can’t be too early” for the firm to see, according to Katherine Boyle, an investor with the firm who will be spearheading the effort with two other colleagues: Niko Bonatsos and Peter Boyce, who co-founded and continues to help oversee Rough Draft Ventures, a student-focused program fueled by General Catalyst.

We talked with the three on Friday morning to find out why their 19-year-old firm — which has sometimes invested in seed-stage startups in the past — felt the need to formalize its efforts with this new initiative, whose capital will come from the firm’s $1.4 billion ninth fund (closed in March of last year).

They said the decision arose from feedback they’ve received in recent years, including that it can take too long for decisions to get made in the earliest stages of a startup’s life; that many seed-stage and angel investors are now looking for some traction before they’ll write a check; and that fundraising is stressful and distracting.

GC’s solution to all three is to address them by promising founders a quick decision; by promising to work with founders who have “clarity of vision” if not actually proof of concept yet; and by assuring founders whose companies take off that it can continue to support them financially, thanks to its sizable fund.

As Boyle explains it, the idea is to write initial checks of between $500,000 and $2 million to start, to respond within 48 hours of a meeting (though they won’t skip reference checks) and to invest in anywhere from 25 to 35 startups each year, though Boyce suggests they can easily invest more, given the right opportunities. “This isn’t spray and pray,” adds Bonatsos. “We come in and we’re significant investors. The idea is to invest more in future rounds.”

Naturally, it’s not a novel concept, a giant firm investing in seed-stage companies. Plenty of heavyweight firms have done this in the past, including Greylock, which garnered attention by giving Reid Hoffman $20 million to invest in seed-stage funds back in 2010.

Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital are also among other very big firms known to invest in seed-stage companies, though firm founder Marc Andreessen expressed some ambivalence about the trend in conversation with us back in 2013. His concern at the time — and it’s one that venture firms, including his own, have since grown more comfortable with — was the potential for conflicts of interest.

Seemingly, the possibility isn’t keeping the General Catalyst team awake at night. “Historically, this hasn’t been an issue,” says Bonatsos. “Of course, business models evolve and conflicts can emerge [as portfolio companies begin to compete with one another]. But we go into these conversations with an open mind. Also, sometimes, what may look from the outside like a conflict isn’t, because startups are targeting other geographies or different types of customers.”

Neither is General Catalyst apparently concerned with signaling risk, or the risk generated when a startup accepts seed funding from a top-tier VC and that VC doesn’t go on to lead, or even participate, in its Series A round. As Sequoia partner Bryan Schreier told us about Sequoia’s thinking as it launched its own $180 million seed-stage fund last year, the mere association with certain hands-on firms helps more than it hinders. “We’ve pulled data on this and a company that has raised seed funding from Sequoia is three times more likely to raise a venture round — no matter what.”

One difference between GC and numerous other firms that pursue seed-stage deals: it does not have a formal “scouting” program, wherein it works with operators in its portfolio who seek out deals on its behalf and are rewarded financially for the work.

“We don’t have that at the moment,” says Bonatsos, noting that “things may change in the future.”

The seed team is also eschewing the “generalist” approach that many firms seem to embrace, with Bonatsos, Boyle and Boyce telling us they have distinct, if sometimes overlapping, areas of expertise and interest.

Boyle, for example, invests in heavily regulated industries, with a particular penchant for startups focused on defense tech and that sell to the government. Bonatsos has long focused on consumer deals, though he said he’s also interested in “frontier stuff” and startups that are trying to create new industries. As for his part, Boyce is most interested these days in consumer financial services and design.

Ultimately, says the Bonatsos, the three mostly “want to be inspired.”

Adds Boyce, “We work with both first-time and experienced founders all the time. It’s less about experience and traction, and more about founders who have a point of view and can attract talent — founders who we think can get to the IPO and beyond.”

Boyle and Bonatsos are, and will remain, based in the Bay Area. Boyce is in New York.

Apple Business Chat drives in-seat drink ordering at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland

With LeBron James hundreds of miles west plying his trade for the Los Angeles Lakers these days, Cleveland Cavalier fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about this season — but Aramark (the stadium food and beverage vendor) and the Cavs have teamed up with Apple Business Chat to let fans order drinks right from their seats.

It’s a nifty system, first introduced to Phillies fans last summer. In this iteration, Cleveland fans can access a menu, order drinks and get them delivered directly to their seats using iMessage on their iPhones.

You start by opening the Camera app and scanning the QR code on your seat back. That brings up a prompt in Messages to “Hit send to start your order.” From there, you can interact with the order bot to order your beverages. To make it easier, you access a menu and make your selections.

When you’re finished, the bot prompts you for your seat number. You pay for your order with Apple Pay, and the beverages will be delivered directly to you without having to miss any of the game action.

It’s not clear how long you have to wait for the drinks to be delivered, but it beats standing in long lines and brings an entirely digital ordering process to fans. Kevin Kearney, district manager for Aramark’s Sports and Entertainment division, sees this as a way to integrate the mobile experience into the fan experience at the game in a highly accessible way.

“The integration of Apple Business Chat with the ordering process is not only fan-friendly and easily accessible, it’s reflective of fans’ changing expectations and behaviors and we’re looking forward to Cavs and Monsters (Cleveland’s AHL affiliate) fans giving it a try,” Kearney said in a statement.

The program is being piloted for the remainder of the season as the teams and Aramark see how the process works and how fans like using it. It may not take away the sting of LeBron leaving town, but it is a convenient way to get drinks while taking in a game.

Atlassian acquires AgileCraft for $166M

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired AgileCraft, a service that aims to help enterprises plan their strategic projects and workstreams. The service provides business leaders with additional insights into the current status of technical projects and gives them insights into the bottlenecks, risks and dependencies of these projects. Indeed, the focus of AgileCraft is less on technical teams than on the business teams that support them and help them manage the digital transformation of their businesses.

The price total of the acquisition is about $166 million, with $154 million in cash and the remainder in restricted shares.

“Many leaders are still making mission-critical decisions using their instincts and best guesses instead of data,” said Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-founder and co-CEO, in today’s announcement. “As Atlassian tools spread through organizations, technology leaders need better visibility into work performed by their teams. With AgileCraft joining Atlassian, we believe we’re the best company to help executives align the work across their organization – providing an all-encompassing view that connects strategy, work, and outcomes.”

As the name implies, AgileCraft focuses on the Agile methodology, though it also offers a bit of flexibility there with support for frameworks like SAFe, LeSS and Spotify. It supports pulling in data from tools like Atlassian’s Jira, but also Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, IBM’s RTC and other services.

Atlassian will continue to operate AgileCraft, which had raised about $10.1 million before the acquisition as a standalone service. “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers’ success,” writes AgileCraft’s founder and CEO Steve Elliott. “We remain dedicated to pioneering enterprise agility and are thrilled to team up with the outstanding people at Atlassian to help our customers thrive.”

Over the years, Atlassian started embracing users and use cases for its tools that go beyond its core tools for developers. Jira and Confluence are the prime examples for this. Today’s acquisition continues this trend in that AgileCraft aims to bring to the rest of the company many of the methodologies that tech teams use.

“One of the critical roles we play for lots of organizations is in helping drive this kind of digital transformation where we’re really empowering the teams that are building and developing the kind of technology that moves our customers forward,” Atlassian president Jay Simons told me. “AgileCraft basically complements all of that by extending visibility into what teams are using Atlassian products to do up into key stakeholders and leaders in the business that are trying to manage better visibility at a portfolio or program level.”

Simons also stressed that AgileCraft already has very strong integrations into the existing Atlassian tools — and indeed, that was one of the main drivers of the acquisition. He noted that the company plans to improve those and think about additional patterns. “We’ll continue doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Simons also noted that he expects that a lot of Jira customers will now look at AgileCraft as an additional tool in helping the businesses manage their business’s digital transformation.

Atlassian doesn’t typically make a lot of acquisitions. Its pace is close to about one major buy per year. Last year, the company picked up OpsGenie for $295 million. In 2017, it acquired Trello for $425 million, the company’s biggest acquisition to date. Other major products the company has acquired include StatusPage, BlueJimp, HipChat and Bitbucket (all the way back in 2010).