Microsoft is buying AI startup, Bonsai

If all of the big tech co’s agree on one thing at the moment, it’s that artificial intelligence and machine learning point the way forward for their businesses. As a matter of fact, Microsoft is about to acquire Bonsai, a small Berkeley-based startup it hopes to make the centerpiece of its AI efforts.

The company specializes in reinforcement learning, a kind of trial and error approach to teach a system within in the confines of a simulation. That learning can be used train autonomous systems to complete specific tasks.  Microsoft says the acquisition will serve to forward the kind of research the company has been pursuing in the field by leveraging its Azure cloud platform.

“To realize this vision of making AI more accessible and valuable for all, we have to remove the barriers to development, empowering every developer, regardless of machine learning expertise, to be an AI

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AMC’s MoviePass competitor arrives June 26

It was just a matter of time before AMC went head to head with MoviePass. After all, the two companies have been at odds for some time. Back in January, MoviePass dropped out of 10 of the theater chain’s highest traffic theaters in what was seen as a negotiating tactic. But AMC had no interest in playing ball.

The company had already publicly stated that it had “no intention[…]of sharing any […] admissions revenue,” one of many signs that it was working on its own version of the subscription service. That response arrives June 26, in the form of AMC Stubs A-List, an add-on to the company’s loyalty program.

Signs ups for the service start next week, at $20 a month. And at first glance the whole thing actually sounds pretty good, so long as you’re okay sticking with the 660 or so theaters AMC currently operates in

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Bose gets into the business of sleep

You know you’ve got a problem sleeping when someone tells you that 35-percent of US adults aren’t get seven hours of sleep a night, and the number sounds remarkably low. I’m not a good sleeper. I never have been, and I’m a sucker for any gadget that comes along promising to make things better.

Sleep deprivation costs the US economy $411 billion a year. It’s bad for your health and generally turns you into a cranky piece of garbage no one want to be around. So, naturally, Bose wants to be in the sleep business. Tomorrow, the company launches SleepBuds, its first foray into helping people fall and stay asleep.

The wireless earbuds are the result of Bose’s recent acquisition of Hush, a San Diego startup behind the $150 “smart earplugs.” Among other things, the deal gave the headphone giant expertise in cramming all of the necessary components into

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Tech leaders condemn policy leading to family separations at the border

By now you’ve seen the photos and videos and probably heard the audio tape. The media coming out of the U.S./Mexico border over the past week has been truly heart-wrenching and horrifying, including, most shockingly, images of young children being housed in what amounts to human cages.

Many prominent politicians across the world (and in the G.O.P.) have called out the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. A number of prominent executives from top tech companies have also begun to use their soapbox to address — and largely admonish — the policies that have led to this humanitarian crisis.

Here’s what those individuals are saying.

Microsoft

Microsoft was among the first tech giants to issue a statement about the situation. The official company line was both an admonishment of current administration policy and somewhat defensive after speculation arose that the company’s cloud

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Amazon is bringing the Echo to Italy and Spain

Alexa’s slow but steady march across the glob continues, as Amazon gets ready to bring the smart assistant to Italy and Spain later this year. The AI will be joined by the company’s own Echo devices, along with with third-party hardware from Bose and Sonos.

In the meantime, the Amazon’s opening the Alexa Skills Kit to developers in those countries. It’s also making the Alexa Voice Service developer preview available to hardware developers looking to build third-party devices using the assistant and throwing in an Echo device to the first 100 devs for good measure.

Just this month, the company added nearby France to the list of Alexa/Echo markets, joining the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and Ireland. That manner of roll out takes time. In addition to priming the pump for developers, Alexa needs to be tweaked to learn not

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Google Podcasts app review

Apple has essentially owned podcasts since their inception. Hell, even the format’s name betrays its close tie to the company’s once ubiquitous player. At best, Google has reluctantly embraced the form, incorporating podcasts into the broader scope of Play, leading many of Android’s billions of users to rely on third-party solutions.

There are plenty of solutions out there, of course — Stitcher, Overcast, Pocket Casts — seemingly as many as there are podcasts. For whatever reason, Google has seemed content to let the competition own the category. Until now, that is. The company just dropped the simply titled “Podcasts.” It’s exactly what you’d expect from Google — a straightforward listening and browsing experience that prioritizes discovery above all else.

I asked Google why it was so late to the draw in terms of fully embracing the medium. I never really got a great answer on that front, but a

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Amazon rolls out Hub delivery lockers to apartment buildings across the country

Hub by Amazon has been around for about a year now. The company introduced its package delivery lockers for apartment dwellers with little fanfare, as it no doubt worked out some of the kinks in the process. This morning, it seems, the company is finally ready to officially announce the product, as it begins rolling service out across the country.

The whole thing isn’t too different from what Amazon’s offered for a while with its locker delivery locations. Here, however, the bins are located inside of apartment buildings, with access available through a key pad. The idea is to save people from having to wait for a delivery from building staff or adjust their hours so they can be home to greet the delivery person.

As a resident of an apartment building who regularly finds himself greeted with a missed delivery slip and a long line at the local post

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‘Gaming disorder’ is officially recognized by the World Health Organization

Honestly, “gaming disorder” sounds like a phrase tossed around by irritated parents and significant others. After much back and forth, however, the term was just granted validity, as the World Health Organization opted to include it in the latest edition of its Internal Classification of Diseases. The volume, out this week, diagnoses the newly minted disorder with three key telltale signs:
  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g. onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences
I can hear the collective sound of many of my friends gulping at the sound of eerily familiar symptoms. Of course, the disorder has been criticized from a number of corners, including health professionals who have written it off as being overly broad and subjective. And,
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Execs from DJI, 3DR and Skydio to discuss drones at Disrupt SF 2018

Just how big are drones? According to Gartner, industry revenue topped $6 billion last year and is on track to hit $11.2 billion by 2020. Unmanned aerial vehicles are a huge industry with a broad swath of applications, from hobbyists to agriculture to the military.

At Disrupt SF in September, we’ll be bringing together executives from some of the biggest names in the industry, including enterprise drone software maker 3D Robotics, startup Skydio and the industry leader in commercial and consumer drones, DJI.

Chris Anderson is the CEO of 3DR, the creator of drone analytics enterprise software platform Site Scan. Prior to cofounding the company as a resource for drone hobbyists, Anderson was the long-time editor-in-chief of Wired. 3DR was an early entrant into the consumer drone space but recently left the market and started building software for commercial drone use.

Adam Bry is the found and CEO

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Microsoft acquires social learning platform Flipgrid

Microsoft has acquired Flipgrid, a social education app that utilizes short video clips to create collaborative lesson plans. The Minneapolis-based startup, which began life as Vidku, has had strong growth for an experience that has been alternatively described as Instagram and Snapchat for the classroom. Early last year, it reported an 800 percent year-over-year growth in teacher accounts.

It’s certainly a play that makes sense in Microsoft’s portfolio, as the company looks to take back the education market currently being dominated by Google, thanks to its wildly popular Chromebook category. In May of last year, the company launched an educational variant of Windows 10, which joined such existing plays as its Minecraft Education Edition.

“We’re thrilled to see the impact Flipgrid has had in social learning thus far and look forward to helping them continue to thrive as part of the Microsoft family,” Microsoft VP Eran Megiddo, said in a

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Fitbit employees charged with stealing Jawbone trade secrets

Six current and former Fitbit employees have been hit with a federal indictment over the theft of trade secrets from one-time rival, Jawbone. All had worked for Jawbone for at least a year between 2011 and 2015, before jumping ship and getting hired by the company’s chief competitor.

The allegations have been floating around for a while. Look, we even made a graphic for the stream of allegations being lobbed back and forth between the wearable makers.

Shortly before Fitbit’s 2015 IPO, Jawbone filed a suit alleging that Fitbit had attempted to recruit nearly a third of its employees. The suit was seemingly resolved late last year, however, through a global settlement between both parties.

“In a trade secret misappropriation case brought by Jawbone in the International Trade Commission in 2016 that involved these same individuals,” Fitbit said in a statement given to TechCrunch this morning, “a federal administrative law

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Reflections on E3 2018

After taking a year off, I returned to E3 this week. It’s always a fun show, in spite of the fact that the show floor has come to rival Comic-Con in terms of the mass of people the show’s organizers are able to cram into the aisles of the convention center floor. We’ve been filing stories all week, but here is a very much incomplete collection of my thoughts on this year’s show. Zombies are still very much a thing I’d have thought we’d have hit peak zombie years ago, but here we are, zombies everywhere. That includes the LA Convention Center lobby, which was swarming with actors decked out as the undead. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about watching gamers get pictures taken with fake, bloody corpses. Or maybe it’s just the perfect allegory for our time. Nintendo’s back A slight adjustment in approach certainly played a role, as the
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Sphero raises $12M as it focuses on education

This year has been a rough one for Sphero. The Colorado-based toy robotics startup kicked off the year with dozens of layoffs, a result of tepid interest in its line of Disney-branded consumer products.

Here’s a little good news, however. The company has raised another $12 million, bringing its total up to around $119 million, according to Crunchbase. The latest round will go into helping shape the BB-8 maker into an education-first company.

“The recent round of funding has currently raised $12 million, and we anticipate at the time of final closing up to $20 million may be raised in total,” Sphero said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. Funding has/will come from existing and new investors and will be used for working capital as we engage in a larger strategy that focuses on the intersection of play and learning.”

It’s a tricky play, given how overcrowded the

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This AR guppy feeds on the spectrum of human emotion

Indiecade always offers a nice respite from the wall of undulating human flesh and heat that is the rest of the E3 show floor. The loose confederation of independent developers often produces compelling and bizarre gaming experiences outside of the big studio system.

TendAR is the most compelling example of this out of this year’s batch. It is, simply put, a pet fish that feeds on human emotions through augmented reality. I can’t really explain why this is a thing, but it is. It’s a video game, so just accept it and move on.

The app is produced by Tender Claws, a small studio out of Los Angeles best known for Virtual Virtual Reality, an Oculus title that boasts among its “key features”:

  • 50+ unique virtual virtual realities
  • An artichoke screams at you

TendAR fits comfortably within that manner of absurdist framework, though the title has more in common

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Chowbotics raises $11 million to move its robot beyond salads

Creating a salad-making robot is pretty good, as far as tech company hooks go, but Chowbotics is looking to expand. The Bay Area company just raised $11 million in a “Series A-1” led by the Foundry Group and Techstars.

The big plan for the money largely involves extending the company’s selection of foodstuffs beyond leafy greens, where Sally the Salad Robot has made its mint. At the top of the list are grain bowls, breakfast bowls, poke bowls, açai bowls and yogurt bowls. If it’s food served in a bowl, Chowbotics seems interested.

Seems pretty straightforward, really. After all, at its core, Sally is a kind of vending machine, dropping different ingredients into the same bowl. Apparently it’s a bit more complicated than that, especially when you start mixing in things like yogurts and berry purees. “The major challenges are finding special technical solutions for dispensing different shapes and sizes

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Check out this adorable bluetooth controller for the Nintendo Switch

8bitdo debuted a bunch of gaming controllers at E3 this week, but honestly, we only care about one. The Zero 2 is an adorable little bluetooth controller that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s compatible with all sorts of systems, including desktop computers and Android devices, but the size makes it perfect for playing the Nintendo Switch on the go.

And as you can see by the “classic” color scheme above, the peripheral maker was clearly interested in evoking some serious Nintendo nostalgia, with a device that looks a lot like a Super Nintendo controller at first glance.

The Zero 2 sport four number buttons, select, start and a D-pad on the front, with L and R buttons up top, flanking a microUSB port. All have a solid click to them, though the company didn’t have a full operational unit we could play with, since the controller isn’t

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How Nintendo regained its footing with the Switch and smartphones

As recently as a couple of years ago, Nintendo very much felt like a company at a crossroads. The Wii U presented a rare major misfire for the gaming giant, while its executives stubbornly clung to a strategy that actively excluded smartphones.

The Nintendo of 2018, however, feels newly invigorated. In January, the company announced that the Switch had blown past the Wii’s record to become the fastest selling U.S. console, with 4.8 million units moved in 10 months. These days, that number is closer to 5.9 million in the States, with 17.79 million units sold globally as of April, by NPD’s count.

“We learned from previous launches,” Nintendo executive Doug Bowser (different Bowser) said in an interview with TechCrunch upstairs at the company’s E3 booth. “We made sure we launched with great content. And then we’ve had a steady drumbeat of new titles.

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Fortnite won’t support cross-play between Nintendo Switch and PS4

As rumored, Fornite is coming to the Nintendo Switch. In fact, it’s arriving even earlier than we imagined, available today as a free download from the Nintendo eShop. The addition widens the play field for the title’s wildly popular gameplay. The Epic game is currently available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and iOS, in addition to the new Nintendo console.

And while cross-platform play has been the key to the battle royale mode, Sony’s long been a bit of a stick in the mud on this one. The Xbox One version, for instance, can be played with PC and iOS. Ditto for the PS4 version. But Xbox One and PS4 cross-play is a non-starter.

The Verge noted that the same appears to be the case with the Nintendo Switch version, a fact that TechCrunch has since verified with an Epic spokesperson. Cross-play and cross progression on Switch work

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Is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate the most ambitious crossover event in history?

Nintendo sure thinks so. Take that, The Avengers. The game is certainly a massive undertaking and a comprehensive Nintendo history lesson, including every playable character from past Super Smash Bros. versions.

A handful of additions were announced this morning during Nintendo’s E3 kickoff event, including also-ran Super Mario princess, Daisy; new Pokemon; Splatoon’s Inkling and perennial Metroid baddie, Ridley.

The company didn’t give specifics with regard to the number of playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it’s definitely well into the dozens, with more being announced as we push toward the December 7 release date. It seems there’s still a lot to unpack, even beyond the 25 minutes of footage the company debuted this morning. 

“At E3, we’re showing how Nintendo Switch continues to redefine play, with the broadest range of games people can enjoy together anytime, anywhere,” said NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime said in

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Fortnite arrives on the Nintendo Switch today

After days of press conferences teasing games arriving in some time within the next decade, here’s a refreshing bit of news. As previously rumored, wildly popular sandbox survival game Fortnite is, indeed, coming to Nintendo Switch. Not only that, it’s  available starting today as a free download from the Nintendo eShop.

Epic’s title will be available at 10AM PT today (a little under an hour from now), bringing the battle royale mode that has made it such a massive money maker on the PC, consoles and iOS, which arrived in March. An Android version of the title is also in the works for later this summer. 

The game is a perfect fit for console. Nintendo’s long time focus on all ages entertainment certainly lines up with the title, which skews younger than many of the titles on display at the show this week, along with the (perhaps
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