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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Smelling is believing: Feelreal’s odor vision may be coming to VR headsets

Feelreal’s newest VR mask includes a feature that gives VR headset users the ability to experience certain scents while viewing videos or playing games in virtual reality. The company’s crowdfunding campaign is expected to launch soon.

The post Smelling is believing: Feelreal’s odor vision may be coming to VR headsets appeared first on Digital Trends.


Source: Digital trends

Fortnite players report queue issues as Epic experiences a ‘minor service outage’

Epic Games is having its own Christmas hangover. On Wednesday, a number of Fortnite players reported long queues that time out and problems logging in to Fortnite’s servers. The company is aware of the issue and tweeted that it’s investigating the cause behind the outage that some users are running into when they try to log in.

We were able to replicate the problem around 1 p.m. Pacific Time, with the game repeatedly throwing us into a queue for around five minutes before timing out. One time, we did successfully log in. When the login failed we were met with the message “Unable to join the Fortnite login queue. Please try again later.” Update: As of 2 p.m. Pacific Time, the queue is stretching closer to 10 minutes. At the end of the queue countdown we are still unable to log in.

Epic has pointed eager holiday players to its status page, where the company reports a “minor service outage” affecting Game Services. The page also notes that Login and Matchmaking are currently experiencing “degraded performance.” TechCrunch has reached out to Epic about the cause of the downtime.

While it’s not quite as catastrophic for an online game as a proper Christmas day outage, the time between Christmas and New Year’s is sure to be a massive week for Epic’s hit game. Given that Epic makes bank charging for cosmetic upgrades through an online store, we’d be curious how much revenue the company loses every minute Fortnite is down during a peak play time. On the other hand, we might rather not know.


Source: TechCrunch

SpaceX’s Starship goes sci-fi shiny with stainless steel skin

SpaceX’s futuristic Starship interplanetary craft may embody the golden age of sci-fi in more ways than one: in addition to (theoretically) taking passengers from planet to planet, it may sport a shiny stainless steel skin that makes it look like the pulp covers of old.

Founder and CEO Elon Musk teased the possibility in a picture posted to Twitter, captioned simply “Stainless Steel Starship.” To be clear, this isn’t a full-on spacecraft, just part of a test vehicle that the company plans to use during the short “hopper” flights in 2019 to evaluate various systems.

As with most Musk tweets, this kicked off a storm of speculation and argument in the Twitterverse.

The choice surprised many because for years, modern spaceflight has been dependent on advanced composite materials like carbon fiber, which combine desirable physical properties with low weight. When metal has been required, aluminum or titanium are much more common. While some launch components, like the upper stage of the Atlas 5 rocket, have liberally used steel, it’s definitely not an obvious choice for a craft like the Starship, which will have to deal with both deep space and repeated reentry.

As Musk pointed out in subsequent comments, however, stainless steel has some advantages versus other materials when at extremely hot or cold temperatures.

This is a special full-hardness steel alloy mentioned as being among the 300 series of high-strength, heat-resistant alloys — not the plentiful, pliable stuff we all have in our kitchens and buildings. Musk also mentioned another “superalloy” called SX500 that SpaceX’s metallurgists have developed for use in the Raptor engines that will power the vehicle.

So why stainless? It’s likely all about reentry.

Many craft and reusable stages that have to face the heat of entering the atmosphere at high speed use “ablative” heat shielding that disintegrates or breaks away in a controlled fashion, carrying heat away from the vehicle.

It’s unlikely this is a possibility for Starship, however, as replacing and repairing this material would necessitate downtime and crews wherever and whenever it lands, and the craft is meant to be (eventually) a quick-turnaround ship with maximum reusability. Heat shielding that reflects and survives is a better bet for that — but an enormous engineering problem.

Scott Manley put together a nice video illustrating some of these ideas and speculations in detail:

Musk said before of the Starship (then still called BFR) that “almost the entire time it is reentering, it’s just trying to brake, while distributing that force over the most area possible.” Reentry will probably look more like a Space Shuttle-esque glide than a Falcon 9 first stage’s ballistic descent and engine braking.

The switch to stainless steel has the pleasant side effect of making the craft look really cool — more in line with sci-fi books and comics than their readers perhaps ever thought to hope. Paint jobs would burn right off, Musk said:

You can’t expect it to stay shiny for long, though; it may be stainless, but like a pan you left on the stove, stainless steel can still scorch and the bottom of the Starship will likely look pretty rough after a while. It’s all right — spacecraft developing a patina is a charming evolution.

Details are still few, and for all we know SpaceX could redesign the craft again based on how tests go. Next year will see the earliest hopper flights for Starship hardware and possibly the Super Heavy lower stage that will lift its great shiny bulk out of the lower atmosphere.

The technical documentation promised by Musk should arrive in March or April, but whether it will pertain solely to the test vehicle or give a glimpse at the craft SpaceX intends to send around the moon is anyone’s guess. At any rate you should expect more information to be spontaneously revealed before then at Musk’s discretion — or lack thereof.


Source: TechCrunch

Cyber breaches abound in 2019

News of high-profile cyber breaches has been uncharacteristically subdued in recent quarters. However, we recently learned that Marriott International/Starwood was the victim of the multi-year theft of personal information on up to 500 million customers — rivaled only by hacks against Yahoo in 2013 and 2014.

Is this a harbinger of a worse hacking landscape in 2019?

The answer is unequivocally yes. No question, cyber breaches have been a gigantic thorn in the global economy for years. But expect them to be even more rampant in the new year as chronically improving malware will be deployed more aggressively on more fronts.

In addition, as companies increasingly pursue digitization to drive efficiency, reduce costs and build data-driven businesses, they simultaneously move into the “target zone” of cyber attacks. As the digital economy expands, the threat landscape naturally follows suit. Compounding the situation is the use of machine learning and AI as hackers and other bad actors look to scale their bad behavior.

Look for AI-driven chatbots to go rogue, a substantial increase in crimeware-as-a-service, acceleration of the weaponization of data, a resurgence in ransomware and a significant increase in nation-stage cyberattacks. Also on a growth track is so-called cryptojacking — a quiet, more insidious avenue of profit that relies on invasive methods of initial access and drive-by scripts on websites to steal resources from unsuspecting victims.

Then, too, we will also see a substantial increase in software subversion, including the specific targeting of developers for attack and the likely proliferation of software update supply chain attacks.

Here is a mini dive into the top pending threats:

The emergence of AI-driven chatbots. In the new year, cybercriminals and black hat hackers will create malicious chatbots that try to socially engineer victims into clicking links, downloading files or sharing private information. A hijacked chatbot could easily misdirect victims to nefarious links rather than legitimate ones. Attackers are also likely to leverage web application flaws in legitimate websites to insert a malicious chatbot into a site that doesn’t have one.

Attacks on cities with crimeware-as-a-service, a new component of the underground economy. Adversaries will leverage new tools that among other things attack data integrity, disabling computers to the point of requiring mandatory hardware replacements. Terrorist-related groups will be the likely culprits.

A significant increase in nation-state attacks. Russia has been a leader in using targeted cyberactions as part of larger objectives. Earlier this year, for example, the FBI disclosed that Sofacy group, a Russian persistent threat actor, infected more than 500,000 home office routers and network attached to storage devices worldwide to remote control them. Look for other nation-states to follow the same sort of playbook, helped by billions of poorly secured IoT devices.

The growing weaponization of data. Already a huge problem, it is certain to worsen, notwithstanding efforts among some technology giants to enhance user security and privacy. Balancing the negatives with the positives, tens of millions of comprised web users have begun to seriously question how much they really benefit from the internet.

Consider, for example, Facebook, which has made no secret of using personal data and “private” correspondence to annually generate billions of dollars in profits. Users willingly “like” interests and brands, volunteering personal information. This enables Facebook to provide a more complete image of its user base — a gold mine for advertisers.

Much worse, Facebook earlier this year tried to manipulate user moods through an “emotional contagion” experiment. This pitted users against their peers to influence their emotions, i.e. the weaponization of data.

A resurgence in ransomware. Ransomware exploded onto the scene in 2017 following the WannaCry outbreak and a series of successful follow-up ransomware attacks targeting high-profile victims. According to the FBI, total ransomware payments in the U.S. have in some years exceeded $1 billion. There were scant high-profile ransomware victims in recent months, but the problem is highly likely to bounce back strongly in 2019. Ransomware attacks come in waves, and the next one is due.

Increased subversion of software development processes and attacks on software update supply chains. Regarding software development, malware has already been detected in select open-source software libraries. Meanwhile, software update supply chain attacks violate software vendor update packages. When customers download and install updates, they unwittingly introduce malware into their system. In 2017, there was an average of one attack every month, compared to virtually none in 2016, according to Symantec. The trend continued in 2018 and will become worse next year.

More cyber attacks on satellites. In June, Symantec reported that an unnamed group had successfully targeted the satellite communications of Southeast Asia telecom companies involved in geospatial mapping and imaging. Symantec also reported attacks originating in China last year on a defense contractor’s satellite.

Separately, we learned in August at the annual Black Hat information security conference that the satellite communications used by ships, planes and the military to connect to the internet are vulnerable to hackers. In the worst-case scenario, the research said, hackers could carry out “cyber-physical attacks” that could turn satellite antennas into weapons that essentially operate like microwave ovens.

Fortunately, the cyber outlook for 2019 is not altogether grim.

On the cybersecurity side, a growing number of experts believe that multi-factor authentication will become the standard for all online businesses, abandoning password-only access. In addition, a number of states are expected to adopt some version of Europe’s strict General Data Protection Legislation. California, for one, has already passed legislation that will make it easier for consumers to sue companies after a data breach, starting in 2020.

The upshot is that individuals, businesses and government entities need to do everything possible to improve the state of their cybersecurity. They cannot eliminate breaches, but they can avert some and improve the chances of mitigating them.


Source: TechCrunch

Nyca Partners’ Hans Morris hunts for great fintech investments amid volatility

Hans Morris is a name to know in fintech, and as finance and tech sectors prepare for tougher time next year, he has some incisive thoughts to share about the kinds of companies that will succeed (or not) in a financial downturn. The managing partner of investment firm Nyca Partners, Morris also serves as the chairman of the board of Lending Club and is a director of other start-ups including AvidXchange, Boomtown, Payoneer and SigFig. At Nyca, which is on its third fund, Morris spends much of his time meeting with entrepreneurs focused on payments, credit models, digital advice and financial infrastructure.

But unlike many successful fintech VCs, Morris doesn’t have to read about how Wall Street’s history influenced the trajectory of those sectors. He played an active role in shaping them. His experiences heading Smith Barney’s FIG effort (at 29 years old), overseeing Citigroup’s institutional businesses, serving as president of Visa and advising companies at General Atlantic have also provided him with an unparalleled financial services rolodex. And for those who believe that financial history rhymes, Morris’ opinions are now especially welcome. Fintech may be entering a new, post-financial crisis phase in which the low-hanging fruit has been picked and macro headwinds outweigh tailwinds. In the discussion below, Morris talks candidly about how he’s approaching investing next year and how he’s viewing fintech M&A possibilities. He was also eager to share his thoughts on ethics in financial services (a favorite topic), the prospects for challenger banks, why he’s branched out into real estate tech, the future of blockchain and some of his favorite bank CEOs.

Gregg Schoenberg: Hans, it’s always good to see you, but I’m especially glad to be sitting down with you now, given that the financial world is convulsing at the moment. Before we get into that, though, I want to kick off with something else: Do you buy into the idea of techfin vs. fintech?

Hans Morris: I don’t. My basic organizing principle, which you and I have discussed before, is around declining information costs. As these costs decline, it disrupts the traditional profit pools in financial services. It’s always been like that. What I would say is that in recent times, some tech companies have done a very good job at building a trusted relationship with consumers, and in some cases with businesses. That trusted relationship obviously provides a significant competitive advantage of information. But that advantage lessens later on. There are so many examples we could point to of companies that were ‘it.’ Then, suddenly, they say, ‘Oh no, our tech is expensive, creates a bad experience and will cost a lot to fix.’

GS: Let’s talk about the present. As you know, the Fed has been tightening, equities are hemorrhaging, the yield curve is getting spooky and talk of a recession is intensifying. To me, Lending Club, right or wrong, was one of the original poster children of the post-crisis fintech boom. But now, I think we’re in a regime change and that the next crop of successful financial innovators will look a lot different. What’s in store for an area like credit delivery?

HM: In credit delivery, I think it’s now pretty well-realized by investors, and certainly realized by capital markets investors, that credit delivery requires capital. So today, I feel that anyone who’s going to be successful in credit intermediation needs to have a very good understanding of balance sheet risk, liquidity risk, and capital requirements. I pay a lot of attention to capital requirements, and the ability to fund something in the teeth of a crisis.

GS: Let’s say we enter a recession next year and see continued volatility across the capital markets. I understand that each recession and bear market is different, but with the fresh capital you’ve closed on, where are you looking to go on offense?

HM: Among the thousands of fintech companies that have gotten some funding, there are companies that are really struggling to get their Series B or Series C done.

GS: Names that have lost their momentum?

HM: Yes. They’ve lost their momentum, and they’ve lost the perception of momentum among venture investors. But in some cases, these companies still possess some very good fundamentals, yet the valuations are a lot more attractive. If that dynamic becomes even more extreme, I think there could be some good opportunities.

GS: Isn’t it also true that the fintech names that suck up a lot of the venture money aren’t always the best underlying businesses?

So when you talk about high-valuation companies, I think it’s unrealistic for banks to be acquirers.

HM: It’s an interesting dynamic. Generally, as long as companies can continue to raise capital, they will keep going even if that isn’t necessarily a rational thing to do. But in some cases, where you see a bunch of companies pursuing a similar strategy, it would be better to pursue a merger because we don’t need tons of companies doing personal financial management, etc…

GS: Do you see the big banks with strong balance sheets, the JP Morgans of the world, getting the green light from regulators to be more aggressive in M&A?

HM: Regulators have clearly been one reason there hasn’t been more activity. The second thing is goodwill. Keep in mind that for a bank, goodwill is a 100% reduction to tangible Tier One capital. So even for JP Morgan to say, ‘We’ll take a billion dollars of our Tier One capital and invest it in a company with no income and maybe positive EBITDA, but maybe not

GS: That would take a ton of capital or a ton of conviction.

HM: Well, that company would have to be a very powerful growth engine or solution. So when you talk about high-valuation companies, I think it’s unrealistic for banks to be acquirers. Where banks can be acquirers, and this is what we’ve seen, is where you have a company valued at $60 million, maybe a $100 million, etc…

GS: A Clarity Money.

HM: Yes, a company where the acquisition moves a bank much further along in a development cycle. Where the the bank can say, “Instead of us taking two years to get our real product out, we can get out a state-of-the-art product right now, and it comes with a great team and DNA. That’s appealing.

GS: Appealing, but realistic?

HM: It’s hard to pull off. Often, the team leaves, everything dissipates, and the acquirer ends up writing off the whole thing.

GS: Moving forward, who do you think is poised to make M&A work?

HM: There’s a couple of examples where it’s worked. One is PayPal, which in recent times has done an excellent job of acquiring things and integrating talent into the company. I’m quite impressed in terms of how Bill Ready, who is now COO, Dan Shulman and the management team have changed the tech profile of PayPal.

GS: Well, they’re not a 200-year-old financial institution founded on a winding alley in downtown New York.

HM: Yes, but it was very old-school Silicon Valley, and they had a lot of technical debt. Of course, they had this great mafia 20 years ago, but all those people are gone. I don’t think there’s a single person in the top 100 at PayPal that was there 15 years ago.

GS: Let’s talk specific themes. You’ve already mentioned personal financial management, which I share your skepticism about. What’s your take on the prospects for challenger banks?

HM: I think we’re likely to have a war for deposits with too many different types of firms competing for deposits. Just look at the United States last year. All of the deposit growth we saw was explained by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase. Everyone else shrank. But if you have Monzo and Revolut come to the US and you look at Acorns, MoneyLion, Chime and fifteen other prepaid models or fully chartered bank models, they’re all going to have a pretty slick interface, and they’re all going to be out there competing for deposits.  

GS: How about the robos and free trading platforms?  As you know, a lot of the younger customers on these platforms haven’t experienced a sustained period of tumultuous equity market conditions.  

I pay a lot of attention to capital requirements, and the ability to fund something in the teeth of a crisis.

HM: I think a great majority of American households should be using a roboadvisor. However, the question is around the relationship between the customer acquisition and the revenue opportunity. In fact, a big part of our thesis with SigFig was to really help drive the pivot over to enterprise-based customers. But generally, and without knowing the details, my sense is that Betterment, Wealthfront and maybe Personal Capital have enough brand to get to the scale necessary to be self-sufficient. I think most of the others are not in that position.

GS: Turning to the mortgage and broader real estate sector, is your view that even if we have a deepening downdraft in housing, the real estate start-ups backed by you and others can do well anyway? Because they are essentially taking an industry stuck in the 1980s and ’90s and dragging it into the modern era.

HM: There’s a lot of room for tech improvement in real estate, and that includes residential real estate as well as institutional real estate. The problem with real estate, and mortgage-related models, is that the capital needs are also significant. So if you end up owning property, the bill adds up very quickly.

GS: I guess it depends on where a company buys them.

HM: True. Look, we remain bullish on them, but I share your concern that if activity stops or if you start having real decreases in property values in certain sectors, some of these companies may end up holding the bag.  

GS: When I saw the Ribbon deal, I was wondering how you and other backers looked at the opportunity at this point in the cycle.

HM: Well, for one thing, you can estimate the likelihood of someone getting a mortgage pretty efficiently. You can be right 99 percent of the time, but even if you’re only right 90 percent of the time, you’re going to be fine. That’s because the certainty that the company offers to the customer is worth it. They also have a great management team and a CEO who is really smart. They’re not naive.

GS: So given all the hype and ups and downs we’ve seen in blockchain, I’m wondering if you remain a long-term blockchain guy.

HM: Here’s the simple fact: The whole financial services industry is composed of ledgers. The reconciliation between entities of that information is a significant expense, particularly in the capital markets businesses. But I don’t buy into the view that it’s going to work better in all cases. The evidence so far is that it works well in some cases.

GS: Where can it work well?

HM: Distributed ledgers can work well when having synchronous data is an essential attribute, and when speed is not necessarily a central attribute.

GS: So, even if the implementation takes longer than the the hype machine suggested it would, financial institutions will get there?

Because money attracts crooks.

HM: They will get there. The cost of change is very, very high. The benefit of it is real. The question is, ‘How’s that cost of change compare to the ongoing benefit?’ In enterprise applications, the ones that will succeed are not ones where you say, ‘Lets rebuild everything within the core functions,’ because the cost and complexity are too great. The much better way is to start at the edge of an enterprise delivering immediate value, and then become an architecture for more things to move over to that.

GS: It’s easier said than done…

HM: If you take the capital markets area, I think it often requires an individual who has a bigger-than-life personality and the leadership skills to match it.

GS: Speaking of leadership, let’s talk about that within the context of fintech, where, as you know, we’ve seen mixed outcomes. You and I have talked a fair bit about how fintech isn’t like other tech sectors, because you’re dealing with money and livelihoods.

HM: Yes, and the activities are regulated, for a very good reason.

GS: When you look at a deal, does the character of the leader trump everything else?

HM: I’d say that the character and capabilities of a leader make a big difference. And to me, in financial services, the errors made, whether it’s 10 years ago or today, are similar. I mean, you have to tell the truth. You have to.

GS: Why is it so important to you?

HM: Because money attracts crooks.

GS: On that note, when I look at some of those who subscribe to the whole blitzscaling ethos, I see it as incompatible with our current climate and especially problematic to financial services. Blitzscaling doesn’t endorse breaking the law, of course, but this whole idea of consciously letting fires burn is a recipe for disaster in today’s financial services sector, right?

HM: Yes, I think so. I’d add that we have a rule in our firm: Don’t invest in any business model where you’re tricking the customer into a profitable relationship. But unfortunately, I feel that there are many business models that do just that.

GS: That’s a bold rule given that terms of services agreements remain dark dens of iniquity.

HM: Well, it’s more than just that. Look at Robinhood. I think it’s a remarkable company made up of unbelievable entrepreneurs. But I do feel that if you say, ‘Payment for order flow is the business model,’ or ‘Margin lending is the business model,’ you’ve got to spell that out. I mean, ‘payment for order flow?’ Most people would be like, ‘What does that mean?’

GS: You might as well be speaking in Ancient Greek.

A VC once said to me that we have too much knowledge about some things. I think there’s some truth to that.

HM: Exactly. I feel, in financial services, the best companies, the most successful long-run stories, will do the right thing for their customers, always. That also means not making a high-profile release of a new product, like a high-interest checking and savings account yielding way above anyone else, before you’ve actually checked with the regulators.

GS: On that latter reference, how accountable is Robinhood’s board for the company’s recent blunder?

HM: I honestly don’t know in what way the board was involved in this, but I think it’s a good example of where a board should put the brakes on an idea until the risks are clear. Sometimes management teams, and investors, don’t want to hear that, but it’s an essential role for financial services companies.

GS: In your career, you have seen your fair share of financial icons rise and fall. Have you ever passed on a deal that wound up being a huge success because something didn’t smell right?

HM: Yes, we have passed on things that turned out to be really good investments, but that’s part of our equation.

GS: In 1997, Howard Marks

HM: He’s fantastic, isn’t he?

GS: He’s phenomenal. In one of his famous memos, he asked ‘Are you an investor? Or are you a speculator?’ Given that there are quite a few VCs who have come to fintech in recent years, I’m wondering if you see a lot of speculators.

HM: Most of the folks that I interact with are investors, not speculators. The crypto stuff is pure speculation by almost everybody.

GS: Yes. I wasn’t implying that we discuss crypto.

HM: To the core of your question, I’ll tell you this: There’s this very, very successful VC investor I had a debate with over a deal. My point was that the company in question would need to raise a lot of capital to scale. But that long-term consideration wasn’t especially relevant to him, because he felt the company would have options down the road. We passed on the deal, but now, I look back and regret that decision.

GS: Are you suggesting that you could benefit from having a little more of a speculative instinct?

HM: A VC once said to me that we have too much knowledge about some things. I think there’s some truth to that.

GS: I’m sure that your institutional knowledge has been an important asset on many other occasions. I’ll move on to our last topic, Hans, because I know you have a fund to manage. You know all of the big bank CEOs, right?

HM: Yes.

GS: There’s Jamie Dimon, who defies easy description. At Goldman, you’ve got a banker as CEO. At Morgan Stanley, you’ve got an ex-management consultant. At Citibank, you’ve got

HM: You’ve got Corbat. Michael is just an excellent manager who gets things fixed. It’s interesting: Jamie is a fantastic manager of people too, but Jamie brings in his team. Corbat is very good at taking on an existing team and just making them better. Brian [Moynihan] is also really good. I mean he was a lawyer, and when he got the job, I had no idea what he was like. But I’ve noticed that the people who have worked for him are really loyal.

GS: I think the CEOs of the big banks tend to be a reflection of the times in which they operate, right? We went through the period of the trader CEO, which is now gone. As you look down the road, what are the heads of the big banks going to look like?

HM: I’ll answer that question by turning you to Microsoft. What explains the turnaround there? Is it because Satya [Nadella] is such an amazing engineer? No; he’s a great people person. He’s a fantastic manager who put in place a high-quality decision process, which is key to managing a complex organization.

GS: Implicit in my question is whether or not these organizations are going to be as big and complex as they are now. Specifically, I’m referring to the supermarket model that you were involved in helping to construct. Does that remain in place?

HM: Keep in mind that liquidity is a very, very important aspect of a financial marketplace, and having access to core liquidity that doesn’t change frequently is very important. The professional money obviously switches very quickly. But things like core deposits, pension flows and corporate cash tend to have the longest time-frames to build access to. But when a bank has access to deposits that don’t move much, it enables it to fund the liquid financial assets. That’s so important for when you hit a liquidity crisis.  

GS: So the big bank model is here to stay?

HM: Yes, I think it’s going to be around for a long time.

GS: Well on that note, Hans, I wish you luck in navigating whatever the future brings. Thanks for sitting down with me and sharing your wisdom.

HM: It’s always a pleasure speaking to you, Gregg. Thank you as well.

This interview has been edited for content, length and clarity.


Source: TechCrunch

How to return a gift to Amazon – CNET

Amazon makes it easy to return an unwanted gift. It will credit your account without the gift giver being any the wiser.
Source: CNET

The 10 largest US venture rounds of 2018

Three U.S. companies raised more than $1 billion in just one funding round in 2018, a year in which total deal value for U.S. startups is expected to surpass $100 billion for the first time.

For the most part, it was the usual suspects, and yes, SoftBank was an accessory in many of these rounds. Here’s a look at the 10 largest venture rounds of 2018.

Epic Games: $1.25 billion

The video game Fortnite Battle Royale was the star of the year 2018; more than 200 million players worldwide are registered online. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Given the absolute phenomenon Fortnite became in just one year from its original release, it was no surprise private investors wanted to put money into Epic Games, the company behind it. In October, Epic Games announced a whopping $1.25 billion round at $15 billion valuation from KKR, Iconiq Capital, Smash Ventures, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Lightspeed Venture Partners to continue growing its Fortnite empire. That game alone is expected to bring in $2 billion in revenue in 2018 and reports 200 million registered players — not too shabby.

Cary, N.C.-based Epic Games’ monstrous fundraise was a standout in a year when funding for gaming and esports startups really took off. According to Crunchbase, global venture investment in the industry increased nearly 75 percent, to $701 million in the first half of 2018. Given Epic’s round, Discord’s $150 million infusion of capital this week and several others since June, the second half of 2018 undoubtedly set major records in the space.

Uber: $1.2 billion

Travis Kalanick, co-founder and former chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., speaks during the TiE Global Entrepreneurs Summit in New Delhi, India, on Friday, December 16, 2016. Kalanick said the company will introduce Uber Moto across India. Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the largest rounds of 2018 was also one of the first big financings of the year. To be fair, the negotiations behind Uber’s $1.2 billion SoftBank investment and much of the press coverage surrounding it came in 2017, but the deal officially closed in January. This deal was monumental for many reasons. First of all, it made Uber founder and former chief executive officer Travis Kalanick a billionaire — not just on paper — and it cemented SoftBank’s position as the ride-hailing giant’s largest shareholder.

The financing brought San Francisco-based Uber’s total raised to date to just over $20 billion at a valuation said to be around $72 billion. Of course, Uber has since privately filed for an initial public offering slated for the first quarter of 2019.

Juul Labs: $1.2 billion

Juul Labs, the maker of the popular e-cigarette brand that has recently come under fire from health officials over its popularity with young adults, plans to introduce a line of lower-nicotine pods. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Juul, one of the buzziest companies of 2018, raised $1.2 billion from private investors Tiger Global, Fidelity and more in mid-2018. Then, this month, the developer of e-cigarettes popular among teenagers accepted a $12.8 billion investment from the makers of Marlboro that valued it at $38 billion. Not only has Juul created significant controversy surrounding the ethics, or lack thereof, of its core product and its marketing to the younger generation in a short time, but it has also accumulated value at a clip rarely seen before. Juul, for context, surpassed a $10 billion valuation just seven months after its first round of VC backing — that’s four times faster than Facebook.

2019 is poised to be an interesting year for San Francisco-based Juul as it navigates public scrutiny, regulations and the completion of its partnership with Altria Group, which, according to Juul’s CEO Kevin Burns, will “help accelerate [Juul’s] success switching adult smokers.”

Magic Leap: $963M

Magic Leap’s flagship product, the Magic Leap One AR headset, began shipping to consumers this year.

It wouldn’t be an end of the year round-up of the largest VC deals without any mention of Magic Leap, the extremely well-funded virtual reality company. Tucked away in Plantation, Fla., 8-year-old Magic Leap has closed round after round, raising more than $2 billion to develop its hardware and software. The key investors in this year’s big round, which valued the company at $6.3 billion, were Temasek and AT&T, which announced it would become the exclusive “wireless distributor” of Magic Leap products in the U.S. starting this summer. Magic Leap is also backed by Google, Alibaba and Axel Springer.

Not only did Magic Leap land one of the largest VC deals this year, but it also finally began shipping to consumers its flagship product, the Magic Leap One AR headset. That was a long time coming — years, in fact. So long, many doubted whether the buzzy headsets would ever see the light of day. Now, the headsets are available to buyers in 48 states, though it’s worth mentioning they cost more than two grand.

Instacart: $600M

Founder and CEO of Instacart Apoorva Mehta and moderator Megan Rose Dickey speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 at Pier 48 on September 14, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Instacart has a lofty goal of delivering groceries to every household in the U.S., and it needs a lot of cash to get there. The company has raised VC every year since it completed the Y Combinator startup accelerator in 2012, and 2018 was no different. In October, the service brought in $600 million at a $7.6 billion valuation in a round led by D1 Capital Partners. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company has raised $1.6 billion to date from Coatue Management, Thrive Capital, Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and several others.

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta told TechCrunch at the time that the startup didn’t really need the capital and that this was more of an “opportunistic” battle. The market is hot, after all, and Instacart has ambitious plans to scale and it has a fierce competitor in Amazon to take on. As for an IPO, Mehta said “it will be on the horizon.”

Katerra: $865M

SoftBank-backed Katerra says it’s brought in more than $1.3 billion in bookings for new construction ranging from residential to hospitality and student housing.

One of SoftBank’s first major bets of 2018 was on construction technology, with an $865 million investment in Katerra at a $3 billion valuation out of its Vision Fund. Katerra, a tech startup based out of Menlo Park, develops, designs and constructs buildings. At the time of its January fundraise, Katerra told TechCrunch it had brought in more than $1.3 billion in bookings for new construction ranging from residential to hospitality and student housing. Founded in 2015 by three former private equity barons, the company has raised a total of $1.1 billion to date from SoftBank, Foxconn, Greenoaks Capital and others.

In June, Katerra announced it would merge with KEF Infra, an offsite manufacturing technology specialist, and would begin operating in India and the Middle East markets.

Opendoor: $725M

Yet another SoftBank investment, San Francisco-based Opendoor is also backed by Fifth Wall Ventures, GV, Andreessen Horowitz and more.

Opendoor’s two big SoftBank-backed investments this year totaled $725 million, valuing the company at $2.5 billion. The deal gave SoftBank a minority stake in Opendoor, an online real estate marketplace, and put one of its five managing directors, Jeff Housenbold, on the company’s board of directors. The round brought Opendoor’s total funding to slightly more than $1 billion — most of which it acquired in 2018, a major year for the company. Founded in 2014, the San Francisco-based startup is also backed by Fifth Wall Ventures, GV, Andreessen Horowitz and more.

According to TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos, Housenbold had hoped to work with Opendoor co-founder and CEO Eric Wu for some time. “The minute he joined [SoftBank] he reached out to me and let me know … saying if there was an opportunity to work together, to reach out to him,” Wu said.

Lyft: $600M

Uber competitor Lyft expanded aggressively in 2018, raised hundreds of millions in additional venture capital funding, and filed confidentially to go public.

Lyft managed to stay quite busy this year. Not only did the ridesharing company raise a $600 million round at a $15.1 billion valuation, it also acquired bike-share operator Motivate and filed confidentially to go public. Founded in 2012 by Logan Green and John Zimmer, the company has long competed with Uber, and will continue to do so as the pair race to the public markets in early-2019. Lyft, much smaller than Uber and only active in the U.S. and Canada, has raised nearly $5 billion in venture backing from KKR, Mayfield, Didi Chuxing, Floodgate and others.

San Francisco-based Lyft has spent much of the last two years expanding rapidly across the U.S. market, as well as pursuing its autonomous vehicle ambitions.

Automation Anywhere: $550M

Automation Anywhere raised a monstrous $550 million Series A in 2018, with support from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

The only surprise to make this list is Automation Anywhere, a 15-year-old provider of robotic process automation. The company raised a total of $550 million in Series A funding, a large chunk of which came from the SoftBank Vision Fund, as well as NEA, General Atlantic and Goldman Sachs. The round valued Automation Anywhere at $2.6 billion. According to PitchBook, this was the first round of institutional backing for the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Automation Anywhere CEO Mihir Shukla said they were attracted to SoftBank because of Masayoshi So — the CEO and founder of SoftBank: “[He} has a vision and he is investing in foundational platforms that will change how we work and travel. We share that vision.”

Peloton: $500M

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 06: Peloton Co-Founder/CEO John Foley speaks onstage during Day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 6, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Peloton’s growth exploded in 2018 as it launched its $4,000 treadmill, doubled down on original fitness streaming content and raised an additional $500 million in equity funding at a $5 billion valuation. The New York-based startup, often referred to as the “Netflix of fitness,” has raised nearly $1 billion in venture capital funding in the six years since it was founded by John Foley. It’s backed by  L Catterton, True Ventures, Tiger Global and others.

It’s likely Peloton will take the public markets plunge in 2019 much like Uber and Lyft. Foley earlier this year told The Wall Street Journal that though he doesn’t have any concrete plans, 2019 “makes a lot of sense” for its stock market debut.


Source: TechCrunch

iHome iGV1 review: iHome's Google Assistant alarm is too bright and pricey for your bedside – CNET

This smart alarm clock was supposed to wake me up in the morning, not keep me up at night.
Source: CNET

A new solar technology could be the next big boost for renewable energy

Across the globe, a clutch of companies from Oxford, England to Redwood City, Calif. are working to commercialize a new solar technology that could further boost the adoption of renewable energy generation.

Earlier this year, Oxford PV, a startup working in tandem with Oxford University, received $3 million from the U.K. government to develop the technology, which uses a new kind of material to make solar cells. Two days ago, in the U.S., a company called Swift Solar raised $7 million to bring the same technology to market, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Called a perovskite cell, the new photovoltaic tech uses hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material as the light-harvesting active layer. It’s the first new technology to come along in years to offer the promise of better efficiency in the conversion of light to electric power at a lower cost than existing technologies.

“Perovskite has let us truly rethink what we can do with the silicon-based solar panels we see on roofs today,” said Sam Stranks, the lead scientific advisor and one of the co-founders of Swift Solar, in a Ted Talk. “Another aspect that really excites me: how cheaply these can be made. These thin crystalline films are made by mixing two inexpensive readily abundant salts to make an ink that can be deposited in many different ways… This means that perovskite solar panels could cost less than half of their silicon counterparts.”

First incorporated into solar cells by Japanese researchers in 2009, the perovskite solar cells suffered from low efficiencies and lacked stability to be broadly used in manufacturing. But over the past nine years researchers have steadily improved both the stability of the compounds used and the efficiency that these solar cells generate.

Oxford PV, in the U.K., is now working on developing solar cells that could achieve conversion efficiencies of 37 percent — much higher than existing polycrystalline photovoltaic or thin-film solar cells.

New chemistries for solar cell manufacturing have been touted in the past, but cost has been an obstacle to commercial rollout, given how cheaply solar panels became thanks in part to a massive push from the Chinese government to increase manufacturing capacity.

Many of those manufacturers eventually folded, but the survivors managed to maintain their dominant position in the industry by reducing the need for buyers to look to newer technologies for cost or efficiency savings.

There’s a risk that this new technology also faces, but the promise of radical improvements in efficiencies at costs that are low enough to attract buyers have investors once again putting money behind alternative solar chemistries.

Oxford PV has already set a world-leading efficiency mark for perovskite-based cells at 27.3 percent. That’s already 4 percent higher than the leading monocrystalline silicon panels available today.

“Today, commercial-sized perovskite-on-silicon tandem solar cells are in production at our pilot line and we are optimizing equipment and processes in preparation for commercial deployment,” said Oxford PV’s CTO Chris Case in a statement.


Source: TechCrunch

New leak reveals alleged specs for GeForce RTX 2050, entry-level GTX 1150 cards

In news that will make fans of Nvidia’s gaming processors giddy, alleged specifications for the GeForce RTX 2050 graphics card and the rumored entry-level GTX 1150 card have been revealed by a known Twitter leaker. 

The post New leak reveals alleged specs for GeForce RTX 2050, entry-level GTX 1150 cards appeared first on Digital Trends.


Source: Digital trends

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