Industrial drone maker Percepto raises $45M and integrates with Boston Dynamics’ Spot

Consumer drones have over the years struggled with an image of being no more than expensive and delicate toys. But applications in industrial, military and enterprise scenarios have shown that there is indeed a market for unmanned aerial vehicles, and today, a startup that makes drones for some of those latter purposes is announcing a large round of funding and a partnership that provides a picture of how the drone industry will look in years to come.

Percepto, which makes drones — both the hardware and software — to monitor and analyze industrial sites and other physical work areas largely unattended by people, has raised $ 45 million in a Series B round of funding.

Alongside this, it is now working with Boston Dynamics and has integrated its Spot robots with Percepto’s Sparrow drones, with the aim being better infrastructure assessments, and potentially more as Spot’s agility improves.

The funding is being led by a strategic backer, Koch Disruptive Technologies, the investment arm of industrial giant Koch Industries (which has interests in energy, minerals, chemicals and related areas), with participation also from new investors State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments and Delek-US. Previous investors U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital and Arkin Holdings also participated. (It appears that Boston Dynamics and SoftBank are not part of this investment.)

Israel-based Percepto has now raised $ 72.5 million since it was founded in 2014, and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO and founder Dor Abuhasira described as “a very good round.”

“It gives us the ability to create a category leader,” Abuhasira said in an interview. It has customers in around 10 countries, with the list including ENEL, Florida Power and Light and Verizon.

While some drone makers have focused on building hardware, and others are working specifically on the analytics, computer vision and other critical technology that needs to be in place on the software side for drones to work correctly and safely, Percepto has taken what I referred to, and Abuhasira confirmed, as the “Apple approach”: vertical integration as far as Percepto can take it on its own.

That has included hiring teams with specializations in AI, computer vision, navigation and analytics as well as those strong in industrial hardware — all strong areas in the Israel tech landscape, by virtue of it being so closely tied with its military investments. (Note: Percepto does not make its own chips: these are currently acquired from Nvidia, he confirmed to me.)

“The Apple approach is the only one that works in drones,” he said. “That’s because it is all still too complicated. For those offering an Android-style approach, there are cracks in the complete flow.”

It presents the product as a “drone-in-a-box”, which means in part that those buying it have little work to do to set it up to work, but also refers to how it works: its drones leave the box to make a flight to collect data, and then return to the box to recharge and transfer more information, alongside the data that is picked up in real time.

The drones themselves operate on an on-demand basis: they fly in part for regular monitoring, to detect changes that could point to issues; and they can also be launched to collect data as a result of engineers requesting information. The product is marketed by Percepto as “AIM”, short for autonomous site inspection and monitoring.

News broke last week that Amazon has been reorganising its Prime Air efforts — one sign of how some more consumer-facing business applications — despite many developments — may still have some turbulence ahead before they are commercially viable. Businesses like Percepto’s stand in contrast to that, with their focus specifically on flying over, and collecting data, in areas where there are precisely no people present.

It has dovetailed with a bigger focus from industries on the efficiencies (and cost savings) you can get with automation, which in turn has become the centerpiece of how industry is investing in the buzz phrase of the moment, “digital transformation.”

“We believe Percepto AIM addresses a multi-billion-dollar issue for numerous industries and will change the way manufacturing sites are managed in the IoT, Industry 4.0 era,” said Chase Koch, president of Koch Disruptive Technologies, in a statement. “Percepto’s track record in autonomous technology and data analytics is impressive, and we believe it is uniquely positioned to deliver the remote operations center of the future. We look forward to partnering with the Percepto team to make this happen.”

The partnership with Boston Dynamics is notable for a couple of reasons: it speaks to how various robotics hardware will work together in tandem in an automated, unmanned world, and it speaks to how Boston Dynamics is pulling up its socks.

On the latter front, the company has been making waves in the world of robotics for years, specifically with its agile and strong dog-like (with names like “Spot” and “Big Dog”) robots that can cover rugged terrain and handle tussles without falling apart.

That led it into the arms of Google, which acquired it as part of its own secretive moonshot efforts, in 2013. That never panned out into a business, and probably gave Google more complicated optics at a time when it was already being seen as too powerful. Then, SoftBank stepped in to pick it up, along with other robotics assets, in 2017. That hasn’t really gone anywhere either, it seems, and just this month it was reported that Boston Dynamics was reportedly facing yet another suitor, Hyundai.

All of this is to say that partnerships with third parties that are going places (quite literally) become strong signs of how Boston Dynamics’ extensive R&D investments might finally pay off with enterprising dividends.

Indeed, while Percepto has focused on its own vertical integration, longer term and more generally there is an argument to be made for more interoperability and collaboration between the various companies building “connected” and smart hardware for industrial, physical applications.

It means that specific industries can focus on the special equipment and expertise they require, while at the same time complementing that with hardware and software that are recognised as best-in-class. Abuhasira said that he expects the Boston Dynamics partnership to be the first of many.

That makes this first one an interesting template. The partnership will see Spot carrying Percepto’s payloads for high-resolution imaging and thermal vision “to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.” It will also mean a more thorough picture, beyond what you get from the air. And, potentially, you might imagine a time in the future when the data that the combined devices source results even in Spot (or perhaps a third piece of autonomous hardware) carrying out repairs or other assistance.

“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, in a statement. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”

Startups – TechCrunch

AI-tool maker Seldon raises £7.1M Series A from AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital

Seldon is a U.K. startup that specializes in the rarified world of development tools to optimize machine learning. What does this mean? Well, dear reader, it means that the “AI” that companies are so fond of trumpeting does actually end up working.

It has now raised a £7.1 million Series A round co-led by AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital . The round also includes significant participation from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners and Global Brain, with follow-on investment from other existing shareholders. The £7.1 million funding will be used to accelerate R&D and drive commercial expansion, take Seldon Deploy — a new enterprise solution — to market and double the size of the team over the next 18 months.

More accurately, Seldon is a cloud-agnostic machine learning (ML) deployment specialist which works in partnership with industry leaders such as Google, Red Hat, IBM and Amazon Web Services.

Key to its success is that its open-source project Seldon Core has more than 700,000 models deployed to date, drastically reducing friction for users deploying ML models. The startup says its customers are getting productivity gains of as much as 92% as a result of utilizing Seldon’s product portfolio.

Alex Housley, CEO and founder of Seldon speaking to TechCrunch explained that companies are using machine learning across thousands of use cases today, “but the model actually only generates real value when it’s actually running inside a real-world application.”

“So what we’ve seen emerge over these last few years are companies that specialize in specific parts of the machine learning pipeline, such as training version control features. And in our case we’re focusing on deployment. So what this means is that organizations can now build a fully bespoke AI platform that suits their needs, so they can gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

In addition, he said Seldon’s open-source model means that companies are not locked-in: “They want to avoid locking as well they want to use tools from various different vendors. So this kind of intersection between machine learning, DevOps and cloud-native tooling is really accelerating a lot of innovation across enterprise and also within startups and growth-stage companies.”

Nadine Torbey, an investor at AlbionVC, added: “Seldon is at the forefront of the next wave of tech innovation, and the leadership team are true visionaries. Seldon has been able to build an impressive open-source community and add immediate productivity value to some of the world’s leading companies.”

Vin Lingathoti, partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “Machine learning has rapidly shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have for enterprises across all industries. Seldon’s open-source platform operationalizes ML model development and accelerates the time-to-market by eliminating the pain points involved in developing, deploying and monitoring machine learning models at scale.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Decrypted: Grayshift raises $47M, Apple bugs under attack, video game maker hacked

The election is over, but not without a hitch or two. Some voters in Georgia and Ohio had to use paper ballots after hand sanitizer leaked into voting machines — an unexpected casualty of the pandemic. And a slew of robocalls across a number of swing states urged voters to “stay safe and stay home,” in an effort to disenfranchise voters from going to the polls. With record voter turnout, there’s little evidence to show it worked.

But we saw nothing like the hack-and-leak operations like we did four years ago, which delivered an “October surprise” that derailed the election for Hillary Clinton, despite winning the popular vote by three million votes.

Government officials and cybersecurity firms said there were no significant or damaging cyberattacks during Election Day. One Homeland Security official called it “another Tuesday on the internet,” but conceded there was still cause for concern in the election aftermath.

With the bulk of the votes counted, government officials pointed to the threat of “foreign influence” campaigns — or misinformation — that would try to cast doubt on the election results. In reality, much of the false and misleading claims ended up coming from inside the White House as the Trump administration tried to cling onto power. After being caught out four years ago, the social media giants put into place measures and policies that limited the spread of false news — including Trump’s repeated attempts to claim victory.

Fears that the 2020 election could turn into a national, or even an international security matter did not come to fruition. The U.S. is in a better place than it was four years ago by simply learning the lessons from Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election. Imagine where we could be in another four?

Since you, like us, were glued to the television screens last week, here’s more from the week you might have missed.


THE BIG PICTURE

Grayshift, the maker of phone unlocking tech, raises a Series A round

Grayshift, the secretive startup behind the U.S. government’s favorite phone unlocking technology, has raised $ 47 million in fresh funding. The Series A round was led by PeakEquity Partners, and — as first reported by Forbes — is a huge round for a little-known phone forensics firm.

One of only a few photos of the mysterious GrayKey phone unlocking devices. Image Credits: Malwarebytes

Grayshift exploded onto the mobile forensics scene in 2018, months after the company began quietly selling its proprietary GrayKey technology to federal agencies for about $ 15,000 each. The FBI and other agencies use their purchased GrayKey devices to break into encrypted phones without needing the passcode.

Startups – TechCrunch

Know of any video maker tools you use for your startup marketing?

Any suggestions of explainer video maker tools that you have used to explain the concept of your startup idea?

Not looking to hire actors or a very expensive video designer, but more a tool like Toonly or anything else that you might have used when on a budget. Especially if you have used one that has stock content that can be used with easy voice additions and subtitles.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

[Sight Diagnostics in Connect New York] Diagnostics Maker to House U.S. Ops at Industry City

Brooklyn’s Industry City complex has signed Sight Diagnostics, a medical device company, to its first North American location. Sight Diagnostics, whose global footprint includes locations in Tel Aviv and London, will utilize the 6,237-square-foot space for office functions and operational distribution. 

Read more here.

The post [Sight Diagnostics in Connect New York] Diagnostics Maker to House U.S. Ops at Industry City appeared first on OurCrowd Blog.

OurCrowd Blog

The eSIM maker powering Xiaomi’s IoT devices raises $15M

Connectivity is vital to a future managed and shaped by smart hardware, and Chinese startup Showmac Tech is proposing eSIMs as the infrastructure solution for seamless and stable communication between devices and the service providers behind.

Xiaomi accepted the proposition and doled out an investment for the startup’s angel round in 2017. Now Showmac has convinced more investors to be onboard as it banked close to 100 million yuan ($ 15 million) in a Series A+ round led by Addor Capital, with participation from GGV Capital and Hongtai Aplus.

“We believe cellular communication will become a mainstream trend in the era of IoT. Wi-Fi works only when it’s connected to a small number of devices, but when the number increases dramatically it becomes unreliable,” said Lily Liu, founder and chief executive of Showmac, during an interview with TechCrunch.

Unlike a traditional SIM, short for “subscriber identity module,” an eSIM doesn’t need to be on a removable card, doing away the need for the SIM card slot on a device. Rather, it will be welded onto the device’s integrated chip during assembly and is valid for different network operators. To chipmakers, Showmac’s eSIM functions like an application or software development kit (SDK), Liu observed.

The company began as a pilot project supplying eSIMs to Xiaomi’s ecosystem of connected devices and subsequently set up an entity when the solution proved its viability. Its core products today include eSIM cards for IoT devices, an eSIM communication module and gateway, and connection management software as a service.

To date, Showmac has powered more than 10 million devices, around 30% of which are affiliated with Xiaomi, which through in-house development and external investments has constructed an empire of IoT partners reliant on its operating system and consumer reach.

The majority of Showmac’s clients are providers of shared goods, those of which “ownership and right to use are separate,” explained Liu, who earned a PhD in economics from China’s prestigious Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Shared bikes and Luckin’s shared coffee mugs are just a few examples.

Showmac is hardly a forerunner in the global eSIM space, but the founder believed few competitors could match it on the level of supply chain resources, thanks to its ties with Xiaomi.

“As an R&D-oriented and relatively young team, we are very fortunate to have experienced large-scale industrial activity that churns out products in the hundreds of thousands and even millions every day. [Xiaomi] has provided us with this precious opportunity,” the founder said.

With a staff of 40-50 employees across Beijing and Shenzhen, the startup is currently focusing on the Chinese market, but has plans for overseas expansion in the long run.

“We are not the first to make eSIM in the world, but being in China, the center of the world’s electronics manufacturing, we are in a superior position to get things done,” suggested Liu.

The arrival of 5G is a boon to the startup, the founder believed. “5G will spurn more IoT devices and applications, giving rise to the need for IoT [devices] with cross-carrier and cross-region capabilities,” she said.

Showmac says it will spend its newly raised capital on mass-producing its integrated eSIM modules, research and development, and business development.

Startups – TechCrunch

Zwift, maker of a popular indoor training app, just landed a whopping $450 million in funding led by KKR

Zwift, a 350-person, Long Beach, Calif.-based online fitness platform that immerses cyclists and runners in 3D generated worlds, just raised a hefty $ 450 million in funding led by the investment firm KKR in exchange for a minority stake in its business.

Permira and Specialized Bicycle’s venture capital fund, Zone 5 Ventures, also joined the round alongside earlier backers True, Highland Europe, Novator and Causeway Media.

Zwift has now raised $ 620 million altogether and is valued at north of $ 1 billion.

Why such a big round? Right now, the company just makes an app, albeit a popular one.

Since its 2015 founding, 2.5 million people have signed up to enter a world that, as Outside magazine once described it, is “part social-media platform, part personal trainer, part computer game.” That particular combination makes Zwift’s app appealing to both recreational riders and pros looking to train no matter the conditions outside.

The company declined to share its active subscriber numbers with us — Zwift charges $ 15 per month for its service — but it seemingly has a loyal base of users. For example, 117,000 of them competed in a virtual version of the Tour de France that Zwift hosted in July after it was chosen by the official race organizer of the real tour as its partner on the event.

Which leads us back to this giant round and what it will be used for. Today, in order to use the app, Zwift’s biking adherents need to buy their own smart trainers, which can cost anywhere from $ 300 to $ 700 and are made by brands like Elite and Wahoo. Meanwhile, runners use Zwift’s app with their own treadmills.

Now, Zwift is jumping headfirst into the hardware business itself. Though a spokesman for the company said it can’t discuss any particulars — “It takes time to develop hardware properly, and COVID has placed increased pressure on production” — it is hoping to bring its first product to market “as soon as possible.”

He added that the hardware will make Zwift a “more immersive and seamless experience for users.”

Either way, the direction isn’t a surprising one for the company, and we don’t say that merely because Specialized participated in this round as a strategic backer. Cofounder and CEO Eric Min has told us in the past that the company hoped to produce its own trainers some day.

Given the runaway success of the in-home fitness company Peloton, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a treadmill follow, or even a different product entirely. Said the Zwift spokesman, “In the future, it’s possible that we could bring in other disciplines or a more gamified experience.” (It will have expert advice in this area if it does, given that Swift just brought aboard Ilkka Paananen, the co-founder and CEO of Finnish gaming company Supercell, as an investor and board member.)

In the meantime, the company tells us not to expect the kind of classes that have proven so successful for Peloton, tempting as it may be to draw parallels.

While Zwift prides itself on users’ ability to organize group rides and runs and workouts, classes, says its spokesman, are “not in the offing.”

Startups – TechCrunch