Government regulators are looking into fatal Tesla crash involving Autopilot

Government regulators are looking into fatal Tesla crash involving Autopilot

Tesla announced today that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into a recent fatal crash of a Model S with the company’s Autopilot feature activated.

The carmaker has offered an account of the event in a blog post title “A Tragic Loss” that went up today, detailing the crash, an “extremely rare circumstance,” which occurred on a divided highway.

According to Tesla,

Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

According to the carmaker, the vehicle’s crash safety system would have been activated had the Model S collided with the front or rear of the trailer, rather than the side. It also took great pains to reiterate the safety procedures it has set out for the Autopilot feature, which is still in the public beta phase.

The company isn’t offering much more in the way of details about the incident or driver, though it did note that he was “a friend of Tesla,” who has been involved in the EV and technology communities in general.

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The victim appears to be Joshua Brown, of Canton, Ohio who died on May 7th when the top of his car was torn off in a collision occurring on a Florida highway. The driver of the truck was not injured in that incident.

Brown founded customer fulfillment technology startup Nexu Innovations and made news back in April when he posted a YouTube video of a near collision with a merging truck, which Autopilot effectively steered clear of.

Tesla will not officially confirm the identity of the driver “out of the respect for their privacy.”

Source: TechCrunch

Google’s ‘FASTER’ undersea cable goes online with 60 Tbps of bandwidth

Google’s ‘FASTER’ undersea cable goes online with 60 Tbps of bandwidth

You probably have a wireless network at home, but for some applications a wired connection is still more reliable. It’s the same in internet backbone communications — satellites help keep the world in sync, but the best connections across the globe rely upon undersea fiber optic cables. A new undersea cable constructed with Google’s backing has just gone online linking the US west coast with Japan.

The cable, which has the fitting name “FASTER,” can transmit 60 terabytes of data per second, more than any other active undersea cable. It’s about 10 million times faster than your home broadband connection on a good day. The new cable will benefit users near one end or the other when they need to ping a server on the other end. It doesn’t boost their own bandwidth, but it could allow them to take fuller advantage of it. FASTER also includes an additional connection from Japan to Taiwan, which has 20 Tbps of bandwidth and is owned completely by Google.

Google joined this ambitious construction project back in 2014 when it partnered with five other companies: NEC, China Mobile, China Telecom, Global Transit, and KDDI. The project has cost about $300 million to complete, but it will offer huge speed increases for data transmission between Asia and North America. Google’s participation in the project guarantees it 10 Tbps of dedicated bandwidth on the FASTER cable. Google is also planning to launch its Google Cloud Platform East Asia in Tokyo this year. The dedicated bandwidth from FASTER will result in faster transfers and lower latency for its customers.


FASTER stretches some 9,00 kilometers (5,592 miles) across the ocean. The US end is in Bandon, Oregon, and the Japanese end plugs into Shima and Chikura. The US cable location places it very near to Google’s data center in The Dalles. FASTER uses six fiber pairs to push all that bandwidth using 100 different wavelengths of light. Every 60 kilometers, there’s a repeater that re-energizes the data to ensure no data is lost along the way, according to Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hölzle.

This cable might be the speed king right now, but that won’t be the case for long. Earlier this year, Microsoft and Facebook announced they would be laying a cable from the US to southern Europe with a capacity of 160 Tbps across eight cable pairs. I guess Google will just have to limp along with FASTER.

Source: ExtremeTech

New York’s longstanding Apple retailer Tekserve is closing up shop

New York’s longstanding Apple retailer Tekserve is closing up shop

After nearly 30 years of dutiful serve to New York City’s Apple community, Manhattan-based retailer Tekserve will be closing its doors for the last time later this summer. It’s yet another sign of the times for a computer market that has shifted dramatically since Apple took computer selling into its own slick and well-lit hands back in 2001.

“This is a cultural shift,” company head Jerry Gepner told The New York Times this week in a story that broke the news. “It’s not a failure of the business. It’s like this giant wave finally crashed down upon us.”

The company started life as a repair shop on the same block in the Flatiron District where it’s continued to operate for 29 years, eventually occupying a 10,000 foot storefront and the title of the largest Apple Reseller as the computer company’s products once again returned to fashion.

The reseller had managed to hold on courtesy of a loyal customer base and a rental service, but between the six Apple stores currently open on the island and a big Best Buy setting up shop across the street, it ultimately couldn’t compete with the changing climate.

Tekserve broke the news to employees this week. It will continue to operate it service center through the end of July and will officially close the doors on its retail shop August 15th.

Source: TechCrunch

How the VW diesel settlement breaks down in dollars

How the VW diesel settlement breaks down in dollars

On Tuesday, June 28, Volkswagen finally announced an agreement with US federal regulators (including the FTC), private plaintiffs in the United States, and 44 states to settle its TDI diesel case to the tune of about $15 billion.

In case you need a refresher, in fall of 2015, researchers discovered that VW had engineered the software governing its TDI diesel engines to behave differently when being tested for emissions than they do when being driven normally. When the car detected a testing situation—steering wheel straight, certain speeds or rpms held for certain times—the engine ran cleaner, which sacrificed performance but passed the test. When driven normally, the performance increased, and so did the tailpipe emissions.

Here’s how the numbers break down in the settlement:

  • 475,000 VW and Audi diesel vehicles will be bought back or have their leases terminated
  • If everyone eligible takes advantage of the settlement, that amounts to $10.33 billion, according to VW
  • VW will invest $2.7 billion in an “environmental remediation fund”
  • VW will invest $2 billion to promote the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles in the United States
  • VW will pay $603 million to 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to resolve consumer protection claims

This only affects vehicles with the 2.0-liter TDI engines. There’s more resolution to come—and more money to be paid out—for the 3.0-liter TDI-engined vehicles.

If you’re a TDI owner, you’ve got a couple of choices. You can take a buyback or lease termination plus cash, or you can have your car modified to meet emissions standards. In the first case, the value for the buyback will be based on the Clean Trade-In Value published in September 2015 of the NADA Used Car Guide. In the second case, you keep the car (though the performance will likely suffer, if that’s a factor for you), and you get some cash from VW. The modification option is waiting on approval from the EPA and CARB before it can be implemented in customers’ cars.

Since the software dodge affects cars from 2009 through 2015, it’s possible that you may have owned a TDI and already sold it on or traded it in. Don’t fret—you may still be able to get some cash. There aren’t details on the website yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye on that provision if it applies to you.

No matter which option you may be eligible for or want to take advantage of, the paperwork has to be filed and approved by the court over the summer. Action can be taken by TDI owners to get some money or some modifications in fall 2016.

Featured Image: Kristen Hall-Geisler
Source: TechCrunch

A slim PS4 might show up at the Tokyo Game Show

A slim PS4 might show up at the Tokyo Game Show

The PS4K, also known as the PlayStation Neo, has been widely discussed for months now, and Sony has even quietly confirmed that it’s in the works. But what about a simple mid-cycle PS4 redesign along the lines of the Xbox One S or the PS3 slim? It seems as if that minor hardware revision might be on its way sooner than we expected.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Takashi Mochizuki reports that an analyst from Macquarie Securities believes that a slim PS4 could be released as early as September. In a Tweet, Mochizuki spells out that it might show up at the Tokyo Game Show. Considering that the PlayStation VR is launching in October, and some leaks point towards a 2016 release for Neo, this might be the single biggest year in the history of PlayStation hardware.


Two and a half years ago, we speculated on what a PS4 redesign might end up being. Beyond a die shrink and a new case design, we mentioned 802.11ac for improved streaming and the addition of Bluetooth 4.0 for low-energy wireless communication.

Those improvements still make sense, but there are a few more features worth considering in 2016. Ultra HD Blu-ray and HDMI 2.x support would help the slim compete head-to-head with the likes of the $299 Xbox One S. Since Sony would love to sell us UHD Blu-ray discs and brand new 4K UHD TVs, positioning this as an affordable entry point to these high-res upgrades would be a smart strategy.

Of course, it’s easy to come up with a lengthy list of possible additions that would enhance the PS4 experience. USB 3.1 support, additional USB ports, better on-console buttons, better streaming/capture hardware, a bigger hard drive, built-in PS3 backwards compatibility, and the list goes on. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

Xbox One S Console

We’d welcome any or all of those changes, but it’s important to remember that these mid-cycle revisions are often created in hopes of cutting production costs. Better components sometimes come along for the ride, but we’re not betting on this being a revolutionary redesign. If Sony is planning any major innovations, they’ll probably be funneled into the Neo.

Also, it’s important to remember that we’re only working from analyst predictions. There’s a possibility that we might simply get a new SKU that looks and performs mostly the same. The PS4 is reasonably small, so we can easily imagine a world where we get a few altered components inside, but the case isn’t slimmed down. There’s also a chance that this doesn’t happen at all. Analysts make mistakes all the time, so don’t get too invested in the idea of a slim PS4 just yet.

With the Nintendo NX lined up for an early 2017 release, and Project Scorpio scheduled for Q4 2017, the gaming industry is in for some big changes in the next year or so. At this point, it’s hard to recommend buying any console right now. Even if you’re uninterested in the Neo or Scorpio, the older consoles will likely drop significantly in price as we draw closer to the more powerful hardware. For the time being, the console market is stuck in a holding pattern.

Source: ExtremeTech

Spotify and Apple are staring each other down while flipping the bird

Spotify and Apple are staring each other down while flipping the bird

Figuratively, of course.

The companies are at it again, and this time it’s not only bothersome to the businesses themselves, but to the end consumer.

Going to the next level in an ongoing spat over Apple’s subscription rules, it would appear that Apple has rejected Spotify’s latest update to its app in late May, citing business model issues. Shortly before that, Spotify turned off billing within the Spotify iOS app altogether, cutting off free users ability to upgrade and even shutting off existing premium mobile users payments, forcing online upgrades. With it, Spotify cut off Apple’s full source of revenue from the Spotify service.

Obtaining a letter written from Spotify’s general counsel Horacio Gutierrez to Apple’s legal team, Re/code reports that Apple rejected the new Spotify update because of billing. The letter said that if “Spotify wants to use the app to acquire new customers and sell subscriptions” it needs to use Apple’s billing system.

Spotify and Apple have been fighting over this for quite some time.

Back in 2014, Spotify bumped the price of its mobile subscription to $12.99, automatically accounting for Apple’s 30 percent revenue share on what is normally a $10/month service.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 2.20.34 PMIn July of last year, a month after the launch of Apple Music, Spotify began proactively encouraging its users to end their mobile subscriptions and upgrade to premium on the web, where it would cost just $10. Upgrading on the web circumvents any involvement from Apple on the billing side, while still allowing users to listen to Spotify premium on their Apple devices. The company has since discontinued the campaign, but it has also shut off in-app purchases on Spotify iOS.

Under the Payments section:

3.1.1 In-App Purchase: If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than IAP. Any credits or in-game currencies purchased via IAP must be consumed within the app and may not expire, and you should make sure you have a restore mechanism for any restorable in-app purchases. Please remember to assign the correct purchasability type or your app will be rejected. Apps should not directly or indirectly enable gifting of IAP content, features, or consumable items to others. Apps distributed via the Mac App Store may host plug-ins or extensions that are enabled with mechanisms other than the App Store.
3.1.2 Subscriptions: Auto-renewing subscriptions should only be offered using in-app purchase and may only be used for periodicals (e.g. newspapers, magazines), business apps (e.g. enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage), media apps (e.g. video, audio, voice, photo sharing), and other approved services (e.g. dating, dieting, weather). These subscriptions must last a minimum of 7 days and be accessible from all of the user’s devices where the app is available. You may offer subscriptions that are shared across your own apps, but these subscriptions may not extend to third party apps or services.

Emphasis added by me.

While some could read that as a violation on the part of Spotify, which can turn off and turn on in-app purchases without update approval, others might consider this latest update rejection as a retaliation on the part of Apple. After all, if Spotify isn’t making money off of iOS in any way, it may not be subject to these guidelines, despite charging for subscriptions elsewhere.

Not unlike The War of the Five Kings, this battle comes in the midst of a much larger war, with the involvement of many parties, each harboring their own specific grievances and plots for vengeance.

In fact, just yesterday Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was potentially sent a copy of this specific letter from Guitierez, criticized Google, Apple and Amazon for restricting competition in their designated fields.

She specifically called out Apple for having “placed conditions on its rivals that make it difficult for them to offer competitive streaming services.”

Though neither Apple nor Spotify have offered comment on this particular story (the App Store rejection and subsequent letter), Spotify was happy to provide comment alongside Senator Warren’s claims yesterday.

Spotify’s head of communications and public policy Jonathan Prince had this to say:

Apple has long used its control of iOS to squash competition in music, driving up the prices of its competitors, inappropriately forbidding us from telling our customers about lower prices, and giving itself unfair advantages across its platform through everything from the lock screen to Siri. You know there’s something wrong when Apple makes more off a Spotify subscription than it does off an Apple Music subscription and doesn’t share any of that with the music industry. They want to have their cake and eat everyone else’s too.

Which brings the artists themselves into the equation. On one battlefront, Spotify is fighting with Apple for the full rights to its profits, without the additional cut for the App Store. On the other side, to the sea, Spotify is digging trenches against the artists themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.16.40 PMTaylor Swift has waged all out war against Spotify, teaming up with Apple Music instead. She’s written her own diatribes about Spotify’s low cuts for artists, wages that can’t be increased on an already-low-margin business.

And then there’s Jay-Z and his cohort of ultra-popular musicians who have committed themselves to Tidal, a high-fidelity streaming service that competes with both Apple Music and Spotify.

Spotify can only afford to hold siege against Apple for so long. Spotify’s European home base, which has stronger laws to protect smaller players from being crushed by giants, may prove helpful in the war to come.

But even so, Spotify is a service whose ‘entry point’ — the place where it is likely to gain new subscribers — is increasingly on mobile devices. Unlike Amazon Prime or Netflix, whose subscriptions likely still begin their life on the web, Spotify’s needs mobile subscriptions, and it needs them at a lower intermediary cost. Streaming music offers razor-thin margins, and limiting the amount of people who can pay for it based on device isn’t a feasible option. Then again, neither is coughing up 30 percent of mobile revenues, especially if Spotify’s eventual goal is IPO.

Apple recently changed its subscription rules to drop the cut it takes to 15% after a year, which will affect Spotify. But Spotify has chafed under these rules for a long time and will likely be using the new lever of Apple having a directly competing music service to try to pry better terms out of the company via the court of public opinion or a regulatory agency.

Featured Image: Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

BMW, Intel, Mobileye lay groundwork for self-driving car

BMW, Intel, Mobileye lay groundwork for self-driving car

Automaker BMW, chipmaker Intel, and vision systems developer Mobileye are ready to announce a collaboration aimed at ushering in a self-driving car within five years. The three companies have scheduled a briefing for Friday morning (July 1), 10 a.m. East Coast time, or 4 p.m. CEST (central Europe).

It’s likely the announcement will be built around advances in sensors and algorithms that improve on cars’ abilities to detect and respond to other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects in the road that might collide unless the autonomous vehicle changes course or takes other action. The story was broken Thursday morning by Reuters.

Research project Highly automated driving on highways (08/2011)

The challenge to autonomous driving: the unexpected

Even now, more than a dozen car models have some measure of autonomous driving — on limited access highways with gradual not hairpin curves, when it’s not snowing or raining heavily, and when another car doesn’t spin out just in front of you, or an old washing machine doesn’t fall off off a pickup truck. But it will follow the car in front (adaptive cruise control), stay centered in the lane (lane centering assist), and keep you from changing lanes if there’s a car you don’t see in your blind spot.

BMW is talking about taking its cars to a higher level of autonomous driving by 2021. Coincidentally, that could be the likely launch year for the seventh generation of the flagship BMW 7 Series, which is on a 6- to 7-year product cycle (the current 7 Series was launched in 2015). BMW earlier this year said it would launch a flagship car with autonomous driving capability. BMW could also declare its flagship vehicle to be the X7 SUV, which is expected to debut in 2018 and would be due for a mid-life refresh circa 2021.

Self-driving is the new competitive edge

The world’s premier automakers see individual driver assist technologies today, and self-driving within the decade, to be potential differentiators. The challenge for the automakers is the core technologies — whether it’s vision sensors from Mobileye, night vision sensors from Autoliv, or adaptive cruise control radars from Bosch — come from suppliers that work with multiple automakers.

Individual automakers can still hustle a technology to market by putting more people to work on the project, or make the installation and interface easier for the driver. BMW has an advantage because of its longstanding deployment of head-up displays that can show what the self-driving tools are sensing.


Who is Mobileye

Mobileye was founded in 1999 and has headquarters in Jerusalem, Israel, with several offices in the US. It concentrates on vision systems. BMW, along with GM and Volvo, were its earliest clients. Tesla is a high-profile client that uses Mobileye sensors for its AutoPilot System. The company also makes portable systems that can be installed on cars and trucks already in use.

Mobileye is expected to be the optical systems supplier for the BMW project, while Intel would be the chipmaker for Mobileye’s fifth-generation chips, called EyeQ5. The chips and software are believed to offer real-time road mapping (that is, road contours and edges) as well as driving policy, meaning the rules for interacting with other cars and roadside objects, including when they’re not behaving as expected. One uncertainty is what happens to Mobileye’s existing relationship with STMicroelectronics, a French-Italian chipmaker.

Source: ExtremeTech

NASA and Apple enlist Weezer and Trent Reznor to make music about Jupiter

NASA and Apple enlist Weezer and Trent Reznor to make music about Jupiter

With the Juno mission set to arrive at Jupiter on the Fourth of July, NASA did what any reasonable space agency would to celebrate the momentous occasion, teaming with Apple to release a short film and enlisting artists like Weezer and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor to celebrate.

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A short film, Visions of Harmony, has been released through iTunes, featuring some stunning visuals and celebrating connections between space exploration and music making.

Reznor and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross have crafted a soundtrack for the short, a nine-minute chilled out ambient tune inspired by electromagnetic sounds emitted by the solar system’s largest planet.

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Weezer, meanwhile, has opted to go a more charged up, patriotic route, in honor of the Independence Day timing with the extremely unsubtle track, “I love the USA.” As a wise man once said, “We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

Congratulations Juno. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

Source: TechCrunch

500 Startups tries its hand at a startup studio, 500 Labs

500 Startups tries its hand at a startup studio, 500 Labs

500 Startups, known for its work as a startup accelerator, now hopes to incubate its own ideas in-house and spin them off into new companies.

Called 500 Labs, it’s a new attempt at finding interesting ideas that might turn out to be good investments. 500 Startups essentially brings in developers and entrepreneurs in residence, giving them the resources to play around with ideas until they find one that sticks. It’s not a particularly new model — there are others like Betaworks and Andy Rubin’s hardware-centric Playground.

500 Startups hopes to differentiate itself as a startup incubator by giving founders and developers the ability to lean on its large growth marketing team. McClure argues that it has one of the largest growth marketing teams in the VC community, giving it the ability to help spark an initial seed audience for projects that will hopefully start taking off on its own in addition to paid acquisition.

You can think of it as a sort of extension of the entrepreneur-in-residence program that many VC firms have in the Valley. 500 Labs pairs up potential candidates based on their qualifications — a developer with a general manager, for example — and gives them room to try out a bunch of ideas. They’re salaried, which means it carries less risk than running off to start a new company off an idea that may be destined to fail, and gives creators room to rapidly try new ideas.

500 Startups expects to be working on around 10 projects at a time, with 3 or 4 of them being spun into companies if they exhibit some potential and high growth. 500 Labs candidates have the benefit of leaning on the 500 Startups infrastructure to handle difficult early-stage tasks like recruiting and marketing, and creating paid acquisition campaigns, Selcuk Atli — one of the leads on the program — said. That marketing team is also constantly looking for new avenues, like potentially AR and VR in the future, 500 Startups co-founder Dave McClure said.

“As much as startups have high attrition rates, founders have experience in a particular domain have a higher success rate,” McClure said. “It’s a different model, it’s model has been proven to work in other scenarios. I think if you [mess] it up enough times you’re going get good at doing it.”

For creators, the bar for potential investments will be even higher than the one startups face when looking to apply to the firm’s accelerator program, McClure said. That’s partly because the founders that are working on these projects are expected to have the experience and skills to help cultivate strong ideas and grow them. For example, for an app-based model to be successful, McClure said the firm expects something in the tens to hundreds of thousands of downloads before it’s considered to be spun out into a new company.

A couple of example projects that 500 Labs might spin up would be e-commerce or marketplace services, and other online software-based services that have a natural growth arc that can be supplemented by 500 Startups’ growth team. The firm is also looking into enterprise productivity tools, as an example of potential ideas it might explore in the enterprise space.

“We have a pretty broad area, but we’re trying to confine all these things under the mobile umbrella so we can tactically share resources,” Selcuk said. “If you’re working on the mobile, you’re working on app store optimization for example. We feel that’s an advantage to have not so much of a narrow focus but a broad enough focus so we can share resources.”

Those founders don’t necessarily have to be the original creators of successful products — they could also be top-level lieutenants at those companies, Atli said. “I think we’re probably looking at core disciplines in engineering, design and marketing areas we’re going after,” Atli said. “That might not have been the founders of previous companies, it could be senior principals. Kind of like the Facebook and PayPal mafias, we’d like to find successful companies with a second level of experience who might want to start things.”

The concept was always in the back of McClure and his team’s mind, but it was over a round of drinks and hookah that Selcuk and McClure finally sealed the deal. McClure said he was basically waiting for the resources and the right personnel to finally roll the project out. Initially, the Labs model will focus on remote locations like Waterloo and Toronto — places with a bevy of tech talent that would have otherwise been recruited by the now-dead (or basically dead) BlackBerry — but the idea is to constantly give them a presence in Silicon Valley.

“When companies get funded they can move anywhere,” Atli said. “We found pockets of talent in interesting and amazing places. Vietnam, Waterloo, Berlin, Istanbul, there’s talent all over the world but there isn’t always much access to capital. Combining a Silicon Valley HQ with access to other communities all over the world, we think we can be really effective.”

Of course, all this would be moot if it weren’t a successful outcome for the firm as well. 500 Startups is aiming that founders will have double-digit point ownership of the companies that are spun out of the incubator, but the overall ownership structure is still being worked out between the team and founders.

McClure and Atli shy away from comparisons to other accelerators and incubators, though it’s hard not to draw analogies between a program like 500 Labs and Betaworks. But McClure argues that with its network of thousands of founders, it can lean on that network for potential candidates for 500 Labs that those other firms might not have access.

Source: TechCrunch

Google Maps gets multi-stop directions and vacation memories on mobile

Google Maps gets multi-stop directions and vacation memories on mobile

Google is bringing long awaited multi-stop directions to mobile with its new summer update. Travelers can now hit as many tourist traps as they want on their cross country treks. Just like in the web version, users can swiftly rearrange the order of stops. Android users will get the feature first, followed by iOS in the near future.

Google MapsThe summer update caps off an active week for Maps. Earlier this week, Google also rolled out sharper satellite imagery.

Google also wants to help travelers remember everything from rural ice mines to giant Adirondack chairs with its new Timeline feature. Your Timeline is for those moments when you just can’t remember that definitely fun memorable thing you did last Wednesday to tell your friends and family. Users can drop notes right next to activities. Unfortunately this feature seems to be only rolling out for Android users at this time.

All we need now is an update for multi-planet directions and a nifty feature to track time dilation.

Featured Image: David Trood/Getty Images
Source: TechCrunch