It took more than a week for remaining Skully execs to admit to themselves it was time to shut down. But late last night the company finally sent customers an email, which was obtained by TechCrunch, telling them it has officially closed its doors.
The startup’s troubles have been brewing for several months but came to a head two weeks ago when Skully’s board forced founders Marcus and Mitch Weller out of their own company. Days later most of the employees, including the engineering team, were let go and websites sales for Skully’s much-anticipated augmented reality helmet were shut off.
The site is still up right now due to what we’ve been told is a website vendor payment dispute. But the company is no more.
Multiple sources inside Skully confirmed to TechCrunch the startup had run out of money and was trying to sell itself off to a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate LeTV called LeSport. However, a number of disputes, including the possibility of an acquisition, how the founders were spending money and several manufacturing issues, caused a rift to form between the founders and investors.
What was left of the executive team were left scrambling to save the company, even telling TechCrunch it was close to raising $6 million in bridge funding to get it through this mess. But it seems it was too little, too late to salvage anything.
“Over the past several weeks our management team has worked feverishly to raise additional capital but unforeseen challenges and circumstances, beyond our control, made this effort impossible,” the letter to customers read.
Skully says it is now filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which also means customers likely won’t be getting a refund on pre-orders for the $1500 AR helmet Skully was working on.
All of Skully’s assets are now subject to liens held by a secured creditor, according to the letter, which ends with an apology to those affected.
Skully customers won’t be able to redeem the full amount at one time, but, says Fusar in an open letter on its website redeem the full cost at one time, but will have an opportunity to recoup the entire value of the original order” and the company will only charge customers when their order actually ships.
Featured Image: Skully UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE
heranos has had a long 10 months. The company, beset with regulation issues, has faced a Congressional inquiry, possible criminal charges, lawsuits, a recall of test results from the past two years, its main partner Walgreens severing ties, Forbes downgrading its worth from $9 billion to now just under $800 million, and its founder Elizabeth Holmes was formally banned from operating her own laboratories for the next two years.
So it was in this dark night of despair that Holmes told members of the media and the science community she would finally be opening up about Edison, her one-drop blood analysis technology 11 years in the making. Hundreds of scientists lined up at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry this week in the hopes of finally getting a behind-the-scenes look at the secret machine. Instead, they got an introduction to an entirely new product — an all-in-one Zika-detecting tabletop miniLab.
According to Holmes, the miniLab can run a number of automated tests using blood and urine samples, including one she claimed is a first-of-its-kind for detecting Zika. Those tests are then uploaded through a centralized system that can collect samples, process the data and dispense results.
Holmes told audience members that the plan was to fast-track the device through FDA approval under the newly issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for Zika detectors.
It’s a strategic move for the company. Zika has struck fear within the U.S. health community, especially after 14 people in a Miami neighborhood were recently diagnosed with the primarily mosquito-transmitted illness. Zika is often asymptomatic or causes a mild rash, fever and joint pain. But the bigger concern is what the virus can do to pregnant women. Zika has been linked to microencephaly in infants born to mothers with the disease.
However, detection is tough, and with a lack of any commercially available diagnostic tests cleared or approved by the FDA for Zika at the moment, the virus is spreading rapidly throughout many parts of the Western hemisphere. The FDA has said it would be fast-tracking certain Zika detection tools under EUA for that reason — something Theranos clearly hopes to take advantage of.
Will Theranos’s new miniLab be enough to save the company from itself?
Theranos seems to have pivoted away from a previous lab testing facility model and is moving into field collection via the new miniLab. But according to several clinical lab scientists with whom TechCrunch spoke to, there’s not anything novel about Theranos’s new product — at least nothing detectable from Holmes’s presentation.
“It left a lot of us dissatisfied. It was kind of a letdown,” University of Chicago’s Jerry Yeo said of the new miniLab. “It doesn’t even have the routine immunoassay and didn’t show how sensitive it was.”
Professor of clinical and lab pathology at Weill Cornell Medical College Stephen Master, who was in the audience at Holmes’s presentation along with Yeo, agreed. “It wasn’t like there was anything fundamentally we hadn’t seen before,” he told TechCrunch.
To be fair, Theranos’s previous mishaps likely jaded much of the scientific community before Holmes took to the stage.
But to Master’s point, there are several companies with “lab-on-a-chip” technology, which Theranos maintains is not what its box is, but does have elements of.
Qualcomm’s Tricorder X-Prize searches for similar companies with the idea of revolutionizing healthcare by placing an accessible lab in the field. The organization offers millions of dollars to companies that can come up with automatic non-invasive health diagnostics packaged into a single portable device. The concept is exactly what Theranos wants to do with the miniLab.
The new product is also not much different than other Zika-detection prototypes out there – some of which are already listed on the FDA’s website.
Zika detection devices actually seemed to be a trend at AACC’s event this week. John McDevitt from the NYU college of dentistry also presented a device that Master thought sounded pretty much exactly like what Theranos proposed.
“I swear his first five minutes were almost identical to Theranos in terms of the box look, in terms of the slides, some of the pieces that were actually inside. It was another integrated analyzer like that,” Master said.
The difference is McDevitt’s programmable bio-nano-chip, which Master referred to, has been peer reviewed – something the miniLab has yet to do but will likely need if it wants FDA approval.
There were other Zika detectors presented at the conference, as well. One promising device was developed in collaboration with MIT, Harvard, University of Toronto and Cornell University.
It’s unclear how likely, given Theranos’s reputation, the FDA will approve its miniLab, even under fear of Zika. We’ve reached out to the FDA but have not heard back.
But we should note Zika is not the first disease Theranos has used to drum up support within the government for its technology. The company sought FDA approval for early Ebola detection last year, devoting a large chunk of time and resources to its test for the highly contagious and deadly disease.
“We stopped everything for Ebola — for the world,” Theranos exec Richard Kovacevich told the New York Times in 2015. But focus on the disease seemed to fizzle out and Theranos moved on, saying FDA approval for the test was no longer something the company was pursuing. Would the same thing happen if it doesn’t get approval under EUA for Zika?
It also seems quite expensive and makes little sense for Theranos, once a lab operation with dozens of testing facilities inside Walgreens, to switch into manufacturing. Yeo, who has looked into similar operations in the past repeated those concerns to us — but the move may be the result of Holmes’ recent ban from operating her own labs.
So what happened to the old tech? Theranos left a room full of skeptical scientists wanting, barely mentioning the data it has likely gathered over the last decade from its technology. TechCrunch reached out to Theranos to ask about its proprietary Edison technology and how much of it was applied to the new miniLab.
“Edison is the name of one early iteration of this technology,” Lauren Vroom, a spokesperson for Theranos, told TechCrunch. “The miniLab is the latest iteration of the company’s testing platform and an evolution of Theranos’s technology.”
We were promised hundreds of tests on a single drop of blood and all we got was this box
Theranos’s tabletop lab is not exactly revolutionary; dozens of companies have made miniature lab-testing devices. And though Vroom told TechCrunch the company has not “worked on a lab-on-a-chip system for some time,” this is, essentially, according to all the experts we spoke to, the same idea. Except it’s a box.
The miniLab is composed of parts that collect small samples of blood and urine to automatically process and upload to a centralized system. It doesn’t process hundreds of lab tests on a single drop of blood, as previously promised.
Holmes showed data from 11 tests in her presentation but says it can run up to 40 tests. However, Yeo told us there would need to be several samples of blood and multiple finger pricks to run these tests, not just one drop of blood for dozens of tests — a far cry from Holmes’s story of getting into this business to make blood testing quick, easy and painless.
“The reality was the reason everyone was in that room [at the conference] was because they made these really broad claims about what their technology was going to be able to do,” Master said. “The excitement was how in the world are they doing that…Instead what they ended up showing was some of the general performance and classes of tests but they never came close to really addressing those larger capabilities that they had talked about.”.
The key here may be in the automation of lab tests in the field. You’ll see different components in the illustration above of the box from Holmes’ presentation. The founder laid out how her capillary blood collection devices, including the proprietary Nanotainer tubes and Sample Collection Device (SCD) would collect the samples and be inserted into the box to process.
She also outlined the Theranos Virtual Analyzer (TVA), a remote communications software system that could upload results to a lab.
“The miniLab architecture provides a potential framework for testing in a decentralized setting while maintaining centralized oversight,” Holmes told the audience.
Something like that could be applied in the field, like say in a Zika-infested area, but both Master and Yeo emphasized the difficulty in conducting lab testing in an uncontrolled field environment.
“As soon as you start going out into the wild, as it were, into doctor’s offices and different settings, it’s going to be difficult to maintain,” Master said.
It’s also unclear if the miniLab will be fast-tracked to go out into the wild, given the company’s background and current lack of third-party, independent research.
Theranos told TechCrunch it considers its own Zika test as its clinical trial, per FDA guidance. Compare that approach with other device makers like Scanadu, which is in the process of seeking permission from the FDA for its Scout device, partnering withScripps to conduct a 4,000-person clinical trial to get it there.
However, Holmes did mention during her presentation the company would be publishing the findings from its technology in peer-reviewed journals and conducting third-party studies, indicating Theranos would be subjecting itself to independent scrutiny in the future. But, added Holmes, that “will not happen in one day and one presentation.”
And maybe Theranos is starting to understand how to operate. It’s addeda medical advisory board, hired clinical lab experts to key positions, says it wants to be more transparent in the future and, as mentioned, says it is willing to publish in peer-reviewed journals — something it has been roundly criticized for not doing in the past.
Is the box enough to help it regain credibility in the medical community? Who knows. Those in attendance expected to hear about the technology that could produce hundreds of lab tests on a single drop of blood and all it got was this box. From what we’ve gathered the scientific community doesn’t seem overly impressed.
Theranos has an uphill battle ahead to prove itself to these scientists, government regulators and consumers. But one thing is clear, past the jargon and pomp, Theranos is more of an evolution, not a revolution so far.
Basis Peak watches recalled, service shutting down due to overheating
Basis Peak, a fitness watch tracking your health and sleep habits, is now being recalled by the company after reports of overheating.
The Intel subsidiary first sent a statement about the overheating issues mid-June and is now asking customers to stop wearing their watches and is shutting down service “immediately.”
“We had hoped to update the software on your watch to address the problem,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we aren’t able to develop such a solution without completely compromising the user experience. As a result, we are asking that you return your Basis Peak watch and authorized accessories for a full refund at your earliest convenience.”
Many of those who’d purchased the watch tweeted their disappointment at having to return the watch.
@mybasis loved my peak. But since service is also being shutdown at the end of the year guess I have to send it back. Disappointed.
However, according to the company, the overheating issue has caused burns and blisters on approximately 0.2% of customers. Basis apologized in the statement, saying it was now concerned for customer’s safety.
Customers will still be able to access their data from the watch until the end of the year. They will also be issued a full refund for their purchase by visiting https://support.mybasis.com or calling one of the designated country numbers listed here.
7 Olympic technologies to help the athlete in you go higher, faster, better, stronger
When it comes to the shot put or hammer throw events in track and field, athletes want to know every bit of analysis about their technique. USA Track and Field achieved this by deploying the Trackman device, which uses Doppler radar to track the flight of a shot put or hammer throw in real time.
It’s often used for golf swings, but Trackman also works with the shot put and hammer throw by scanning such things as release velocity, release angle, release height, and exactly where the throw lands. That information pops up on the Trackman’s user interface and also a tablet sync via Bluetooth.
The device also has built-in WiFi and an internal camera with the ability to connect up to six external cameras for more angles and also records shot put attempts and hammer throws. Videos immediately upload to the cloud to help coaches tweak athletes’ techniques quickly and throughout practices.
Elizabeth Holmes quietly stepped down from Obama’s business ambassador program
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of beset blood analysis startup Theranos, is no longer mentioned on the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) website.
Holmes announced she had joined the Obama administration’s entrepreneurial PAGE program, which notably includes AOL CEO Steve Case, Airbnb founder Brian Chesky and Stripe’s Patrick Collison, in March of last year. However, the site no longer lists her or shows her photo among these leaders.
First reported in Fortune, Theranos confirmed Holmes has quietly stepped down from her role as a presidential role model for American entrepreneurs and will instead “spend all her time focused on one thing, and that is Theranos and its needs, especially as the company focuses on sharing its technologies with the scientific community,” The company said.
It’s certainly a time for the company to get focused. Theranos’ founder has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, including several scathing Wall Street Journal articles questioning the technology, misleading results, a dramatic plummet in valuation, government inquiries, and Holmes most recently was banned from operating any of her labs.
Despite all that, Holmes presented at the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) conference in Philadelphia yesterday what was implied to be a first glimpse into the technology her startup has been working on all this time. However, the audience got what many have called a “bait and switch” when Holmes instead showcased a new tabletop “miniLab” and Zika detection device. It’s still unclear if any of the new products presented were part of the old “Edison” technology as answers to audience questions remained vague.
Theranos maintains Holmes will remain in a leadership role at her company, but the PAGE program, which relies on ambassador’s support and encourages them to “inspire” entrepreneurship within their community, will no longer be something in which Holmes participates.
Elizabeth Holmes is finally presenting her technology to scientists, including a “mini lab”
Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is presenting her blood analysis technology to a room full of scientific experts for the first time ever today at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her big focus? A customizable, tabletop mini lab.
The company has been widely criticized for not unveiling its framework for analysis in the past and this is the first time Holmes has agreed to unveil her technology. Holmes backed out of a chat about her tech at the Future of Genomic Medicine conference in March amid mounting controversy surrounding her startup.
Federal regulators deemed her Newark lab a threat to public safety at the time. Theranos main partner Walgreens has since backed out, Holmes has faced a Congressional inquiry over her lab practices, was recently banned from operating in her own labs, had her Newark lab shut down and was threatened with possible criminal charges.
To add to the injuries, Forbes downgraded Theranos worth from $9 billion to just under $800 million, leaving Holmes with just a tiny fraction of her former net worth.
Despite all that, Theranos hasn’t sunk yet. Theranos tells TechCrunch Holmes is still at the helm of her company and is ready to talk about what she’s been up to.
Her presentation comes at a crucial moment for the company, given everything Theranos has endured over the past year. There’s no official live stream for those of us not in Philly but you can follow along with us on Stuart Blitz’s Periscope channel here to find out what Holmes has to say today.
Theranos tells TechCrunch Holmes will be discussing her lab testing framework, including the finger-stick blood collection device that has caused so much controversy. We’re also told the Theranos founder will present plenty of reproducible data and comparisons to traditional venipuncture methods as well as her methodology to collect the data and a demonstration of the “precision and accuracy of these chemistry, immunochemistry, hematology, and molecular assays (traditionally performed on separate instruments) using their analytical testing platform, including a novel molecular test for the Zika virus.”
Many have criticized Theranos lab results, saying they wildly differ from those of other labs.
While Theranos isn’t exactly opening up the Kimono and much of the inner workings will likely stay behind the frosted glass walls of the company, it’s the first step for a company when it desperately needs the credibility to continue. It will be interesting to see how the scientific experts react to Holmes presentation today and find out if they think the technology adds up.
Uber reportedly invested 0 million to build a better mapping system
According to a report in the Financial Times over the weekend, the ridesharing giant is adding half a billion dollars to a new mapping project to help free itself of Google Maps.
Many ridesharing services use the maps service to navigate the roads, but Google Maps has limited accuracy in many non-Western countries. Google has also upped the cost of the service lately, cutting into Uber’s margins.
Uber declined to comment on that sum but did issue an update on its blog from new hire Brian McClendon, an ex-Google Maps engineer responsible for creating Google Earth who will be responsible for building Uber’s new mapping system.
“The ongoing need for maps tailored to the Uber experience is why we’re doubling down on our investment in mapping,” McClendon wrote, later adding, “The street imagery captured by our mapping cars will help us improve core elements of the Uber experience, like ideal pick-up and drop-off points and the best routes for riders and drivers.”
Uber has also acquired a few mapping technologies and hired a whole bunch of Microsoft engineers to support its map work, along with forging a few partnerships with navigation system companies like TomTom and Digital Globe.
The devil, as they say, is in the details and the reliance on Google has been a pain point for riders in foreign lands. Drivers often have to call riders to ask for their exact location, only frustrating the situation by adding an unnecessary step in the process. The new project will be a boon to anyone using Uber outside the United States.
And Uber, with close to $12 billion in funding and a seemingly endless supply of investors ready to hand over more cash, can definitely afford to build and maintain its own mapping system now — one that can be tailored for ridesharing — something very handy once Uber rolls out its fleet of self-driving cars.
Featured Image: Getty Images UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE
Lumo officially launches its smart running sensor, Lumo Run, today, and we took it for a spin around the park to tell you how it compares to other jogging tech out there.
TechCrunch first caught wind of Lumo’s smart pants with the running sensor last October. It was a breakout product from its posture trainer Lumo Lift and a first step into both connected garments and the running industry. You can check out our video review with Lumo co-founder Monisha Perkash here.
Lumo’s pants needed the sensor to go in a special pocket to work when we last caught up with the company, but now Lumo has separated the sensor from the pants so you can take a run with the tech in any pants you want.
How it works:
Lumo Run’s sensor works by placing it in a special clip provided and then snapping the clip onto the back of your running pants. Make sure the sensor is powered up first before beginning. You’ll know it’s ready when a little light at the bottom of the sensor flashes green.
Lumo recommends placing the part of the sensor with the USB plug toward the bottom of the clip for more accurate results.The clip is pretty tight when you first get it so it may take some maneuvering to get the sensor inside. Placing the USB connector at the bottom also makes it more convenient to slip off the clip and plug in again.
You’ll then download the Lumo Run app and set up a profile. The app on your phone will locate your sensor if everything is set up properly, and Lumo will begin to guide you on a 10-minute test run to find out all your weaknesses.
The app told me in a delightful Australian woman’s accent that I was moving my hips too much from side to side while running and I needed to work on cadence. Perkash, an avid runner herself, told me cadence, or your running stride, is one of the most common things runners need to work on to prevent injury and improve their form. It can also help you run faster.
A little bell will ding on the app if you are within your cadence goals. Mine was for 170 strides per minute, but elite runners usually get around 180-200 strides per minute. The app knows what you need to hit based on your height, weight, gender and your current fitness level.
How it compares:
Lumo Run tracks distance, pace, and running goals in a similar manner to many other fitness devices and apps. However, the main focus is all on improving the way in which you run.
Your form is important for preventing injury, as most any running expert will tell you. Poor form leads to all sorts of problems with your back and knees and could mean the difference in race time, distance and how much you’ll enjoy the activity down the road.
Perkash told me she actually had bad knees before using Lumo Run but claims the problem went away after using the device.
The device also deviates from other fitness trackers like the Apple Watch, Jawbone or Fitbit in that it does not track such as the calories you burned during activity, your sleep cycle, or overall steps throughout the day – basically Lumo Run snips out any data not pertaining to posture.
If calories burned is important to you like it is to me, you could do what I did on my run and combine Lumo Run with the Moves app or RunKeeper to get your overall mileage with the calories and how much of that was spent running versus walking.
However, posture is something very few running apps and devices take into account and not something more popular devices like the aforementioned Jawbone and Fitbit even consider.
Glance, a running watch by At a Glance, is one of the few other fitness wearables out there aiming to improve your running form while tracking your distance, calories burned, steps and sleep quality. I have not personally reviewed a Glance so I don’t know how the experience compares, but you can purchase one on Amazon for
I have not personally reviewed a Glance so I don’t know how the experience compares, but you can purchase one on Amazon for $129.99. The Lumo Run sensor goes for $99.99 online and the men’s shorts and women’s capris with the sensor clip will round you up to $200.
Lumo’s running app will also guide you through improvements as you run and provides coaching videos to show you how to improve your run over time. You can set goals and let the app
Some of the other features included with Lumo Run:
lab-grade biomechanic measurements – get feedback on your running bounce, cadence, braking, pelvic rotation, and drop.
Feedback using an artificially intelligent coach to help you continue to improve over time
Up to 20 hours on a single charge (during running time)
Run phone free – go out on a run with the sensor and leave your phone at home, then come back to wirelessly sync the data and get updates about your running form.
Waterproof and machine washable
Room for improvement
Lumo Run offers something an app cannot, but it’s not without competition – and the main competitor, Glance, incorporates a lot of other features like calories burned, steps, and sleep quality data for not a whole lot more money. But that’s not to say Lumo couldn’t add those features in.
When and why I would buy
Overall I thought Lumo Run’s sensor was pretty handy and has the potential to prevent serious injury. It’s also cheaper than hiring a running coach to watch your every stride like elite athletes do. Like almost every wearable on the market, I’m not sure I’d use it over time but it’s not a bad price for the data.
As a not-very-hardcore runner, I would be willing to buy it with a few more additions. However, the sensor would be a definite and immediate buy for me, if I were about to run a marathon. The injury prevention promise and improvement in overall time would be enough for me to make a $100 investment and given my overall experience with the product, I would recommend it.
Soylent founder’s abandoned “eco-living experiment” could land him in jail
Soylent’s Rob Rhinehart is facing criminal charges and fines up to $4,000 for allegedly refusing to remove a shipping container he placed on top of a hill behind his home in the Montecito Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The head of the meal replacement startup weirdly named after a movie where they ground up and served people in drink form was charged with unpermitted construction, grading and zoning code violations in Los Angeles court today for a structure he dubbed on social media sites an “eco-living experiment.”
Rhinehart built the structure on a hill within boundaries of his own property but failed to get the proper permits for the structure, according to the City Attorney’s office.
Rhinehart bought the property, which has no water or electricity hookups, for $21,300 at an auction in December, according to Curbed, which first reported the debacle.
The Department of Building and Safety conducted an inspection of the property in January after neighbor complaints and found the unpermitted 9’ x 30’ bright red shipping container on Rhinehart’s lot.
According to prosecutors, Rhinehart abandoned the structure soon after placing it on top of the hill and let it become an “eyesore,” covered in trash and graffiti. The Soylent CEO refused several requests to remove what representatives from the L.A. City Attorney’s office refer to as an “experimental living facility,” inciting ire from neighbors and raising safety concerns.
“Unpermitted structures pose a safety risk. They also can be unsightly and erode the quality of life in a neighborhood,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. “My office will work to hold property owners accountable if they flout our building and safety laws.”
Rhinehart, who could not be reached for comment, met with city attorney’s last month and was asked to remove the structure but has so far refused to do so, according to the prosecution. He is scheduled for arraignment September 7th and could face up to two years in jail.Featured Image: Getty Images
Apple’s Tim Cook is hosting a Clinton campaign fundraiser this August
It’s no secret Hillary Clinton has a friend in Silicon Valley elites. Now Apple CEO Tim Cook will be helping the democratic presidential candidate raise some cash for her campaign next month, according to an invitation letter obtained by BuzzFeed.
Cook, who will be hosting the fundraiser for the Hillary Victory Fund as a private citizen, not as an Apple rep, will be joined by Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives Lisa Jackson. The fundraiser is slated for August 24 and Cook plans to address guests at the event.
Neither the Clinton campaign or Cook could be reached for comment on the fundraiser.
However, Apple’s head chief seems to be working both sides of the political table this election season. He hosted a similar fundraiser for Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.