Airbnb raising a reported $850M at a $30B valuation

Airbnb raising a reported 0M at a B valuation

Tech unicorn and sharing economy darling Airbnb has informed the State of Delaware that it’s raising another heap of cash.

TechCrunch independently verified that Airbnb indicated in a 28 page filing on July 28th that it has plans to bring in additional late-stage capital. Almost a year after its last raise of $1.6 billion, the company is said to be adding $850 million to its coffers, according to information obtained by Equidate.

While $850 million is a ton of cash, it is not the largest round the company has raised. Last year, the company raised $1.5 billion in one of the largest VC rounds in history. The additional capital would only move Airbnb from the fifth to the forth most valuable tech unicorn at a potential valuation of $30 billion (tear).

Mega-rounds have been popular this year with Uber raising a $3.5 billion equity round from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. After the round, Uber followed up with another $1.15 billion, this time in leveraged loans.

Even as a late-stage company, Airbnb has to be increasingly conscious of the capital it takes on. Too much equity dilutes early investors, while too much debt could put investors at risk if valuations were to suddenly tank. Debt as an asset class is paid off before equity.

Airbnb has notoriously taken actions to strategically prolong an IPO, bringing on a $1 billion credit faculty last year to support growth without diluting investors.

The company previously had an approximate valuation of $27 billion, so while the round is large, it doesn’t deviate from prior anti-dilution strategies. With respect to deals that Airbnb reportedly walked away from, the $850 million dollar deal is tame. The Wall Street Journal reported that Airbnb left money on the table, rejecting a deal that would have valued the company at $34 billion.

Also according to the WSJ, investors are concurrently planning to buy approximately $200 million in stock from employees in a buyback program. Stock buyback programs are particularly common among late-stage companies looking to remain private while offering some liquidity to early employees. Buyback programs are catered towards employees rather than venture investors and typically only apply to common stock.

Early investors would have to be bought off the company’s cap-table to remove any pressure from preferred stock holders. Sequoia led a $615,000 seed round in Airbnb back in 2009. According to PitchBook, Sequoia utilized its XII fund for that investment and all follow-on Airbnb investments. That fund was created all the way back in 2006.

This all comes amidst legal battles at home and abroad. Most recently, Airbnb sued the city of San Francisco over a law requiring Airbnb to verify that hosts had filed with the city before advertising their homes.

TechCrunch reached out to Airbnb and other parties involved and will update this post as information comes in.

Featured Image: Carl Court / Staff/Getty Images
Source: TechCrunch

Pokémon Go is now live in 15 more countries in Asia, but not India or China

Pokémon Go is now live in 15 more countries in Asia, but not India or China

The wait is over for many Pokémon Go fans in Asia, after the smash hit game went live in 15 new countries in the continent.

The full list of new countries are: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.

Pokémon Go was initially launched in the U.S. on July 6, before subsequently rolling out to Canada and Europe later. Japan, the home of Pokémon, became its first launch in Asia on July 21 — having been delayed after word of the launch leaked out — and the game made it to Hong Kong four days later. It has also launched in Brazil, where the Olympics are currently being held, and there are more plans for Latin America.

A major expansion in Asia has been expected for some time, but three obvious countries not on the list are India, Korea and China.

In the case of India, where smartphone sales are growing in double-digital percent among its 1.2 billion population, it isn’t clear what is holding the launch up and when the game will go live.

For China, a huge gaming market for mobile, regulations and the game’s reliance on Google Maps are the challenges obstructing a launch, as Niantic CEO John Hanke told Forbes. Hanke also said that security issues with Google Maps in Korea — another lucrative spot for mobile games — have held up the launch, although it is unofficially available in some parts of the country.

Pokémon Go was initially launched in the U.S. on July 6, before subsequently rolling out to Canada and Europe later. Japan, the home of Pokémon, became its first launch country on July 21 — having been delayed after word of the launch leaked out — and the game made it to Hong Kong four days later. It has also launched in Brazil, where the Olympics are currently being held, and there are more plans for Latin America.

The game recently passed 100 million downloads and, in the U.S., its rise is being credited with doubling sales of portable smartphone battery backups. It hasn’t all been plain sailing: the game lags for many users during peak times, it looks like its lucrative revenue growth has slowed, and Niantic upset many gamers recently when it blocked third-party tracking apps.

Featured Image: Erçin Top/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Source: TechCrunch

Crunch Report | Spotify Launches Release Radar

Crunch Report | Spotify Launches Release Radar

New rules fuel the growth of the commercial drone industry

New rules fuel the growth of the commercial drone industry

There are new regulations that will lower the barriers to entry for the commercial operation of drones — and it’s about time. The challenge for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been to establish a framework of rules to regulate how small unmanned aircraft systems (small UAS, or drones) can be used safely in the U.S. air space without undermining the growth of innovative drone-based technology solutions.

The FAA has finally released its new rules (Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems), which will be added as a new section (Part 107) to the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) to allow for safe commercial operations of drones. The view from the industry is that the FAA’s final rules will successfully fuel the proliferation of drone technology for non-recreational applications. This brings enormous excitement to those commercial markets that may be disrupted because of the benefits of drone operations.

New drone technology and steadily decreasing price points have precipitated the explosive growth of drones in hobbyist markets. Hobbyists can use small UAS so long as their operations are strictly for hobby or recreational purposes, they stay five miles from an airport, stay lower than 400 feet above ground level and are within the visual line of sight of the operator. (Hobbyists should check the FAA rules themselves here.) As of December 2015, the FAA mandated that all owners of small UAS weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must register online.

The explosive growth of recreational drones incited demand from businesses seeking to leverage the benefits of drones in their commercial endeavors. Camera crews (such as the Aerobo team of drone operators shown on a live sports event set below) seek to leverage the view from drone cameras for filming a variety of live broadcasts, movies and TV films.

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Realtors seek to use drones to take aerial estate photos for their customers and prospects. Crop management companies want to use them to survey their large fields. Emergency responders want support for their rescue operations. Advances into these commercial uses have been limited by regulations on the use of airspace and privacy concerns.

An interim policy based on approved exemptions

Realizing there would be a delay in establishing a final rule for commercial use of drones, in early 2015 the FAA released an interim policy for commercial UAS operators that was a significant improvement over the previous process that required every commercial UAS operation to be individually evaluated. The interim policy (associated with Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) permitted businesses to apply for an exemption that allowed them to fly small UAS for specific non-recreational low-risk operations under certain defined parameters without the previous level of government oversight.

The FAA’s final regulations for small UAS commercial drone operations are expected to level the playing field for drone-based businesses and assure solid competition.

By the time the final rule (Part 107) was published, the FAA had granted exemptions to more than 5,000 drone operators to permit commercial UAS flights that were otherwise prohibited. While the interim policy was a significant improvement, several restrictions seriously undermined its utility.

The most significant restriction was the requirement that the drone operator needed to have an FAA-issued pilot’s license (for a manned aircraft). Many businesses stalled as a result, reluctant to engage a licensed pilot in their budget-restricted businesses. It is likely that the pilot requirement was a factor in the blossoming of service organizations such as DataWing (shown in the photo below preparing to conduct an aerial mission to perform air sampling and thermal inspection at a landfill).

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Other national drone operator service organizations such as DroneBase and Droners.io expanded their networks, while Skyward powers its global drone network with software and support for commercial drone operators.

Part 107: The new rule for commercial operation of drones

The FAA’s rules for operation and certification for small UAS (summarized here) will go into effect August 29, 2016, establishing routine civil operations and safety. The view from the industry is that the FAA’s final rules will successfully fuel the growth of drone technology for non-recreational applications. This brings enormous excitement to those commercial markets that may be disrupted because of the benefits of drone operations.

The significant change for businesses is that the new Part 107 rule removes the pilot’s license requirement (a requirement with interim policy exemptions) and replaces it with a certification received by taking an in-person, written, drone-specific aeronautical knowledge test designed to ensure that the drone operator knows how to fly safely. Drone operators must also be vetted by TSA, be at least 16 years old, be able to communicate in English and have no physical or mental conditions that interfere with safe flight practices.

The Part 107 rule also establishes requirements for flying a UAS commercially, including:

  • flying below 400 feet above ground (higher if the drone remains within 400 feet of a structure)
  • flying only during daylight or civil twilight within visual line-of-sight (VLOS)
  • flying less than 100 miles per hour

One of the remaining restrictions is that drone operators can’t fly over anyone that is not directly participating in the operation — which may be problematic for unplanned video news coverage.

Because the FAA does not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property, the new rule does not address privacy issues. Nevertheless, the FAA intends to include privacy education during the UAS registration process. They have strongly encouraged all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

Waivers for special applications

In consideration of the fact that small UAS technology is fast changing, with ever-improving performance, innovative technology and new features, a key provision of the Part 107 rule is a waiver mechanism that allows a drone operator to deviate from certain operational restrictions if they set forth sufficient evidence to the FAA that the proposed operation can be performed safely. The waivable portions of Part 107 include:

  • operations from a moving vehicle
  • non-daylight operations
  • beyond visual line-of-sight operation
  • operations over non-participating people
  • operation in certain airspace

The FAA will perform a risk-based evaluation of whether they believe the applicant can maintain an equivalent level of safety.

With the addition of the waivers, there’s a significant amount of flexibility under these rules, which will definitely have a positive impact on the use of drones in growing commercial markets.

Commercial applications

The FAA’s final regulations for small UAS commercial drone operations are expected to level the playing field for drone-based businesses and assure solid competition. The widespread integration of drones over a broad spectrum of commercial uses has already started, as demonstrated by the many businesses that have received exemptions associated with the interim policy.

Manufacturers of drone hardware and software abound as a growing supply chain ecosystem is already catering to early adopters. Many companies now offer vision-system-based aerial business services. Agricultural surveys are seen as one of the most promising commercial applications for drones. For example, the six-pound electric-powered fixed-wing UAS shown below by Unmanned Sensing Systems is part of a turnkey system for crop management companies seeking to perform aerial agricultural inspection, such as crop stress assessment.

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Other aerial business service companies perform pipeline and power line surveying for the energy industry, insurance assessment and 3D dimensional imaging for the construction industry.

Reviewing the list of companies with approved exemptions, most of the recipients plan to use drones equipped with cameras and other sensors for a variety of B2B applications, such as in precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection and mapping, film and TV production, news reporting, real estate, insurance and public safety. Drones are expected to revolutionize these industries in part as a result of the unique aerial perspectives they provide. This will let them do more at a lower cost and a lower risk, with increased efficiency, improved safety and shorter response times. Many of the participants are startups, though large industrial corporations and defense suppliers are also investing in drone technology.

One of the best-known commercial applications for drones is package delivery, which has been proposed by several innovators (including Amazon and Google). Amazon has been promoting the use of self-guided drones for systems designed to deliver packages safely within 30 minutes. While the Part 107 rule will permit limited carrier operations involving package delivery, the one major caveat is that the operations would need to comply with the visual line-of-sight restriction, which explicitly are excluded from waivers. It is felt that this policy will significantly limit the growth of the drone services industry. Apparently, the FAA is taking steps to develop standards that would allow for operations beyond the visual line-of-sight, but this has yet to come.

Featured Image: Dan Bruins
Source: TechCrunch

The Ultimate Gear for Watching the Olympics

The Ultimate Gear for Watching the Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympics will be the hardest Olympics not to watch. This has nothing to do with the quality of the competition or your overall interest in the hammer throw, which hopefully is extremely high. No, this summer’s Games will be hard to avoid because they’ll be available on practically every device you own. Here’s all the best gear for tuning in.

01

Streaming Essentials

Free and paid options abound for watching the Olympics on your phone, tablet, set-top box, and game console. NBCOlympics.com puts it all in your browser. The NBC Sports app works on iOS, Android, Windows Phones, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox. If you want to get spendy, SlingTV ($25/month) and PlayStation Vue ($30/month) provide cable-like coverage.

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Free and paid options abound for watching the Olympics on your phone, tablet, set-top box, and game console. NBCOlympics.com puts it all in your browser. The NBC Sports app works on iOS, Android, Windows Phones, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox. If you want to get spendy, SlingTV ($25/month) and PlayStation Vue ($30/month) provide cable-like coverage.

02

Watch it in 4K HDR

You can watch the Olympics in the best televised experience available today: 4K high-dynamic range (HDR) video. Unfortunately, it’s a chore to figure out if your TV and plan are compatible. Comcast will stream 4K HDR footage via its Xfinity app for Samsung’s latest SUHD TVs. Dish delivers it on channel 146, DirectTV uses channel 106, and you’ll need extra hardware for both of those options. And while they’ll all look stunning, none of them will be live broadcasts.

Samsung

You can watch the Olympics in the best televised experience available today: 4K high-dynamic range (HDR) video. Unfortunately, it’s a chore to figure out if your TV and plan are compatible. Comcast will stream 4K HDR footage via its Xfinity app for Samsung’s latest SUHD TVs. Dish delivers it on channel 146, DirectTV uses channel 106, and you’ll need extra hardware for both of those options. And while they’ll all look stunning, none of them will be live broadcasts.

03

A Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Video isn’t the only great thing about those feeds. In many cases, the audio will be compatible with Dolby Atmos speakers—those sound systems in movie theaters that provide realistic 3-D effects. You’ll need a compatible soundbar to make those immersive effects work, and there are a couple of pricey options on the market: Yamaha’s $1,600 YSP-5600 and Samsung’s $1,500 HW-K950.

Samsung

Video isn’t the only great thing about those feeds. In many cases, the audio will be compatible with Dolby Atmos speakers—those sound systems in movie theaters that provide realistic 3-D effects. You’ll need a compatible soundbar to make those immersive effects work, and there are a couple of pricey options on the market: Yamaha’s $1,600 YSP-5600 and Samsung’s $1,500 HW-K950.

04

Samsung Gear VR

If you’ve got the NBC Sports app, a Samsung Galaxy phone, and a Samsung Gear VR headset, you can also watch some events in VR. These won’t be live broadcasts, but the NBC Sports app should recognize if it’s installed on a compatible phone. If so, it’ll give viewers the option to witness some events in 360-degree video.

Samsung

If you’ve got the NBC Sports app, a Samsung Galaxy phone, and a Samsung Gear VR headset, you can also watch some events in VR. These won’t be live broadcasts, but the NBC Sports app should recognize if it’s installed on a compatible phone. If so, it’ll give viewers the option to witness some events in 360-degree video.

05

An HD antenna

If you’re OK with watching the games in HD, an antenna can pull in a top-notch signal without having to use a cable box. Plug in your antenna, run a channel scan, and then tune into NBC or Telemundo. Buying the right antenna can be tricky. It’s hard to recommend one for everybody, because your home’s surroundings and distance from a broadcast tower are important factors. Your TV has to have a built-in tuner, too, and you may need to invest in an amplified or directional antenna if you’re dozens of miles from a tower.

Getty Images

If you’re OK with watching the games in HD, an antenna can pull in a top-notch signal without having to use a cable box. Plug in your antenna, run a channel scan, and then tune into NBC or Telemundo. Buying the right antenna can be tricky. It’s hard to recommend one for everybody, because your home’s surroundings and distance from a broadcast tower are important factors. Your TV has to have a built-in tuner, too, and you may need to invest in an amplified or directional antenna if you’re dozens of miles from a tower.

06

Keep Your Data Plan in Check

When it comes to streaming the Olympics on your phone or tablet, your viewing appetite may be larger than your data plan. You could always use Wi-Fi, but T-Mobile’s “Binge On” plan lets you stream without using any of your monthly data. NBC Sports, Playstation Vue, and Sling TV are all covered under the Binge On plan.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

When it comes to streaming the Olympics on your phone or tablet, your viewing appetite may be larger than your data plan. You could always use Wi-Fi, but T-Mobile’s “Binge On” plan lets you stream without using any of your monthly data. NBC Sports, Playstation Vue, and Sling TV are all covered under the Binge On plan.

07

Ultimate Mobile Viewing

Phones are big nowadays, but if you want to really show off at the coffee shop, you need something along the lines of a portable wireless television. Panasonic’s ginormous 4K tablet, for example. The Toughpad UT-MB5025 has a 20-inch screen and weighs more than five pounds. Don’t worry about cracking that screen, because it’s built to withstand drops of up to six feet.

Panasonic

Phones are big nowadays, but if you want to really show off at the coffee shop, you need something along the lines of a portable wireless television. Panasonic’s ginormous 4K tablet, for example. The Toughpad UT-MB5025 has a 20-inch screen and weighs more than five pounds. Don’t worry about cracking that screen, because it’s built to withstand drops of up to six feet.

08

Radio? Radio!

You haven’t experienced an Olympic javelin competition until you’ve listened to it on the radio. TuneIn will stream Olympics audio coverage from two NBC stations and four Westwood One stations. It’s the best way to enjoy the games while sipping lemonade on the porch.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You haven’t experienced an Olympic javelin competition until you’ve listened to it on the radio. TuneIn will stream Olympics audio coverage from two NBC stations and four Westwood One stations. It’s the best way to enjoy the games while sipping lemonade on the porch.

09

Damn the Mosquitoes

You’ve spoiled yourself with the sights of the games in VR and the sounds in Dolby Atmos. If you really want to feel like you’re right there in Rio, how about a little bug spray? This Sawyer Picaridin spray is Consumer Reports’ top-rated mosquito repellent. Bonus: It has a “mild corn-chip aroma mixed with citrus,” so you’ll also smell like a bag of Fritos Sal y Limon.

Getty Images

You’ve spoiled yourself with the sights of the games in VR and the sounds in Dolby Atmos. If you really want to feel like you’re right there in Rio, how about a little bug spray? This Sawyer Picaridin spray is Consumer Reports’ top-rated mosquito repellent. Bonus: It has a “mild corn-chip aroma mixed with citrus,” so you’ll also smell like a bag of Fritos Sal y Limon.

10

Virtual Track & Field

Olympic track-and-field events don’t start for about a week. Patience is for suckers. Scratch that non-mosquito itch right now by buying a refurbished arcade version of Konami’s Track & Field on eBay. It costs around 2 grand and includes several games in the series. If you don’t have that kind of cash or space, just watch this YouTube video while smashing two buttons on your keyboard.

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Olympic track-and-field events don’t start for about a week. Patience is for suckers. Scratch that non-mosquito itch right now by buying a refurbished arcade version of Konami’s Track & Field on eBay. It costs around 2 grand and includes several games in the series. If you don’t have that kind of cash or space, just watch this YouTube video while smashing two buttons on your keyboard.

Source: WIRED

Carnegie Mellon’s Mayhem AI takes home $2 million from DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge

Carnegie Mellon’s Mayhem AI takes home million from DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge

The 2016 DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge has concluded, and the winning team — Carnegie Mellon University’s ForAllSecure — is taking home the $2 million grand prize. What’s that you say — what’s the Cyber Grand Challenge? I’m glad you asked!

Like the other challenges the Defense Department’s R&D arm has offered, the CGC is focused on autonomy — but where the original Grand Challenge and Robotics Challenge were about intelligently navigating the real world, this one is about operating in a threat-filled internet.

Seven teams were invited to Las Vegas to compete on the floor in a 96-round game of “Capture the Flag.” It’s a time-tested competitive hacking game in which teams are assigned servers which must perform certain tasks while constantly being fed new code filled with bugs, security holes, and inefficiencies. Teams must protect their own data while attempting to access that of the others — much like real-life CTF.

The difference in this game is that the players in the game were totally autonomous. Normally a human would be looking at and correcting the code, choosing whether and whom to attack, and so on — but for the CGC, all that has to be done by the system.

The idea is, of course, to produce systems that can patch themselves, watch for intrusions, and so on, with minimal human interaction. It’d be nice to know that your computer is looking out for itself.

After some 8 hours of battle at a ballroom in the Paris hotel (some highlights), the victor emerged: ForAllSecure’s “Mayhem,” with second place going to TechX’s Xandra. That’s $2 million and $1 million respectively, on top of the $750,000 each of the 7 finalists already received.

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What’s more, Mayhem is, as of this writing, the first autonomous CTF system to play against humans. The team was invited to enter the CTF tournament at the neighboring DEF CON, and the game is afoot.

The manager of the CGC program, Mike Walker, promptly threw Mayhem under the bus.

“I don’t expect Mayhem to finish well,” he said in the DARPA press release. “This competition is played by masters and this is their home turf. Any finish for the machine save last place would be shocking.”

Not the nicest thing to say about a champion AI that just took first place in an incredibly sophisticated virtual game, but he probably knows what he’s talking about. I’ll update this post when we find out how Mayhem fares against flesh and blood.

Featured Image: DARPA CGC
Source: TechCrunch

Robots will cover the Olympics for The Washington Post

Robots will cover the Olympics for The Washington Post

The Washington Post announced today that it will use artificial intelligence to report key information about the Olympics.

The software will contribute The Post’s coverage of Rio 2016 by posting raw data and short updates, while a team of human reporters will provide readers with analysis and more in-depth articles.

Heliograf, as the team calls its robot reporter, will take information from sports data company Stats.com and turn it into short narratives.

Starting tomorrow morning, these multi-sentence updates will appear in the Post’s live blog, on Twitter at @WPOlympicsbot and via the Post’s bot for Facebook Messenger. An audio version will be available on Amazon Echo.

A look at how the Twitter updates will appear, using 2012 Olympics data. (Source: The Washington Post)

A look at how the Twitter updates will appear, using 2012 Olympics data. (Source: The Washington Post)

The goal is to post more than 300 stories on the live blog and 600 updates on Twitter, Echo and Messenger during the Olympics, said Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post. The live blog will feature updates not only from Heliograf, but also from the Post’s correspondents in Rio and the sports team in DC.

“The goal of Heliograph is not in any way to eliminate even a single journalism job,” said Gilbert. “We’ve been hiring like crazy.”

The newsroom overall has added 140 journalists since Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013, according to the communications department.

“Finding amazing sources, discovering interesting stories, analyzing things are the things we want great reporters to focus on,” Gilbert added. “We want humans to tell stories that only humans can tell.”

Tomorrow, Heliograf’s first task will be telling the story of the Olympics medals in the form of one- to three-sentence updates. During the games, the service will keep readers posted about the schedule of the competitions, medal results and medals rankings by country, among other things.

As for the editing part of the process, Gilbert explained: “There won’t be stories that are going up, either written by humans or written by Heliograf, that won’t be edited by human editors. That said, we’re going to publish into the live blog and then we’ll be reviewing.”

Heliograf has a safety mechanism to check the data, explained Sam Han, engineering director of data science at the Post. The systems analyzes the data automatically; if any potential error or suspicious results are identified, Heliograf reports them to the editorial staff.

The software was developed in-house starting six months ago by using data from primary elections during the testing phase.

It’s not the first time a media outlet has experimented with automated storytelling. In July, AP Sports announced they had started using “robot” reporters to cover Minor League Baseball.

Heliograf is also going to be part of The Washington Post’s coverage of the upcoming presidential election.

Featured Image: David Ramos/Getty Images
Source: TechCrunch

The ‘McDonald’s of the future’ features touchscreens and free fries

The ‘McDonald’s of the future’ features touchscreens and free fries

Previously known as the starting point of the Pony Express and the place where Jesse James died and Eminem was born, St. Joseph, Missouri now has a new claim to fame, as the home the future of fast food. It’s a future that apparently includes lots of touchscreens and, for a limited time, unlimited fries.

The self-stylized “McDonald’s of the Future” joins a recently opened New York City franchise as a sign of the direction the world’s largest restaurant chain looks to head in, moving forward. The key of both are self-serve kiosks, a vaguely futuristic crash course at Hamburger University.

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Using touchscreens (or “grease depositories” as they’re known in the industry), customers can make their own customized burgers and sandwiches, featuring such non-standard McDonald’s menu items as maple bacon and guacamole. For the first few months, at least, those orders will come with bottomless fries – a fact that no doubt contributed to the newly opened location being a mad house today.

There’s also a big interactive play area featuring projections and interactive games. The move marks McDonald’s push to upgrade itself as a member of the “fast-casual” set, a group of somewhat higher end chain restaurants that includes the likes of Chipotle and Panera.

The move seems to be working – one customer told the Kansas City Star that the new Mickey D’s is, “the nicest looking restaurant in St. Joseph.”

Source: TechCrunch

Google’s self-driving car CTO departs the project

Google’s self-driving car CTO departs the project

Google’s self-driving car project is losing Chris Urmson, who served as the unit’s CTO and lead technical resource after going the company from Carnegie Mellon. Urmson has considerable status among roboticist in the world of autonomous vehicles, but said in a Medium post announcing his departure that he was “ready for a fresh challenge,” without specifying what exactly he’s doing next.

Urmson called being part of the project “a tremendous privilege and honor,” and said he has “every confidence act the mission” of building a fully self-driving car at Google is in “capable hands.”

He isn’t the only member of that team to depart recently, however: The New York Times reports that two other engineers on the project, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, who work specifically on machine vision tech, have also left, with the specific aim of building a new, still stealth startup.

The move comes just a day after Google self-driving car unit CEO John Krafcik spoke to Bloomberg about the project. Krafcik spoke about the team’s makeup in his interview, saying it contained ” a surprising number of car geeks,” and that the group included “a lot of hard-core software-coding types as well.”

Krafcik joined Google in September 2015 from Hyundai, where he was CEO and President of the company’s U.S. operation.

Via Recode

Featured Image: Chesnot/Getty Images
Source: TechCrunch

NASA funds long shots aiming to make electric and eco-friendly aircraft

NASA funds long shots aiming to make electric and eco-friendly aircraft

One of these days we’re going to see aircraft go electric, just as cars are — but not for a while. In the meantime, we can’t slack off when it comes to the research that will make it possible. NASA has announced five research projects that may help make planes more efficient and green.

It’s part of the organization’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program, which has dozens of such projects aimed at improving or (as the name suggests) transforming aviation. These five were picked from a series of pitches made to the TACP team, Startup Battlefield style (or close, anyway).

The thing preventing electric aircraft from taking off, so to speak, boils down to a lack of energy: even the best batteries can’t store nearly as much power as an equivalent volume of jet fuel. We can make better use of the energy we can store by making aircraft lighter and their propulsion more efficient, but ultimately the batteries themselves need to get better.

One project is aimed at accomplishing that last goal with the creation of Lithium-Air batteries, which use oxygen as the active electron carrier, sucking it in when they’re being discharged and expelling it when charging. Li-Air batteries could theoretically achieve fossil fuel-like energy density, but there are serious technical challenges — ones the NASA team will be looking at.

Replacing the battery with a fuel cell is another option; one project is looking into the possibility of a super-efficient cell that would combine oxygen from the air with the hydrogen from jet fuel to produce electricity, then use the exhaust to drive a turbine. It would still be using fossil fuels, but it would be extracting more energy from them and doing it in a much cleaner way.

The electric engine being driven by that energy could also be more efficient; 3D printing might be a solution. Improved additive manufacturing techniques may enable smaller, more power-dense motors — or if not, at least make them lighter.

Airplane Skyline Horizon Flight Cloud ConceptAnother way to save weight is to lose some off the body of the plane itself. The vertical tail fin is used to center the plane, but it also adds drag. NASA is looking into the possibility of using adjustable winglets that can serve as stabilizers during take-off and landing, but flatten out for better aerodynamics during flight. This would reduce the need for a large tail fin, so the plane could be both lighter and present a lower profile.

The last project isn’t quite green, but it’s still interesting. Unmanned aerial vehicles currently need to be operated within radio line of sight; satellite tracking would be better, but the antennas required are bulky. Researchers are investigating the possibility of an aerogel-based antenna that conforms closely to the contours of the aircraft yet enables transmission and receiving in multiple directions.

NASA doesn’t expect all or even any of the projects to bear fruit — “Is failure an option? It depends on your definition of failure,” said the TACP manager, Doug Rohn, in the news release. Really, the point isn’t to make the things described above, but to determine whether they realistically can be made, and the answer may well be no — at least for now.

Featured Image: NASA
Source: TechCrunch