Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Roblox, the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year.

Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further.

And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive.

With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly.

The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says.

In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. The kids will learn how to create, publish and market their games to others.


The company will also run its 4th annual Roblox Summer Accelerator, and host 45 young developers at its HQ for the summer. The program has previously produced some of the more popular Roblox titles, like MeepCity and Lumber Tycoon.

And it will host its annual Roblox Developer Conference in San Francisco July 13-15, 2018, and in Amsterdam August 17-19, 2018. It’s doubling the number of attendees this year at both.

Finally, Roblox will host its first Creator Challenge with Universal, where kids learn tricks of game building via a Jurassic Park-themed, self-paced course.

“Roblox’s mission is to power and fuel imagination while inspiring a new generation of creators,” said Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox, said in a statement about the launch. ”We are thrilled to be launching our education initiative that gives young people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop the crucial skills needed to be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and creators.”

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Come mix your realities at our AR/VR event in LA in October

TechCrunch is hosting one of our single-topic Sessions events centered on AR/VR and mixed reality in Los Angeles on October 18th at UCLA’s Royce Hall. We’re going to be doing some very cool stuff that we’re not quite ready to talk about, but at the core we’re looking to have incredible discussions with the best and brightest in reality creation.

The goal is to get folks into one room to see some demos, hear some talks and take part in a salon of sorts about the state of AR/VR. We’ll talk shop, philosophy, hardware, software and inclusion.

As someone who has logged hundreds of hours in a headset, reported on the space and been an advocate of what augmented and virtual realities could do for us, I’m pretty excited. I’ll be programming the event personally, along with our crack reporter in the space, Lucas Matney. The show promises to be bang-up cool with attention paid to the hardware and software that will enable the next generation of experiences in the augmented reality and virtual reality worlds, as well as some more metaphysical chit chat about how we all go about building these worlds.

Check out the site for Sessions: AR/VR 2018; we’ll be fleshing it out with speakers and more details as we lock them down. You can grab early tickets here for $95, which includes access to all the day’s talks and demos and, if you’re a student, we’ve got special tickets just for you here for $45.

More to come soon. See you in October!

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Steve Case and JD Vance are speaking at Disrupt SF on startup opportunities outside of Silicon Valley

We’re excited to announce Steve Case and JD Vance will sit down for a fireside chat at Disrupt SF this September. There’s plenty to talk about, too, including the pair’s latest venture: A massive $150 million seed fund backed by an impressive group of investors that are targeted at startups outside of Silicon Valley.

As The New York Times put it after the fund’s announcement, the complete list of investors in the Rise of the Rest fund “may be the greatest concentration of American wealth and power in one investment fund.” It includes among others Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, John Doerr, Jim Breyer, Dan Gilbert and members of the Walton, Koch and Pritzker families.

This fund is core to what Case and Vance are championing at Revolution . The Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm primarily backs companies outside of major tech hubs. At Disrupt New York in May, Case told the audience that many regions are overlooked simply because investors can’t “get in their cars and drive to those companies” and he wants to convince other VCs to look outside of their comfort zones.

In August of 2017 Steve Case, founder of AOL and Revolution, tapped JD Vance to run Revolution as its Managing Partner.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to be comfortable with being the media-dubbed spokesperson,” Vance told TechCrunch at the time. “But I do think you can talk about the issues and try to raise awareness or you can do something about the issues — my goal here is to try to do both. There’s an opportunity I’ve been given here with the platform the book has afforded.”

Vance is seemingly of the same mind as Case. In his book, which is a must read by the way, Hillbilly Elegy, he lays out his upbringing in Appalachia’s working class and explains the importance of striving to overcome obstacles — and startups outside the Valley have different obstacles to overcome than those located around San Francisco. As the managing partner of Revolution, we hear he has a keen focus that resonates with founders. Vance served in the Golf War, eventually graduating from The Ohio State and Yale and went on to serve as a law clerk and a principle at Peter Thiel’s  VC firm, Mithril Capital Management LLC.

Steve Case spoke at Disrupt NY last year about his current passion in shining a light on startups outside traditional tech hubs.

“It’s worth remembering that Detroit 75 years ago was like the Silicon Valley,” said Case at Disrupt NY in 2017. “At the time, it was the hottest innovation city in the country, because the automobile was the hot new technology at the time. Silicon Valley was like fruit orchards. These things change. But they lost their way. Detroit lost 60 percent of its population in the last 50 years and they went bankrupt because they lost their entrepreneur mojo.”

Case’s fireside chat was fascinating and we’re thrilled to have him back with Revolution’s managing partner, JD Vance. While Disrupt SF happens in the heart of Silicon Valley, there are plenty of founders, developers and investors who are constantly looking for opportunities in new regions — just like Steve Case and JD Vance.

If you’re looking to purchase tickets to Disrupt, you can grab those right here.

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VMware announces the end of its enterprise collaboration platform Socialcast

It seems the enterprise collaboration software competition is just heating up, but one platform is already dropping out of the race. VMware recently announced the end of availability of Socialcast, effective May 17, 2018.

Socialcast was first acquired by VMware in May 2011. At the time, the companies described the solution as a “collaboration platform [that] unites people, applications and data in real-time.”

“The acquisition of Socialcast lets us continue to move towards a user-centric environment, allowing organizations to deliver access to applications and data to any device, anywhere,” VMware wrote.

According to Mike Hicks, vice president of strategy at the digital workplace company Igloo Software, the product could not keep up with the other collaboration solutions on the market such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.

“Businesses’ communication and collaboration needs are increasingly versatile. While an office social network can be a strong asset for certain forms of communication, it may not be an effective means for knowledge sharing, like providing employees with company guidelines or policies. Companies need a solution that can serve all their needs via a single platform. There is an overabundance of apps in the marketplace, and leaders are looking for solutions that integrate seamlessly and can house all communication and collaboration needs in one place. Unlike Socialcast, the leading platforms provide productivity, innovation and competitive advantage benefits, aside from just a social network,” Hicks said.

VMware plans to continue to support the platform for paid licenses until May 17, 2019, and will be working to find an alternative solution for users whose platform commitment extends beyond the year. VMware plans to decommission the free version by August 1, 2018. “We encourage you to begin investigating replacement options for your enterprise social collaboration solution and to export all data for your community prior to that date,” the company wrote.

Before choosing a new enterprise social solution, Hicks suggests Socialcast users do a retrospective of their time using Socialcast to determine the functionality they are looking for and the limitations they faced with the platform. “Socialcast customers should look at this as an opportunity to reframe their thinking and build a complete digital workplace that revolves around the 4 key pillars of communication, collaboration, knowledge management and culture, so they can move beyond the noise to start increasing productivity and building a strong corporate culture,” he said.

Enterprise collaboration solutions should be able to scale, provide a set of capabilities, and reduce the risk of silos. “For example, they need to do more than just allow employees to chat with one another. There needs to be other capabilities that allow for a fuller collaboration experience. For instance, a digital workplace helps employees collaborate, strengthen teams, and improve information sharing,” Hicks explained.

More information about Socialcast’s end of life is available here.

The post VMware announces the end of its enterprise collaboration platform Socialcast appeared first on SD Times.

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The Microsoft Launcher for Android now lets you track your kids’ whereabouts

Microsoft is launching an update to its Android launcher today that gives parents the ability to track their kids’ location. This is one out of a number of parent- and kid-focused announcements the company made today. Others include the ability to block sites in Microsoft Edge on Android and the launch of MSN Kids, a new curated news website for children.

At the core of these new features are Microsoft’s family group settings that already allowed you to do things like track a child’s activity on Windows 10 and Xbox One devices or limit screen time in general.

“As a mother to a young and curious daughter, I deeply understand the need for tools to help balance the use of technology in the home as well as out of the home,” writes Shilpa Ranganathan, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Mobile Experiences group, in today’s announcement. “It’s especially near and dear to me as leader of a team building experiences for mobile devices. We emphasize the idea of transparency as a guiding principle for these new experiences.”

The new tracking tool is rolling out with today’s update of the Microsoft Launcher for Android and will put the latest known location of your kids right in its personalized news feed.

I’m not sure how useful blocking access to sites in Edge for Android really is, but if you manage to lock your kids out from Chrome or any other pre-installed browser — and block them from downloading them — then I guess this could work.

As for MSN Kids, Microsoft notes that the site will curate information from trusted sources, including Time for Kids, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic, and USA TODAY. It’s worth noting that there is no sponsored content or advertising on the site.


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Spotify’s CEO says company botched ‘hateful conduct’ policy roll out

Two weeks after his company attempted to impose a policy targeted at curbing “hate content and hateful conduct,” Spotify’s CEO admitted the company mishandled its roll out.

During an interview at this week’s Code Conference, Daniel Ek told the crowd, “The whole goal with this was to make sure that we didn’t have hate speech on the service. It was never about punishing one individual artist, or even naming one individual artist as well.”

The policy, introduced on May 10, pulled certain artists from Spotify’s curated content streams over bad conduct in their personal lives. Pushback on the policy was almost instantaneous, and reports surfaced last week that Spotify was rethinking its approach. In particular, rapper XXXTencion, who was one of two artists single out by the service (along with R. Kelly), was reportedly going to be added back to Spotify’s popular Rap Caviar playlist at some unspecified point. 

Ek acknowledged that the implementation could have been handled better, and that Spotify’s intention was never to play the role of “moral police.” The executive added that the policy is continuing to evolve, with Spotify soliciting user feedback. Among the many thorny issues the company is navigating here is how to address those artists who have been accused — but not actually charged or convicted — of a given crime.

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Klaxoon gets $50M to try to make boring meetings more interactive and productive

If you’ve ever been in a pointless meeting at work, odds are you’ve spent part of the time responding to messages or just putzing around on the Internet — but Klaxoon hopes to convert that into something a bit more productive with more interactive meetings.

The French startup today said it’s raised $50 million in a new financing round led by Idinvest Partners, with early round investors BPI, Sofiouest, Arkea and White Star Capital Fund also participating. The company offers a suite of tools designed to make those meetings more engaging and generally just cut down on useless meetings with a room of bored and generally unengaged people that might be better off working away at their desk or even taking other meetings. The company has raised about $55.6 million in total.

The whole point of Klaxoon is to make meetings more engaging, and there are a couple ways to do that. The obvious point is to translate what some classrooms are doing in the form of making the whole session more engaging with the use of connected devices. You might actually remember those annoying clickers in classrooms used to answer multiple choice questions throughout a session, but it is at least one way to engage people in a room — and offering a more robust way of doing that may be something that helps making the session as a whole more productive.

Klaxoon also offers other tools like an interactive whiteboard (remember Smartboards, also in classrooms?) as well as a closed networks for meeting participants that aims to be air-gapped from a broader network so those employees can conduct a meeting in private or if the room isn’t available. All this is wrapped together with a set of analytics to help employees — or managers — better conduct meetings and generally be more productive. All this is going to be more important going forward as workplaces become more distributed, and it may be tempting to just have a virtual meeting on one screen while either working on a different one — or just messing around on the Internet.

Of course, lame meetings are a known issue — especially within larger companies. So there are multiple interpretations of ways to try to fix that problem, including Worklytics — a company that came out of Y Combinator earlier this year — that are trying to make teams more efficient in general. The idea is that if you are able to reduce the time spent in meetings that aren’t really productive, that’ll increase the output of a team in general. The goal is not to monitor teams closely, but just find ways to encourage them to spend their time more wisely. Creating a better set of productivity tools inside those meetings is one approach, and that’s what Klaxoon seems to hope is the one that plays out.

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This newly funded startup wants to help women gauge their reproductive health a lot sooner in life

It’s often the case that women don’t think much about their reproductive health until they have to. Sometimes it begins with an aside from a well-meaning gynecologist — or one’s impatient parents. Sometimes, it’s because a couple is ready to try conceiving and it’s proving harder than they imagined it would be.

A San Francisco-based startup called Modern Fertility wants to educate women about their reproductive health much earlier in their lives, enabling them to become more “proactive” instead of reactive, says cofounder and CEO Afton Vechery, who worked formerly as a product manager at the genetic testing company 23andMe and, before that, at a healthcare-focused private equity firm in Greenwich, Ct.

At both places, she learned a lot about the growing number of companies that are empowering customers with information about their own bodies. She also learned, particularly at 23andMe, about the importance of making that information affordable. Indeed, after shelling out $1,500 for tests run by an reproductive endocrinologist to get a better picture of her own reproductive health, Vechery set out to create similar tests that one needn’t be a Rockefeller to order. Toward that end, an at-home finger-prick hormone test that Modern Fertility began selling today sells for $199.

The vast difference in price owes to economies of scale, says Vechery. Because there are just 500 infertility clinics in the U.S. and roughly 6,000 endocrinologists — just 2,000 of which are focused on reproductive health — the cost of individual testing has been prohibitively high. Modern Fertility meanwhile has “systems and tech and integrations that support a high volume of tests” conducted at the same time, she says, explaining that with volume comes discounted pricing.

Modern Fertility is not analyzing its customers’ hormones itself. It is using Quest Diagnostics, the 50 year-old, publicly traded clinical laboratory company. (“We’re not making new instruments,” says Vechery. “Our differentiation is in access and the information that we provide to women.”)

In fact, Modern Fertility is also billing itself as more of an educational company than anything else. While it tell consumers about nine hormone levels related to ovarian reserves and overall reproductive health — which can be important, especially when it comes to considerations around egg freezing —  much of what it offers is related content based on peer-reviewed studies about menopause and when women typically start to lose their fertility.

Customers also receive one optional one-on-one phone consultation with a fertility nurse who won’t give out medical advice but can share more information about which hormones are being tracked and why.

For the price, that may be enough for many women. It was enough for investors. They just provided the startup with $6 million in funding led by Maveron and Union Square Ventures, which were joined by Sound Ventures, #Angels, SV Angel and additional individual investors.

No doubt these backers see a future where an offering like that from Modern Fertility is a perk offered by employers, more of which are offering fertility benefits to keep their employees happy and in place. Already, Vechery says that a “handful of companies” are interested in layering Modern Fertility’s tests into their other wellness benefits.

Modern Fertility is also counting on repeat customers, given that re-taking every now and then will give a woman a better idea of how her “fertility curve” is changing over time.

In the meantime, she says, Modern Fertility — cofounded by Carly Leahy, a creative strategist who moved to California from Boston in 2014 after Google recruited her and who most recently logged two years at Uber —  will be adding to its current, eight-person team.

It will also be “trying to understand the best way it can get this information” to potential customers, says Vechery.

“We want to meet women where there are and educate them that this type of testing is important.”

Pictured above: Modern Fertility cofounders Afton Vechery, left, and Carly Leahy

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AWS launches pay-per-session pricing for its QuickSight BI tool

Amazon QuickSight, the company’s business intelligence tool for AWS, launched back in 2015, but it’s hard to say how much impact the service has made in the highly competitive BI market. The company has far from given up on this project, though, and today, it’s introducing a new pay-per-session pricing plan for access to QuickSight dashboards that is surely meant to give it a bit of a lift in a market where Tableau and Microsoft’s Power BI have captured much of the mindshare.

Under the new pricing plan, creating and publishing dashboards will stay cost $18 per user and month. For readers, though, who only need to have access to these dashboards, AWS now offers a very simple option: they will now pay $0.30 per session up to a maximum of $5 per month and user. Under this scheme, a session is defined as the first 30 minutes from login.

Previously, AWS offered two tiers of QuickSight plans: a $9 per user/month standard plan and a $24/user/month enterprise edition with support for Active Directory and encryption at rest.

That $9/user/month is still available and probably still makes sense for smaller companies where those who build dashboards and consume them are often the same person. The new pricing plan replaces the existing enterprise edition.

QuickSight already significantly undercuts the pricing of services like Tableau and others, though we’re also talking about a somewhat more limited feature set. This new pay-per-session offering only widens the pricing gap.

“With highly scalable object storage in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), data warehousing at one-tenth the cost of traditional solutions in Amazon Redshift, and serverless analytics offered by Amazon Athena, customers are moving data into AWS at an unprecedented pace,” said Dorothy Nicholls, Vice President of Amazon QuickSight at AWS, in a canned comment. “What’s changed is that virtually all knowledge workers want easy access to that data and the insights that can be derived. It’s been cost-prohibitive to enable that access for entire companies until the Amazon QuickSight pay-per-session pricing — this is a game-changer in terms of information and analytics access.”

Current QuickSight users include the NFL, Siemens, Volvo and AutoTrader.

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Waymo expands autonomous driving partnership with Fiat Chrysler

On the same day of a massive $2.25 billion Softbank investment into General Motors’ Cruise, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is announcing an expanded partnership with Waymo that will add up to 62,000 more Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Waymo’s self-driving car fleet later this year. This isn’t too surprising, given Waymo said earlier this year that it had ordered thousands of new Chrysler Pacifica’s from FCA.

Waymo and FCA are also exploring ways to license Waymo’s self-driving car technology in order to deploy the tech in cars for consumers.

“FCA is committed to bringing self-driving technology to our customers in a manner that is safe, efficient and realistic,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. “Strategic partnerships, such as the one we have with Waymo, will help to drive innovative technology to the forefront.”

This expanded partnership comes a couple of months after Waymo partnered with Jaguar to introduce a premium self-driving car. Earlier this year, Waymo began testing its Chrysler self-driving car fleet in San Francisco.  As of May 18, Waymo had 51 cars registered with the state of California for self-driving testing with a safety driver. Waymo has also applied for driverless testing in California.

Waymo’s plan is to launch a full-fledged self-driving transportation service later this year. The idea is for anyone to be able to pop open the Waymo app to request a driverless vehicle. Since 2009, Waymo has logged six million miles driven on public roads, five billion miles in simulated environments and run tests covering more than 20,000 types of driving scenarios.

“Waymo’s goal from day one has been to build the world’s most experienced driver and give people access to self-driving technology that will make our roads safer,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a statement. “We’re excited to deepen our relationship with FCA that will support the launch of our driverless service, and explore future products that support Waymo’s mission.”

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