GrapeCity introduces imaging API for .NET Standard 2.0

Enterprise software development tool provider GrapeCity has announced Documents for Imaging .NET Standard 2.0 (GcImaging) to its documents API product line. Developers can now create, load, modify and save images in .NET Standard 2.0 apps with this latest release.

According to the company, GcImaging was created out of a need for a .NET Standard 2.0 imaging library. “GcImaging for .NET Standard 2.0 is ideal for developers needing to produce accurate images for image transmission. For example, in the healthcare and medical industries, GcImaging can be used to generate images from X-rays and ultrasounds to detect conditions for patient screening. Photographers can dither high-color-depth images to view on low-color-depth environments, like embedded systems,” the company wrote in its announcement.

Other use cases include analyzing remotely-sensed images and enhancing images for acoustic imaging, according to GrapeCity’s product manager Shilpa Sharma.

Top features include the ability to

  • Load and save images from popular formats like BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG and TIFF
  • Process images in code
  • Draw graphics on images
  • Draw text on images
  • Work with TIFF images
  • Covert images
  • Extract Exif metadata from images
  • Watermark images

The release also comes with full support on Windows, macOS and Linux, and can be deployed as a functions-as-a-service with AWS Lambda, Azure functions and other cloud services, the company explained.

The post GrapeCity introduces imaging API for .NET Standard 2.0 appeared first on SD Times.

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Net neutrality battle gets a new day in court tomorrow

More than a year after net neutrality was essentially abolished by a divided Federal Communications Commission, a major legal challenge supported by dozens of companies and advocates has its day in court tomorrow. Mozilla v. FCC argues that the agency’s decision was not just dead wrong, but achieved illegally.

“We’re not just going into court to argue that the FCC made a policy mistake,” said Public Knowledge VP Chris Lewis in a statement. “It broke the law, too. The FCC simply failed in its responsibility to engage in reasoned decision-making.”

Oral arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals commence Friday, February 1, though the FCC attempted to have the date put off due to the shutdown — and the request was denied.

The legal challenge is one of several tacks being taken against the FCC’s replacement of 2015’s net neutrality rules with a much weaker one last year. As with any rule or law, there are multiple avenues for dissent; a direct legal challenge is among the quickest and most public.

Mozilla, along with Vimeo, Etsy, Public Knowledge, INCOMPAS, and a number of other companies and organizations, filed the challenge shortly after the new rules took effect, but these things take time to creep through the court system.

The lawsuit has a number of primary arguments against the rulemaking (you can read the full brief here), but they boil down to two basic ideas, which I’ve attempted to summarize below:

First and most important, the FCC’s entire argument that broadband is not a telecommunications service is false. This argument goes back decades, and you can read the history of it here. The short version is: telecommunication services move data from point to point, and information services do things with that data. The FCC argues that because broadband connections let you, for example, buy something online, that connection essentially is a store.

Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh made this same very elementary mistake and was set right by a judge a couple years ago. It’s basically indefensible and no one who understands how the internet works agrees with it. As the Mozilla filing puts it, the argument “confuse[s] the road with the destination.”

The FCC also says that DNS services and caching, some of the nuts and bolts of how the internet and web work, count as information services — which is perfectly true — and that because broadband uses them, it too is an information service instead of telecommunications — which is ridiculous. It’s like saying that if a road has signs on it, the road is itself a sign. Nope. The filing again resorts to metaphor, saying “a few drops of fresh water do not turn an ocean into a lake.”

This is the primary support for the FCC’s entire case, and removing it would essentially nullify the entire new set of rules, since if the judges agree that broadband is in fact telecommunications, the industry is governed by a whole different set of statutes under the Communications Act. There are numerous other sub-arguments here that could also come into play.

Second, the FCC’s decision is “arbitrary and capricious,” and thus illegal under the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires certain standards of evidence and method to be shown in the establishment of such rules. This is supported in a number of ways, including the authority argument above. It also failed to address consumer and other complaints during the rulemaking process.

The FCC also does not justify its argument that the broadband industry is better suited to regulation by antitrust authorities, and does not justify rejection of certain other statutory authorities under which the FCC could be responsible for some of the rules. “The FCC does not adequately explain why other statutes, developed to address other problems, just happen to do the job Congress assigned to the FCC,” argue Mozilla et al.

The agency’s cost-benefit analysis, documentation required for new rules like this, is also inadequate, they argue. Certainly economic analysis of multiple major industries can be debated forever, but there are pretty basic questions unanswered or evaded here, which weakens the FCC’s entire case.

For the record, the FCC’s arguments and counter-arguments are set forth in the rule itself and court filings largely reiterate the same points.

All these arguments are not particularly new — they’ve been brought out and revised multiple times both before and after the net neutrality decision. But this is an important setting in which for them to be addressed. This panel of judges could essentially render the FCC’s rules or rulemaking process inadequate, illegal, or incorrect — or all three — and send the agency back to the drawing board.

These decisions take a great deal of time to arrive, so be ready for a wait just like the one we’ve had for the arguments to make it to court in the first place. But the wheels are in motion and it could be that in a few months’ time net neutrality will have new life.

Of course, if the FCC won’t keep net neutrality around, states will — and that’s a whole other legal battle waiting to happen.

“Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are going to wish they never picked this fight with the Internet,” said Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer. “Internet activists are continuing to fight in the courts, in Congress, and in the states. Net neutrality is coming back with a vengeance. It’s only a matter of time.”

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Congress needs your input (but don’t call it crowdsourcing)

Like many modern digital innovations, “crowdsourcing” is a concept borrowed from the commercial tech industry. It is a method to solicit ideas from the Internet masses to complete a task or solve a challenge.  It seems a perfect fit for Congress, an entire branch of government stuck in the past, losing public legitimacy and increasingly ineffective in policymaking.

Even though it is the world’s most powerful representative assembly, Congress is working at 45% less expert capacity than it had in the 1970s.  It has remained in this state of dereliction despite accumulating millions more constituents and demands for consideration. Plus,  its most important policy bridge to the public–committee hearings–have declined, sometimes by 50% or more.

It’s obvious that Congress could use collaborative assistance.

Yet in a weaponized information environment, crowdsourcing appears unproductive and even ominous.  Take social media platforms. Five years ago, Facebook and Twitter looked like promising venues for more regular voices to provide feedback in the policy making process. But given the lack of civic guardrails like moderation or verified identity, that  “crowd” too often behaves like a hired mob.

My colleague Nate Wong is familiar with crowdsourcing from his years of consulting.  He notes that before throwing our hands up, there are some key elements of crowdsourcing to unpack.  “Some people would say that crowdsourcing works, but it’s not as effective because the crowd is not curated well.”

At this time, crowdsourcing does not work for policy making in Congress because participants are not organized for it and the institution itself lacks a curation method for credible input.

Years ago, author James Surowiecki noted that crowds can be wise if they are diverse, if individuals are independent, and if participants are decentralized with locally specific knowledge. Crucially, there also needs to be a mechanism for aggregating input.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Congress should be this mechanism. Informed public deliberation should be its forte.  But right now, our system does not have the capacity nor the incentives to reap the benefits of collective wisdom.   Before we jump to crowdsourcing, we must ask ourselves, how much assistance can be useful outside the institution unless the in-house capacity exists to process it? And, how much can we citizens expect our leaders to take risks on behalf of democratic discourse when flash-mobs, ambush tactics and armies of contempt lurk in every public space?   As it stands, Congress does not have the technical infrastructure to ingest all this new input in any systematic way. Individual members lack a method to sort and filter signal from noise or trusted credible knowledge from malicious falsehood and hype.

What Congress needs is curation, not just more information.

Curation means discovering, gathering and presenting content.   This word is commonly thought of as the job of librarians and museums, places we go to find authentic and authoritative knowledge. Similarly, Congress needs methods to sort and filter information as required within the workflow of lawmaking.  From personal offices to committees, members and their staff need context and informed judgement based on broadly defined expertise. The input can come from individuals or institutions. It can come from the wisdom of colleagues in Congress or across the federal government.  Most importantly it needs to be rooted in local constituents and it needs to be trusted.

It is not to say that crowdsourcing is unimportant for our governing system. But input methods that include digital must demonstrate informed and accountable deliberative methods over time.  Governing is the curation part of democracy. Governing requires public review, understanding of context, explanation and measurements of value for the nation as a whole. We are already thinking about how to create an ethical blockchain.  Why not the same attention for our most important democratic institution?

Governing requires tradeoffs that elicit emotion and sometimes anger. But as in life, emotions require self-regulation. In Congress, this means compromise and negotiation.  In fact, one of the reasons Congress is so stuck is that its own deliberative process has declined at every level. Besides the official committee process stalling out, members have few opportunities to be together as colleagues, and public space is increasingly antagonistic and dangerous.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

With so few options, members are left with blunt communications objects like clunky mail management systems and partisan talking points.  This means that lawmakers don’t use public input for policy formation as much as to surveil public opinion.

Any path forward to the 21st century must include new methods to (1) curate and hear from the public in a way that informs policy AND (2) incorporate real data into a results-driven process.

While our democracy is facing unprecedented stress, there are bright spots.  Congress is again dedicating resources to an in-house technology assessment capacity.  Earlier this month, the new 116th Congress created a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.  It will be chaired by Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA, 6).   Then the Open Government Data Act became law.  This law will potentially scale the level of access to government data to unprecedented levels.  It will require that all public facing federal data must be machine-readable and reusable. This is a move in the right direction, and now comes the hard part.

Marci Harris, the CEO of civic startup Popvox put it well, “The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act, which includes the OPEN Government Data Act, lays groundwork for a more effective, accountable government. To realize the potential of these new resources, Congress will need to hire tech literate staff and incorporate real data and evidence into its oversight and legislative functions.”

In forsaking its own capacity for complex problem solving, Congress has become non-competitive in the creative process that moves society forward.  During this same time period, all eyes turned toward Silicon Valley to fill the vacuum. With mass connection platforms and unlimited personal freedom, it seemed direct democracy had arrived.  But that’s proved a bust. If we go by current trends, entrusting democracy to Silicon Valley will give us perfect laundry and fewer voting rights. Fixing democracy is a whole-of-nation challenge that Congress must lead.

Finally, we “the crowd” want a more effective governing body that incorporates our experience and perspective into the lawmaking process, not just feel-good form letters thanking us for our input. We also want a political discourse grounded in facts. A “modern” Congress will provide both, and now we have the institutional foundation in place to make it happen.

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Facebook just removed a new wave of suspicious activity linked to Iran

Facebook just announced its latest round of “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” this time out of Iran. The company took down 262 Pages, 356 accounts, three Facebook groups and 162 Instagram accounts that exhibited “malicious-looking indicators” and patterns that identify it as potentially state-sponsored or otherwise deceptive and coordinated activity.

As Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher noted in a press call, Facebook coordinated closely with Twitter to discover these accounts, and by collaborating early and often the company “[was] able to use that to build up our own investigation.” Today, Twitter published a postmortem on its efforts to combat misinformation during the US midterm election last year.

Example of the content removed

As the Newsroom post details, the activity affected a broad swath of areas around the globe:

“There were multiple sets of activity, each localized for a specific country or region, including Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, US, and Yemen. The Page administrators and account owners typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events… on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

Today’s takedown is the result of an internal investigation linking the newly discovered activity to other content out of Iran late last year. Remarkably, the activity Facebook flagged today dates back to 2010.

The Iranian activity was not focused on creating real world events, as we’ve seen in other cases. In many cases, the content “repurposed” reporting from Iranian state media and spread ideas that could benefit Iran’s positions on various geopolitical issues. Still, Facebook declined to link the newly identified activity to Iran’s government directly.

“Whenever we make an announcement like this we’re really careful,” Gleicher said. “We’re not in a position to directly assert who the actor is in this case, we’re asserting what we can prove.”

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Cloud movie locker UltraViolet is finally closing

UltraViolet, an older “cloud movie locker” service, is shutting down. The service, which allowed consumers to unlock a digital copy of their DVDs and Blu-Rays, was something of a transitional step between the age of physical media and today’s streaming video landscape. Over time, it’s become less necessary for consumers, as movie marketplaces and subscription services now offer extensive libraries of movies for streaming, rental and purchase – all in digital formats.

The shutdown was first reported by Variety.

Today, UltraViolet claims to have over 30 million users, who are able to stream more than 300 million movies and shows from their cloud libraries. But arguably, “UltraViolet” never became a household name.

The service was not well-received at launch. When the Hollywood and tech execs first came up with the idea, many people at the time thought it was just another “form of DRM” to keep people from sharing their movies – the way that was possible with physical disks.

After a few years, however, UltraViolet loosened its grip a bit. Walmart’s Vudu began offering a way for people to selectively share their UltraViolet movies with friends back in 2014, for example..

But that may have already been too little, too late. People were increasingly more interested streaming Netflix on their Roku – not buying DVDs, converting them to digital, then loaning them out. (Besides, if you really wanted your friend to watch one of your Vudu movies, it was just easier to share your login.)

UltraViolet’s other issue was Disney. While UltraViolet was backed by all the major Hollywood studios, it didn’t have Disney on board. And Disney later decided to launch its own cloud locker, Disney Movies Anywhere. With its launch, several studios left UltraViolet for Disney’s service, Variety’s report also noted. And last year, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Lionsgate stopped distributing new release movies on Ultraviolet.

Disney’s service – now just called Movies Anywhere and operated with studio partners including Universal, WB, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox – is more popular. Within one app, all the movies you purchased across retailers are centralized.

This, combined with a shift to streaming and subscription video, didn’t bode well for UltraViolet’s future.

The service will shut down on July 31, 2019.

Users are advised to link their UltraViolet accounts to at least one retailer before that date. They should not actually cancel or unlink their UltraViolet accounts before then, as they’d lose their entire movie collection, in that case.

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Facebook users who quit the social network for a month feel happier

New research out of Stanford and New York University took a look at what happens when people step back from Facebook for a month.

Through Facebook, the research team recruited 2,488 people who averaged an hour of Facebook use each day. After assessing their “willingness to accept” the idea of deactivating their account for a month, the study assigned eligible participants to an experimental category that would deactivate their accounts or a control group that would not.

Over the course of the month-long experiment, researchers monitored compliance by checking participants’ profiles. The participants self-reported a rotating set of well being measures in real time, including happiness, what emotion a participant felt over the last 10 minutes and a measure of loneliness.

As the researchers report, leaving Facebook correlated with improvements on well being measures. They found that the group tasked with quitting Facebook ended up spending less time on other social networks too, instead spending more time to offline activities like spending time with friends and family (good) and watching television (maybe not so good). Overall the group reported that it spent less time consuming news in general.

The group that Facebook also reported less time spent on the social network after the study-imposed hiatus was up, suggesting that the break might have given them new insight into their own habits.

“Reduced post-experiment use aligns with our finding that deactivation improved subjective well-being, and it is also consistent with the hypotheses that Facebook is habit forming… or that people learned that they enjoy life without Facebook more than they had anticipated,” the paper’s authors wrote.

There are a few things to be aware of with the research. The paper notes that subjects were told they would “keep [their] access to Facebook Messenger.” Though the potential impact of letting participants remain on Messenger isn’t mentioned again, it sounds like they were still freely using one of the platform’s main functions though perhaps one with fewer potential negative effects on mood and behavior.

Unlike some recent research, this study was conducted by economics researchers. That’s not unusual for social psych-esque stuff like this but does inform aspects of the method, measured used and perspective.

Most important for a bit more context, the research was conducted in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That fact that is likely to have informed participants’ attitudes around social media, both before and after the election.

While the participants reported that they were less informed about current events, they also showed evidence of being less politically polarized, “consistent with the concern that social media have played some role in the recent rise of polarization in the US.”

In an era of ubiquitous threats to quit the world’s biggest social network, the fact remains that we mostly have no idea what our online habits are doing to our brains and behavior. Given that, we also don’t know what happens when we step back from social media environments like Facebook and give our brains a reprieve. With its robust sample size and fairly thorough methodology, this study provides us a useful glimpse into those effects. For more insight into the research, you can read the full paper here.

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Don’t worry, this rocket-launching Chinese robo-boat is strictly for science

It seems inevitable that the high seas will eventually play host to a sort of proxy war as automated vessels clash over territory for the algae farms we’ll soon need to feed the growing population. But this rocket-launching robo-boat is a peacetime vessel concerned only with global weather patterns.

The craft is what’s called an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, or USSV, and it functions as a mobile science base — and now, a rocket launch platform. For meteorological sounding rockets, of course, nothing scary.

It solves a problem we’ve seen addressed by other seagoing robots like the Saildrone: that the ocean is very big, and very dangerous — so monitoring it properly is equally big and dangerous. You can’t have a crew out in the middle of nowhere all the time, even if it would be critical to understanding the formation of a typhoon or the like. But you can have a fleet of robotic ships systematically moving around the ocean.

In fact this is already done in a variety of ways and by numerous countries and organizations, but much of the data collection is both passive and limited in range. A solar-powered buoy drifting on the currents is a great resource, but you can’t exactly steer it, and it’s limited to sampling the water around it. And weather balloons are nice, too, if you don’t mind flying it out to where it needs to be first.

A robotic boat, on the other hand, can go where you need it do and deploy instruments in a variety of ways, dropping or projecting them deep into the water or, in the case of China’s new USSV, firing them 20,000 feet into the air.

“Launched from a long-duration unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, with strong mobility and large coverage of the sea area, rocketsonde can be used under severe sea conditions and will be more economical and applicable in the future,” said Jun Li, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a news release.

The 24-foot craft, which has completed a handful of near-land cruises in Bohai Bay, was announced in the paper. You may wonder what “semi-submersible” means. Essentially they put as much of the craft as possible under the water, with only instruments, hatches, and other necessary items aboveboard. That minimizes the effect of rough weather on the craft — but it is still self-righting in case it capsizes in major wave action.

The USSV’s early travels.

It runs on a diesel engine, so it’s not exactly the latest tech there, but for a large craft going long distances solar is still a bit difficult to manage. The diesel on board will last it about 10 days and take it around 3,000 km, or 1,800 miles.

The rocketsondes are essentially small rockets that shoot up to a set altitude and then drop a “driftsonde,” a sensor package attached to a balloon, parachute, or some other descent-slowing method. The craft can carry up to 48 of these, meaning it could launch one every few hours for its entire 10-day cruise duration.

The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. This is just a prototype, but its success suggests we can expect a few more at the very least to be built and deployed. I’ve asked Li a few questions about the craft and will update this post if I hear back.

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Pandora-powered channels will come to SiriusXM’s app this year

SiriusXM this week offered a few more details on how it plans to leverage its newest asset, Pandora, following its $3.5 billion acquisition of the streaming music service last year, which officially closes on Friday. At the time of the deal, the company spoke about the potential for cross-promotion opportunities between the services and new subscription packages. Now, those efforts are getting off the ground — starting with a promotion within the Pandora app for SiriusXM subscriptions, followed by the launch of Pandora channels within the SiriusXM app.

Currently, SiriusXM offers a variety of programming packages, ranging from a cheaper ($11/mo) “Mostly Music” sampling of channels all the way up to a premium “All Access” ($21/mo) subscription. It also runs various time-limited promotions that offer its service for as little as $5 per month for a set period, like six months.

According to Sirius XM CEO James Meyer — speaking to investors on the Q4 earnings call on Wednesday — the company will now start promoting special SiriusXM packages to Pandora listeners.

The company, he said, intends “to capitalize on cross-promotion opportunities between SiriusXM’s more than 36 million subscribers across North America and Pandora’s approximately 70 million monthly active users. In early February, we will begin a targeted promotion to SiriusXM subscribers and Pandora listeners,” he noted. “Select Pandora listeners will receive an offer to obtain a unique $5 a month ‘Mostly News,’ ‘Mostly Music’ or ‘News Talk’ [SiriusXM subscription] package in their satellite-equipped vehicle.”

In other words, SiriusXM will be pushing low-cost $5 per month streaming plans within the Pandora app itself.

The company believes the cross-promotions will be successful because of the overlap in the two services’ customer bases. It found that approximately half of the owners of the SiriusXM-enabled vehicle fleet of 100 million cars have used Pandora in the past two years, for example. SiriusXM aims to leverage those Pandora listeners’ data in order to convert, retain or bring them back to SiriusXM.

In addition, the exec said that existing SiriusXM subscribers would receive extended 14-day trials to Pandora’s Premium service.

By mid-2019, the company plans to launch a new Pandora-powered channel within its own SiriusXM app, based on their favorite artist. It will also add a new radio channel to the SiriusXM app that’s driven by the latest trends from Pandora’s “billions of thumbs” — meaning the “thumbs up” (likes), songs receive within the streaming app.

Meyer spoke briefly about the challenges facing Pandora — specifically a decline in listening hours, which SiriusXM believes can be fixed by improving Pandora’s in-car listening statistics, making the Pandora app more compelling, and adding more content.

“This is just the beginning. We expect, over time, to create new, unique audio packages that will bring together the best of both services, creating a powerful platform for artists to reach their fans and to create new audiences,” said Meyer.

The merger of the two companies has not been without upheaval, though.

This week, the company announced that Pandora CEO Roger Lynch and other executives would be stepping down, including general counsel Steve Bene, CFO Naveen Chopra and chief human resources officer Kristen Robinson. Meyer will instead lead the combined company, he said, in order to streamline decision-making and increase the speed of the integrations.

SiriusXM reported record revenues for the fourth quarter and year, at $1.5 billion and $5.8 billion, respectively. Net income was $251 million for the quarter, up from a loss of $37 million in the year-ago period. Full-year 2018 net income grew 81 percent to a record $1.2 billion.

The newly combined company will have more than 100 million listeners in North America, with nearly 40 million self-paying subscribers and more than 75 million on trials or using ad-based products.

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Sources: Clutter is raising $200-250M led by SoftBank for on-demand storage and moving

Marie Kondo’s rise as a cultural icon shows there’s big business to be had in sorting out a mess. And startups are also hoping to get in on the action.

TechCrunch has learned that Clutter, a storage-on-demand service that packs up, takes away, stores and returns your possessions at the click of an app, is raising between $200 million and $250 million in funding.

Sources tell us that term sheets are out but have yet to be finalised while investors go through due diligence, and that currently the plan is for the round to be led by SoftBank.

Clutter’s CEO and co-founder Ari Mir declined to comment for this story, as did SoftBank. Other investors contacted for the story did not respond.

Clutter last raised money in 2017, when it picked up $64 million from backers that included Atomico, GV, Sequoia and Fifth Wall. Pitchbook notes that the round was done at a $240 million post-money valuation. That could give Clutter a valuation of between $400 million and $500 million in this latest round — a figure our sources also mentioned.

Clutter currently operates in the Bay Area, Southern California, Seattle, New York and Chicago, and it’s likely that this funding could be used to help it expand to more regions.

For it and a number of its competitors, the target users are consumers based in urban areas who live in smaller spaces with less storage options; have the disposable income not only to buy stuff but to pay to keep it somewhere else; and likely already use of other app-based on-demand services for food, transport, work-space and so on, making them familiar and ready to work with startups offering the same services to manage their material possessions.

But the business of storage on demand is nothing short of, well, cluttered.

For starters, there are a lot of startups in the space angling to take on a wide array of incumbents like Public Storage, U-Haul and others that offer services to clear away your possessions and store them in lockers. In a market estimated to be worth some $40 billion annually, other hopefuls include MakeSpace, OmniTrove, Livible, and Closetbox.

As with other on-demand e-commerce services like transportation, accommodation and food delivery, there is a race for economy of scale and market penetration. In the case of storage, that race includes working with or building facilities where space can be filled out in the most optimised way, as well as building the most efficient tech platform to manage the safe collection, storage and retrieval of people’s items. That’s before the human aspect of the service is considered. As with other on-demand collaborative economy startups, Clutter and its competitors rely on being able to hire the right people to get the job done well.

Clutter will be hoping that a big cash infusion will help it come out ahead in all of these areas: when and if this round closes, it will have raised more funding than the rest of its (many) startup competitors combined.

But the business of moving things is also tricky for an other reason: companies are dealing in people’s personal possessions, and so when something doesn’t go right — an item is lost or broken in the process, for example — the bad experience takes on an especially emotional angle.

Clutter may be the biggest in its category, but it has had its share of negative feedback on platforms like Yelp, Trustpilot and Twitter. It can be hard to vet the truth of all public comments, but it will be interesting to see how and if customer feedback plays a role in the company closing this round and its bigger efforts to scale.

As with other on-demand startups, there is also the fact that it can be a capital-intensive business. From what we understand, Clutter has been working on this round for a while and had to downsize last year to cut down on its burn rate.

Others in the space have been tackling liquidity in other ways that also speak to some of the shifting and experimental nature of this still-young market. Omni — a storage company that also lets people rent out their possessions while they are not using them — last year took an investment from executives at Ripple and struck a partnership with the XRP company. Now it’s offering users an option to get paid in XRP instead of cash when they rent out their items.

The fact that SoftBank is the investor name that has come up to lead this round for Clutter underscores characteristics in common with other recent SoftBank investments.

Armed with hundreds of millions of dollars to invest across the tech industry, SoftBank has developed a reputation for wading into areas of e-commerce and other tech fields crowded with competition that will likely see inevitable consolidation — and it invests in the startup that it believes will be the winner, a pattern we’ve seen at Uber, WeWork, Fair, DoorDash, Compass and many more.

If all goes to plan, SoftBank’s investment, in turn, becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not just a financial boost to help the startup grow, but also — given that it’s SoftBank — a mark of confidence to other investors that the business is solid and supported for the longer haul.

 

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Rana el Kaliouby and Alexei Efroswill be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

TechCrunch’s third robotics event is just over two and a half months away, and it’s already shaping up to be a doozy. We’ve already announced Anca Dragan, Hany Farid, Melonee Wise and Peter Barrett for our event and have an exciting pair of new names to share with you.

UC Berkeley’s Alexei Efros and Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby will be joining us at Zellerbach Hall on April 18 for TC Sessions: Robotics+AI.

Alexei Efros is a professor at UC Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and a member of the school’s Artificial Intelligence Research Lab. His work focuses on computer vision, graphics and computational photography, utilizing visual data to help better understand the world. Efros also researches robotics, machine learning and the use of computer vision in the humanities. Prior to joining UC Berkeley, he was member of CMU’s Robotics Institute.

Rana el Kaliouby is the cofounder and CEO of Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spinoff that creates softs signed designed to recognize human emotions. el Kaliouby designed the startup’s underlying technology, which helps bring more depth and understanding to facial recognition. Prior to cofounding the company, she worked as an MIT research scientist, cofounding the school’s Autism & Communication Technology Initiative.

Early-Bird tickets are on sale now for just $249 – that’s $100 off full-priced tickets. Buy yours today here. Students can book a deeply discounted ticket for just $45 here.

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