Fitbit lowers guidance after Versa Lite disappoints

Fitbit continued solid device growth for Q2, up 31%, year over year, representing a 5% bump in revenue. From that angle, the company’s long-term turnaround appears to be on track — but things weren’t all cheery this time out. Notably, the company’s stock is down in after-hours trading after it lowered guidance for annual revenue.

The company laid much of the blame at the feet of the Versa Lite. Announced in March, the $160 device is a stripped-down version of the Versa, the smartwatch that helped kickstart Fitbit’s most recent act.

“While we are disappointed to lower guidance for the year, we remain confident in our long-term transformation strategy and have demonstrated good results across key areas of the business,” CEO James Park said in a release tied to the earnings. We saw growth in devices sold, increased active users and continued growth in our Fitbit Health Solutions channel, up 42% in the first half of 2019.”

All told, smartwatch revenue dropped 27% year over year, with the Lite making up a lower than expected 38% of that number. Ultimately the company’s recently consolidated tracker offers were there to pick up some of the slack, with a 51% year over year increase.

The stumbles come in contrast to this week’s Apple earnings, which found wearables on the upswing as iPhone sales continued to sputter. In addition to a newfound focus on smartwatches, Fitbit’s recent shift also includes a healthcare offering. Fitbit Health Solutions is up 42% for the year, with international growth playing a key role.

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Cryptographic ICE Cube tests orbital cybersecurity protocols aboard the ISS

Encryption in space can be tricky. Even if you do everything right, a cosmic ray might come along and flip a bit, sabotaging the whole secure protocol. So if you can’t radiation-harden the computer, what can you do? European Space Agency researchers are testing solutions right now in an experiment running on board the ISS.

Cosmic radiation flipping bits may sound like a rare occurrence, and in a way it is. But satellites and spacecraft are out there for a long time and it it only takes one such incident to potentially scuttle a whole mission. What can you do if you’re locked out of your own satellite? At that point it’s pretty much space junk. Just wait for it to burn up.

Larger, more expensive missions like GPS satellites and interplanetary craft use special hardened computers that are carefully proofed against cosmic rays and other things that go bump in the endless night out there. But these bespoke solutions are expensive and often bulky and heavy; if you’re trying to minimize costs and space to launch a constellation or student project, hardening isn’t always an option.

“We’re testing two related approaches to the encryption problem for non rad-hardened systems,” explained ESA’s Lukas Armborst in a news release. To keep costs down and hardware recognizable, the team is using a Raspberry Pi Zero board, one of the simplest and lowest-cost full-fledged computers you can buy these days. It’s mostly unmodified, just coated to meet ISS safety requirements.

It’s the heart of the Cryptography International Commercial Experiments Cube, or Cryptographic ICE Cube, or CryptIC. The first option they’re pursuing is a relatively traditional software one: hard-coded backup keys. If a bit gets flipped and the current encryption key is no longer valid, they can switch to one of those.

“This needs to be done in a secure and reliable way, to restore the secure link very quickly,” said Armborst. It relies on “a secondary fall-back base key, which is wired into the hardware so it cannot be compromised. However, this hardware solution can only be done for a limited number of keys, reducing flexibility.”

If you’re expecting one failure per year and a five year mission, you could put 20 keys and be done with it. But for longer missions or higher exposures, you might want something more robust. That’s the other option, an “experimental hardware reconfiguration approach.”

“A number of microprocessor cores are inside CryptIC as customizable, field-programmable gate arrays, rather than fixed computer chips,” Armborst explained. “These cores are redundant copies of the same functionality. Accordingly, if one core fails then another can step in, while the faulty core reloads its configuration, thereby repairing itself.”

In other words, the encryption software would be running in parallel with itself and one part would be ready to take over and serve as a template for repairs should another core fail due to radiation interference.

A CERN-developed radiation dosimeter is flying inside the enclosure as well, measuring the exposure the device has over the next year of operation. And a set of flash memory units are sitting inside to see which is the most reliable in orbital conditions. Like many experiments on the ISS, this one has many purposes. The encryption tests are set to begin shortly and we’ll know how the two methods fared next summer.

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Amazon acquires flash-based cloud storage startup E8 Storage

Amazon has reportedly acquired Isreali storage tech startup E8 Storage, according to Reuters, CNBC and Globes. The acquisition will bring the team and technology from E8 in to Amazon’s existing Amazon Web Services center in Tel Aviv, per reports.

E8 Storage’s particular focus was on building storage hardware that employs flash-based memory to deliver faster performance than competing offerings, according to its own claims. How exactly AWS intends to use the company’s talent or assets isn’t yet known, and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

AWS acquisitions this year include TSO Logic, a Vancouver-based startup that optimizes data center workload operating efficiency, and Israel-based CloudEndure, which provides data recovery services in the event of a disaster.

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Lyft pulls e-bikes in light of apparent battery fires

Lyft is pulling its e-bikes from the streets of San Francisco, as well as from those in the South Bay Area in light of two recently catching on fire. The first reported fire took place over the weekend, with the second one happening today, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily making the ebike fleet unavailable to riders while we investigate and update our battery technology,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Thanks to our riders for their patience and we look forward to making ebikes available again soon.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Lyft, which recently obtained the right to deploy its dockless pedal-assist bikes in the city following a lawsuit against San Francisco. But with its bikes catching on fire, it surely does not help its argument that it should be the sole provider of bike-share services in the city.

This also isn’t the first time Lyft has experienced issues with its e-bikes. In April, Lyft paused its e-bike operations in New York and San Francisco due to injuries associated with overly responsive brakes. It wasn’t until June when Lyft deployed its newly-branded e-bikes in San Jose, Calif.

It’s worth noting that Lyft is not the only micromobility service to experience apparent battery issues. Both Skip and Lime have had to pull their electric scooters in light of the vehicles catching on fire.

I’ve reached out to the SFMTA and will update this story until I hear back.

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You won’t see that $125 from Equifax, so don’t bother claiming it, says FTC

Millions of people have been signing up to receive what they think is a $125 cash reimbursement from Equifax for its criminal mishandling and exposure of their personal and financial data. But the FTC warns that you may see only a small fraction of that, if any, because of the way the $575 million settlement with the company actually breaks down.

In the settlement, Equifax set aside $300M to pay for credit monitoring for everyone affected by the historic hack (rivaled perhaps only by this week’s of Capital One), and you’re due that if you want it.

But say you already had credit monitoring set up because of, say, yet another of the various hacks and leaks that have plagued the careless stewards of our data in recent years. In that case you can state this is the case and receive up to $125 as an alternative claim.

There’s just one problem: Equifax only set aside a paltry sum of $31M for these cases, which is just enough for about a quarter of a million people to receive that $125 — well under the millions that are now submitting claims. So the pie, already a small one, gets sliced even thinner than before.

If even 1 in 10 of the victims asks for the alternative payout method, that nets them about two bucks each. Meanwhile the CEO received a $20 million (conservatively) golden parachute after overseeing one of the largest and most damaging hacks in history, which was called “entirely preventable.” He wasn’t fired, you know — he retired. Overall the company is in pretty good shape!

There is more money set aside for people who have out-of-pocket expenses for hack-related issues, like identity theft that resulted in the loss of a loan and such. You’ll need to document that, though, and relatively few people will be able to take advantage of it.

The FTC’s Robert Schoshinski explains that the credit monitoring is the more valuable option anyway:

If you haven’t submitted your claim yet, think about opting for the free credit monitoring instead. Frankly, the free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services.

Fair point, and given the ongoing failure of financial institutions, social networks, and other companies to protect your data, it might be nice to know that you’re protected.

Of course, the credit monitoring is provided by Equifax. But don’t worry, I’m sure they learned their lesson.

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India has labeled hyperloop a public infrastructure project — here’s why that matters

Hyperloop, the futuristic and still theoretical transportation system that could someday propel people and packages at speeds of more than 600 miles per hour, has been designated a “public infrastructure project” by India lawmakers in the state of Maharashtra.

Wrapped in that government jargon is a valuable and notable outcome. The upshot: hyperloop is being treated like any other public infrastructure project such as bridges, roads and railways. In other words, hyperloop has been plucked out of niche, futuristic obscurity and given a government stamp of approval.

That’s remarkable, considering that the idea for hyperloop was first proposed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a nearly 60-page public white paper just five years ago.

It also kicks off a process that could bring hyperloop to a 93-mile stretch of India between the cities of Mumbai and Pune. The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority will begin the procurement process in mid-August when it starts accepting proposals from companies hoping to land the hyperloop contract.

The frontrunner is likely Virgin Hyperloop One -DP World, a consortium between the hyperloop company and its biggest backer that pitched the original project to India. The MahaIDEA Committee earlier approved Virgin Hyperloop One-DP World Consortium as the Original Project Proponent.

Under the VHO-DPW proposal, a hyperloop capable of transporting 200 million people every year would be built between Pune and Mumbai. That stretch of road now takes more than three hours by car; VHO says its hyperloop would reduce it to a 35-minute trip.

“This is history in the making. The race is on to host the first hyperloop transportation system in the world, and today’s announcement puts India firmly in the lead. This is a significant milestone and the first of many important steps toward bringing hyperloop to the masses,” Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder said in a statement Wednesday.

The hope is that India’s government will award the contract by the end of 2019, a VHO executive told TechCrunch. If that occurs, Phase 1 of the project — an 11.8 kilometer (or 7.3 mile) section — would begin in 2020.

The cost of building Phase 1 will be covered by DP World, which has committed $500 million to this section. The government is covering the cost and logistics of acquiring the land for the hyperloop.

Phase 1 will initially act as a certification track, which will be used to certify the hyperloop technology for passenger operations. VHO wants this certification track built and operating by 2024. If this section meets safety standards it will become part of the larger hyperloop line between Pune and Mumbai.

There is a lot of work to do, and technical milestones to meet, before hyperloop is whisking people in pods through a tunnel. But if it works and is built, the region’s economy could be transformed, supporters insist.

Once commercialized, the hyperloop will transform the Pune-Mumbai corridor into a mega-economic region, according to Harj Dhaliwal, managing director of India and Middle East at Virgin Hyperloop One.

Today, some 75 million people travel between Pune and Mumbai each year, and forecasts suggest that number could rise to 130 million annually by 2026. The VHO-DPW consortium says its hyperloop will have the capacity to handle 16,000 passengers day, or about 200 million people annually.

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Save with group discounts and bring your team to TechCrunch’s first ever Enterprise event Sept. 5 in SF

Get ready to dive into the fiercely competitive waters of enterprise software. Join more than 1,000 attendees for TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 on September 5 to navigate this rapidly evolving category with the industry’s brightest minds, biggest names and exciting startups.

Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play, which saves you $100. But one is the loneliest number, so why not take advantage of our group discount, buy in bulk and bring your whole team? Save an extra 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once.

We’ve packed this day-long conference with an outstanding lineup of presentations, interviews, panel discussions, demos, breakout sessions and, of course, networking. Check out the agenda, which includes both industry titans and boundary-pushing startups eager to disrupt the status quo.

We’ll add more surprises along the way, but these sessions provide a taste of what to expect — and why you’ll need your posse to absorb as much intel as possible.

Talking Developer Tools
Scott Farquhar (Atlassian)

With tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Confluence, few companies influence how developers work as much as Atlassian. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us to talk about growing his company, how it is bringing its tools to enterprises and what the future of software development in and for the enterprise will look like.

Keeping the Enterprise Secure
Martin Casado (Andreessen Horowitz), Wendy Nather (Duo Security), Emily Heath (United Airlines)

Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CSO and how to move fast — without breaking things.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course
Bill McDermott (SAP)

With over $166 billion in market cap, Germany-based SAP is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world today. Bill McDermott took the leadership in 2014, becoming the first American to hold this position. Since then, he has quickly grown the company, in part thanks to a number of $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’ll talk to him about his approach to these acquisitions, his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market and the state of enterprise software in general.

The Quantum Enterprise
Jim Clarke (Intel), Jay Gambetta (IBM
and Krysta Svore (Microsoft)
4:20 PM – 4:45 PM

While we’re still a few years away from having quantum computers that will fulfill the full promise of this technology, many companies are already starting to experiment with what’s available today. We’ll talk about what startups and enterprises should know about quantum computing today to prepare for tomorrow.

TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 takes place on September 5. You can’t be everywhere at once, so bring your team, cover more ground and increase your ROI. Get your group discount tickets and save.

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Dreading 10x engineers, virtual beings, the fate of Netflix, and Salesforce’s acquisition

The dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees

The reality (myth?) is that there are engineers who are ten times more productive than other engineers (some would argue 100x, but okay). Jon Evans, who is CTO at HappyFunCorp, dives into the strengths and weaknesses of these vaunted people and how to manage them and their relationships with other team members.

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid — frankly, obvious and inarguable — points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

A guide to Virtual Beings and how they impact our world

If your 10x engineers are too annoying to deal with, maybe consider just getting virtual beings instead. The inaugural Virtual Beings Summit was held recently in San Francisco, a conference designed to bring together storyline editors, virtual reality engineers, influencer marketers and more to consider the future of “virtual beings.”

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CRV hires Anna Khan as a general partner focused on enterprise

CRV, formerly known as Charles River Ventures, has hired Anna Khan as its 10th general partner. Khan joins from Bessemer Venture Partners where she’s served as a vice president since 2016.

CRV invests across industries, with a portfolio that includes Bird and Airtable, among others. The venture capital firm is currently investing out of its 17th fund, a $600 million vehicle that closed in 2018.

Founded in 1970, CRV is amongst the older VC firms. While Khan isn’t the firm’s first female GP — Annie Kadavy, now a general partner at Redpoint Ventures, joined CRV as a GP in 2012 — she will be the firm’s only current female GP.

Despite, an increasing number of firms tapping female talent, less than 10% of “decision-makers” at U.S. venture capital firms are female, according to Axios. Female founders, meanwhile, attract just over 2% of venture capital dollars.

Khan joins CRV alongside another new hire, former Social Capital partner Kristin Baker Spohn, who will work as a venture partner. Both Khan and Spohn will focus on CRV’s enterprise practice, where they’ll work with Airtable, Drift, Iterable, SignalFx and more.

Kristin Baker Spohn

CRV’s newest venture partner Kristin Baker Spohn

“As is often the case, we were introduced to both [Khan and Spohn] through friends of CRV, and from our earliest conversations knew they would add tremendously to the firm,” CRV general partner Murat Bicer said in a statement. “Kristin brings an impressive depth of knowledge in healthcare and a charisma that speaks to early entrepreneurs and seasoned executives alike, while Anna has an immense understanding of the SaaS world and an energy that has seen her accomplish so much in a relatively short period of time.”

Khan, an investor in ScaleFactor, NewVoiceMedia and Intercom, previously founded Launch X, an accelerator that helps female entrepreneurs learn how to raise capital for their businesses.

Spohn’s been an active angel investor since leaving Social Capital. She exited the once high-flying venture capital fund last year following Social Capital co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya’s decision to no longer raise outside capital.

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Crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft succeeds in flying on sunlight alone

Space exploration non-profit The Planetary Society is celebrating a stack of wins today, after announcing that its LightSail 2 spacecraft, which was funded in part through a crowdfunding campaign, has managed to successfully fly on the power of sunlight alone. It’s raised its orbit after initially being put into position by a Falcon Heavy launch and its own conventional thrusters, climbing by about two kilometres (about 1.2 miles) from its initial orbit using on the force exerted by photos from the sun bouncing off the surface of its mylar sail.

This is a huge achievement, which successfully demonstrates that the idea of flying CubeSats, or small satellites, in orbit with altitude adjustments powered by light alone is indeed a viable option. LightSail 2 is the first spacecraft to show that solar sailing works in EArth’s orbit, and only the second solar sail spacecraft flown ever, after 2010’s Ikaros which was operated by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a very different mission.

This is indeed primary mission success, but LightSail 2’s voyage isn’t over – it’ll now continue to raise its orbit using the solar sail, with a goal of raising the overall apogee (or high point) of the spacecraft’s orbit over time. It’ll also seek to improve overall performance of solar sailing, by optimizing a required process called “desaturation” that temporarily takes the craft out of its target solar sailing orientation in order to bleed off accumulated momentum.

20190731 cam2 deploy grid 3 rows f840

In around a year from now, LightSail 2 will perform its planned deorbit and entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, at which point it’ll burn up.

This a also a big achievement for crowdfunded space exploration – around 50,000 people contributed to the LightSail funding campaign, from acrosss 100 countries, and contributed along with various foundations and corporate sponsor to raise the $7 million used to fund the spacecraft development project and launch.

“For me, it’s very romantic to be sailing on sunbeams,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye at an event on Wednesday to announce the achievement.

Data collected from LightSail 2 will be shared with other organizations including NASA, which intends to launch its own solar sail-powered small satellite on a mission to explore a near-Earth asteroid sometime in the near future.

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