Top execs from 6D.AI are joining us at TechCrunch Sessions AR/VR

While the potential for entertainment in virtual and augmented reality has grabbed the most headlines, these new platforms promise radical transformations across industries and the very way that people interact with their world.

And no company is doing more to develop the toolkit for how to build applications for these new interactions than 6D.AI.

At our inaugural TC Sessions: AR/VR event on UCLA’s world-famous campus on October 18, join 6D.AI co-founder and chief executive Matt Miesnieks and head of developer relations, Bruce Wooden, as they discuss 6D’s big vision of using smartphone cameras to build a cloud-based map of the world’s three-dimensional data.

The company’s goal is nothing short of supercharging augmented reality content in a way that could actually make it useful to people.

Miesnieks certainly knows about the need for applications to drive adoption in a new ecosystem. After a career in the trenches developing mobile software infrastructure for companies like Samsung and Layar, Miesnieks made the jump to AR software infrastructure in 2009.

A founding partner of the firm Super Ventures, which exclusively invests in augmented reality startups, Miesnieks was drawn to 6D and its vision as soon as he saw it demonstrated in the labs at Oxford University.

Wooden, 6D’s head of developer relations, has his own storied career in the world of augmented reality. He was a co-founder of Altspace (which was sold to Microsoft) and SVVR, the world’s largest virtual reality community.

“We want to be a platform that informs AR app developers of the real world without the real world — the structure of the real world, what’s going on in the real world, who else is in the real world — and let them build intelligent apps on top of that,” Miesnieks has said of his company’s mission.

TC Sessions: AR/VR on October 18 at UCLA is a single-day event designed to facilitate in-depth conversations, hands-on demos and networking opportunities with the industry leaders, content creators and game changers bringing innovation to the masses.

Purchase your Early Bird tickets here for just $99 and you’ll save $100 before prices go up!

Students get a special rate of just $45 when they book here.

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Black Ops 4 Battle Royale beta to go live on September 10

As summer comes to a close and the leaves begin to brown, the gaming world goes through its own sort of transition. A handful of new titles prep for launch, including Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. But unlike previous CoD titles, Black Ops 4 represents a counter-attack on the world’s biggest game, Fortnite Battle Royale.

For the first time, Call of Duty is ditching a campaign and opting to introduce a new Battle Royale mode to the first-person shooter.

It’s a risky approach, which could potentially put off long-time CoD players and likewise disappoint the Fortnite crowd who have already invested time and money in an already-dominant Battle Royale game.

Time shall surely tell, but luckily we’ll get a sneak peek at the new Black Ops 4 Battle Royale, called Blackout, in September.

Activision and Treyarch confirmed that Blackout will be available via a limited beta on September 10 for the PS4. The companies did not confirm if or when the Blackout beta will be playable on other platforms.

Thus far, we know very little about how Blackout will work. Here’s what we do know: The game can be played in solos, duos, or quads. Treyarch built its biggest CoD map ever, which is 1,500x bigger than Nuketown. There will also be vehicles within the Black Out mode.

To participate in the beta, users need to pre-order Black Ops 4.

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Google One is now open to all

A few months ago, Google announced Google One, its new subscription program for getting more Google Drive storage and other perks. Over the course of the last few weeks, Google slowly rolled existing Drive subscribers over to a Google One membership and starting today, new users can sign up for a One subscription, too.

Google One plans start at 100 GB for $1.99. There’s also a 200 GB tier for $2.99 and a 2 TB option for $9.99. If you need even more storage space, Google will happily sell you 10 TB, 20 TB and 30 TB plans for between $99.99 and $299.99 per month.

One nice feature of these new plans is that you can share your storage allotment with up to five family members.

While storage is the main feature here, Google also promises additional perks. The most important of these may be access to live 24/7 support. These Google experts at the other end of the line will help you with figuring out any question you may have about a Google product.

Another perk here is that you get deals on hotels when you search for them in Google Maps. Recently, Google also gave all One members credits on Google Play and the company today said that it’ll soon offer members deals for purchases in the Google Store and through Google Express, too.

It’s worth noting that One is very much a consumer product. For businesses, Google’s G Suite remains the way to get additional service and features.

For now, Google One is only available in the U.S., but it’ll roll out to more countries soon.

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Flowbox is a tool that makes it easy to build special effects

What do you get when you connect a bunch of filmmakers with a bunch of programmers? Something like Flowbox.

Flowbox, which began life as a unique object-oriented programming language for visual effects, has grown into something truly powerful in the moviemaking industry. Run by Mikołaj Valencia​, Michał Urbańczyk​, Paweł Pietraszko, and Mat Bujalski, this Polish company is currently working with a number of big studios to add VFX to huge productions.

“Flowbox is an industrial strength image processing platform incorporating many recent innovations in computer graphics field,” said Valencia. “It delivers semi-automated rotoscopy, one of the most tedious manual labor used in 25 precent of all video content processing. It allows for huge time savings.”

The team is working on adding other tools to the toolchain as well including color correction and image composition.

The system is unique in that it uses a visual interface to change the video. It also supports distributed computing which speeds up the compositing system immensely.

The idea was born in 2010 as a reaction to the poor tools available to filmmakers at the time.

“The idea for the Flowbox project was initiated in 2010 by Wojciech Daniło, by this time as Senior Technical Director at Alvernia Studios (the most modern film studio in Poland),” said Valencia. “His job was to design and create solutions for visual effects for international productions like Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Vamps of Sigourney Weaver. That’s when he discovered the problems faced by his associates and how limited and inflexible the leading tools were.”

The company has raised $1 million so far including an infusion from Innovation Nest.

The app’s high-tech approach to rotoscoping could be just the thing filmmakers need to unlock the true potential of their already powerful tools.

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The Alexa-Cortana integration is now available in a public preview

Microsoft today will begin to allow Alexa device owners to summon its own virtual assistant, Cortana, through their Echo devices, as well as call for Alexa via Cortana. The integration between the two voice computing platforms was previously announced and briefly demoed on stage in May at Microsoft’s Build 2018 event in Seattle. But the companies at the time hadn’t given a timeline as to when the integrations between the two assistants would be available to the public.

Now, the companies are taking the first steps towards that goal with a public preview of their Alexa-Cortana collaboration.

Customers who want to test out this new feature will be able to try it starting today, August 15, Microsoft says. The integration will continue to roll out in the days ahead, so you may not immediately gain access, we should note.

Initially, customers will be able to call up Microsoft’s Cortana through their Echo devices and enable Amazon’s Alexa on Windows 10 devices and on Harman Kardon Invoke speakers. Later, it will arrive on mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

Once enabled, the integration will allow Cortana users to ask Alexa to shop Amazon, manage their Amazon orders, and use some of Alexa’s third-party skills. Alexa users, meanwhile, will gain access to Cortana’s knowledge about productivity features including calendar management, their day at a glance, and their email.

For example, Echo device owners can say to Cortana things like “What new emails do I have?,” “What is on my calendar today?,” and “Add ‘order flowers’ to my to-do list.”

And Windows device users can click the microphone button or say “Hey Cortana, open Alexa,” followed by queries like “What are today’s shopping deals?,” “Set the temperature to 72 degrees,” or “Open Jeopardy.”

The companies say that more skills and features will be added in time.

“With this public preview, we want users to engage with the experience and provide feedback so our teams can continue to improve the experience,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “Our goal is to create a seamless integration and this is our first step towards achieving that goal.”

When Microsoft and Amazon first discussed making their assistants work together, there was some skepticism about how it would all work. Some people feared the voice commands would be awkward, or believed the integrations were unnecessary.

However, when the companies demoed the integrations live at Build, it was clear they had thought about the user experience. Launching Cortana via an Echo was as simple as saying so: “open Cortana.” That made it feel more like using a third-party skill. You could then issue commands without having to keep saying “Cortana each time.” The same was true for the reverse, when talking to Alexa on a Microsoft device.

At the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had also stressed the values of a more open system, saying “We want to make it possible for our customers to get the most out of their personal digital assistants – not be bound to some walled garden.”

Getting their virtual assistants to work together isn’t the only way the two companies have teamed up. Alexa is also shipping on some Microsoft PCs, for example. Cortana, however, isn’t making much of a leap beyond the Windows platform, which has allowed other voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to gain traction in the voice-powered devices space.

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Oracle open sources Graphpipe to standardize machine learning model deployment

Oracle, a company not exactly known for having the best relationship with the open source community, is releasing a new open source tool today called Graphpipe, which is designed to simplify and standardize the deployment of machine learning models.

The tool consists of a set of libraries and tools for following the standard.

Vish Abrams, whose background includes helping develop OpenStack at NASA and later helping launch Nebula, an OpenStack startup in 2011, is leading the project. He says as his team dug into the machine learning workflow, they found a gap. While teams spend lots of energy developing a machine learning model, it’s hard to actually deploy the model for customers to use. That’s where Graphpipe comes in.

He points out that it’s common with newer technologies like machine learning for people to get caught up in the hype. Even though the development process keeps improving, he says that people often don’t think about deployment.

“Graphpipe is what’s grown out of our attempt to really improve deployment stories for machine learning models, and to create an open standard around having a way of doing that to improve the space,” Abrams told TechCrunch.

As Oracle dug into this, they identified three main problems. For starters, there is no standard way to serve APIs, leaving you to use whatever your framework provides. Next, there is no standard deployment mechanism, which leaves developers to build custom ones every time. Finally, they found existing methods leave performance as an afterthought, which in machine learning could be a major problem.

“We created Graphpipe to solve these three challenges. It provides a standard, high-performance protocol for transmitting tensor data over the network, along with simple implementations of clients and servers that make deploying and querying machine learning models from any framework a breeze,” Abrams wrote in a blog post announcing the release of Graphpipe.

The company decided to make this a standard and to open source it to try and move machine learning model deployment forward. “Graphpipe sits on that intersection between solving a business problems and pushing the state of the art forward, and I think personally, the best way to do that is by have an open source approach. Often, if you’re trying to standardize something without going for the open source bits, what you end up with is a bunch of competing technologies,” he said.

Abrams acknowledged the tension that has existed between Oracle and the open source community over the years, but says they have been working to change the perception recently with contributions to Kubernetes and the Oracle Functions Project as examples. Ultimately he says, if the technology is interesting enough, people will give it a chance, regardless of who is putting it out there. And of course, once it’s out there, if a community builds around it, they will adapt and change it as open source projects tend to do. Abrams hopes that happens.

“We care more about the standard becoming quite broadly adopted, than we do about our particular implementation of it because that makes it easier for everyone. It’s really up to the community decide that this is valuable and interesting.” he said.

Graphpipe is available starting today on the Oracle GitHub page.

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Twistlock snares $33 million Series C investment to secure cloud native environments

As the world shifts to a cloud native approach, the way you secure applications as they get deployed is changing too. Twistlock, a company built from the ground up to secure cloud native environments, announced a $33 million Series C round today led by Iconiq Capital.

Previous investors YL Ventures, TenEleven, Rally Ventures, Polaris Partners and Dell Technologies Capital also participated in the round. The company reports it has received a total of $63 million in venture investment to date.

Twistlock is solving a hard problem around securing containers and serverless, which are by their nature ephemeral. They can live for fractions of seconds making it hard track problems when they happen. According to company CEO and co-founder Ben Bernstein, his company came out of the gate building a security product designed to protect a cloud-native environment with the understanding that while containers and serverless computing may be ephemeral, they are still exploitable.

“It’s not about how long they live, but about the fact that the way they live is more predictable than a traditional computer, which could be running for a very long time and might have humans actually using it,” Bernstein said.

Screenshot: Twistlock

As companies move to a cloud native environment using Dockerized containers and managing them with Kubernetes and other tools, they create a highly automated system to deal with the deployment volume. While automation simplifies deployment, it can also leave companies vulnerable to host of issues. For example, if a malicious actor were to get control of the process via a code injection attack, they could cause a lot of problems without anyone knowing about it.

Twistlock is built to help prevent that, while also helping customers recognize when an exploit happens and performing forensic analysis to figure out how it happened.

It’s is not a traditional Software as a Service as we’ve come to think of it. Instead, it is a service that gets installed on whatever public or private cloud that the customer is using. So far, they count just over 200 customers including Walgreens and Aetna and a slew of other companies you would definitely recognize, but they couldn’t name publicly.

The company, which was founded in 2015, is based in Portland, Oregon with their R&D arm in Israel. They currently have 80 employees. Bernstein said from a competitive standpoint, the traditional security vendors are having trouble reacting to cloud native, and while he sees some startups working at it, he believes his company has the most mature offering, at least for now.

“We don’t have a lot of competition right now, but as we start progressing we will see more,” he said. He plans to use the money they receive today to help expand their marketing and sales arm to continue growing their customer base, but also engineering to stay ahead of that competition as the cloud-native security market continues to develop.

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Fighting food waste, Full Harvest raises $8.5m to bring excess produce to commercial buyers

It’s a story that any urban millennial can (and will) complain about. You are looking for a non-caffeinated beverage, so you walk into a juice shop only to be shocked at the $13 price point for a couple of apricots and kale mixed in a blender.

Yes, there is an intentional premium signaling going on, but there is also a much deeper challenge that goes all the way back to the ground where that kale came from. Farms are throwing away produce that doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of grocery stores, and that means perfectly edible and delicious vegetables are completely lost. Some studies show that a majority of all food weight is lost before it even leaves the farm. Yet, there are no easy ways to sell those loose leaves of romain — at least, not yet.

San Francisco-based Full Harvest is building a B2B marketplace that connects large-scale farms with companies like retail juice franchises, who seek excess produce in order to make their products more affordable. The marketplace, which TechCrunch has discussed before, has closed an $8.5m series A round led by Spark Capital, with agriculture-focused venture shop Cultivian Sandbox Ventures joining the round.

Full Harvest is the brainchild of Christine Moseley, who worked for more than a decade in the logistics and food industries, including a stint at retail juice chain Organic Avenue. As she was thinking about potential startups, she learned about the incredible food waste that takes place every day in America.

While spending time at a farm “knee-deep in romaine,” she saw farmers throwing away lettuce that would have been perfect for her former employer. “They were leaving 75% behind on the ground, and after all of those water resources were spent,” Moseley said. For farmers, “they are really dictated by what those big grocery stores are demanding, because consumers are becoming pickier and pickier, so the supermarkets are getting more picky,” she continued.

Full Harvest then is designed to bridge the gap, connecting farms to businesses that don’t need the same aesthetics. The startup focuses on vegetable farms greater than 1000 acres and fruit farms larger than 100 acres and then connects them to customers. The company has developed a set of quality standards to make buying and selling more fluid, and it is focused on “the foundational large-volume items that these food and beverage companies buy,” Moseley said. Today, the company brokers 40 items.

Moseley says that buyers and sellers both need better pricing. For farmers, many of whom are struggling with their own economics, a marketplace allowing them to get some value for produce they are currently throwing away could be a critical source of incremental revenue. For buyers, lower prices could mean cheaper product prices, increasing profits and driving sales to consumers.

Excess produce is the focus of several startups. Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest are focused on the B2C market of delivering excess produce straight to consumers. In comparison, Full Harvest doesn’t work with consumers at all, and instead focuses on large commercial buyers.

A series A venture round is by no means uncommon today, but it is rarer for solo founders, rarer still for female founders, and even rarer in the agricultural space. Moseley said that she was “pleasantly surprised” that being a solo female founder in a space like agriculture wasn’t the focus of her investors, and that they instead focused on “execution and market opportunity.” At the start, “It’s a lot to handle on your own,” Moseley said, but “now we are scaling, and it’s gotten very manageable.”

Spark’s John Melas-Kyriazi and Cultivian’s Dan Phillips will join Full Harvest’s board. In addition to the two funds, Jenny Fleiss, Jon Scherr, and Adam Zeplain joined the round along with former seed investor Wireframe Ventures.

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Fitbit’s upcoming Charge 3 to sport full touchscreen, per leak

This appears to be the Fitbit Charge 3 and, if it is, several big changes are in the works for Fitbit’s premier fitness tracker band.

The leak comes from Android Authority which points to the changes. First, the device has a full touchscreen rather than a clunky quasi-touchscreen like the Charge 2. From the touchscreen, users can navigate the device and even reply to notifications and messages. Second, the Charge 3 will be swim-proof to 50 meters. Finally, and this is a bad one, the Charge 3 will not have GPS built-in meaning users will have to bring a smartphone along for a run if they want GPS data.

Price and availability was not reveled but chances are the device will hit the stores in the coming weeks ahead of the holidays.

This is a big change for Fitbit. If the above leak is correct on all points, Fitbit is pushing the Charge 3 into smartwatch territory. The drop of GPS is regrettable but the company probably has data showing a minority of wearers use the feature. With a full touchscreen, and a notification reply function, the Charge 3 is gaining a lot of functionality for its size.

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To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the Ikea of office phone booths.

The $3495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted flow time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment, and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy, and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone Booths, Not Sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies, and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was…moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started befor co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the class, and I’m from Copenhagen so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm – warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.’”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10 square foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in under 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to plug into to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outsides. The whole box is 100 percent recyclable plus ith can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool of choice. It actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall, and TalkBox (from left)

A Place To Get Into Flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey to subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”

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