Volocopter awarded key designation by European aviation safety regulator

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft maker Volocotper has received a Design Organization Approval (DOA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This is basically a recognition by the EU that the processes Volocopter has in place in developing and building its aircraft are of a high enough standard that it can expedite the process of deploying its eVTOLs for commercial use.

That’s a big advantage for Volocopter as it moves forward with its commercialization plans. The German company announced plans this year to produce a cargo version of its vehicle designed for hauling goods, and also revealed it’ll be doing pilot of that vehicle in partnership with John Deere focused on testing its using in agriculture. Meanwhile, it’s also moving ahead with its plans for an ‘air taxi’ version that’s meant to transport people in urban environments.

Volocopter has flown its personal transport with passengers on board in Singapore and Stuttgart so far, in tests designed to help demonstrate its feasibility ahead of a true commercial launch. The company announced a €50 million euro (around $55 million USD) funding round earlier this year, and it hopes to launch its service for the public in around two to three years’ time.

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Apple TV+ picks up first Golden Globe nominations, while Netflix leads across film and TV

Netflix and Apple TV+ have good news to report following this morning’s release of the Golden Globe nominations. Netflix landed on top with 34 nominations across film and TV, while Apple TV+ earned its first nods only weeks after the service’s launch.

Despite lukewarm reviews from critics, Apple TV+ received multiple Golden Globe nominations for its flagship series “The Morning Show,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Whitherspoon, and Steve Carell. The show was nominated for best drama series and its two female stars, Aniston and Whitherspoon, were both nominated for lead actress in a drama series.

Apple TV+ launched on November 1 with only a handful of shows, including fan-favorite “Dickinson,” space race drama “For All Mankind,” and dystopian drama “See,” among others. However, “The Morning Show” which deals with the aftermath of a sexual misconduct scandal in the world of morning TV, is easily the best Apple TV+ series thanks to its star power. Even reviewers who dinged the show for its sometimes overwrought dialogue admitted that Jennifer Aniston’s performance has been fantastic. 

Following the launch of Apple TV+, many viewers found themselves at odds with the critics’ take, as they were actually enjoying many of the service’s shows. “The Morning Show” executive producers, Mimi Leder and Kerry Ehrin, later said they believed all the bad reviews were aimed more at Apple than at the shows themselves.

The nominations are Apple’s first for the Golden Globes, though the company had dabbled in TV before the streaming service’s launch with shows like “Carpool Karaoke” and “Planet of the Apps.” But neither of those were award show-worthy, to say the least.

While Apple TV+ was having a breakout moment, Netflix was having an even bigger year.

Netflix this year landed 34 nominations across film and TV, including six for Noah Baumach’s drama “Marriage Story,” five for Martin Scorses’s  “The Irishman,” and four each for its original series “The Crown” and “Unbelievable.” Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method and “The Politician” were also nominated for best TV series, musical or comedy and its film “The Two Popes” was nominated for best motion picture.

“Marriage Story’s” nods included best picture, actor, actress and screenplay, while “The Irishman” snagged nominations for best director, best-supporting actors (Joe Pesci and Al Pacino) and best screenplay.

In total, Netflix led all programmers with 17 Golden Globe TV nominations to HBO’s 15.

HBO’s “Chernobyl,” “Barry,” “Succession” and “Big Little Lies,” also earned nods, as did Amazon’s “Fleabag.”

Netflix and HBO were followed by Hulu (5), Prime Video (5) and Apple TV+ (3). Outside digital, FX scored 4 TV noms, followed by Showtime (3), BBC America (2) and USA Network (1).

On the film side, Netflix landed 17 nominations, more than double the next nearest competitor Sony Pictures Releasing (8). Amazon Studios also scored 3.

 

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The first trailer for the NEW new Ghostbusters is here

It’s been nearly a year since a teaser trailer revealed a world weary Ecto-1 beneath a tarp in some mysterious barn. Now, a few days after getting its official name, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has its first full trailer.

The forthcoming film is helmed by Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan (who is on board as producer). Afterlife, of course, is not to be confused with the 2016 reboot, Answer the Call, which was met with a lukewarm critical response and was generally consider a box office bomb (and then there’s the whole matter of the extremely angry, extremely online dudes, who were even less kind).

The new film ignores the events of the McCarthy/Wiig/Jones/McKinnon film, instead serving as a continuation of the 1989 sequel to the original. Most of the primary original cast is back, including Bill Murray (whose voice can be heard toward the end), Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts. Harold Ramis passed away in 2014 (though one of the leads does appear to be Egon Spangler’s grand daughter) and Rick Moranis has been mostly retired for a couple of decades.

Possible real life vampire Paul Rudd features heavily in the new trailer alongside a ghost trap. He plays a teacher of a group of students who bring some serious Stranger Things energy (including, fittingly, cast member Finn Wolfhard), thus completing the pop culture ouroboros. The nostalgia is going to be thick with this one. 

The third film has had a fairly rocky path to existence in the 30 years since its predecessor, but it’s scheduled to finally arrive in theaters July 10.

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Video of Cybertruck driving on California highway reveals more questions

Video of Cybertruck driving on California highway reveals more questions

A video just surfaced showing the Tesla Cybertruck driving around LA. Elon Musk is purportedly driving, but it’s not confirmed that he was behind the wheel while this video was filmed. However the video reveals several things.

One, there’s no mirrors yet.

According to US regulations, passenger vehicles need to have a mirror inside and one on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The Cybertruck in this video does not have a driver’s side mirror.

When Musk unveiled the Cybertruck, he stated that the vehicle used a video camera for the rear-view camera, which is something other automakers are trying as well. Cadillac has done this for years. It works.

The lack mirror on the driver’s side is a bigger question. The vehicle used in the unveiling was missing exterior mirrors and the one in this video also lacks them too. It’s possible it uses a camera for the side mirrors though it’s yet to be announced. Other automakers including Audi have turned to cameras for European-spec’d vehicles as US-based vehicles must have a physical mirror.

Two, there’s a lot of body roll.

The video shows the driver taking a wide turn onto the street. In doing so, the Cybertruck appears to experience a large amount of body roll. A surprising amount, too.

The Cybertruck, like every other Tesla vehicle, has a bank of batteries on the bottom. Supposedly. If that’s the case, the bulk of the weight should be at the bottom, dropping the center of gravity and giving the vehicle a stable driving experience. In the Model X, this results in amazing protection from rolling over when impacted on the side.

The Cybertruck experienced a large amount of body roll with a wider wheel base than what’s allowed. During the unveiling, it was clear the Cybertruck’s tires were wider than the fenders. This is also not allowed by US standards as tires must be covered by fenders. I assumed Tesla would correct this in the final version and did this for stage presence and to improve stability in testing. The latest video shows a Cybertruck with tires also sticking out from the fenders. It’s not clear how far the tires protrude but so much so that the driver hits a traffic cone when turning into traffic. If the Cybertruck’s stance is narrowed, will the body roll be worse?

Also, the driver runs a red light because clearly the Cybertruck is living in a post-traffic light world.

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Instacart shoppers plan a series of actions in protest of company’s wage practices

Instacart shoppers are continuing to hold the grocery startup accountable with their latest set of actions. Kicking off next Monday, Instacart shoppers plan to take one action per day, for six days in protest of Instacart.

“We’re still just trying to get this one tiny thing: double the default tip percentage,” Instacart shopper and protest organizer Sarah (pseudonym) told TechCrunch. “We’ve tried endlessly to get them to raise the base guarantee pay. But we feel like, fine, at least give us the higher default tip.”

Instacart currently suggests a default tip of 5% but workers want Instacart to increase it to 10%. Next week, Instacart shoppers plan to take a number of actions. including filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor as well as filing a wage claim.

Sarah, who has been an Instacart shopper for four years in California, says shoppers have become furious because it’s clear Instacart does not respect them.

“We’re trying to continuously show them that we do have power,” Sarah said. “I believe this protest of seven days is going to be the most powerful thing we’ve ever done because it has the ability to really fuck them up.”

The full schedule is as follows:

  • December 16: File complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, asking the department to audit Instacart’s previous practice of misappropriating tips
  • December 17: Contact federal legislators and ask them to hold Instacart accountable to minimum wage laws and more
  • December 18: File a wage claim regarding Instacart’s classification of shoppers as 1099 independent contractors
  • December 19: Hand-deliver binders, filled with a letter and personal notes from workers, to CEOs of six partner stores. Workers want partner stores to help ensure minimum standards and earnings.
  • December 20: Contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding how Instacart shoppers sometimes have to fulfill heavy orders, which can lead to injuries on the job.
  • December 21: Contact state legislators

This comes after Instacart shoppers organized a nationwide protest where they went on strike for 72 hours in demand of a better tip and fee structure. Following that protest, Instacart got rid of the $3 quality bonus.

“When we did the walk-off, that required people to take off several days from work,” Sarah said. “We don’t want people to miss out on money so we’re doing something that will take less time.”

So far, more than 300 workers have signed up to participate in the seven days of action. This upcoming action follows years’ worth of protesting. Back in 2016, Instacart removed the option to tip in favor of guaranteeing its workers higher delivery commissions. About a month later, following pressure from its workers, the company reintroduced tipping. Then, in April 2018, Instacart began suggesting a 5% default tip and reduced its service fee from a 10% waivable fee to a 5% fixed fee.

Instacart has previously said it’s committed to providing its shoppers with an earnings structure that offers upfront pay and guaranteed minimums.

“We respect the voices of all shoppers and take the feedback of our community very seriously,” an Instacart spokesperson previously said in a statement. “We will continue to listen and engage with shoppers to improve their experience.”

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Late registration savings to Disrupt Berlin ends tomorrow

Just two more days to go until Disrupt Berlin opens its doors to thousands of the top international early-stage startup founders, investors, movers and shakers. And we have good news for all you last-minute decision makers.

You can attend Disrupt — and still save money — by taking advantage of our late registration pricing. Depending on which pass you buy, you can keep up to €200 in your wallet. But don’t put off this decision any longer. The late registration ends tomorrow, 10 December at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Buy your Disrupt Berlin pass now and save.

Attending Disrupt Berlin is a terrific investment of money, time and energy. Connect with like-minded startuppers, learn about the newest tech trends and come away revitalized and inspired to take your slice of the startup world to the next level.

We’ve packed the Disrupt Berlin agenda with presentations, workshops and Q&As featuring conversations with the top players in the startup world. Here’s just a taste of what’s to come.

Investing in 2020: Nothing changes quite as rapidly as investment trends. Carolina Brochado (Softbank Investment Advisors) will offer perspective from her experience both on the ground in Europe and from 50,000 feet to talk about what 2020 has in store for startups.

The Top Three Immigration Mistakes Startups Make: Learn how to troubleshoot the many snags that can affect startups trying to bring international talent into their organizations, with top Silicon Valley immigration expert Sophie Alcorn.

Mobilizing Emerging Markets: As the mobility industry evolves rapidly, a huge opportunity lies in emerging markets. Sujay Tyle, serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Frontier Car Group, is looking to capitalize on that opportunity with its investments in used-car marketplaces.

Don’t miss Startup Battlefield — our epic pitch competition returns with an outstanding cadre of early-stage startup founders from around the world. They’ll deliver a high-speed pitch to expert judges and compete for the Battlefield Cup, investor and media exposure and a $50,000 cash infusion.

Kick your networking into high gear and use CrunchMatch to navigate the hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in Startup Alley — including the TC Top Picks. Our business-matching platform helps you find the people and startups most aligned with your business goals. You spend less time looking and more time connecting with the right people.

This year, we’re holding the TC Hackathon finals on the Extra Crunch stage. Come on over and see the products 10 dedicated teams designed and built in 24 hours. Whether you’re looking for skilled coders or just appreciate the artistry, don’t miss this event.

The countdown is on, people. Disrupt Berlin 2019 starts in just two days, and late registration pricing ends tomorrow, 10 December at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). If you want in on the action — and save up to €200 — go buy your pass before the deadline hits.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Can a games platform tackle kids’ anxiety about having to do math?

You know that feeling when you look at your bank statements and try to figure out what on earth is going on? Or when you do your taxes? It turns out this isn’t just an insignificant feeling, but a scientifically recognized anxiety. Mathematics Anxiety (MA) is defined in research literature as feelings of concern, tension or nervousness experienced in combination with math in ordinary life and in academic situations.

And it is, in fact, a widespread worldwide problem which can cause damaging effects throughout life. If your population is too scared to add up and subtract, your economy will suffer. Badly. Some 17 million adults in the UK (49% of the working-age) have a numeracy level expected from primary school children. This results in a £20 billion loss to the UK economy a year, according to one study. If that’s just the UK, imagine what the figures must be for other countries?

If people weren’t so anxious about doing math, then we’d probably also have more tech workers. More than three quarters (77%) of children with high math anxiety are – when tested – between normal to high achievers on curriculum math tests. So this anxiety prevents students from entering STEM fields when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in these fields.

The problem is down to the amygdala, the same part of the brain that responds to fearful situations. It shows a heightened response in children with high math anxiety (as if it’s a physical danger) and triggers a fight-or-flight response.

The origins of Math Anxiety are rooted in the prevalence of accumulated negative math learning experiences by the age around six years old. So if you could get kids comfortable with Math by age 6, then you’d boost the economy and society.

Now, to address this problem, two young math-savvy mums have co-founded a startup, Funexpected, to tackle this worldwide problem.

Their solution is a ‘multisensory’ iOS app offering a new approach to learning which has achieved significant early success. Inside the first month of its launch, Apple featured the app among its “Best of September” and “New Apps We Love” in the UK and ‘Best Apps for Kids,’ ‘Awesome Kids Apps’ categories in App Stores of more than 60 countries.

By late October this year, the startup has been selected as an edtech innovator for the EDUCATE programme led by the UCL Institute of Education,  considered by many to be the leading UK research accelerator into EdTEch. And as of last week, Apple Stores will feature the Funexpected app on the stores’ native devices among Prisma, Alterlight, Headspace and other big names.

Furthermore, next year, Dor Abrahamson, professor of cognition and development at the UC Berkeley School of Education, plans to create a game for the app.

The bootstrapped startup, founded by Natalia Pereldik (after she left Investment Banking) together with friend Alexandra Kazilo, has now seen its app downloaded more than 35,000 times in over 50 countries in four weeks after the launch.

So what does it do?

The app itself is a collection of 11 games located across the landscapes of Japan, Egypt and Greenland. Children tap, cut, slide, grab, move animated on-screen objects to propel the story forward, such as by feeding a monkey with the correct amount of juicy berries gathered from various branches or learning logic by catching the right type of fish with a net and filling a fish pond. Parents can use it with their kids as well. The app runs a subscription-based model of £3.99 a month ($5.25) or £31.99 a year ($42.10)

It’s tackling a big market. The global mobile learning market was valued at $10.93 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $179.21 billion by 2025.

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Near Space Labs provides unmatched high-resolution imaging using stratospheric satellites

Imaging is one of the key markets in the emerging space tech industry, and for good reason – there’s a proven and robust demand for imaging and Earth observation data among government, private and other clients. Orbital satellites satisfy some of this demand, and companies like Planet have grown sizeable businesses on building satellites that can provide this kind of data more affordably, but startup Near Space Labs is taking a different approach that provides imaging better suited to certain types of industries and uses.

“We decided to start a company and approach this from a totally new angle, and utilize this gap in aerospace, which is the stratosphere – twice higher than where airliners fly,” said Near Space Labs CEO Remarriages Matevosyan in an interview. “So from that vantage point, we have a very nice view of a very large area, we still can be very high resolution like an airplane or a drone would be, and we can also be very frequent: Currently, we have a daily cadence of imagery, which is unprecedented in this industry at the resolutions that we provide.”

This kind of data is very useful for insurance, real estate and logistics companies, as well as for local municipalities, since it can provide highly relevant and timely data, in the form of very detailed images, quickly. That means you can check progress on a large construction project from an overall perspective, monitor emerging traffic congestion issues or check operational efficiency at a port from a top-down view. Traditional satellites aren’t great at providing this easily and affordably to businesses of all sizes, either because high-resolution optics from that altitude require hugely expensive spacecraft to operate, or because the younger companies working with more affordable satellites can’t achieve the resolution needed from that operating height, or provide data that’s as timely or available on an on-demand basis.

“Our platform is made to be scalable, and it’s made to be easy to launch in areas where people need it,” Matevosyan said. “And that’s an advantage that we have against solutions that aren’t able to be very reactive to say, a disaster. We can easily fly during and after wildfires for example, whereas others [like drones and airplanes] would have a hard time.”

Matevosyan says Near Space Labs can deploy one of its weather balloon-based stratospheric imaging platforms every day, after which it’ll ascend to its operating height and focus on an area taking photographs while aloft for a couple of hours, then come back down and provide immediate access to the resulting high-resolution images. Near Space Labs has developed its own hardware and software in-house, resulting in a proprietary robotic platform that gathers the data it then provides to clients.

In addition to data, Near Space is working on building analytics layers for the photography it gathers to provide its customers with more of a one-stop shop for both imaging and interpretation.

Near Space Labs has investment from Draper Associates, Wireframe Ventures and the Urban-X accelerator run by automaker Mini. Urban-X is focused on companies that help alter the shape of urban living, and Matevosyan says they see very big opportunities in helping municipalities reimagine how their cities operate, given the type and immediacy of imaging they can provide.

Check out this high-res, 33MB version of the featured image above for an idea of how much detail Near Space Labs can capture:

 

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Singapore’s Neuron Mobility raises $18.5M to bring its electric scooters to more international markets

Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based startup, has closed an $18.5 million new financing round as it looks to scale its e-scooter startup in international markets.

The new financing round, dubbed Series A, was funded by GSR Ventures, a venture capital firm which was the first institutional investor in Chinese ride-hailing giant DiDi Chuxing, and Square Peg, Australia’s largest venture capital firm.

Existing investors SeedPlus, SEEDS Capital also participated in the round. The three-year-old startup has raised about $23.5 million to date.

Neuron Mobility, which began its journey in Singapore, operates an eponymous e-scooters rental platform. In recent years and quarters, Neuron has expanded to cities in Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand.

Neuron’s e-scooters are affordable in every market where they are available. In Brisbane, Australia, for instance, anyone can begin a trip with a Neuron’s bike by paying one Australian Dollar (68 U.S. cents) and then 38 Australian cents for each minute of the ride, Zachary Wang, co-founder and chief executive of Neuron, told TechCrunch in an interview.

These scooters can go as fast as 25 kilometer per hour, and automatically slow down at certain places such as near a school. Wang said the startup closely works with city councils to understand how these e-scooters should operate.

On a single charge, a Neuron electric scooter can travel up to 60 kilometers (37.2 miles). These e-scooters are equipped with a swappable battery. Once the ride is finished, a customer can drop the bike at any nearby parking station or any suitable location. Neuron works with a large number of people who actively swap the batteries on these scooters.

Like India’s electric scooter and bike startups Bounce and Yulu, Neuron Mobility also designs its electric scooters but relies on Chinese equipment manufacturer for producing them. (Yulu recently inked a strategic deal with Bajaj Auto to task the Indian auto manufacturing giant with the production job.

As Neuron expands to international markets, it has had to halt its e-scooter rental service in home market of Singapore. Last month, Singapore said e-scooters could no longer operate on footpaths, creating major challenges for all the players. Wang said that Neuron still has teams that work from Singapore, but they have always focused on the larger Asia Pacific region and other markets. Besides, Neuron stopped its service in Singapore months before the nation passed any new law. (Prior to the recent order, Singapore had other issues with electric scooters.)

Neuron will use the fresh capital to further its footprint in the markets where it operates and explore building new categories, Wang said. “We feel we are in the midst of a wave where a number of technologies are falling into place that could help us improve our electric scooter and build more mobility solutions.” The startup is also exploring new markets, though Wang declined to name them.

Like in the United States, electric scooters and bikes have imploded in Southeast Asian markets, where a growing number of familiar brands such as Lime, Bird, Ofo, oBike and local players are increasingly expanding their presence.

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China moves to ban foreign software and hardware from state offices

China has reportedly ordered all foreign PC hardware and operating systems to be replaced in the next three years, intensifying an ongoing tech war. The country has attempted this sort of thing before halfheartedly, but this is the most serious effort yet to isolate itself from the influence of the western technology sector.

The order came from high up in the Chinese government earlier this year, according to a Financial Times report citing Chinese tech analysts. The goal is not simply to replace American and European software and operating systems with Chinese equivalents, but the hardware they run on as well.

China has previously ordered purges of western software, but they were more limited or related to certain security issues; there were efforts five years ago to wean the country off Android and Windows, but ultimately they proved abortive.

This time could very easily be different. The relationship between the U.S. and China has become strained, to say the least, especially in the world of tech, where the two countries have shifted from earnest rivals to real adversaries. The U.S. has recently moved to ban some large Chinese hardware providers, such as ZTE and Huawei, from use in American infrastructure (Huawei has called the ban “unconstitutional”), and miscellaneous other policy decisions have widened the rift.

The apparently decisive nature of the order, then, should come as no surprise. The goal is reportedly to replace 30 percent of the computers and software by the end of 2020, an additional 50 percent in 2021, and the remaining 20 percent in 2022.

The three year “3-5-2” plan is ambitious to say the least. Tens of millions of devices will need to be replaced, but it isn’t as simple as trading out HP machines for Chinese-manufactured ones. The components and software must be Chinese as well, so Intel and AMD processors are out, as are Nvidia GPUs, ARM architectures, Sony image processors, and so on.

This won’t be quite the shock it seems, however, as many Chinese companies have been preparing for this eventuality for years. China has made its desire to establish independence from U.S. companies especially quite clear and many state-backed enterprises have been unable to use U.S. suppliers for some time.

Even so, Chinese equivalents to products like Windows and Android have nowhere near the level of maturity and developer support necessary to swap them out with no consequences. And the ban may hamstring other major efforts like the country’s push to dominate the AI ecosystem. If Chinese government-backed researchers are unable to use the same tools as their academic and private counterparts elsewhere in the world, their results will almost certainly suffer.

The specifics of the plan are still confidential but will likely trickle out as they begin to be enforced. But this is likely to be a major driver of industry dynamics for several years as suppliers, developers, and manufacturers all learn to navigate the divergent markets.

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