Smile, you’re in augmented reality dentistry


For someone getting major dental work or reconstructive surgery, it can be hard to visualize what they’ll look like afterwards. You can do casts and make wax molds, but that’s a bit… 19th century, isn’t it? A Swiss startup brings the in retrospect obvious solution of augmented reality to the problem, giving patients a virtual view of the smile they could soon have.

The company, Kapanu, is a spinoff of Swiss technical university ETH Zurich; CEO Roland Mörzinger collaborated with Disney Research to create an augmented reality engine for medical purposes, and dentistry was chosen as a good first application.

It works by matching a 3D scan of the person’s mouth cavity (a procedure many dentists do already) to scans of known sets of good teeth already used for this kind of thing. Once the software locks onto the user’s mouth and teeth, it overlays the improved teeth — and that’s where the fun starts. There are options the user can then tweak: how close the teeth are, various shapes and spacing, and so on. All the changes are visible live.

Once the patient has customized their teeth and given them a preview in the AR “virtual mirror,” the final model is sent off for manufacture wherever it is replacement teeth are made.

The system was shown at the International Dental Show in Cologne last winter, and apparently they were mobbed. It clearly impressed the big players in this corner of the health world: this June Kapanu was acquired by Ivoclar Vivadent. No word on the terms, but the company is operating independently.

It’s a nice success story for augmented reality, which often is relegated to applications that are little more than toys. A real business with everyday applications that tangibly benefit people — imagine that!

Featured Image: Kapanu

UK’s FiveAI gets $35M to build a taxi service powered by its own self-driving car platform


The race is on for autonomous vehicle technology, and now a startup out of the UK is the latest to throw its hat into the ring to help build it. Cambridge-based FiveAI — a partner in the UK’s StreetWise self-driving project — has raised £14 million ($18 million) and £12.8 million ($17 million) in two tranches to fill out its plans for a two-part business in the world of self-driving services. First, FiveAI is building its own autonomous driving system; and second, FiveAI will use that AI-based platform to take on Uber and other transportation services with a fleet of self-driving taxis.

 

Lakestar Capital — the firm founded by prolific (and successful) investor Klaus Hommels — led this Series A round, with Amadeus Capital Partners, Notion Capital and Kindred (who all previously invested in its seed round of $2.7 million) also participating.

On top of the Series A, FiveAI will also get a boost in the form of a grant from the UK government: it has so far received £12.8 million ($17 million) for StreetWise, a project it’s working on with Transport for London, the Transport Research Laboratory, Oxford University, insurer Direct Line, and others to develop a self-driving car pilot for London to cut traffic congestion and free up parking spaces. StreetWise is slated for its first test runs at the end of 2019.

There are many, many companies today that are working on autonomous car systems. They include other startups like Zoox and Nutonomy (who, like FiveAI, are building platforms that they plan to use in their own fleets), transportation providers like Uber, car makers (who themselves are acquiring startup talent to kickstart their efforts), those like Bosch that build in-car systems already, and of course tech giants like Google, Apple and Baidu who approach cars like the next big hardware challenge.

With the billions in funding and armies of engineers that these companies have to commit to these efforts, FiveAI’s Series A and government grant appear very modest indeed.

But Stan Boland — FiveAI’s CEO and co-founder — is not one to be deterred. In an interview earlier today in FiveAI’s (still sparse) new offices, he made a case for why Europe needs its own startup in this area. For one, our driving culture is completely different and our cities don’t look like cities in the U.S. or Asia. And further, he argues that it’s high time that we see more moonshots coming from here, building on the region’s strength in artificial intelligence.

“We think it’s time that Europe builds a big tech company,” he said, noting that transport could well be at the heart of that big tech company. “Transport is a sector that is ready for change.”

It so happens that Boland is probably one founder that investors will listen to when he explains a big plan. He has been at the head of some of Europe’s biggest startup exits in the last several years: they include Element 14, a spinout from ARM that was acquired by Broadcom $640 million; Icera, acquired by Nvidia for $367 million; and IoT startup Neul, acquired by Huawei, before moving on to FiveAI with other co-founders Ben PetersSteve Allpress, and John Redford.

“If anything, the bolder you are with investors, the more they seem to want to give you,” he said. (This may be a consequence of the aforementioned track record. I’m fairly certain that if, say, I walked into Klaus Hommels’ office and described my vision for an autonomous car startup, I might get quietly escorted out of the room.)

“FiveAI is a fantastic example where the UK has the talent, ambition and market to build a truly successful technology-led company. Dense European cities present totally different technical, behavioural, regulatory and infrastructure challenges to their US and Chinese counterparts for safe urban driverless technologies,” said Lakestar Capital’s Dharmash Mistry, who is joining FiveAI’s board with this round. “By assembling its talented team in the UK and seeking to support London’s transport objectives in partnership with the city itself, FiveAI can play a vital role in reducing congestion, emissions, costs, accidents and journey times, boosting the city economy at the same time.”

To be clear, he also added that FiveAI has raised exactly as much as it wanted to, for now, and he also said that he has also put some of his own money into the operation as well.

To date, FiveAI has yet to launch any products, and if you have been following the autonomous car space you will know that there are many pieces that will need to come together before FiveAI, or any other company, can hope for large deployments.

Boland describes FiveAI today as in “Phase one” of its business plan: it is building an autonomous platform to run vehicles, which will include demonstrating the platform’s cognitive abilities and running pilots. Phase two will include the development of a dispatch system, the user experience development, and the first commercial launch. It will also involve much more work to improve the regulatory environment “to make it feasible.” He believes this will come in 2021.

Phase three will be FiveAI’s big push to scale in the market. “It’s at that point that we will need to buy lots of cars,” where FiveAI’s autonomous system will be loaded, he said. “It’s probably at that point that we’ll need to raise a significant amount of money, in the hundreds of millions or billions.”

As for a Plan B, there is no Plan B that Boland will consider today.

“We do recognise that startups do pivot, but we are not running multiple contingency plans right now,” he said. 

“It may sound completely mad to some,” he said, “but the reason why we think it’s needed and will work is because personal mobility is not going to be a winner takes all market. There is no single solution that will work everywhere. We can change public transport.”

 

Betterview just raised $2 million to analyze drone footage for insurers


Betterview, a 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company whose software can analyze detailed aerial footage captured by drones to help insurers better understand a property’s condition, has raised $2 million in funding from a long list of investors.

Compound Venture Capital led the round; other participants include Maiden Re, 645 Ventures, Arab Angel, Winklevoss Capital, Chestnut Street Ventures, Pierre Valade (who cofounded the calendar application Sunrise), angel investor Edward Lando, and earlier backers
Haystack and MetaProp.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the company, which currently supports DJI drones and say its special sauce is the more than one million photos of roofs and properties in its database — a data set that it claims has been analyzed on an individual photo basis by claims adjusters, roofers and other experts and that continues to grow and improve via machine learning with every new image it processes.

Though cofounder and CEO David Lyman wasn’t at liberty to disclose the company’s customers when we spoke last week, there’s clearly a market bubbling up here.

Insurance companies Travelers and Allstate have said they now use drones to take pictures and video, and for fairly straightforward reasons, like the ability to keep their inspectors out of harm’s way, and view areas where it might be harder for a human to see. Insurers are also deciding that it’s faster to send up an image-capturing drone rather than have someone traipse around a property, looking for damage and taking notes.

In fact, with year-old FAA rules that make it easier for drone operators to fly legally as long as their drone is within sight, there’s little justification for not embracing drones.

Betterview is also chasing a sizable market. There are more than 8 million commercial properties in the U.S. and more than 300,000 that are valued at more than $5 million — which is the segment that Betterview, which sells it software on a subscription basis, is targeting right now.

Should it enter into the business of helping to inspect single family homes, charging perhaps on a one-off basis, the market opens up even further. According to the latest U.S. census data, there are more than 76 million single family homes in the U.S., and 83 percent of them are insured.

Somewhat amazingly, Betterview doesn’t appear to have many direct challengers at the moment, discounting minor efforts by the big insurance companies themselves, which could well decide to pour more resources into their own analytic capabilities (but could also decide instead to snap up Betterview).

Then again, other, similar aerial intelligence platforms simply have a different approach. Kespry, for example, a four-year-old, Menlo Park, Ca.-based startup that has already raised $28 million in funding, has built an entire system — a drone and software platform — to sell to insurance companies, as well as to mine operators and construction companies, for which it does job site mapping. (Betterview is similarly able to determine precise building and road measurements through its photos, says Lyman.)

Asked if Betterview’s tech is being put to use in Houston in the catastrophic wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lyman tells us it is — that one major carrier is having it survey photos taken south of Houston to assess wind damage. He says a multi-family property owner has separately hired the company to assess 17 regional properties. “Our greatest challenge,” says Lyman, has been getting FAA approval to fly.

Currently — and understandably, he adds —  a temporary flight restriction has been imposed, with priority given to flights for rescue, as well as for news operations.

Watch Nissan debut its new 2018 Leaf electric car live right here

Nissan’s new Leaf is making its official world premiere today at 5:30 PM PDT (8:30 PM EDT). That’s when we’ll get the first detailed look at the car, though we’ve seen some teasing images of headlights and tail lights thus far.

This should be a major revamp of the Nissan all-electric car, which was one of the first ever actually produced and sold by a major automaker. The 2018 Nissan Leaf not only gets a new leaf, but also is said to be getting a 40 kWh battery that might offer as much as 150 miles of range per charge, with potential to upgrade to a 60 kWh pack for a boosted range of around 200 miles.

That’s still not quite as much range as Tesla’s Model 3 offers, or as much as the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, either. But the Nissan Leaf will come equipped with the company’s ProPILOT semi-autonomous driver assistance features, which offers SAE Level 2 features including lane-keeping, acceleration and braking control.

While you’re waiting for the stream above to start, take a look at the few images Nissan has released depicting the new Leaf thus far:

  1. The new Nissan LEAF: Amaze your senses

    The new Nissan LEAF, packed with our most available advanced technologies, will be revealed September 6, 2017, in Japan (September 5 in the U.S.). The redesigned next-generation LEAF will amaze your senses and raise the bar for the electric vehicle market. As a 100{04edb846e1f7ff5cc6c6416fdec5ab17fdb82e2b499db9aa1b216ed4709c0e5d} electric vehicle with zero tailpipe emissions, the new Nissan LEAF, an icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, offers a quiet and refreshing experience while driving.
  2. Nissan will show next-generation LEAF during 2017 National Drive

    NASHVILLE (Aug. 17, 2017) – Less than a week after its global debut, the next-generation Nissan LEAF begins making public appearances at National Drive Electric Week events across the U.S. Consumers in eight cities will get an up-close look at the second-generation LEAF. Nissan LEAF is the official sponsor of National Drive Electric Week for the third straight year. “The timing couldn’t be better. Bringing LEAF to some of the most enthusiastic EV advocates just days after its global debut is the perfect way to kick things off for this technology-packed car,” said Brian Maragno, director, Nissan EV Marketing and Sales Strategy.
  3. Nissan will show next-generation LEAF during 2017 National Drive

    NASHVILLE (Aug. 17, 2017) – Less than a week after its global debut, the next-generation Nissan LEAF begins making public appearances at National Drive Electric Week events across the U.S. Consumers in eight cities will get an up-close look at the second-generation LEAF. Nissan LEAF is the official sponsor of National Drive Electric Week for the third straight year. “The timing couldn’t be better. Bringing LEAF to some of the most enthusiastic EV advocates just days after its global debut is the perfect way to kick things off for this technology-packed car,” said Brian Maragno, director, Nissan EV Marketing and Sales Strategy.
  4. Nissan to showcase new LEAF at Technology in Motion exhibition i

    Nissan is bringing the all-new 2018 Nissan LEAF to the inaugural Technology in Motion (TIM Detroit) exhibition and conference in Detroit. The three-day event will be one of the first opportunities to see the next-generation LEAF electric car following its global unveil.

The Red Sox used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees


Here’s another innovative use case Apple can mention when they  announce the next Apple Watch:

The device has reportedly played a key role in a baseball sign stealing scheme run by the Boston Red Sox.

According to The New York Times, the MLB has determined that the first-place Red Sox stole hand signals from opponent’s catchers during a recent Yankees series and possibly during games against other teams.

Here’s how it worked:

The Red Sox’s video replay personnel were obtaining hand signs from live footage and messaging (likely just using iMessage or SMS) it to an Apple Watch worn by a member of the Red Sox training staff in the dugout. The trainer would then relay that information to some players on the field.

Confusing? Here’s some quick background for anyone that isn’t a baseball fan – catchers communicate with pitchers and tell them which pitches to throw via hand signals. This information is tremendously useful to the opposing team – if a batter knows what type of pitch (like a curveball or fastball) is coming in advance they have a much better chance at hitting it.

In the old days the only reliable way to intercept signs was to have a runner on second base who could look at what signs the pitcher was getting and try to relay them to the batter. But now, with live video streams and real-time communication devices (like the Apple Watch) it’s getting easier.

And of course the Yankees were the ones who caught them red handed, subsequently turning over footage to the league of the Red Sox’s assistant athletic director looking at his Apple Watch and then passing information to other players. And just in case you forgot the teams are bitter rivals, the Red Sox have filed a counter claim alleging that the Yankees are using a camera from their TV network to also steal signs during games.

To be clear, stealing signs is pretty common in baseball…and allowed if the teams only use their own eyes and signals or voices to convey what they saw. But using replay technology and an Apple Watch to electronically speed up the process isn’t allowed, and the league may end up fining the Red Sox (and any other team who is doing similar things).

The only question left is who gave the Red Sox the idea to use an Apple Watch like this? We have at least one guess…

As trial begins, GrubHub looks to defend itself as a 1099 employer


In day one of GrubHub v. Lawson, the first-ever case to go trial in California regarding the debate involving 1099 contractors and W-2 employees in the gig economy, lawyers for both sides presented their opening statements.

In a packed court room (with limited air conditioning) in San Francisco this morning, Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer for plaintiff Raef Lawson, outlined that she’s going to address the broad question of whether gig economy workers should be classified as W-2 employees “in baby steps.”

She noted that the point of this case is not to take on the entire gig-economy, but to bite off a little piece of it. The question in this particular case, Liss-Riordan said, is to figure out if Lawson, an aspiring actor in LA, was a contractor or an employee during the time he drove for GrubHub. Lawson worked for GrubHub from October 2015 to November 2016, when he was fired for allegedly not responding to enough delivery requests.

Liss-Riordan went on to describe how GrubHub had a certain amount of control over Lawson, similar to the way a restaurant would have control over their wait staff. She also described how GrubHub had guaranteed rates and the block system, which was GrubHub’s shift system during the time Lawson drove for the company. Even though GrubHub claimed drivers could work whenever they wanted, Liss-Riordan said the company required drivers to sign up for blocks and they could not log on to drive if it wasn’t their shift.

GrubHub also had priority scheduling for high-performing drivers, which made it easier to get the shifts they wanted, Liss-Riordan explained. In order to be eligible for priority scheduling, the drivers’ order acceptance rates needed to remain high. Otherwise, there were ramifications like no priority scheduling, no weekly bonuses, getting logged off their shift and other penalties, Liss-Riordan said.

“Managers were well aware they had the power to make these types of decisions,” she said.

GrubHub also incentivized drivers to wear a GrubHub shirt and hat, Liss-Riordan said. While it wasn’t required to wear the attire, GrubHub required drivers to use and pay for a GrubHub bag to keep the food warm. If they agreed to wear the shirt and hat, they wouldn’t have to pay for the bag.

GrubHub’s argument

GrubHub, of course, argues that Lawson was an independent contractor who was in business for himself. But Liss-Riordan notes that Lawson was a struggling actor, who was doing work for GrubHub, along with other companies like Postmates and Caviar. He didn’t have his own customers, nor did he hire anyone to help him in this so-called business of his.

Although Lawson did not employ others to help him complete deliveries, he could have, GrubHub lawyer Theodore Boutrous said. That right to be able to hire, Boutrous said, shows that Lawson wasn’t “under GrubHub’s thumb.”

In GrubHub’s opening statement, Boutrous described how Lawson has worked for 11 on-demand companies since 2015, including Jolt, TaskRabbit, DoorDash, Lyft, Uber and Deliv.

“He represents the essence of an independent contractor under California law,” Boutrous said.

After showing Lawson’s deposition, Boutrous said that “if [Lawson] didn’t want to work, he didn’t schedule himself. That’s kind of the ultimate freedom that an employee doesn’t have.”

Boutrous went on to argue that even though there was a block system and there were no guarantees to when Lawson would be able to work, he didn’t have to.

In response to Liss-Riordan’s claim that GrubHub didn’t want Lawson and other drivers to deliver food for competitors, Boutrous said “that’s exactly the opposite,” referencing the contractual agreement that states drivers are able to work for other companies. GrubHub claims Lawson used other apps on more than half of his scheduled blocks, and didn’t even know Lawson was using other services until the discovery portion of the case.

“So far from being subjected to GrubHub’s control, he never had to complete a single delivery,” Boutrous said.

Lawson also signed a contract stating he was an independent contractor, and then filed taxes as an independent contractor. He filed many deductions, Boutrous said.

“Mr. Lawson actually deducted far more in business expenses as an independent contractor than he ever even made on the GrubHub platform,” Boutrous said.

Given Lawson’s testimony, taxes and interactions with eleven other on-demand companies, Boutrous said, “shows he was an independent contractor using these platforms to operate his own distinct business operation.”

Another element that points to independent contractor status is that Lawson didn’t do his first delivery until a couple of months after signing up, Boutrous said. He then posed a hypothetical. If Lawson had signed up for a job at Neiman Marcus, for example, he would not have been able to wait two months to start. Boutrous said that sort of thing wouldn’t fly if Lawson were an employee.

As I noted over the weekend, the trial could have major implications for other companies and its workers in the gig economy. If the case goes in favor of Lawson and Tan, startups like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash and the lot may eventually have to switch their employment classifications. Although this specific trial doesn’t explicitly seek to make decisions around the practices of other on-demand companies, Liss-Riordan noted they “might tweak their practices along the way” of this trial.

The suit, which was originally filed in 2015, alleged GrubHub misclassified Raef Lawson and Andrew Tan as independent contractors and, in doing so, violated the California Labor Code. Lawson is seeking reimbursement for underpaid wages, expenses and other damages.

Featured Image: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images

World View’s stratospheric balloon spends a record 27 hours in flight


World View’s most recent Stratollite mission broke some records for the high altitude aeronautics company: the balloon-based stratospheric vehicle managed to stay aloft for around 27 hours during a mission carried out last weekend, which marks the first time it’s managed to successfully stay aloft and controlled through a full day and night cycle.

Why is that important for World View? Because ultimately, the company hopes its Stratollites will be able to stay aloft for weeks or even months, carrying payloads including sensor suites for high-res remote imaging and observation missions, for instance, and for observing things like the impact of large-scale commercial and industrial development without having to deal with some of the limitations of orbital satellites.

Part of making that model work involves flying its so-called Stratollites across a range of weather conditions and temperature differences – including the extremes that can occur between day and night, especially at very high altitudes. This latest mission helped World View show that it can manage those changes successfully, and it also marks the first time any high-altitude balloon has managed a controlled change of altitude while operating in the stratosphere.

This is a key milestone for the World View model, which also seeks to eventually bring human passengers up to the stratosphere and the edge of space with its Voyager balloon-flown crew capsule. We spent the day checking out World View’s HQ in Arizona earlier this year, so check out more about their business model and plans below:

Facebook Watch original video tab launches to all U.S. users


Today Facebook officially opened its new Watch tab of original video content to everyone in the U.S. after a limited rollout a month ago and expansion to some more users last week. Available on Facebook’s native mobile apps, desktop site, and TV apps, Watch lets users subscribe to their favorite series instead of just haphazardly stumbling upon one-off videos in the News Feed. U.S. users will now see the TV icon in the mobile navigation bar and desktop site bookmarks.

Meanwhile, Facebook is trying to ensure that user generated videos don’t get taken down for including music owned by the major record labels. Bloomberg reports Facebook is offering the labels hundreds of millions of dollars for a deal that would let infringing videos stay up, rather than be removed to the great annoyance of users.

Facebook had planned to build out a YouTube Content ID-style system so labels could detect uses of their music and claim a cut of monetization from then instead of just issuing blunt takedown notices. But Bloomberg says that system could take up to two years to build, and Facebook is willing to pay now to stop the takedowns.

Lackluster Video

Facebook is offering a range of different options for discovering video content, including a carousel of featured programs, and sections like “Today’s Spotlight”, “New This Week”, “Popular Now”, “What Friends Are Watching”, “Most Talked About”, “Suggested For You”, and a special “10 Minutes Or More” spot for long-form videos.

For now, Facebook is primarily highlighting reality shows, which partners are producing en masse since they’re cheap, don’t require set scripts, and can be watched piece-meal. But to really seduce audiences who frequent YouTube, Netflix, and cable TV, Facebook will need high quality scripted comedies and dramas.

One of the first signs of this content is the sci-fi short film ‘Lost Memories’ by independent filmmaker Francois Ferracci about a future “over-saturated by holograms”. Beyond that, it’s current offering isn’t very appealing, as the shows lack stars, big budgets, or cliff-hangers. But if you’re the type to just turn on the Discovery Channel and layback on the couch, you might find some fun time-wasters on Facebook Watch.

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Make your own 3D-printed mask that reacts to your emotions


This wild mask which looks like a cross between Hello Kitty and a face-hugger is made of soft electronics and colored liquid. It is based on a Masters thesis project made by Sirou Peng, Adi Meyer, and Silvia Rueda and uses Harvard’s Soft Robotics Toolkit.

The mask is mapped to the wearer’s face and uses a Myoware muscle sensor to assess the patterns your face makes when you smile, frown, or act concerned. Once the mask senses these emotions it injects or sucks out liquid through the capillaries, showing the world how you really feel in a very weird way.

Why would you do this? Well, Burning Man is over so maybe you could us it as a cool Halloween project or, barring that, use it to broadcast your emotions to a wider audience. The world, as they say, is your 3D-printed, soft-robotic silicone mask.

You can learn how to make your own here.