All the tech crammed into the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS
Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil Thursday on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive that TechCrunch participated in. The company peeled off the camouflage of the EQS — the electric counterpart to the Mercedes S Class — and revealed an ultra-luxury and tech-centric sedan.
The exterior is getting much of the attention today; but it’s all of the tech that got ours from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”
“There is not one thing because this car is 100 things,” Ola Kaellenius, the chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, told TechCrunch in an interview the morning of the EQS launch. “And it’s those 100 little things that make the difference and that makes a Mercedes, a Mercedes.”
Mercedes is betting that the tech coupled with performance and design will attract buyers. This is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.
Quick nuts and bolts
Before diving into the all the techy bells and whistles, here are the basics. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. Mercedes didn’t share the price of these models. It did provide a bevy of other details on its performance, design and range.
The EQS that will be available in the U.S. has a length that is a skosh over 17 feet, precisely 205.4 inches long, which is the Goldilocks equivalent to the Mercedes S Class variants.
The vehicle has a co-efficient drag of 0.202, which sneaks below Tesla’s Model S and the upcoming Lucid Motors Air, making its the most aerodynamic production car in the world. All EQS models have an electric powertrain at the rear axle. The EQS 580 4MATIC also has an electric powertrain at the front axle, giving it that all-wheel drive capability. The EQS generates between 329 hp and 516 hp, depending on the variant. Mercedes said a performance version is being planned that will have up to 630 hp. Both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC have a top speed of 130 miles per hour. The EQS 450+ will have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds while its more powerful sibling will be able to achieve that speed in 4.1 seconds.
The EQS will have two possible batteries to choose from, although Mercedes has only released details of one. The heftiest configuration of the EQS has a battery with 107.8 kWh of usable energy content that can travel up 478 miles on a single charge under the European WLTP estimates. The EPA estimates, which tend to be stricter, will likely fall below that figure.
The vehicle can be charged with up to 200 kW at fast charging stations with direct current, according to Mercedes. At home or at public charging stations, the EQS can be charged with AC using the on-board charger.
Now onto some of the technological highlights within the vehicle.
There are loads of driver assistance features in the EQS, which are supported by a variety of sensors such as ultrasound, camera, radar and lidar that are integrated into the vehicle. Adaptive cruise, the ability to adjust the acceleration behavior, lane detection and automatic lane changes as well as steering assist helps the driver to follow the driving lane at speeds up to 130 mph are some of the ADAS features. The system also recognizes signposted speed limits, overhead frameworks and signs at construction zones and includes warnings about running a stop sign and a red light.
Another new feature is the micro-sleep warning function, which becomes active once the vehicle reaches speeds over 12 mph. This feature works by analyzing the driver’s eyelid movements through a camera on the driver’s display, which is only available with MBUX Hyperscreen.
There are several active assist features that will intervene if needed. An active blind spot assist can give a visual warning of potential lateral collisions in a speed range from around 6 mph to 124 mph. However, if the driver ignores the warnings and still initiates a lane-change, the system can take corrective action by one-sided braking intervention at the last moment if the speed exceeds 19 mph, Mercedes said. The feature remains active even while parked and will warn against exiting if a vehicle or cyclist is passing nearby.
There is also an active emergency stop assist feature that will brake the vehicle to a standstill in its own lane if the sensors and software recognizes that the driver is no longer responding to the traffic situation for a longer period. The brakes are not suddenly applied. If the driver is unresponsive, it begins with an acoustic warning and a visual warning appears in the instrument cluster. Those warnings continue as the vehicle starts to slowly decelerate. Hazard lights are activated and the driver’s seatbelt is briefly tensioned as a haptic warning. The final step is what Mercedes describes as a “short, strong brake jolt” as an additional warning followed by the car decelerating to a standstill, with an optional single lane change if necessary.
Mercedes is also offering the option of DRIVE PILOT, which is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system feature. This would allow hands free driving. Regulations in Europe prevent that level of automation to be deployed in production vehicles on public roads. However, Kallenius told media in Germany on Thursday that the company is on “on the verge of trying to certify the first volume production car Level 3 system in Germany in the second half of this year,” Automotive News Europe reported.
The car that learns
Many of the technological gee-whiz doodads in the EQS tie back to an underlying AI that is designed to learn the driver’s behavior. That is achieved through software and a dizzying number of sensors. Mercedes said that depending on the equipment, the EQS will have up to 350 sensors that are used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.
The sensors capture information, which is then processed by electronic control units (computers) and software algorithms then take over to make decisions. TechCrunch automotive reviewer Tamara Warren noticed the vehicle’s ability to learn her preference during a half day with the EQS.
Mercedes ran through a number of examples of how these sensors and software might work together, including an optional driving sound that is interactive and reacts to different parameters such as position of the accelerator pedal, speed or recuperation.
The intuitive learning is mostly apparent through interactions with the MBUX infotainment system, which will proactively show the right functions for the user at the right time. Sensors pick up on change in the surroundings and user behavior and will react accordingly. Mercedes learned from data collected from the first-generation MBUX, which debuted in the 2019 Mercedes A Class, and found most of the use cases fall in the Navigation, Radio/Media and Telephone categories.
That user data informed how the second-generation MBUZ, and specifically the one in the EQS, is laid out. For instance, the navigation app is always in the center of the visual display unit.
The MBUX uses a natural language processing and so drivers can always use their voice to launch a radio station or control the climate. But Mercedes is really pushing the EQS’ intuitive learning capabilities. This means that as a driver uses the vehicle, items that might be typically buried in the menu will appear up front, or offered up depending on the time or even location of the vehicle.
“The car gets to know you as a person and your preferences and what you do,” said Kaellenius. “It’s almost like it serves up the option that you want to do next, before you even think about it you get.”
“You get a pizza delivered before you even get hungry,” Kaellenius said, jokingly. “That phenomenal in terms of intuition.”
According to Mercedes there are more than 20 other functions such as birthday reminders that are automatically offered with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer. These suggestion modules, which are displayed on the zero-layer interface, are called “Magic Modules.” Here is how it might work: if the driver always calls a particular friend ore relative on the way home on certain evenings, the vehicle will deliver a suggestion regarding this particular call on this day of the week and at this time. A business card will appear with their contact information and – if this is stored – their photo, Mercedes said. All the suggestions from MBUX are coupled with the logged-in profile of the user. This means that if someone else drives the EQS on that same evening, with their own profile logged-in, this recommendation is not displayed.
If a driver always listens to a specific radio program on their commute home, this suggestion will be displayed or if they regularly use the hot stone massage, the system will automatically suggest the comfort function in colder temperatures.
This also applies to the vehicle’s driving functions. For example, the MBUX will remember if the driver has a steep driveway or passes over the same set of speed bumps entering their neighborhood. If the vehicle approaches that GPS position, the MBUX will suggest raising the chassis to offer more ground clearance.
Health and wellness
Remember those sensors? There’s a way for drivers to take it a step further and link their smartwatch — Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3, the Mercedes-Benz Venu or another compatible Garmin — to the vehicle’s so-called energizing coach. This coach responds to the user’s behavior and will offer up one of several programs such as “freshness,” “warmth,” “vitality,” or “joy” depending on the individual. Via the Mercedes me App, the smartwatch sends vital data of the wearer to the coach, including pulse rate, stress level and sleep quality. The pulse rate recorded by the integrated Garmin wearable is shown in the central display.
What does this all mean in practice? Depending on the user’s wants and the AI system’s understanding of what he or she wants, the lighting, climate, sound and seating might change. This is, of course, all integrated with the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ so drivers can simply make a statement to trigger the program they want.
If the driver says “I am stressed,” the Joy program will be launched. If the driver says “I’m tired,” they are then prompted to take a break the Vitality program.
Mercedes S Class owners might already be familiar with these options, although the automaker notes that EQS builds on the system. There are now three new energizing nature programs called forest glade, sounds of the sea and summer rain as well as training and tips options. Each program launches different and immersive sounds, which created in consultation with the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. For instance, “forest glade” will deliver a combination of birdsong, rustling leaves and a gentle breeze. The program is rounded off by warm music soundscapes and subtle fragrance.
Sounds of the Sea will produce soft music soundscapes, wave sounds and seagull sounds. Blasts of air from the air conditioning system completes the effect. Meanwhile “summer rain” offers up sounds of raindrops on leafy canopies, distant thunder, pattering rain and ambient music soundscapes.
For those long drives which require a break, Mercedes added a power nap feature. Once power nap is selected (and no never when driving), the program runs through three phases: falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up. The driver’s seat moves into a rest position, the side windows and panorama roof sunshade are close and the air ionization is activated. Soothing sounds and the depiction of a starry sky on the central display support falling asleep, according to Mercedes. Once it is time to wake up, a soundscape is activated, a fragrance is deployed and a brief active massage and seat ventilation begins. The seat raises and the sunshade in the roof liner opens.
As mentioned before the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant uses natural language processing and can handle an array of requests. Mercedes said the assistant can now do more and certain actions such as accepting a phone call can be made without the activation keyword “Hey Mercedes.” The assistant can now explain vehicle functions.
The assistant can also recognize vehicle occupants by their voices. There is in fact individual microphones placed at each seating area within the vehicle. Once they have been learned, the assistant can access personal data and functions for that specific user.
The voice assistant in the EQS can also be operated from the rear, according to Mercedes.
These personal profiles are stored in the Cloud as part of “Mercedes me.” That means the profiles can also be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new MBUX generation. Security is built in and includes a PIN and then combines face and voice recognition to authenticate. This allows access to individual settings or verification of digital payment processes from the vehicle, the automaker said.
Screens and entertainment
Finally, yes the screens. All of the screens. The 56-inch hyperscreen gets the most attention, but there are screens throughout the EQS. What is important about them is how they communicate with each other.
The hyperscreen is actually three screens that sit under a common bonded glass cover and visually merge into one display. The driver display is 12.3 inches, the central display is 17.7 inches and front passenger display is 12.3 inches. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a touchscreen and also throws in haptic feedback and force feedback.
“Sometimes when I think about the first design and what we’ve actually done here, it’s like, ‘Are we mad to try to create a one meter 41 centimeters curved bonded glass, one piece in the car,” said Kaellenius. “The physical piece in its own right — It’s a piece of technological art.”
A lot of attention was paid to the backseat because the EQS, like its S Class counterpart, are often used to chauffeur the owner. Mercedes won’t call this a rear-seat entertainment system and instead refers to it as multi seat entertainment system because everything is connected to each other.
Kaellenius explained that if a driver wants the two rear passengers to watch a different movie, a simple drag and swipe motion on the main screen will throw that new programming back to the rear. The passengers can also throw movies from left to right.
Author: Kirsten Korosec
Posted: 15 April 2021, 11:45 pm
Sen. Wyden proposes limits on exportation of American’s personal data
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has proposed a draft bill that would limit the types of information that could be bought and sold by tech companies abroad, and the countries it could be legally sold in. The legislation is imaginative and not highly specific, but it indicates growing concern at the federal level over the international data trade.
“Shady data brokers shouldn’t get rich selling Americans’ private data to foreign countries that could use it to threaten our national security,” said Sen. Wyden in a statement accompanying the bill. They probably shouldn’t get rich selling Americans’ private data at all, but national security is a good way to grease the wheels.
The Protecting Americans’ Data From Foreign Surveillance Act would be a first step toward categorizing and protecting consumer data as a commodity that’s traded on the global market. Right now there are few if any controls over what data specific to a person — buying habits, movements, political party — can be sold abroad.
This means that, for instance, an American data broker could sell the preferred brands and home addresses of millions of Americans to, say, a Chinese bank doing investment research. Some of this trade is perfectly innocuous, even desirable in order to promote global commerce, but at what point does it become dangerous or exploitative?
There isn’t any official definition of what should and shouldn’t be sold to whom, the way we limit sales of certain intellectual property or weapons. The proposed law would first direct the secretary of Commerce to identify the data we should be protecting and to whom it should be protected against.
The general shape of protected data would be that which “if exported by third parties, could harm U.S. national security.” The countries that would be barred from receiving it would be those with inadequate data protection and export controls, recent intelligence operations against the U.S. or laws that allow the government to compel such information to be handed over to them. Obviously this is aimed at the likes of China and Russia, though ironically the U.S. fits the bill pretty well itself.
There would be exceptions for journalism and First Amendment-protected speech, and for encrypted data — for example storing encrypted messages on servers in one of the targeted countries. The law would also create penalties for executives “who knew or should have known” that their company was illegally exporting data, and creates pathways for people harmed or detained in a foreign country owing to illegally exported data. That might be if, say, another country used an American facial recognition service to spot, stop and arrest someone before they left.
If this all sounds a little woolly, it is — but that’s more or less on purpose. It is not for Congress to invent such definitions as are necessary for a law like this one; that duty falls to expert agencies, which must conduct studies and produce reports that Congress can refer to. This law represents the first handful of steps along those lines: getting the general shape of things straight and giving fair warning that certain classes of undesirable data commerce will soon be illegal — with an emphasis on executive responsibility, something that should make tech companies take notice.
The legislation would need to be sensitive to existing arrangements by which companies spread out data storage and processing for various economic and legal reasons. Free movement of data is to a certain extent necessary for globe-spanning businesses that must interact with one another constantly, and to hobble those established processes with red tape or fees might be disastrous to certain locales or businesses. Presumably this would all come up during the studies, but it serves to demonstrate that this is a very complex, not to say delicate, digital ecosystem the law would attempt to modify.
We’re in the early stages of this type of regulation, and this bill is just getting started in the legislative process, so expect a few months at the very least before we hear anything more on this one.
Author: Devin Coldewey
Posted: 15 April 2021, 10:57 pm
Twitter bans James O’Keefe of Project Veritas over fake account policy
Twitter has banned right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe, creator of political gotcha video producer Project Veritas, for violating its “platform manipulation and spam policy,” suggesting he was operating multiple accounts in an unsanctioned way. O’Keefe has already announced that he will sue the company for defamation.
The ban, or “permanent suspension” as Twitter calls it, occurred Thursday afternoon. A Twitter representative said the action followed the violation of rules prohibiting “operating fake accounts” and attempting to “artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts,” as noted here.
This suggests O’Keefe was banned for operating multiple accounts, outside the laissez-faire policy that lets people have a professional and a personal account, and that sort of thing.
Ssharp-eyed users noticed that O’Keefe’s last tweet unironically accused reporter Jesse Hicks of impersonation, including an image showing a partly redacted phone number supposedly belonging to Hicks. This too may have run afoul of Twitter’s rules about posting personal information, but Twitter declined to comment on this when I asked. (Update: The image was in fact redacted, I thought it was done by the person who took the screenshot but the first digits were removed in the original tweet.)
Supporters of O’Keefe say that the company removed his account as retribution for his most recent “exposé” involving surreptitious recordings of a CNN employee admitting the news organization has a political bias. (The person he was talking to had, impersonating a nurse, matched with him on Tinder.)
For his part O’Keefe said he would be suing Twitter for defamation over the allegation that he operated fake accounts. Chief Legal Officer Jered T. Ede told TechCrunch that “James O’Keefe has only one account. He does not have fake accounts. Twitter’s statement is simply false.”
Author: Devin Coldewey
Posted: 15 April 2021, 10:24 pm
Daily Crunch: Google Earth gets an update
Google Earth gives users a new look at a changing planet, Facebook tests new business discovery features and Autodesk acquires Upchain. This is your Daily Crunch for April 15, 2021.
The big story: Google Earth gets an update
Google is describing this as Google Earth’s biggest update since 2017, though there’s really just one major addition: A time-lapse mode bringing together satellite photos from the past 37 years, in 3D.
Beyond just being a novel new feature, this mode can reveal how climate change has reshaped our planet. In fact, Google Earth now offers guided tours focused on forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures and more.
The tech giants
Facebook to test new business discovery features in US News Feed — Users will be able to tap on topics they’re interested in underneath posts and ads in their News Feed, allowing them to explore related content from businesses.
Autodesk acquires Upchain — Upchain is a Toronto-based startup that offers a cloud-based product life cycle management service.
Consumer groups and child development experts petition Facebook to drop ‘Instagram for kids’ plan — The letter was written by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that often leads campaigns against big tech and its targeting of children.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Polestar raises $500M from outside investors as EV market grows — This is the first external round for Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand.
Goldman Sachs leads $23M in funding for Brazilian e-commerce startup Olist — Olist connects small businesses to larger product marketplaces, helping entrepreneurs sell their products to a larger customer base.
Substack announces a $1M initiative to fund local journalists — The newsletter startup will fund independent writers creating local news publications.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Coinbase’s direct listing alters the landscape for fintech and crypto startups — In Alex Wilhelm’s view, Coinbase reaching a valuation north of $100 billion during its first day of trading was the biggest startup event of the year.
Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential — Dharmesh Thakker of Battery Ventures writes that a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths have the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR.
How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021 — It’s important to enact best data management practices before a legal situation arises.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Detroit’s native son, billionaire Dan Gilbert, makes the case for his town — The Quicken Loans founder has poured at least $2.5 billion into rehabilitating buildings in the heart of the city.
Can the tech trade show return in 2021? — IFA promises “full-scale, real-life event” for Berlin in September, while MWC reels from the loss of marquee names.
Garry Kasparov launches a community-first chess platform — Kasparovchess will be a platform in which legendary chess players have free reign to share tips and tricks with players from various levels.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Author: Anthony Ha
Posted: 15 April 2021, 10:08 pm
Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?
When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware yesterday, the move itself wasn’t surprising; there had been public speculation for some time. But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.
The dividend route, which involves a payment to shareholders between $11.5 billion and $12 billion, has the advantage of being tax-free (or at least that’s what Dell hopes as it petitions the IRS). For Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, the dividend translates to somewhere between $9.3 billion and $9.7 billion in cash, which the company plans to use to pay down a portion of the huge debt it still holds from its $58 billion EMC purchase in 2016.
Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: It generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned.
VMware was the crown jewel in that transaction, giving Dell an inroad to the cloud it had lacked prior to the deal. For context, VMware popularized the notion of the virtual machine, a concept that led to the development of cloud computing as we know it today. It has since expanded much more broadly beyond that, giving Dell a solid foothold in cloud native computing.
Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: It generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned. Dell CEO Michael Dell will remain chairman of the VMware board, which should help smooth the post-spinout relationship.
But could Dell have extracted more cash out of the deal?
Doing what’s best for everyone
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategies, says that beyond the cash transaction, the deal provides a way for the companies to continue working closely together with the least amount of disruption.
“In the end, this move is more about maximizing the Dell and VMware stock price [in a way that] doesn’t impact customers, ISVs or the channel. Wall Street wasn’t valuing the two companies together nearly as [strongly] as I believe it will as separate entities,” Moorhead said.
Author: Ron Miller
Posted: 15 April 2021, 8:55 pm
E-commerce investor Upper90 raises $55M for equity investments
It might be strange to hear this from a firm that just raised a $55 million equity fund, but the team at Upper90 would like to remind you that equity isn’t the only funding that’s available.
Upper90 is led by CEO Billy Libby (former head of quantitative education sales at Goldman Sachs) and Chairman Jason Finger (co-founder of Seamless), and it was the first investor in both Thrasio and Clearbanc. The firm offers debt and equity funding, and it just closed a $195 million fund in December — but the fund announced today is Upper90’s first to be devoted purely to equity financing.
Finger said he and Libby have taken this combined approach because there are often predictable parts of an online business, where (for example) “if I’m doing some marketing, I know that $1 on Facebook will generate $8 of revenue.” In those cases, “equity is the most expensive way you can finance growth,” and he said it “really fundamentally bothered me that the founders and early investors who took a lot of the risks, dedicating their life on a 24/7 basis” would often end up owning a small percentage of the company.
That doesn’t mean debt is the only solution, but in Finger’s words, founders should stop seeing big equity rounds as “a badge of honor.” Instead, they can work with Upper90 to find the “optimal capital structure” combining both elements.
“Life isn’t binary,” he added. “Part of the reason we launched an equity fund in the [e-commerce] rollup sector is that equity is an important piece for you to get the highest quality lender — they’re going to want to know that there’s equity protection underneath their credit facility.”
He also suggested that making an equity investment turns Upper90 into a “long-term partner” for the companies it backs, freeing the team from being “purely focused on the returns related to our credit.”
As alluded to earlier, Libby and Finger see the e-commerce aggregation market as one that’s particularly well suited to their approach. (Thrasio is perhaps the best-known startup rolling up Amazon sellers, while Clearbanc offers its own revenue-based financing to e-commerce and SaaS companies.)
“I always say: What’s new is old,” Libby told me. “If we had this conversation 15 years ago, we’d be talking about rolling up gyms and dry cleaners and smoothie shops [ … ] The infrastructure that Amazon has developed allows people to be entrepreneurs in a week, so I think that we’re still extremely early in this trend. There are going to be so many more people starting their own store on Amazon.”
And eventually, he suggested Upper90 could take a similar approach in other industries: “A content creator who starts a YouTube channel is not that different than the Amazon store owner. Five years from now, we could be talk about, what’s the value of a subscriber on YouTube, what’s the value of an influencer’s following on Instagram, how can we bring some of that revenue forward?”
Author: Anthony Ha
Posted: 15 April 2021, 8:29 pm
You can now pay for BART using an iPhone or Apple Watch
Good news, Bay Area! Apple Pay now works with Clipper cards.
That means you can now use an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay for BART. Or Muni. Or Caltrain. Or the ferry! Or (almost) any other transit-related thing you’d otherwise use the plastic Clipper card for.
Clipper has a page outlining the Apple Pay setup process right here.
A few quick but important things to note:
- Adding an existing Clipper card to an Apple Wallet apparently transfers the funds off that card. At that point, says Clipper, “your plastic card has been deactivated” — so it sounds like it won’t work as a physical backup card.
- Some people will want to hang on to the plastic cards, regardless: Clipper notes that Bay Area bike share users and anyone using an RTC Discount Card will need to keep the plastic card, even after it’s deactivated for transit use.
- Clipper has previously confirmed that support is coming for Google Pay (Android) “this spring,” but today’s rollout seems to support Apple Pay only.
As noted back in February when this was first confirmed as on the way, Clipper works with Apple’s “Express Transit” feature. That’s just a fancy way to say that you can tap to pay with the digital Clipper card without first needing to punch in your phone’s PIN or using FaceID. On certain newer iPhones, it also lets you keep using the Clipper card for a few hours after your battery has died; a wonderful thing in a pinch, but probably not something you want to rely on regularly.
Author: Greg Kumparak
Posted: 15 April 2021, 8:28 pm
MEPs call for European AI rules to ban biometric surveillance in public
A cross-party group of 40 MEPs in the European parliament has called on the Commission to strengthen an incoming legislative proposal on artificial intelligence to include an outright ban on the use of facial recognition and other forms of biometric surveillance in public places.
They have also urged EU lawmakers to outlaw automated recognition of people’s sensitive characteristics (such as gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, health status and disability) — warning that such AI-fuelled practices pose too great a rights risk and can fuel discrimination.
The Commission is expected to presented its proposal for a framework to regulate ‘high risk’ applications of AI next week — but a copy of the draft leaked this week (via Politico). And, as we reported earlier, this leaked draft does not include a ban on the use of facial recognition or similar biometric remote identification technologies in public places, despite acknowledging the strength of public concern over the issue.
“Biometric mass surveillance technology in publicly accessible spaces is widely being criticised for wrongfully reporting large numbers of innocent citizens, systematically discriminating against under-represented groups and having a chilling effect on a free and diverse society. This is why a ban is needed,” the MEPs write now in a letter to the Commission which they’ve also made public.
They go on to warn over the risks of discrimination through automated inference of people’s sensitive characteristics — such as in applications like predictive policing or the indiscriminate monitoring and tracking of populations via their biometric characteristics.
“This can lead to harms including violating rights to privacy and data protection; suppressing free speech; making it harder to expose corruption; and have a chilling effect on everyone’s autonomy, dignity and self-expression – which in particular can seriously harm LGBTQI+ communities, people of colour, and other discriminated-against groups,” the MEPs write, calling on the Commission to amend the AI proposal to outlaw the practice in order to protect EU citizens’ rights and the rights of communities who faced a heightened risk of discrimination (and therefore heightened risk from discriminatory tools supercharged with AI).
“The AI proposal offers a welcome opportunity to prohibit the automated recognition of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability and any other sensitive and protected characteristics,” they add.
The leaked draft of the Commission’s proposal does tackle indiscriminate mass surveillance — proposing to prohibit this practice, as well as outlawing general purpose social credit scoring systems.
However the MEPs want lawmakers to go further — warning over weaknesses in the wording of the leaked draft and suggesting changes to ensure that the proposed ban covers “all untargeted and indiscriminate mass surveillance, no matter how many people are exposed to the system”.
They also express alarm at the proposal having an exemption on the prohibition on mass surveillance for public authorities (or commercial entities working for them) — warning that this risks deviating from existing EU legislation and from interpretations by the bloc’s top court in this area.
“We strongly protest the proposed second paragraph of this Article 4 which would exempt public authorities and even private actors acting on their behalf ‘in order to safeguard public security’,” they write. “Public security is precisely what mass surveillance is being justified with, it is where it is practically relevant, and it is where the courts have consistently annulled legislation on indiscriminate bulk processing of personal data (e.g. the Data Retention Directive). This carve-out needs to be deleted.”
“This second paragraph could even be interpreted to deviate from other secondary legislation which the Court of Justice has so far interpreted to ban mass surveillance,” they continue. “The proposed AI regulation needs to make it very clear that its requirements apply in addition to those resulting from the data protection acquis and do not replace it. There is no such clarity in the leaked draft.”
The Commission has been contacted for comment on the MEPs’ calls but is unlikely to do so ahead of the official reveal of the draft AI regulation — which is expected around the middle of next week.
It remains to be seen whether the AI proposal will undergo any significant amendments between now and then. But MEPs have fired a swift warning shot that fundamental rights must and will be a key feature of the co-legislative debate — and that lawmakers’ claims of a framework to ensure ‘trustworthy’ AI won’t look credible if the rules don’t tackle unethical technologies head on.
Author: Natasha Lomas
Posted: 15 April 2021, 8:12 pm
How startups can ensure CCPA and GDPR compliance in 2021
Data is the most valuable asset for any business in 2021. If your business is online and collecting customer personal information, your business is dealing in data, which means data privacy compliance regulations will apply to everyone — no matter the company’s size.
Small startups might not think the world’s strictest data privacy laws — the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — apply to them, but it’s important to enact best data management practices before a legal situation arises.
Data compliance is not only critical to a company’s daily functions; if done wrong or not done at all, it can be quite costly for companies of all sizes.
For example, failing to comply with the GDPR can result in legal fines of €20 million or 4% of annual revenue. Under the CCPA, fines can also escalate quickly, to the tune of $2,500 to $7,500 per person whose data is exposed during a data breach.
If the data of 1,000 customers is compromised in a cybersecurity incident, that would add up to $7.5 million. The company can also be sued in class action claims or suffer reputational damage, resulting in lost business costs.
It is also important to recognize some benefits of good data management. If a company takes a proactive approach to data privacy, it may mitigate the impact of a data breach, which the government can take into consideration when assessing legal fines. In addition, companies can benefit from business insights, reduced storage costs and increased employee productivity, which can all make a big impact on the company’s bottom line.
Challenges of data compliance for startups
Data compliance is not only critical to a company’s daily functions; if done wrong or not done at all, it can be quite costly for companies of all sizes. For example, Vodafone Spain was recently fined $9.72 million under GDPR data protection failures, and enforcement trackers show schools, associations, municipalities, homeowners associations and more are also receiving fines.
GDPR regulators have issued $332.4 million in fines since the law was enacted almost two years ago and are being more aggressive with enforcement. While California’s attorney general started CCPA enforcement on July 1, 2020, the newly passed California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) only recently created a state agency to more effectively enforce compliance for any company storing information of residents in California, a major hub of U.S. startups.
That is why in this age, data privacy compliance is key to a successful business. Unfortunately, many startups are at a disadvantage for many reasons, including:
- Fewer resources and smaller teams — This means there are no designated data privacy officers, privacy attorneys or legal counsel dedicated to data privacy issues.
- Lack of planning — This might be characterized by being unable to handle data privacy information requests (DSARs, or “data subject access requests”) to help fulfill the customer’s data rights or not having an overall program in place to deal with major data breaches, forcing a reactive instead of a proactive response, which can be time-consuming, slow and expensive.
Author: Annie Siebert
Posted: 15 April 2021, 8:02 pm
Rivian to initially launch in-house insurance program in 40 states
Electric truck startup Rivian released Thursday details of its in-house Rivian Insurance program, which it says will be integrated into its digital ordering process.
The insurance will initially be available in 40 states. Keeping in line with the company’s marketing as an “adventure vehicle” company, customers will also have the option to cover their home and recreational equipment, such as boats, dirt bikes and campers. Rivian’s plans to start an insurance program first leaked more than a year ago after a job posting was spotted.
What makes the insurance offering stand out, however, is its integration with the Rivian vehicle platform and Driver+ safety suite, which the company said in a blog post will help deliver “tailored, data-driven coverage.” Customers who choose Rivian Insurance will get Driver+ rate reductions, with more details to come. Drivers can additionally opt in to a separate program that offers savings for using Rivian’s Active Driver Assistance software.
It’s a clever move for the company, which plans to bring its first electric pickup to market later this year. Like Tesla, Rivian intends to have Rivian Collision Centers and Service Centers performing the work — and by keeping everything in-house, the company is likely thinking customers will be attracted to a seamless insurance program. Rivian Insurance is another instance of the newer entrant following in the veteran’s lead, but with one big advantage: Tesla Insurance is only available to owners in California.
Author: Aria Alamalhodaei
Posted: 15 April 2021, 7:39 pm
Join ECL on Wednesday to pitch your startup to Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand
Have you ever dreamed about the opportunity to find yourself in, say, an elevator with an investor who is open to hearing your pitch? Well, then the next episode of Extra Crunch Live is for you.
If you’ve hung out with us on an ECL before, you know we start with a bit of top news, chat with our speakers about how to successfully fundraise, and then finish with the Pitch Deck Teardown, where we take a look at decks submitted by you, the audience members, and give live feedback.
On Wednesday, with the help of Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand, we’re going to shake things up a bit.
Folks who attend the live event will be able to virtually ‘raise their hand’, come on screen, and give a 60-second pitch of their startup. No demoes. No videos. No visual aids of any kind. It’s the ultimate elevator pitch, and it’ll be done before a live audience.
Wallace and Wand (that’s catchy, eh?) will give their feedback and ask questions at the end of every pitch.
The only way you can participate in the ECL Pitch-off is to show up. Luckily, the events are free to anyone. However, accessing any of this content on demand is reserved strictly for Extra Crunch members.
We’re super excited to introduce the pitch-off as a feature of ECL and hope you are too! See you on Wednesday!
Author: Jordan Crook
Posted: 15 April 2021, 6:47 pm
Facebook brings software subscriptions to the Oculus Quest
Subscription pricing is landing on Facebook’s Oculus Store, giving VR developers another way to monetize content on Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset.
Developers will be allowed to add premium subscriptions to paid or free apps, with Facebook assumedly dragging in their standard percentage fee at the same time. Oculus and the developers on its platform have been riding the success of the company’s recent Quest 2 headset, which Facebook hasn’t detailed sales numbers on but has noted that the months-old $299 headset has already outsold every other Oculus headset sold to date.
Subscription pricing is an unsurprising development but signals that some developers believe they have a loyal enough group of subscribers to bring in sizable bits of recurring revenue. Facebook shipped the first Oculus Rift just over five years ago, and it’s been a zig-zagging path to finding early consumer success during that time. A big challenge for them has been building a dynamic developer ecosystem that offer something engaging to users while ensuring that VR devs can operate sustainably.
At launch, there are already a few developers debuting subscriptions for a number of different app types, spanning exercise, meditation, social, productivity and DJing. In addition to subscriptions, the new monetization path also allows developers to let users try out paid apps on a free trial basis.
The central question is how many Quest users there are that utilize their devices enough to justify a number of monthly subscriptions, but for developers looking to monetize their hardcore users, this is another utility that they likely felt was missing from the Oculus Store.
Author: Lucas Matney
Posted: 15 April 2021, 6:37 pm
Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential
More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.
His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.
Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.
One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.
I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.
In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.
More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.
In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.
Author: Annie Siebert
Posted: 15 April 2021, 6:31 pm
Can the tech trade show return in 2021?
The past year has been a devastating one for the conference industry. It’s certainly an issue we’ve grappled with here at TechCrunch, as we’ve worked to move our programming to a virtual setting. Clearly each individual case calls for an individual solution, dependent on geography, attendance and a variety of other factors.
IFA has proven itself bullish on the in-person element. The Berlin tech show was one of a small handful of these sorts of events to go on with the show in Europe. The organization held an in-person event in September, albeit at a dramatically scaled-back rate.
“To be a little poetic, usually in the late summer, there’s a special air in Berlin and you go out in the morning, you feel this air,” director Jens Heithecker told me of last year’s event, which scaled back to around 170 exhibitors from 2,300.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the organization is planning to come back big this year, in spite of prolonged concerns around COVID-19 and its variants. A press release announcing the show’s fall return is downright celebratory.
“With the world on course to emerge from the pandemic, IFA Berlin is set to take place as a full-scale, real-life event from 3 – 7 September 2021,” the company writes. “Huge interest from brands, manufacturers and retailers across all industry sectors to exhibit, network and co-innovate on location in Berlin.”
The organization highlights some health and safety measures that are being carried over from last year’s event. But while it’s not quite ready to talk scale yet, the organization is highlighting a number of new tracks for the conference.
“As always, keeping our visitors and exhibitors safe is our top priority,” it said in a statement. “Of course, with all our precautions to ensure everybody’s good health, we don’t expect IFA Berlin 2021 to set new records. However, the trend is clear: IFA Berlin is set for a full-scale comeback, to lead our industry once more.”
Over in Spain, the GSMA is still working on its messaging as a number of large companies have already announced they intend to only attend the show “virtually.”
Organizers offered TechCrunch the following statement:
We appreciate that it will not be possible for everyone to attend MWC Barcelona 2021, but we are pleased that exhibitors including Verizon*, Orange and Kasperksy are excited to join us in Barcelona. To ensure everyone can enjoy the unique MWC experience, we have developed an industry-leading virtual event platform. The in-person and virtual options are provided so that all friends of MWC Barcelona can attend and participate in a way that works for them. We respect the decisions that have been made by some exhibitors and are working with them to move their participation to the virtual platform.
[*Disclosure: Verizon owns TechCrunch]
Google, IBM, Nokia, Sony, Oracle and Ericsson have already announced they won’t be attending the show in person. Other large names are seemingly undecided. The whole thing is reminiscent of the lead-up to last year’s event, which was ultimately canceled.
The necessity of these large events was called into question prior to the pandemic, but the shift to virtual events has truly brought the topic into sharp relief. It’s true that there’s still value in an in-person event for hardware, specifically, but many have learned to adapt to a virtual setting. Even though if the last CES taught us anything, it’s that there are still a whole lot of kinks to work out with the system, especially as it pertains to prioritizing content all effectively being channeled through the same funnel.
People’s willingness to attend these events is based on a broad range of factors. At the very base level, there’s a question of personal comfortability (I can’t be the only one who has a visceral reaction every time they see crowded photos from past events). For many, it will be a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly attend a large indoor conference. There are factors like vaccinations and a particular region’s handling of the pandemic (all of which can wildly swing in the course of several months).
Just today, Germany’s Health Minister sounded the red alert, asking states to tighten restrictions. “We know from last autumn what happens when we don’t act quickly,” Jens Spahn warned the media.
There are a slew of other factors, including a potential attendee’s location and their workplace’s willingness to approve travel. Many companies have restricted business travel to all but the most essential trips. Depending on what you do for a living, your definition of “essential” may vary. But given how much can potentially change in that time, the soundest strategy for many is planning to tackle things remotely.
Earlier this week, the GSMA sent out its own email to previous attendees titled, “Why do you believe MWC Barcelona 2021 will take place?” The note seems to be a direct response to stories about exhibitors opting for a virtual presence.
“Depending on when you are reading this, we will be about 12 weeks away from the doors opening for MWC21 in Barcelona,” CEO John Hoffman wrote. “To say that the last year has been disruptive is an understatement and my thoughts are with anyone who has been impacted by COVID-19. I am not only hopeful about the future, but I am also excited about convening our ecosystem at MWC21. We recognise that not everyone will be able to attend in person and that is fine as we will augment our physical event with our MWC virtual program bringing you content from the show.”
Canceling a flagship show one year could have been utterly devastating. For many of these organizers — and the local governments who rely on tourism money — two years might seem unthinkable. MWC’s virtual strategy in year one of the pandemic was, understandably, undercooked.
More than a year into this, however, the GSMA and organizations like it hopefully have more robust strategies in place. The fact of the matter is that going virtual isn’t a one- or two-off. For many companies and people profoundly impacted by the pandemic, this is what the future looks like.
Author: Brian Heater
Posted: 15 April 2021, 6:24 pm
Do you fit the mold for the next generation of values-driven VCs?
More individuals than ever are donning the investor cap. Almost a fifth of U.S. equity trading in 2020 was driven by mom-and-pop investors — up from around 15% in the previous year. With such impressive returns to be made, many are deciding to set up a full-fledged investment business.
With the fundraising world becoming more democratic and accessible, we should help people find the right path to setting up a venture capital firm and also make sure the right people are entering the VC sphere. Startups are changing, and any new investment manager will have to adapt to the shifting landscape. VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.
Startup investors can be the financial backbone for mass disruption. That’s why, at Founder Institute, we believe in the need for more VCs with strong values: Because they will prop up the companies that will build a brighter future for humanity. We’re not the only ones — our first “accelerator for ethical VCs” was oversubscribed.
VCs today have to provide more than money to get the best portfolio, and they must have a strong focus on impact to get the best institutional investors into their funds.
So if you want to lead your own VC fund in 2021, here are the main questions aspiring investors need to ask themselves.
Are you doing this for the right reasons?
Investing in startups is not just about making money. In selecting the startups that will become future industry leaders, VCs have a lot more power than most to do good (or harm). If you’re only interested in money, you likely won’t go too far. Identifying the greatest businesses means seeing beyond their capital into the longevity of their vision, their real-life impact on society, and how much consumers will love or hate them.
After all: Most startup founders pour their blood, sweat and tears into building a business not just to make money, but also to make an impact on the world and build products that align with their mission. Any new venture capitalist looking to attract the best founders needs to think about the vision and mission of their fund in the same terms.
Although VC firms have been slow on the uptake when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, there are signs that times are changing. Some firms are forming a community around implementing ESG, not only because of the external impact but because it furthers their business goals. To help accelerate this trend, we asked our VC Lab participants to take The Mensarius Oath (Latin for “banker” or “financier”), a professional code of conduct for finance professionals to create an ethical, prosperous and healthy world.
What value do you bring to the table?
The number of VCs are growing and the industry is increasingly becoming concentrated. This means that simply offering large sums of money won’t get you traction with the best startups. Founders are looking for value over volume — they usually want mission alignment, connections, value-added services and industry expertise more than a blank check.
Remember that the best founders get to choose their VCs from a menu of options, not the other way around. To convince them that you’re the right match, you’ll need a proven track record in the same industry (or transferable experience from another industry) and referrals from credible people. You’ll also need a strong value proposition or niche that sets you apart from other funds. For example, Untapped Capital invests in “unexpected” and “undernetworked” founders, while R42 Group invests in AI and longevity-focused businesses.
If you don’t think you’ve got the profile to offer value to founders just yet, it’s worth taking some time to lay out exactly who you are. That is: what you hope to achieve as a fund manager, the vision you have for your portfolio companies and how you alone can help them get there.
What’s your secret sauce?
As a new VC fund without historical data points, limited partners (LPs) will naturally be cautious to invest in your fund. So, you have to build a brand that tells your story and proves your reputation.
Go back to the basics and pinpoint exactly what your strengths are. If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, use statements like, “I can get the best deal because I have X,” or, “I help grow my portfolio companies by X” to get the ball rolling. Be wary of saying that the amount of money you have is your strength — at this stage, your bank balance isn’t your competitive edge. Focus instead on what makes you unique, credible and relevant. Having a high number of strategic contacts, extensive industry experience or a backsheet of successful exits could be your secret ingredients. For extra guidance, check out this resource my team put together to help fund managers consolidate their niche in an “investment thesis.”
Once you have a list, choose your top three strengths and write a followup sentence detailing how each of them can be enriched by your network and expertise. Ideally, share these with a test group (friends, family or fellow entrepreneurs) and ask them which is the most compelling. If there’s a general consensus toward one point, you know to make that a large chunk of your VC fund’s thesis.
Do you have a solid network?
Who you know is just as important as what you know, and the most prominent VCs tend to be in the middle of a flow of information and people. Your network tells founders that you’re respected and reassures them that they will probably be brought into the fold to connect with future mentors, customers, investors or hires.
If you’re a thought leader, the alumni of a well-known company like Uber or PayPal, or if you’ve started a community around an emerging vertical, you’re more likely to form a positive deal flow. But this status and these relationships have to be established before you launch your fund — if you try to network from zero, you’ll be spinning too many plates and won’t have the social proof to back yourself up.
Don’t just rely on your gut to tell you whether your network is satisfactory. Map out your personal ecosystem, sorting people based on familiarity (close contacts or acquaintances) and defining characteristics (consumers, finance, ex-CEOs, etc.). That “map” can be as basic as an Excel sheet with a column for each category, or you could use more attractive visual tools like Canva — great for sharing with your future team and encouraging them to fill any network gaps.
What size fund do you want to launch?
A VC fund runs like any other business — you have to develop a vision, recruit a team, form an entity, raise money, deliver value and report to stakeholders. To kick things off, you need to consider what size fund you want, and then secure significant commitments from LPs — at least 10% of your total fund. LPs can be corporations, entrepreneurs, government agencies and other funds.
Also keep in mind that most LPs will want you to personally invest at least 1% of the total fund size so that you have “skin in the game.”
For that reason especially, it’s best to start small, somewhere between $5 million and $20 million, and use this “training fund” to demonstrate returns and create a launchpad for bigger raises to follow.
Can you help founders from launch to exit?
Your partnership with companies will be for the long haul, so you can’t rely just on offering value when you wire the money. Founders need consistent support across the full startup lifecycle, meaning you need to be conscious not to overpromise and fail to deliver. Think of the startups you’d most like to work with: How could you help them now? How could you help them in the future? And how could you help them exit?
You can take a skills-centric approach, where you reserve different resources and connections based on marketing, hiring, fundraising and culture-creation that can be applied as the startup grows. Alternatively, you might want to make sprint-like plans, where you check in with founders on a repeating basis and iterate the support you offer based on their progress. Whatever way you chose to structure your support, ensure that you’re realistic about what you can bring to the table, your availability, preferred involvement and how you’ll document it.
The future of VC will be driven by venture capitalists with strong values who have built funds with the new needs of founders in mind. VC may once have been exclusive and mysterious, but 2021 could be the year VC becomes a more open and fair space for businesses and investors alike.
Author: Annie Siebert
Posted: 15 April 2021, 6:05 pm