Engaging kids in design-based learning

While most kids their age are glued to various digital devices, often wasting hours playing mindless games or watching cat videos, 164 fourth and fifth graders, along with eight elementary school teachers, have been using those same devices to explore new paths to learning. In 15 classrooms across Texas and Virginia, students are using manufacturing design and digital fabrication processes to create physical models, learning the underlying mathematical concepts and using them in meaningful contexts.

The FabLab Classroom pilot is a National Science Foundation project focusing on the “E” in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The project started at the University of North Texas and is based on a scaled-down version of Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab, which originated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Students design their projects in 3D on a computer, then make the item using simple materials.

A wide range of digital tools and facilities available to students and their teachers are transforming the K-12 education system. Fab Labs and makerspaces provide creative areas where kids can design, invent and learn. Video games (e.g. Minecraft) and virtual reality (VR) are being employed as design-based learning tools. 3D printers are more readily available — in schools, in collaborative spaces and at home. All these tools and the widespread commitment to STEM education are introducing kids to 3D design at a very young age.

The focus should be on how schools can help children realize they are not just consumers.

There is no shortage of national interest and enthusiasm for STEM. President Obama believes that more STEM-focused curricula can help rectify America’s education woes and the decline of the American manufacturing industry. Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education Jim Shelton says, “STEM education is important for every student, no matter what they want to do in life.”

STEM advocates believe this new generation of young people is being inspired by increased access to new kinds of tools, machines and methods. Is it simply the democratization of manufacturing? Or is the maker mindset and further enablement of hands-on, design-based education driving a seismic shift in mentality — from consumer to producer?

With the shift to offering these tools earlier in a child’s academic journey, we’re not just providing great access to design-based learning, we’re also instilling in students a “sense of agency,” helping them develop their ability to confidently design and create. According to The Harvard Graduate School of Education Agency by Design project:

“A key goal of maker-centered education is to help young people and adults feel empowered to build and shape their worlds. Acquiring this sense of maker empowerment is strongly supported by learning to notice and engage with the designed dimension of one’s physical and conceptual environment — in other words, by having a sensitivity to design. This sensitivity develops when young people and adults have opportunities to: look closely and reflect on the design of objects and systems, explore the complexity of design, and understand themselves as designers of their worlds.

I see and hear these themes echoed every day in conversations with 3D CAD customers, especially with recent college graduates, but also from our education team that works in the K-12 segment.

Whether it’s labeled STEM or the more encompassing STEAM (add A for Art), students get truly engaged with learning. It’s encouraging to see students inspired by initiatives that bring educational lessons to life, like the new and rapidly expanding Google Expeditions pioneer program, which helps teachers engage students with VR and Google Cardboard. This immersive, 3D experience enables virtual journeys, from the bottom of the sea to the surface of Mars.

Through FIRST Robotics competitions, more than 78,000 students in the U.S. are active participants in what the Agency by Design espouses as “sensitivity to design.” These students make real-world calculations to build robots that are capable of scooping up and shooting balls, jumping over obstacles or making other seemingly impossible moves, all in a maker spirit that weaves together the numerous disciplines of STEM learning.

According to The 74, a nonprofit, non-partisan news site covering education in America, the Bricolage Academy of New Orleans has something missing in its classroom: chairs. In his recent piece, The Maker Movement Is About More Than Science and Math — But Is All This Tinkering Really Effective?, Mark Keierleber writes, “Instead of sitting with paper and pencils at desks, students stand at work tables and tinker with LEGOs, robots, wooden blocks, and circuit boards.”

Kids at the Bricolage Academy, along with those 164 students in Texas and Virginia, are just the tip of the iceberg. That iceberg is upending and bringing millions more students to the surface as they start to experience the power of STEM, the maker movement and new methods of teaching like blended and personalized learning.

These students and teachers may not use the same language as President Obama, the Department of Education or the Agency by Design project, but the message is the same: “I want to learn how to create something amazing.”

It isn’t just technology, or a STEM focus, or even a maker mindset; instead, the focus should be on how schools can help children realize they are not just consumers — they are designers, creators, makers and producers. Today’s fifth graders will be lifelong STEM learners.

Featured Image: David Cooper/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Drone startup Aptonomy introduces the self-flying security guard

Aptonomy Inc. has developed drone technology that could make prison breaks, robberies or malicious intrusions of any kind impossible for mere mortals.

Dubbing it a kind of “flying security guard,” the company has built its systems on top of a drone often used by movie-makers, the DJI S-1000+, a camera-carrying octocopter.

To that skeleton, Aptonomy adds a new flight controller, and second computer to power day- and night-vision cameras, bright lights, and loudspeakers, among other things.

And more importantly than the hardware features, Aptonomy has developed artificial intelligence and navigational systems that allow its drones to fly low and fast, avoiding obstacles in structure-dense environments, and detecting human activity or faces in the area, autonomously.

A user can open up a browser, get onto the Aptonomy interface, click on a point on a map to send out a drone to a particular location, then watch that flight in real time, or review a recording of it later.

Aptonomy’s drones can be programmed to fly wherever a motion detector transmits data suggesting unusual activity on the ground, as well.

The drones are not just self-flying. When their batteries are running low, they fly back to a charging station to power up.

Aptonomy co-founders Mihail Pivtoraiko and Siddharth Sanan are well-known in the industry already. Both attained doctorates from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University prior to starting Aptonomy.

Pivtoraiko previously worked at NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin and Intel. And Sanan’s soft robotics and human-robot safety research was the inspiration behind the robot Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6.

The duo are part of the current Y Combinator batch of startups, and have raised some seed funding through the accelerator.

They explained that most unmanned aerial systems in commercial use are being used from hundreds of feet in the air to do things like thermal or topographic mapping at this point. But those drones can’t perceive human faces, like security guards must.

Meanwhile, prosumer camera drones that fly lower don’t have the motion controls and perception required to navigate safely, and without a human pilot, around complex environments like a nuclear power plant, cell towers or a supermax prison.

Aptonomy’s drones rove over a set area, and can be accessed by a guard who is hundreds or thousands of miles away.

They can record suspicious activity, shine a light on intruders, allow two-way communication with the intruder through loudspeakers, and generally scare off potential troublemakers as an intimidating presence in the air.

One energy company has pre-orodered Aptonomy’s drones to use at oil refineries this year. “Refineries are in remote locations and are very hard for human security guards to patrol. But they are a target for attacks,” Pivtoraiko noted.

The startup believes that businesses with lots of infrastructure-related assets will want to use their drones to supplement, or even replace, their human patrols.

One thing businesses with deep security concerns will like most about Aptonomy’s drones, Sanan said, is that they can be programmed to approach intruders in a way that is compliant with all relevant laws and protocols.

That involves shining a light, recording if possible, and using your voice before ever approaching an intruder, physically, or before escalating to physically stop him or her.

Featured Image: Aptonomy Inc.

Former Facebook engineers launch Fabric, an automated personal journal of your life

Technology has made it simple to record and archive our digital memories through posts, snapshots, videos and more, but it can sometimes be a struggle to surface our past – our memories, activities and other experiences – in an easily accessible way. A new mobile application called Fabric, built by two former Facebook engineers, aims to solve that problem.

Co-founders Arun Vijayvergiya and Nikolay Valtchanov spent several years at Facebook working on many of the products that connect the social networks’ well over a billion users with their past. Vijayvergiya built the first version of the Facebook Timeline at a hackathon, which was then called Facebook Memories. (It was accidentally released, as TechCrunch covered at the time, before becoming Timeline.)

In addition to being the first engineer on Timeline, Arun also worked on projects like Friendship Pages, Year in Review and On This Day. Meanwhile, Nikolay was focused on Facebook’s integrations with running and biking mobile applications.

After leaving Facebook, both worked on various projects together, but returned to this idea of an automated journal for your life.

Arun, in particular, was inspired to create a project in this space after receiving a printed book about his dad that was filled with stories friends had written about him in college. The book had details about trips he had taken and people he had known – things that Arun didn’t know about before.

“When I leave this world, I want to leave with a story I can tell about myself – not for everyone, but the people who care about it,” Arun says. A book like his dad’s perhaps, but digital.

Fabric, which is available now on iOS, works to build that story for you automatically as soon as you first sign up. It pulls in your photos from Facebook, Instagram and your Camera Roll, then plots them out in a map view. On the side, a timeline appears, showing you when you took those photos.

When the import is complete, you can then swipe up to see your daily journal. The app tracks things like the people you saw, the places you visited, and the recorded moments from that day, which are displayed as colorful circles you can tap on when in the journal view.

Fabric has a social component, as well. If you add a friend to the app, it will begin tracking whenever you two hang out together.

In the future, the goal is to allow users the ability to record anything they want to remember – whether that’s a note, a song, or anything else. And they’re working on different ways to help you surface your past that’s different from the way Timehop or Facebook lets you look back on the same day a year ago, or several years ago.

Instead, Fabric will be able to answer questions like “when is the last time I saw mom?,” for example.

“In the really long-term, we want to be an augmented memory solution. You want to be able to search through your brain at some point – we think that will exist. We’re trying to take the first step towards that,” Arun says.

The company, which is in the current Y Combinator class in Mountain View, is bootstrapped for the time being. Arun and Nikolay are the only two full-time employees.

Fabric is also being advised by quantitative self enthusiast Nick Felton, whose personal annual reports brought him internet fame, and who later pioneered an overhaul of the Facebook Timeline.

The new app is a free download on the iTunes App Store.

Facebook’s video editor is embarrassingly old, and Apple is creeping

You know you screwed up if Apple is about to one-up you on social. Facebook hasn’t upgraded its video editor in well over three years. Lagging far behind Snapchat, YouTube and even Instagram, it’s a stretch to even call the featureless artifact a video editor. 

All you can do with an uploaded video is trim the ends and toggle the sound on or off. That’s a glaring failure considering Mark Zuckerberg wants “video at the heart of all our apps and services.”

And now, Apple is plotting to seize the opportunity Facebook has left vacant. Bloomberg reports Apple is building a lightweight mobile video editor designed for one-minute, one-handed use.

That’s exactly what Facebook should have built years ago.

Facebook cut pro? No.

Facebook’s outdated video uploader has almost no features

Since late 2013, Facebook has poured resources into improving video consumption while neglecting how users record and share. It launched auto-play video in the feed, prompting an explosion in viewership. Better analytics taught creators what works. Those advances took it from hardly any video views to 1 billion per day in September 2014, to 8 billion in November 2015, to likely many more today.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t build an editor. It developed the video sharing app Poke in 12 days, launched Slingshot, which offered solid video editing and has watched its acquisition Instagram build a modern video editor. Meanwhile, Facebook Live has become the company darling. After launching last August, it’s already added filters and is working on a drawing tool.

Perhaps the closest thing Facebook has to a video editor is its Moments photo-sharing app’s automatic slideshow movie maker. It stitches your photos and videos together with themed transitions and music to create a more interesting mini-film. It’s supposed to be rolling out to the main app, but I don’t see it and it still lacks most basic editing tools.

So here we are, three years after I wrote that “right now Facebook’s video creation tool is painfully outdated,” and nothing has changed. That’s shameful for a company that claims to “move fast.”

What should Facebook’s video uploader be able to do? At the very least, it should let you:

  • Combine multiple clips into one video
  • Add color filters

That would at least bring it up to 2014 standards. To be considered passable in the modern age, it should also let you:

  • Stabilize shaky video
  • Add overlaid text, drawings, emoji and stickers
  • Manually combine videos and photos into Stories

And if Facebook wanted to actually get its shit together, it’d create a best-in-class video recorder and uploader with some of these features that let you:

  • For comparison, Snapchat’s video editor includes all sorts of expression tools

  • Add geofilters representing nearby neighborhoods, events, landmarks or businesses (Snapchat)
  • Create split-screen collages with multiple videos and/or photos shown at once (Editing apps)
  • Add video effects like slow-mo, fast-forward or reverse (Snapchat)
  • Select a soundtrack (Vine, YouTube)
  • Reorder clips (Editing apps)
  • Choose transitions between clips (iMovie)
  • Record video while your device is playing audio (Snapchat)
  • Zoom by scrolling one finger up and down instead of spreading and pinching with two fingers
  • Do lipsyncing (Musical.ly, Dubsmash)
  • Sync-to-beat for creating audio loops (Vine)
  • Ghost outlines of your previous clip to line up shots (Vine)

Plus, I’m sure Facebook’s team could come up with some cool other features. These wouldn’t have to overcomplicate the video uploader. They could be tucked in an editing options drawer so people who just want to add a clip, filter the color, slap some text on and post it could do that without getting confused.

Unlocking self-expression

Facebook needs a way to reverse the trend of declining original content sharing, which The Information reports was down 15 percent year over year as of February. Yet it’s not giving people the tools they need to create unique, compelling content. Instead, big publishers with their professional editing teams are filling the feed with social-optimized video that looks pretty but feels generic and impersonal.

At least Facebook’s app has started to integrate its acquisition of animated selfie maker MSQRD into a new camerafeed design. But that focuses on enhancing clips shot in the app, not editing existing clips.

If Facebook doesn’t make a move, Apple and others will, and those videos won’t necessarily end up on Facebook. Building a great editor gives Facebook leverage to choose whether those videos should just live on its social network, be downloadable or even be easily shared to other apps.

I’ve been blogging about Facebook for six years. For the last half of that, I’ve secretly hoped that every time the company wanted to brief me, it’d show off some slick new video editing interface. But I’ve been disappointed time and time again, and saddened by the missed chance to empower 1.71 billion people to become creators.

So seriously, Facebook…

In a first, FAA allows PrecisionHawk to fly drones where pilots can’t see them

The Federal Aviation Administration has given permission to a drone tech startup called PrecisionHawk to fly its unmanned aerial vehicles beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) in U.S. airspace.

The exemption represents a first in the country, and comes on the same day that the FAA implemented its Part 107 rules governing the way that businesses can use small drones, up to 55 pounds, in their operations.

PrecisionHawk, based in North Carolina, makes fixed-wing drones for use in agriculture, and cloud-based software called DataMapper to helps businesses save and analyze the aerial images and information that they collect using drones.

Verizon Ventures, an investment arm of TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Communications Inc., is a stakeholder in PrecisionHawk. The company has raised $29 million in venture funding to-date according to CrunchBase.

PrecisionHawk’s Lancaster drones compete with the likes of so-called agridrones from: Kespry, Parrot, GIS UAV Ltd. and others.

The company’s DataMapper product competes with an increasing number of map-tech and data analytics platforms catering to drone users including: DroneDeploy and 3DR’s Site Scan.

PrecisionHawk EVP Thomas Haun said, “In agriculture, now that we have an exemption to fly beyond the visual line of sight, we can fly an entire farm, not just one field, efficiently.”

The exemption does not mean PrecisionHawk can fly outside of other rules outlined in the FAA’s newly implemented Part 107 regulation, Haun noted. The company will still have to yield to other aircraft, avoid flying over people, fly only during daylight hours and the like.

Instead of giving drone operators a first person view with video cameras, PrecisionHawk uses what it calls a low altitude traffic and airspace safety system (LATAS) to help drone operators automatically avoid air traffic or any other obstacles during flight. That system is powered, in part, by air traffic data from Harris.

Featured Image: precisionhawk.com

Gartner: Android’s smartphone marketshare hit 86.2% in Q2

What growth there is left in the smartphone market continues to center on emerging markets where consumers are upgrading from feature phones.

And that ongoing transition is helping boost Android’s global marketshare, which Gartner pegs at 86.2 per cent in Q2 in its latest mobile market figures.

But the analyst says Android is not just winning buyers at the mid- to lower-end smartphone segments in emerging markets — with sales of premium smartphones powered by Android up 6.5 per cent in Q2 too.

Gartner points to premium devices from key Android OEMs, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7, as helping to lift the platform’s fortunes at the high end, along with affordably priced premium smartphones from Chinese OEMs such as Huawei and Oppo.

It notes Samsung improving its own performance too, clawing back some marketshare it recently lost in emerging markets to take a 22.3 per cent slice of sales in the quarter, vs 8.9 per cent for Huawei and 5.4 per cent for Oppo. Xiaomi fared less well, losing share in the quarter.

Meanwhile, on the platform front, Apple’s iOS shed nearly two percentage points, sliding from 14.6 per cent in the year ago quarter to 12.9 per cent. Only Microsoft’s Windows smartphone platform saw a worse decline.

Overall, Gartner said smartphone shipments grew 4.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2016, year over year. It pegs global sales of smartphones at 344 million units in the quarter.

With smartphones winning over more buyers in emerging markets sales of feature phones were down 14 per cent in the quarter, which Gartner said contributed to a drop in overall sales of mobile phones during the quarter.

All mature markets except Japan saw slowing demand for smartphones during Q2, according to the analyst, while all emerging markets except Latin America saw growth in smartphones. Smartphone sales in the latter regions were up by 9.9 per cent vs a 4.9 per cent decline in mature markets.

Gartner notes that the top five smartphone manufacturers collectively continued to gain market share in the quarter — up from 51.5 per cent to 54 per cent year on year — with the biggest individual winners being Oppo, Samsung and Huawei.

Apple’s smartphone marketshare declined 7.7 per cent, year on year, with the worst sales decline in Greater China and mature Asia/Pacific regions — where iPhone sales dropped 26 per cent.

Conversely, the iPhone’s best performing regions in Q2 were Eurasia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, where sales grew more than 95 per cent, year on year.

Instacart’s app has changed grocery stores for good

Instacart, the grocery-ordering app, is getting creative about picking, packing and delivering food on-demand.

TechCrunch got an aisle-side view of how the company’s people and technology come together on location at CostCo in San Francisco. And one thing’s clear, the San Francisco startup has changed grocery stores for good.

According to the company’s Chief of Operations Ravi Gupta, one of Instacart’s primary innovations isn’t all that high-tech. The startup secures exclusive lanes in grocery stores to which it sends a high volume of orders, and staffs them with a “CBT” or cashier-bagger-tagger.

Instacart’s shoppers– who pick up all the items that customers order online, then pay for and pack them before delivery– breeze through Instacart-only express lanes at stores like CostCo, Whole Foods and regional groceries like Mollie Stone’s, Andronicos or Bi-Rite in San Francisco.

Eventually, Instacart wants to offer a “bypass checkout” feature to its personal shoppers, and eventually to anyone who uses the Instacart app. This would let shoppers simply skip the register and instead scan and pay for items from their own phones, Gupta said.

For now, the dedicated lanes speed the process significantly for Instacart personal shoppers.

On a high-tech note, today, Instacart also obtains inventory and store layout data from major groceries that it partners with in order to create “aisle mapping.” Aisle maps guide shoppers to the specific items on their grocery lists.

It helps them avigate to items quickly, without hunting around and staring at shelves stocked with an overwhelming number of packages and labels, searching for something they’ve possibly never purchased before.

While Instacart hasn’t rolled out aisle mapping with all of its partners yet, the startup is expanding the initiative, Gupta said.

According to Instacart Shift Lead Gloria Shu, aisle mapping isn’t live at the CostCo in San Francisco yet. But it’s just one of many key features in the Instacart app that’s used by shoppers and drivers, and not seen by consumers.

The Instacart app, on the back-end, helps personal shoppers avoid melted ice cream, or hot prepared foods turning tepid, she noted. It guides them through the most efficient route in a store that will have them picking up frozen or hot items last.

At stores where Instacart processes a high volume of orders, hot and cold items are bagged and stored in a staging area that’s temperature-controlled, until a driver has picked them up, Shu said.

Next time you shop at a Whole Foods, CostCo or other major grocery, keep an eye out for the company’s designated check out lanes, staging areas, and personal shoppers circulating with smarpthones in hand, in the company’s signature green teeshirts.

Instacart seems to have a competitive edge for now. But its competition is, no doubt, eager to secure similar express lane arrangements and developing their own tech to get ahead.

Competitors to Instacart include everyone from fellow venture-backed startups like Postmates, to Google’s Shopping Express service, and a bevy of regional logistics providers.

India’s WhatsApp rival Hike raises $175M led by Tencent at a $1.4B valuation

India has a new tech unicorn. Hike, a four-year-old messaging app, today announced that it has closed $175 million in funding led by new investors Chinese internet giant Tencent and manufacturing firm Foxconn. The Series D round values the company at $1.4 billion, founder and CEO Kavin Bharti Mittal confirmed to TechCrunch.

Tencent, the company that pioneered messaging with WeChat, is the big name here, but existing investors Tiger Global, Bharti and SoftBank also took part in the round, which takes Hike to more than $250 million raised to date. Hike added some strategic U.S.-based investors to its roster earlier this year, but its last major funding was a $65 million Series C that closed two years ago.

“Hike deeply understands India; a highly diverse market with many nuances. It is on a mission synergistic to ours, which is to enhance the quality of human life through internet services. With our investment, Hike will be able to leverage our deep domain expertise in the messaging platform space to provide more value to its users in India,” Tencent President Martin Lau said in a prepared statement.

Rivaling WhatsApp

Born out of a joint-venture between Bharti and SoftBank, Hike includes standard messaging app features you’d expect, alongside free voice calling and a few other twists. It has put emphasis on local users with features that include a privacy option to hide chat messages, in case a nosey relative gets hold of your phone as can happen in India, and the ability to send messages via SMS to friends who aren’t using the Hike app, another foreseeable usecase in the country.

Targeting young people, it has played up to a fun and hip image with its marketing and advertising campaigns.

There’s a huge challenge though.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the dominant chat app in India, with more than 100 million active users in the country, around one-tenth of its total userbase. Hike announced earlier this year that it has over 100 million registered users (i.e. downloads not necessary active), 90 percent of whom are aged under 30, with 40 billion messages exchanged on the service each month, but Bharti Mittal declined to provide an update on that data.

Despite WhatsApp dominating chat worldwide, the Hike chief is sure that his company’s app is fulfilling a much-needed gap.

“Every market has two messaging apps that do well,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch. “There’s one that replaces SMS and one that does a lot more than that. Hike doesn’t even compete with WhatsApp today, it is used very actively in addition to other apps.”

For the past year or so, Hike has been focused on building in that differentiation with WhatsApp which, despite adding voice calls last year and promising to introduce business accounts in the future, has largely retained a bare-basics approach to chat. That has enabled people of all backgrounds and comfort with technology to adopt WhatsApp — which saw its message volumes pass global SMS numbers long ago — but it has left an option for a more integrated and sophisticated messaging app — something that acts like a modern day internet portal for mobile.

Seizing that opportunity, which Bharti Mittal believes lies with the youth, Hike has integrated mobile games, a news service, coupons (beta) and localized stickers into Hike. Games attract over 100 million play sessions per month — 20-25 million per day — while the news feature has 50 million-plus users and sees 1.5 billion stories viewed a month, he said of the early signs of traction.

Hike’s registered user growth

Moving into services

That approach to going beyond chat makes the involvement of Tencent in this round hugely important. The Chinese company pioneered the ‘swiss army knife’ approach to messaging with WeChat, China’s dominant messaging app with over 700 million users which has integrated e-commerce, food delivery, taxi apps and much more. WeChat is often compared to a mobile operating system such is its influence and importance in China.

The WeChat influence is strong. Even Facebook is among those to embrace its approach with Messenger and, like the U.S. social network giant, that’s the path Hike aims to go down.

Bharti Mittal, whose billionaire father Sunil Bharti Mittal founded telecom giant Bharti, explained that to me Hike is likely to introduce a payment solution within the next six to twelve months, among other things.

“This is the very early form of what is possible, you’ll see us invest more in services going forward,” he added.

Tencent has invested in other messaging apps, Snapchat and Kik in the U.S., but its deal with Hike is notable for being its largest investment in India to date. (It led a $90 million investment into Bangalore-based medical portal Practo last year.) Given the focus that Alibaba, Tencent’s fierce rival, is putting into India with investments in Paytm (payments) and Snapdeal (e-commerce), you could be forgiven for seeing the Hike deal as Tencent’s first move to replicate its chat-based empire in India, the planet’s other billion-person-plus population.

Not so. This isn’t the prelude to an acquisition, according to Bharti Mittal.

“Operationally nothing changes, there’s no discussion around integration,” he explained. “Tencent has a minority stake… our goal is to make the partnership a key success, [there’s] no-one better than Tencent because they are the best at what they do.”

The fact that WeChat has largely failed in India, despite Tencent putting some serious money into marketing the app via commercials and partnerships a couple of years ago, nullifies the complication of any competition, the Hike CEO said.

“WeChat is not as much of a competitor today, and I think they’ve seen that,” he added. “We spoke to them very early on when they came to India to work on their own product, [but] it was too early to invest [then] and they wanted to [work by] themselves. [The investment today] happened as we built a relationship over the past few years.”

Tencent is the standout name in the Series D round, but Bharti Mittal also played up the importance of Foxconn, another hugely influential Asian tech company that is looking to lay roots in India.

John Maeda leaves KPCB, joins Automattic as design head

John Maeda is leaving VC firm KPCB where he was a design partner to join Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and a bunch of other things. Maeda will have a long, elaborate title at Automattic — he’s the company’s new Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion. Before KPCB, Maeda was a research faculty member at the MIT Media Lab in the 1990s.

“I wanted to do three things,” Maeda wrote on Design.blog. “1/ highlight Automattic’s international community of designer-engineers (global), 2/ advance the kind of design that is being fully impacted by Moore’s Law (computational), and 3/ highlight how cutting-edge design requires the capacity to embrace human differences (inclusion).”

Also new, Maeda is launching a new site called Design.blog. The site will feature new stories every Thursday. Apparently, the design of the homepage will also regularly change to showcase some design work. Design.blog will run stories from thinkers, designers and writers. Automattic designers will help Maeda run this blog.

Maeda says that Automattic’s work when it comes to open source projects is one of the key reasons behind today’s move. Automattic contributes to the open source WordPress project, and 26 percent of the web now runs on WordPress. If you have an impact on WordPress’s design, you’re going to impact hundreds of millions of people who interact with WordPress sites every day — including TechCrunch, a WordPress site hosted on WordPress.com VIP.

As you can see, Design.blog is also one of the first sites ending with the .blog domain extension. Automattic recently secured the rights to operate .blog domain names. In the future, people will be able to sign up for a CoolDomainName.blog for their WordPress blog or any other site.

Starting today and until October 17, trademarks can reserve their .blog domain names so that nobody can get the google.blog domain name before Google, for example.

On November 2, everybody will be able to sign up for a .blog domain name. Maybe I should get tech.blog…

Photo credit: Helena Price for Techies Project

Intel unveils a ready-to-fly drone, the Aero, to win developers

Intel unveils a ready-to-fly drone, the Aero, to win over developers

At the Intel Developers Forum on Tuesday, Intel unveiled a new, hardware product– a ready-to-fly drone, specifically a quadcopter. It’s aimed at software developers rather than casual hobbyists or commercial drone operators.

Intel’s drone is a fully assembled unit that runs on Intel’s Aero Compute Board with a Linux operating system, RealSense for vision. It also comes with Santa Monica startup AirMap’s software development kit pre-loaded. AirMap, generally, helps drone users fly only where it’s safe and legal to do so.

Other chip makers, like Nvidia, Ambarella and Qualcomm have been vying to gain marketshare in the burgeoning. If not yet clearly regulated, domestic and international drones market.

But they’ve done so by selling their microprocessors to other hardware manufacturers. This includes companies that make UAVs or cameras and other systems that are integrated into them to enhance functionality, usually around filming and aerial data capture.

Ambarella has supplied chips in the built-in cameras on DJI’s drones, and for GoPro cameras that can be mounted onto 3DRobotics drones, for example. And Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight platform and 4k cameras have been used in drones like the Tencent-Zerotech model called YING that sends data from mid-flight to Tencent’s social media platforms QQ and Wenxing.

Intel is also an equity investor in drone tech startups including: Yuneec. Which makes drones that automatically avoid obstacles even in tight spaces; Airware, developers of an operating system for commercial drones; and PrecisionHawk. Makers of a fixed wing drone and software for agricultural and other commercial drones.

Intel also acquired Ascending Technologies, a German autopilot tech company, in January this year.


The inclusion of AirMap’s software development kit in Intel’s Aero Ready to Fly quadcopters is a boon for the startup. Which only launched it this week at closed conference for developers in Santa Monica, California.

AirMap was already a partner of leading drone makers, DJI.

The startup’s CEO Ben Marcus told TechCrunch on Tuesday that AirMap is on a mission to “make drones a part of everyday life.�?

He said pervasive drone use can’t safely happen without an air space management system that covers the lower air space where drones fly, and that real time information to drone operators, manufacturers and app developers about air space conditions.

AirMap also makes data accessible in real time to other stakeholders like airports and regulators who need to know how and where drones are operating.

The Aero Ready to Fly drone will be available to purchase by the end of this year but Intel did not announce a firm on-sale date or price.

Featured Image: Intel