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Envisics nabs $50M for its in-car holographic display tech at a $250M+ valuation

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The jury is still out on what might become the most viable business models for augmented reality technology, but in the meantime a startup out of the UK is betting one big area will be in vehicles, in the form of holographic displays. And today it is announcing a significant round of funding from strategic investors to fill out its vision (so to speak).

Envisics, which brings together technologies like computer vision, machine learning, big data analytics and navigation to build hardware that integrates into vehicles to project holographic, head-up displays providing enhanced “dashboards” of information to drivers — with features like mapping, navigation guidance and hazard warnings — is today announcing that it has raised $50 million in a Series B round of funding.

Dr. Jamieson Christmas, the founder of the company, said in an interview that the funding is being made at a valuation of over $250 million, “significantly up” on its previous round, although Envisics, based in the town of Milton Keynes in England, has never disclosed its valuation before.

The capital is coming from a strong group of strategic investors that points to the companies that are already working with the startup. Hyundai Mobis, General Motors Ventures, SAIC Motors and Van Tuyl Companies (the family office of the Van Tuyl Group, which made a fortune in automotive dealerships and related services) all participated in the round.

Envisics is already working with car companies to integrate its technology into vehicles. Initially, it’s focusing on the higher end of the market and integrating its tech into models from Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors), Christmas said. Mass production of vehicles using its technology is slated for 2023.

At a time when AR startups have been on somewhat shaky ground, the funding is a validation not just for Envisics, but for the wider market in which it operates.

Christmas first got into holographic displays through his first startup, Two Trees, which eventually got acquired in 2016 by Daqri, and AR glasses company that was looking for more tech to better compete with Microsoft and its HoloLens.

Christmas said that while Daqri was focused on headsets, he still saw an opportunity to work on holographic tech for automakers (indeed, when it was acquired, Two Trees already had automotive customers).

That eventually led to Christmas, two years later in 2018, spinning out Envisics (once again as a UK startup, like his previous one) to focus just on the holographic automotive opportunity.

It turned out to be a very timely move: Daqri eventually shut down in September 2019 after failing to find its footing as a business and running out of money in what was already a challenging climate for AR. It was not the only one: other casualties at that time included patent and asset sales from the Osterhout Design Group and Meta.

If Envisics managed to jump off the burning platform that was AR headset displays, it arguably went from the frying pan into the fire (excuse the mixing of a few heated metaphors): billions of dollars have been invested into the automotive sector and its hot pursuit of what it hopes will be the next generation of transportation, autonomous vehicles.

Yet if you think AR has yet to find a landing place as a business, self-driving cars are even further from their destination. Experts agree that we are many years away still from fully-autonomous vehicles capable of making decisions as reliably as humans, and some skeptics wonder if we’ll ever get there at all.

Enter technology like Envisics’. The company’s tools are not a replacement for human drivers, but they definitely enhance how a human can drive, and in the many steps that we’ll see between today and some future where cars can actually drive themselves, tech like Envisics’ will continue to play a vital and interesting role, one that you can imagine has lots of room to evolve along with the cars themselves. (For example, today it provides vital data; tomorrow it could also provide… useful diversions if you no longer have to do any driving?)

“Hyundai Mobis will jointly develop autonomous driving specialized AR HUDs with Envisics, targeting mass production by 2025,” Executive Vice President, CTO, Sung Hwan Cho said in a statement. “We will proactively present the next generation AR HUD to global automakers with increased safety and convenience to avoid distracting the driver.”

“GM is very impressed with Envisics’ holographic augmented reality-enhanced head-up display technology,” added Matt Tsien, president of GM Ventures. “This technology will help us revolutionize the in-vehicle experience with a variety of safe, highly integrated and intuitive applications, including applications that will enhance the hands-free driving experience in future EVs, like the Cadillac LYRIQ.”

“We are very excited to be part of Envisics journey to commercialize its revolutionary holographic technology and look forward to partnering with them to deploy advanced AR-HUDs in our next generation of cars for both the Chinese domestic and global markets,” said Michael Cohen, Investment Director at SAIC Capital, in his own statement.

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Disney+ adds a stronger content warning ahead of its problematic films

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Disney+ adds a stronger warning ahead of films with racist stereotypes

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Disney has quietly introduced a new disclaimer to some of its films. When you start watching these films, you’ll be treated to an unskippable content warning, informing you that the film will contain “negative depictions” of certain people and cultures. While the films themselves aren’t altered in any way, the disclaimer says the depictions are wrong and expresses the importance of “a more inclusive future together.”
In case you’re curious, here’s what the warning looks like:

The link goes to a page called “Stories Matter,” which lists the members of Disney’s third-party advisory council that is “supporting our efforts to increase our cultural competency,” as Disney puts it. The council includes GLAAD Media Institute, the African American Film Critics Association, and The Science and Entertainment Exchange.

Some of the films that now carry this warning are DumboPeter PanThe AristocatsThe Swiss Family Robinson, and Aladdin. All of the films have uncomfortable, racist caricatures, which you can read more about on the Stories Matter page. For example, it describes the crows from Dumbo, shown in the featured image, as an “homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. The leader of the group in Dumbo is Jim Crow, which shares the name of laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not the first time Disney has added such warnings to its content before. Last year, it added a disclaimer simply stating that certain films contained “outdated cultural depictions,” which many pointed out was an almost flippant way to address the content. Now the disclaimer has been updated with stronger language, adding that the depictions “were wrong then and are wrong now.”

That language is not new: in fact, it’s identical to that which Warner Bros has been using for years to discuss racism in its old cartoons. See, for example, this explanation, provided by Whoopi Goldberg, about the role of Black maid Mammy Two-Shoes in Tom & Jerry. Notice she says, “These prejudices were wrong then and they’re certainly wrong today.”

[embedded content]

It begs the question: how likely is it that kids watching these things will stop and read the disclaimer, even if they do have 12 seconds to do so? I think, on some level, Disney is aware that this isn’t going to change much. It’s why the company still hasn’t released Song of the South on the platform (as it shouldn’t) — there’s no collection of words on the planet that would make this infamous film okay to put out on Disney+. Disney’s still trying to scrub that film from its parks, planning to remake its Splash Mountain ride, which contains depictions of some of the Song of the South characters, with those from The Princess and the Frog instead.

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Apple should switch the iPhone to USB-C if it really wants to help the environment

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If you buy an iPhone in the future, you’re not getting an included charging brick or earbuds. Apple says the reasons are environmental. Giving out fewer “free” accessories with every phone means using less materials, the company claims, and also makes for smaller boxes that can be shipped more efficiently. So going forward, those boxes will just come with a phone and a Lightning to USB-C cable.

I think Apple’s approach is generally a good thing, but it should have gone further by switching away from its proprietary Lightning port entirely and fully embracing USB-C. Right away, that Lightning to USB-C cable would turn into a much more useful USB-C to USB-C cable that could charge basically all of your electronics. Or better still, Apple could remove the cable entirely and just ship the phone by itself, eliminating even more duplicitous waste.

It’s a relatively small change for each person buying an iPhone, but it’s massive when you consider the fact that Apple shipped almost 200 million iPhones over the past year, according to IDC. Chargers might make up a relatively small proportion of total e-waste, as Wired notes, but on a global basis, that’s still tens of thousands of metric tons annually. And as the lack of headphone jacks on 2020’s flagship smartphones shows, Apple’s decisions also have a huge influence on the rest of the industry.

Apple argues no charging brick makes for smaller, more efficient, packaging.
Image: Apple

USB-C is already becoming the standard

I’ll be the first to admit that USB-C isn’t a perfect standard. Its naming scheme has been a mess (the current USB standard is called USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 for chrissake), and there are so many bad USB-C cables in the wild that some people have made it their mission to root out the worst of them. To borrow a famous turn of phrase, USB-C is the worst connection standard… except for all the others. But it’s also the best one yet created.

In 2020, USB-C is about as universal as wired connection standards come. It’s used by over-ear headphones, true wireless earbuds, VR headsets, tablets (including some of Apple’s), laptops (including all of Apple’s) and laptop accessories. It’s used by game consoles like the Nintendo Switch, and it’ll be used with both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X’s controllers when those consoles ship next month. USB-C batteries are becoming commonplace and chargers are getting tiny and extremely capable — with up to 100 watts, a powerful battery or a charger the size of a deck of playing cards can sometimes power a laptop, tablet, and phone all at once.

Not only is USB-C used almost everywhere, it’s also hard to name something that Lightning actually does better. Longtime Apple blogger John Gruber has argued in the past that it’s a more elegant and slightly thinner port which… sure, maybe? But is that enough reason to maintain the status quo if Apple cares as much about the environment as it claims?

You probably already have a USB-C charger

Apple’s core argument for taking the charger out of the box is that it avoids piling on accessories that a lot of people already own. During its presentation, Apple estimated that there are 2 billion of its power adapters out in the world, and “billions” of third-party chargers.

But let’s put that into perspective. According to IDC, Apple commanded just 13.9 percent of the global smartphone market in 2019, shipping close to 200 million phones last year. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry combined shipped over a billion phones over the course of just a single year, and most of those devices used USB-C. That’s a lot of people who already have everything they need to charge a hypothetical USB-C iPhone, including both charging bricks and USB-C cables. And it doesn’t include all the people who bought other USB-C devices like headphones, laptops, and tablets, including recent MacBook and iPad Pro devices.

All of that means that if you really want to, you can absolutely sell a USB-C smartphone without any charging accessories at all. That’s what ethical smartphone manufacturer Fairphone does. Inside the box for its most recent phone, the Fairphone 3 Plus, you’ll find no headphones, no USB-C charging cable, and no USB-C charging brick. Instead there’s a small screwdriver, so that when the time comes, you’ll be theoretically able to repair the phone for yourself rather than having to throw it out.

A slightly weird halfway house

There are serious questions to be asked about how positive an environmental impact Apple’s existing plan is actually going to have. A big part of Apple’s pitch is that there are already billions of power adapters out there, but it’s likely that a significant portion of them use the USB-A standard, which is incompatible with the Lightning to USB-C cable Apple now packs into the box for faster charging speeds. Apple only started putting USB-C power adapters in the box last year, and even then it was limited to the Pro models, meaning the vast majority of iPhones sold came with a USB-A brick bundled in.

USB-C charging bricks only started getting bundled with last year’s iPhone 11 Pro.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

I’m not saying there’ll be no environmental impact. With the iPhone 12, a lot of people will still be able to reuse their existing USB-A to Lightning charging cables and USB-A power bricks, regardless of the new cable they get in the box. But then what’s the point of that Lightning to USB-C cable, particularly if you wind up switching to Apple’s MagSafe wireless chargers instead? If it were a USB-C to USB-C cable, at least you could use it with other gadgets. Apple could have a much bigger environmental impact in the long run by eliminating its proprietary Lightning port entirely.

Apple’s argument

We already know what Apple thinks about potentially switching to USB-C connectors, because it put out a statement on this very topic earlier this year. The statement came in response to EU efforts to mandate a common charger for all smartphones, and Apple argued that a switch to USB-C would actually be worse for the environment overall, by rendering hundreds of millions of Lightning accessories obsolete. Here’s the relevant part of the statement it issued in January (emphasis added):

“More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers. Legislation would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.”

There absolutely are a lot of Lightning accessories out there. But the argument rings hollow given Apple’s own history of obviating all those 30-pin iPod docks and early iPhone peripherals when it switched to Lightning in 2012. Instead of sending them straight to the dump, Apple and others sold 30-pin to Lightning adapters to extend the usefulness of those legacy accessories for years. Apple and its partners can surely now do the same in order to preserve all those Lightning devices. Yes, it would create a one-time glut of adapters that would eventually end up in landfills, but it’s the short-term price to pay for the long-term benefits of convergence.

Same pain, more gain

As someone who has a whole drawer filled with spare power adapters I never use, I’m sympathetic to what Apple is trying to achieve with the iPhone 12. Giving out duplicate accessories with every new phone really isn’t sustainable if we want to try and cut down on the estimated 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste we threw out last year.

But I also have some sympathy for those who say Apple is nickel-and-diming its customers with the move. When a phone costs hundreds of dollars, it’s hard not to feel a little cheated by a smaller box with fewer accessories, particularly if the remaining ones are still half-proprietary.

By using the environment to justify the removal of wasteful iPhone charging accessories, Apple has now argued itself into a corner. If its environmental concerns are important enough to influence what gets included with a new phone, then they should also be important enough to influence its design directly.

Last year my colleague Dieter argued that the iPhone 11 should have been the last with Lightning. He’s still right.

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Get an Early Start on Your Black Friday Shopping in Amazon’s Holiday Dash Sale

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Holiday Dash Sale | Amazon

Prime Day might be done, but the savings haven’t stopped. Amazon’s Holiday Dash sale collects all sorts of bargains from across the site, from headphones to smartphones, toys, candy, DNA tests, and plenty more. Each day brings new deals, and we’ll be updating this space daily to bring you the best of the sales in the weeks ahead. Whether you’re starting your holiday shopping early or just want to keep an eye out for serious savings, be sure to check back regularly!

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Save Up to 30% on Halloween Candy

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We’re coming up quick on Halloween, so if you’re planning on handing out candy this year, now’s the time to act. Luckily, Amazon is taking up to 30% off a whole heap of bulk candy right now, ranging from Nerds and Lemonheads to Butterfingers and Trolli Gummy packs.

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Save on Motorola Smartphones

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Motorola makes some of the best budget Android smartphones around, and right now Amazon is carving down prices even further on several of those handsets. Hit the link above for the full range, but you can get a 2019 Moto G7 Play for just $130 ($70 off), a Motorola One Action for $230 ($120 off), and a 2020 Moto G Stylus (shown) for just $244 ($56 off)

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Amazon Echo Dot | $30

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Save $20 right now on Amazon’s compact Echo Dot, one of the easiest and most affordable ways to bring the Alexa voice assistant into your home. With Alexa and the Echo Dot, you can call up tunes from various streaming services, control smart home gadgets, ask a wide array of questions, and plenty more. This small Wi-Fi speaker is an ideal way to amplify tunes anywhere in your home, and the rest is just the cherry on top.

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Scott Essential Toilet Paper (80 Rolls) | $54

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Worried about the availability of toilet paper in the months ahead or just want to ensure that you have a steady supply for some time to come? Scott offers TP in bulk thanks to this Scott Essential bulk toilet paper package, which piles 80 rolls (2-ply) into a box for just $54 right now. That’s half the regular price, and while this might not be the super-soft stuff you’ll pay a premium for in smaller packages, it is a whole lot of toilet paper.

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Save Up to 30% on Eufy Security Hardware

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Amplify your home security setup with some well-priced Eufy security gear, today only. You can get a Eufy Video Doorbell for $90 ($30 off), a 2-camera security system for $210 ($90 off), 2K-resolution indoor cam for $38 ($12 off), and a EufyCam 2 wireless security camera for $98 ($32 off).

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23andMe Ancestry & Traits DNA Test | $89

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Got questions about your heritage? You’re certainly not alone, as the millions of folks sending away saliva to DNA testing services demonstrate. Seek answers with the 23andMe ancestry and traits DNA test, one of the most popular kits around. It only takes a few minutes to spit into the tube and mail off your sample, and then within a couple of weeks, you’ll have a detailed and extensive look into your ancestry, along with the ability to connect with DNA relatives. It’s $10 off at Amazon right now.

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Save Up to 39% on Sweese Plate and Bowl Sets

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Amazon has a huge sale on Sweese plates, bowls, cups, butter dishes, and other kitchen needs across a variety of styles. Whether you want vibrant bowls, a set of blue salad plates, stackable espresso cups and saucers, or soup bowls with handles, you’ll find a deal. Hit the link to see all the different styles and options.

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Vava Dual Dash Cam | $125

Clip the coupon on the page

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You might be a safe driver, but you can’t always count on everyone around you to be quite so careful—and anything goes once your car is parked and you’re away. That’s why you might consider Vava’s handy dual dash cam, which provides both forward and in-car views at 1080p resolution, or you can solely activate the forward-facing cam at a crisper 1440p resolution. It also automatically records any sensed movements or bumps when parked, keeping a record when you’re away. Save $25 total when you clip the coupon on the page.

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Jointown Disposable Face Masks (50-Pack) | $12

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Save 20% off the list price on this 50-pack of disposable face masks, which have a 3-ply design complete with a nose clip at the top. These aren’t designed for medical usage but can help keep you covered up in a pinch while out and about. Grab a box for the car for when you need to go out, or keep a box or two handy for the months ahead.

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Anker Soundcore Life Q20 ANC Wireless Headphones | $45

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Active noise-canceling headphones don’t have to total wallet-drainers. Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 headphones feature hybrid active noise canceling smarts at a fraction of the price of big-name rivals, priced at just $45 right now—a 25% savings off of the already-low list price. These Bluetooth wireless cans promise a big bass kick and up to 40 hours of battery life on a single charge, making them ideal for use just about anywhere and with any device.

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Kinetic Sand 2-Pound Sandisfying Set | $15

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Kinetic Sand is a fun gift for kids of all ages, and right now Amazon has this affordable starter set for 25% off the list price at just $15. You’ll get 2 pounds of the stuff, which looks like sand but can be easily molded and shaped into place without water, plus it has 10 included tools to help you further manipulate the stuff. You get a pound of red sand and a pound of blue, too, providing additional creative opportunities over simply getting the usual tan sand.

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Philips Sonicare ExpertClean 7500 Electric Toothbrush | $140

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Looking for a serious clean for your teeth? Right now, Amazon has this Philips Sonicare ExpertClean 7500 electric toothbrush for $30 off the list price. Available in black, white, and pink versions, this feature-rich tooth-scrubber has a pressure sensor that alerts you if you’re brushing too hard, plus it syncs via Bluetooth to a smartphone app to help you oversee your brushing habits.

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