Ring has announced its first foray into products meant for use outside of the home with a new line of security cameras designed for cars. The new Car Cam, Car Alarm, and Car Connect systems integrate into the same Ring app that supports the company’s home security alarm, video doorbells, and security cameras, and they provide owners with alerts for attempted break-ins. The new products are slated for availability starting next year.
Ring founder Jamie Siminoff says the reason for expanding into the automotive market is in response to customers who have been asking for ways to secure their vehicles in a similar way to their homes with Ring products.
The $59.99 Car Alarm is the simplest of the devices — it plugs into your car’s OBD-II diagnostic port and sends alerts to your phone when it detects a break-in, someone trying to tow the vehicle, or if another vehicle hits your car. The Car Alarm has a built-in siren that can be triggered remotely, and it can be linked to other Ring or Alexa devices to sound audible alerts when an event is detected.
For connectivity, the Car Alarm utilizes its parent company Amazon’s new Sidewalk network, which was announced last year and is starting to see some real products and development on it now. Amazon says Sidewalk will officially launch later this year.
The $199.99 Car Cam is Ring’s first camera for outside of the home and has the ability to record both inside and outside of the car. When mounted on a car’s dashboard, the Car Cam has a camera pointed out the front windshield and one that points toward the car’s interior. Like the Car Alarm, the Car Cam can send alerts whenever an event such as a break-in, towing, or accident is detected, and owners can tap into the cameras’ feeds to see what’s happening. The Car Cam relies on either Wi-Fi or LTE for connectivity.
In addition, the Car Cam has the ability to ping first responders automatically in the event of a “serious crash.” Another feature called “Traffic Stop” allows owners to say “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” to trigger the cameras to start recording and save their footage to the cloud. Lastly, Ring says there are privacy features built in, such as a physical camera shutter and the ability to electronically disable the interior video and audio recording.
Since so many cars already have cameras built into them — in fact, reverse back-up cameras have been mandated on all new cars in the US since 2018 — Ring developed the Car Connect platform to integrate those existing cameras into its system. The platform is a set of APIs for car manufacturers to enable owners to receive alerts for events, view recorded footage, and see if the car is locked or unlocked.
Ring says it’s working with many automotive makers to build support for the system, but the first partnership it’s announcing is with Tesla. Owners of the Model 3, X, S, and Y that have Sentry Mode enabled will be able to install a device in their cars that allows them to connect to the car’s existing cameras and view footage.
Was Quibi the good kind of startup failure?
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Startup failure is easy to hold up as a type of martyrdom for progress, especially if the founders are starting out scrappy in the first place and trying to save the world. But heroic narrative gets complicated when the startup failure involves the biggest names in entertainment, dubious product decisions, and well over $1 billion in losses in an already very competitive consumer tech subcategory.
I was going to skip any mention of Quibi because, like me, you have heard more than enough already. But this week its shutdown announcement turned into a debate on Twitter about the nature of startup failure and whether this was still the right kind. Many in the startup world said it was still good, basically because most any ambitious startup effort leads to progress. Danny Crichton, in turn, argues that the negativity was fully justified in this case.
Let’s be honest: Most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. When success happens, we like to talk about it, report on it and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.
But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.
Ouch. However, I think this still misses the bigger dynamic happening.
Quibi was so easy to criticize that it created an opportunity to plausibly defend for anyone who wants to show that they are here for the startups no matter how crazy. When you defend Quibi, you’re defending your own process, and making it clear to the next generation of startups that you’re personally not scared off from other people with crazy ideas and have the will to try even if the result is a big mess. Which is who founders want to hire in the early days, and who investors want to bet on.
I support both sides of this mass-signaling game. Analysts and journalists have provided a broad range of valuable insights about how Quibi was doing it wrong, that are no doubt being internalized by founders of all types. Meanwhile, Quibi defenders are no doubt sorting through their inbound admirers for great new deals. All in all, Quibi and the debate around it might ultimately make future companies a little better. Which is what we all wanted in the first place, right?
Root Insurance plans pricing as Datto goes public
The IPO market has not shut down (yet) for election turmoil and whatnot. First up, managed service provider Datto went out on Wednesday and has inched up since then — a strong outcome for the company and its private equity owner, even if third parties did not benefit from an additional pop. A few more notes from Alex Wilhelm:
Datto’s CEO Tim Weller told TechCrunch in a call that the company will still be well-capitalized after the public offering, saying that it will have a very strong cash position.
The company should have places to deploy its remaining cash. In its S-1 filings, Datto highlighted a COVID-19 tailwind stemming from companies accelerating their digital transformation efforts. TechCrunch asked the company’s CEO whether there was an international component to that story, and whether digital transformation efforts are accelerating globally and not merely domestically. In a good omen for startups not based in the United States, the executive said that they were.
Next to market, Root Insurance released its stock pricing set this week, raising the goal to a valuation above $6 billion. It’s definitely on track to be Ohio’s biggest tech IPO to date. Here’s Alex again, with a comparison against Lemonade, another recently IPOed insurance tech provider for Extra Crunch:
[I]t appears that Root at around $6 billion is cheap compared to Lemonade’s pricing today. So, if you’d like to anticipate that Root raises its IPO price range to bring it closer to the multiples that Lemonade enjoys, feel free as you are probably not wrong. Are we saying that Root will double its valuation to match Lemonade’s current metrics? No. But closing the gap a bit? Sure.
For insurtech startups, even Root’s current pricing is strong. Recall that Root was worth $3.65 billion just last August. At $6.34 billion, the company has appreciated massively in just the last year and change. A small repricing could boost Root’s valuation differential to a flat 100% rather easily.
So, for MetroMile and ClearCover and the rest of the related players, do enjoy these good times as long as they last….
AR/VR is coming (sooner than expected)
A year ago, the market looked quite young. But now, the pandemic has made the value of augmented and virtual reality clearer to the world. Lucas Matney, who has been covering the topic here for years, just conducted a survey of seven top investors in the space. While they mostly continue to see the vertical as a bit early, they see it getting relevant fast. Here’s one key response, from Brianne Kimmel of Work Life Ventures, on Extra Crunch:
Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?
I think it all comes down to a unique insight and a competitive advantage when it comes to distribution. And so, I’ll use these new [Zoom] apps as an example, I think that they’re a great example where there are certain aspects of roles and certain highly specialized skills where teaching educating and doing your daily job on Zoom won’t actually cut it. I do foresee AR applications becoming an integral part of certain types of work. I also think that now that as a lot of the larger platforms such as Zoom are more open, people will start building on the platforms and there will be AR-specific use cases that can help industries where, you know, a traditional video conferencing experience doesn’t quite cut it.
Zurich startup scene loaded with talent
In other survey news, Mike Butcher continues his (sadly virtual) tour across European startup hubs for EC, this week checking in with investors in Zurich, Switzerland. Here’s a tidy explanation of the city and country’s deep technical experience, from Michael Blank of investiere:
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Switzerland has always been at the forefront of technological innovation in areas such as precision engineering or life sciences. We strongly believe that Switzerland will also thrive in the long run in those areas. Thinking for example about additive manufacturing startups such as 9T Labs or Scrona, drone companies such as Verity or Wingtra or health tech startups such as Aktiia or Versantis.
Across the week
Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:
- The fall of Quibi, and who lost money in the mix. TechCrunch has a bit more on the video service’s downfall here.
- The Netflix quarter, and why its shares lost ground after its report. The Quibi-Netflix stories show that it’s not smooth sailing in the market for online video.
- If Netflix stumbled, Snap soared with stronger-than-expected growth. The company still loses lots of money, but it’s getting closer to reasonable results, and has lots of cash.
- Then we turned to a few media startups that raised, including $4 million for Stir and $2.5 million for Quake. Quake the podcasting company, mind, not the excellent FPS.
- Next was a handful of housing rounds, including the very neat Abodu and the somewhat controversial RVshare, which split the three of us about whether or not it was going to work out.
- Then we had some great reporting from Natasha to parse through, including her piece on startup hacker houses, and her report on a new women-focused accelerator class.
Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.
Why can’t I fix my own phone, toaster, or tractor?
As critically ill COVID-19 patients started showing up in droves at emergency rooms around the world, ventilators became a crucial technology keeping patients alive. When hospitals’ own resources became overwhelmed, the Strategic National Stockpile dusted off and distributed thousands of the life-support machines throughout the country.
But not all were in working condition.
J. Scot Mackeil, a biomedical technician with more than 40 years of experience, worked on a team tasked with inspecting machines sent to Massachusetts’s Emergency Management Agency. In mid-April, while performing spot checks on hundreds of ventilators packed in freight pods, Mackeil discovered one with a damaged power connector.
But when he asked the manufacturer to send him a replacement part, he was surprised to receive the manufacturer’s response: “ ‘Absolutely no.’ ”
“I had just expected, ‘Oh, no problem. Where can we send it?’ ” he said. “I wasn’t expecting them to dig their heels in.”
Mackeil was well aware of what’s become a common obstacle for hospitals: Manufacturers not only have a monopoly over even simple replacement parts, but they also often allow only their authorized service technicians to repair equipment.
Mackeil told The Markup that over his career, manufacturers resisting hospitals doing their own repairs has become the norm.
“Medical equipment manufacturers look at the service phase of the device life as a huge profit center,” Mackeil said.
With the ventilator, he had thought they might relent.
“It was just a shame,” he said.
It’s not just medical device manufacturers who keep a tight grip on the inner workings of the products they sell—mobile phones, game consoles, coffee makers, and farm equipment all share examples of the same sort of repair restrictions that advocates calling for “right to repair” laws seek to eliminate.
And though you might technically own your camera, game console, blender, or phone, you repair it at your own peril. Going outside the official route for fixes is either impractical without repair manuals and proprietary tools or could void the machine’s warranty (though consumers have some protections on that front).
“We are no longer able to fix the things we buy,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, who is the executive director of The Repair Association, a coalition of businesses and organizations seeking legislation across the country that would give consumers the right to repair their own machines.
The right-to-repair movement has drawn an unusual coalition of stakeholders, including environmentalists, libertarians, engineers, independent repair shop owners, gamers, hobbyists, and farmers.
Groups like The Repair Association have helped push consumer electronic right-to-repair bills introduced in dozens of states. None, however, have become law in recent years.
Lobbyists for the electronics manufacturers have also raised concerns that unqualified repairs could lead to dangerous failures of their products and that states with right-to-repair laws could become havens for hackers.
Such laws could eliminate a manufacturer’s monopoly on not only who can fix a product—but also on when a product is essentially deemed unfixable.
Why won’t Apple fix my phone? Can someone else do it?
Today’s mobile phone is a marvel of precision engineering—watertight seams, sealed batteries, and a lack of visible fasteners that would make most consumers unsure of how you would even go about opening it. To get inside requires detailed schematics, diagrams, and specialized tools.
Apple has all of those, of course, but in July 2019, Apple VP Kyle Andeer testified to Congress that the company and its authorized service providers perform only four types of iPhone repair: display, battery, speaker, and camera. If your phone dies (when it is no longer covered by warranty or optional AppleCare coverage) and it can’t be fixed by one of those repairs, Apple may suggest you buy another phone.
Jessa Jones, founder of iPad Rehab, a mobile device repair shop in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., says that’s disingenuous.
“I think that my customers are largely unaware that what they’re being told by the manufacturer of the device, about the problem that they’re having and about the repairability of that problem, is false,” she told The Markup.
“We aim to avoid the need for repair in the first place,” Apple spokesperson Keri Fulton said in a statement to The Markup. “But when a repair is needed, there should be safe, dependable options available to bring a device back to its best possible performance.”
She particularly specializes in restoring data from dead phones—often helping people recover precious photos of loved ones.
“There’s a chip on the board that is soldered on there that contains all of your memories, and those memories are encrypted by default,” Jones said, and it’s time-consuming though entirely possible to retrieve.
“The only way to decrypt that and get them back out is you’ve got to get a multi-meter out and solve problems on that logic board,” she said.
Jones also noted that there are many relatively simple repairs that shouldn’t require a trip to the Apple Store or an authorized dealer.
Tips are easy to find online, and sites like iFixit offer detailed repair guides, tools, and replacement parts. Independent phone repair shops can be found in towns large and small, but they often operate without official manufacturer certifications to repair devices. These shops may use unofficial aftermarket parts from overseas, or replacement parts harvested from inoperable phones.
But like many other device manufacturers, Apple increasingly employs strict digital controls over the hardware that the device detects, making non-Apple repairs of some components impossible without Apple diagnostic tools.
“Our ability to just take something from the junkyard of iPhone parts and plug it into your new phone is becoming increasingly limited, because the parts are now serialized, meaning there’s a serial number in the part that the phone refuses to operate [without],” said Jones.
Fulton from Apple declined to comment but pointed The Markup to the company’s 2020 Environment Report, which says products are becoming easier to repair.
“For our iPhone devices, we’ve utilized stretch release adhesives, which securely hold the battery during use yet can be swiftly debonded by service partners to install replacements,” the report says.
Apple is not alone in making devices that are hard to repair. Jones said manufacturers of Android devices employ manufacturing techniques that make repairs difficult. iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told The Markup, though, that there are manufacturers who are voluntarily adopting right-to-repair principles.
“Motorola is the first smartphone manufacturer that stepped up and is basically complying with right to repair,” he said. “They have worked with us.”
There’s a diverse, growing movement behind the right to repair — but it faces hurdles
Some of the earliest calls for right-to-repair legislation came from farmers, who’ve been struggling for the ability to fix their own John Deere tractors for years. John Deere equipment is sold with software restrictions that only authorized technicians can bypass, frustrating traditionally self-reliant farmers.
During their campaigns for president, both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders cited the plight of these farmers unable to repair their own equipment and called for a national right-to-repair law as part of a host of proposals to help American farmers that ended up being adopted as a plank in the Democratic platform for 2020.
A spokesperson for John Deere declined to comment.
The company has recently made an effort to smooth things over, offering a program with diagnostics, training, and documentation for farmers wanting to do their own repairs, starting in 2021.
In 2018, an alliance of right-to-repair advocates won long-sought exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow farmers and other consumers to break software locks on the products they own—without breaking the law. These latest exemptions (which are considered every three years under the law) enable the legal “jailbreaking” of new phones, voice assistants, and software locks on tractors, cars, and home appliances—though not on video game consoles. Importantly, they also allow you to hire someone to do this breaking for you.
This November, Massachusetts voters will consider an update to the automotive law, which would allow consumers to access and control the automobile diagnostic and telemetric data that’s increasingly sent directly to car manufacturers via cellular radios.
Massachusetts also has a consumer electronics right-to-repair bill that advocates say is the furthest along of any in the country, though it’s currently awaiting a vote by both chambers of the state legislature.
The Massachusetts bill has served as a template for proposed automotive and consumer electronic right-to-repair legislation around the country—some of which has come close to becoming law, only to be killed at the last minute by lobbying from electronics and automobile manufacturers. New York State lobbying disclosures for 2018, for instance, show that Apple, Verizon, Facebook, AT&T, Toyota, Caterpillar, and others all successfully lobbied against a proposed “Fair Repair Act.”
Industry groups opposing right to repair include Consumer Technology Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and TechNet (a large industry group whose members include Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Comcast).
In 2019, TechNet’s then Northeast executive director, Christina Fisher, testified before the Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in opposition to the proposed digital right-to-repair bill.
Fisher argued that the bill was “legislation in search of a problem”—that consumers already have plenty of choices for repairs and that such laws would hurt innovation.
TechNet declined to comment for this story, pointing The Markup to the group’s previous statements.
What comes next?
If Massachusetts were to pass the nation’s first consumer electronic right-to-repair law, it could have national influence. When the Massachusetts Automotive Right to Repair bill passed in 2012, all major car manufacturers signed a memorandum of understanding voluntarily adopting the requirements of the Massachusetts law nationwide.
Aside from legislation, Apple does appear to be moving forward with several efforts at increasing the availability of parts and repairs for its products, but recent internal emails, disclosed as part of a U.S. House antitrust subcommittee hearing in July, show internal confusion surrounding these initiatives.
“What is our repair strategy? Are we comfortable releasing our repair manuals for all products moving forward?” read one email from Lori Lodes, Apple’s former director of corporate communications, from March 2019.
Apple declined to comment on these emails directly and referred The Markup back to its 2020 Environment Report, in which the company says it has “broadened the reach of Apple authorized service repair. Through a partnership with Best Buy, we added 1000 more AASP locations in 2019, tripling the number of U.S. AASP locations compared to three years ago.”
Meanwhile, prompted by the pandemic, there’s a bit of a guerrilla movement afoot, at least when it comes to medical devices.
When Wiens, CEO of repair website iFixit, heard about the crisis of the shortage of ventilators in Italy as that country struggled at the height of its first wave of COVID-19 cases, he wanted to help. Aside from selling replacement parts and repair tools, iFixit offers detailed documentation for repairing electronics—and Wiens decided they could do something similar for crucial medical equipment.
Wiens and his team collaborated with volunteers to collect and organize a free library of more than 13,000 service and maintenance manuals for lifesaving medical equipment. The move was potentially legally risky, but so far, the materials remain online.
This article was originally published on The Markup by Jon Keegan and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.
Published October 24, 2020 — 17:00 UTC
SpaceX launches 60 more satellites during 15th Starlink mission
SpaceX has launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites, the primary ingredient for its forthcoming global broadband internet service. The launch took place at 11:31 AM EDT, with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifteenth Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has now launched nearly 900 of the small, low Earth orbit satellites to date.
This launch used a Falcon 9 first stage booster that twice previously, both times earlier this year, including just in September for the delivery of a prior batch of Starlink satellites. The booster was also recovered successfully with a landing at sea aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ floating autonomous landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier this week, Ector County Independent School District in Texas announced itself as a new pilot partner for SpaceX’s Starlink network. Next year, that district will gain connectivity to low latency broadband via Starlink’s network, connecting up to 45 households at first, with plans to expand it to 90 total household customers as more of the constellation is launched and brought online.
SpaceX’s goal with Starlink is to provide broadband service globally at speeds and with latency previously unavailable in hard-to-reach and rural areas. Its large constellation, which will aim to grow to tens of thousands of satellites before it achieves its max target coverage, offers big advantages in terms of latency and reliability vs. large geosynchronous satellites that provide most current satellite-based internet available commercially.
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