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stealth space catapult startup spinlaunch is raising $30m

advertisement what if instead of blasting cargo into space on a rocket, we could fling it into space using a catapult? that’s the big, possibly crazy, possibly genius idea behind spinlaunch. it was secretly founded in 2014 by jonathan yaney, who built solar-powered drone startup titan aerospace and sold it to google. now techcrunch has learned from three sources that spinlaunch is raising a massive $30 million series a to develop its catapult technology. and we’ve scored an interview with the founder after four years in stealth.sources who’ve spoken to the spinlaunch team tell me the idea is to create a much cheaper and sustainable way to get things like satellites from earth into space without chemical propellant. using a catapult would sidestep the heavy fuel and expensive booster rockets used by companies like spacex and blue origin.spinlaunch plans to use a centrifuge spinning at an incredible rate. all that momentum is then harnessed to catapult a payload into space at speeds one source said could be around 3,000 miles per hour. with enough momentum, objects could be flung into space on their own. alternatively, the catapult could provide some of the power needed with cargo being equipped with supplemental rockets necessary to leave earth’s atmosphere.after some hesitation about emerging from stealth, yaney agreed to talk to techcrunch about his secretive startup, and show us the render of spinlaunch’s future launch site hangar seen above. “since the daw...





split raises $17m for its product experimentation platform

split announced this morning that it’s raised $17 million in series b funding.the round was led by lightspeed venture partners, with participation from accel partners and new investor harmony partners. split has now raised a total of $26.8 million.the startup allows companies to test out new features and deliver them in a targeted way to select groups of users. co-founder and ceo adil aijaz said the key components of the platform include tools for targeting users and tracking their activity within the product, plus a statistical engine to help businesses understand how feature changes are actually affecting that activity.while this might sound like just another a/b testing tool, aijaz argued that it’s very different, because it’s used by the product and engineering team (rather than marketers), and it involves core product features (rather than relatively superficial changes to a website’s appearance and messaging).optimizely, which has its roots in a/b testing, also describes itself as an experimentation platform,. in aijaz’s view, this is just “great validation.”“in the long run, will these terms become synonymous? i believe so,” he said. “but i believe a single solution that serves the needs of the needs of entire team is still pretty far off in the future.”and split has already signed up customers including salesforce, vevo and twilio.featured image: andrew brookes/cultura/getty images





apple devices are butt dialing 911 from its refurbishing facility – 20 times per day

since october, emergency responders in elk grove and sacramento county, california have received over 1,600 false alarm 911 calls coming from an apple repair and refurbishing site in the area.it’s not clear if the calls are coming from apple’s iphones or watches but each time a call originates out of the elk grove facility, there’s no one on the other end of the line and it’s gumming up the emergency response system in the area, draining resources and possibly slowing down response teams in actual emergencies.“the times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” police dispatcher jamie hudson told sacramento cbs local news, which first reported these incidents.the sacramento county sheriff’s department says it has also received these false calls, telling cbs local dispatchers sometimes heard technicians in the background.iphones and apple watches are easily triggered to call emergency response services with an accidentally long touch of a button. iphone x, iphone 8, or iphone 8 plus call up the sos emergency service by holding down the side button and one of the volume buttons for an extended period. the watch triggers a call to 911 just by pressing and holding the side button.though apple watches and iphones make it easier for individuals to get hold of 911 dispatchers quickly, the watch’s accidental calls is...





angry birds maker craters on bad guidance, losing half its market value

angry birds maker rovio’s stock price tanked cratered after their latest quarterly earnings report painted a dismal future for the game maker. the stock is down 50 percent after the company sent investors a warning in their latest earnings report that revenues were likely to suffer in 2018.despite a strong over reliance on the angry birds brand, which seems to have been integrated into any and every licensing deal possible over the past few years, the 15-year-old rovio is still making moves. the company had $365 million (297.2 million euros) in revenues in 2017, a 55 percent increase over the previous year as the game-maker made more money off of its titles and brand licensing deals.the strong reaction today was the result of investors feeling misled by the company’s optimism in past future guidance. rovio, which is listed on finland’s main stock exchange in helsinki, forecast that its 2018 revenues would likely sink below the previous year and profits may dip as well as user acquisition costs have gotten higher and the future has become more uncertain.game developers that strike it rich off a single title have historically seemed to have a rough go as public companies. the company was valued at $1 billion preceding its ipo late last year, but the goings have been a bit rough with its market cap now sitting below $500 million.featured image: john lamparski/wireimage/getty images





customer service bot startup agent iq announces $6.3 million series a led by sierra ventures

if you’ve tried to deal with a bot before you can speak to a human customer service rep, you know how frustrating that process can sometimes be. sure, there are basic tasks that can free up a human rep to handle the more difficult matters, but it can be exasperating when there is no easy way to talk to a person. agent iq, a startup that has developed customer service bots, acknowledges that problem and today it announced a $6.3 million series a investment.the round was led by sierra ventures with participation from crcm and rubicon venture capital. today’s investment brings the total raised to $8.5 million.agent iq has its roots in a nike marketing program, which allowed customers to communicate with a bot by typing “hey nike” into their chat app. ceo and founder, craig davis says they began building on that early program, and they learned that just the bot or just an agent didn’t really work for many customers. it required a product that blended technology with humans.he found by visiting countless customer service centers, the pain wasn’t just for the customers. reps were bored answering the same basic questions repeatedly, which wasn’t fun or challenging for them. what’s more, when they did need to answer unique questions, it required accessing a variety of disparate systems. the agents had to have multiple windows open trying to juggle different content repositories to find the appropriate response.photo: agent iq“we thought it was important to help the ...





honcker raises at least $15m from iac as it takes on the car-leasing-on-demand market

the car leasing and rental market is forecast to be worth $124 billion in 2022, and today a startup that is hoping to get a piece of that action by making the process of leasing a car easier is announcing a series a in its effort to get there.honcker — a new york-based startup that acts as an aggregator and search engine for leasing services, and platform for would-be customers to consolidate their data and application process in one place — has raised funding from iac, the media and marketplace giant behind services like angie’s list and tinder, as well as daily beast and vimeo.along with the funding, honcker is releasing a new version of its app, with more parameters to search for vehicles and get recommendations, and a facility to break or extend leases and add co-signers to leases if needed.honcker’s new round comes in the form of a series a, and honcker is not disclosing many details, but from what we understand the value is around $15 million — a relatively modest amount when you consider that fair, another hopeful in the flexible ownership/leasing business, has secured up to $1 billion in debt and hundreds of millions in equity investments, plus some acquisitions, for its efforts.honcker’s path to growth is a little different, coming on a more modest funding base and with a different structure. since raising a seed round of $3.6 million in october 2017 from lead edge capital and evolution, the company has had some interesting traction.the company, founder a...





bump is a peer-to-peer marketplace for streetwear

as the streetwear and sneaker industry continues to explode in popularity, we’re seeing more and more startups popping up to service the industry — all from slightly different angles.meet bump, a peer-to-peer take on a streetwear marketplace. founded six months ago in the u.k. and now part of y combinator’s winter ’18 batch, the startup already has more than 200,000 users buying and selling limited-edition streetwear from brands like supreme and kith.after signing up, anyone can create a listing or buy an item — all prices are set by sellers, who pay a 6 percent transaction fee to bump and 2.9 percent fee to paypal on all sales. users can sort by price, size, category or brand — and also can follow specific sellers and “like” items too.there’s also a messaging feature so you can talk to the seller and potentially negotiate on price. bump says more than 5.5 million messages have been sent on the platform so far, and the majority of purchases involve some type of back and forth and negotiation before being completed. not only does talking to the seller make buyers feel more comfortable, it also creates a sense of community where users can just chat about streetwear and develop relationships for future purchases. this is especially important in the streetwear world, where getting the newest items is all about the connections you have.speaking of getting new items, the app also has a “proxy” category, where users can list their “camping services,” i.e. ...





announcing tc sessions: robotics with uc berkeley, may 11 at zellerbach hall

robotics is an incredibly demanding field because robots demand the best of everything technology has to offer, from machine learning, to sensors and gpus, to materials technology and of course the “robot” itself.for that reason, there is no better subject for one of techcrunch’s single-day, single-topic events, and we’re excited to announce that techcrunch sessions: robotics is slated for may 11 at uc berkeley’s zellerbach hall. we are producing this event with uc berkeley, which is one of the world’s leading universities in robotics research and point of origin for many of the world’s top robotics startups, technologies and technologists.techcrunch’s editors are working hard on the agenda for the event, which will build on the sessions: robotics event techcrunch produced last year with mit’s csail in cambridge. the goal of this year’s sessions: robotics is to focus on west coast experts at the crossroads of startups and breakthrough robotics technologies. we’ll address the big technical topics, including artificial intelligence, human computer interaction, bio-inspired design, cloud robotics, self-driving vehicles and others, as well as discuss emerging robotics startups, early-stage investment trends and robots’ impact on society.and, of course, we’ll have all the real robots and demos zellerbach can handle, because… robots — enough said.we will announce more speakers shortly, but our first is uc berkeley’s ken goldberg, a pioneer in robot ...





visualizing the slave insurance industry

advertisement similar to the way people insure their cars, houses and lives, slave-owners would sometimes insure their slaves. fearful of not getting their money’s worth from their slaves, owners would sometimes take out insurance policies on them.in the 1800s, for example, some slave-owners who rented out their slaves would insure them so that, in the event their slaves died or were severely injured in the hands of someone else, the owners would not suffer too much of an economic loss, according to the treasury of weary souls.the treasury of weary souls, created by new york university professor michael ralph and engineers from resilient coders, examines what slavery looked like after the trade was outlawed in 1808, but continued to exist via the smuggling, breeding and renting of slaves within the united states. ralph spent a solid seven years researching slave policies, and when it came time to sharing it with the world, he hired a handful of coders from resilient coders.resilient coders is a nonprofit organization that trains people of color for jobs in the tech industry as software engineers. the bootcamp trains people of color for 14 weeks in semantically structured html, responsive css, javascript, jquery, git and more.for the last year or so, a handful of resilient coders worked with ralph through the concept, design and the ultimate creation of the project, which utilized javascript data visualization tool d3.js. the project was spearheaded by resilient labs?...





snap ceo evan spiegel got a $637 million bonus last year

snap’s stock investors haven’t made much money since the company went public last year, but ceo evan spiegel still got a hefty payday.according to an sec filing, he was granted an rsu of 37,447,817, which vested at the time of the ipo. in other words, that was worth nearly $636.6 million. his salary for the year was $98,078, and he had over $1 million in other benefits, so all in all, spiegel made $638 million in 2017 alone.that’s a lot of money. but the snapchat co-founder also started the whole thing.it isn’t the norm, however. it’s said to be the third-highest ceo payout ever.  it’s also just a fraction of spiegel’s overall net worth, which is estimated to be almost $4 billion.and he wasn’t the only executive to get a big payday. chief strategy officer imran khan netted over $100 million and the company’s new general counsel michael o’sullivan earned almost $17 million, for less than half a year’s work. former general counsel chris handman earned over $54 million for the first seven months of last year.snap’s stock also faced a steep drop earlier this week after a citi analyst gave it a downgrade following negative reviews about the app’s redesign. many were quick to blame kylie jenner’s tweet about her losing interest in the platform, but the truth is jenner was just one of the millions of people who criticized the update (albeit one of the more influential people).featured image: david paul morris/bloomberg/getty images





ups is working on a fleet of 50 custom-built electric delivery trucks

ups will work with partner workhorse, a battery-electric transportation technology company, to develop and deploy a fleet of 50 custom-built plug-in electric delivery trucks with zero emissions.the goal is to make trucks that cost as much to buy as do traditional fuel-based delivery vehicles — even without taking into account subsidies. the workhorse-designed vehicles will be all-electric, and are designed to run on a single charge throughout a normal delivery day and then charge back up overnight.workhorse says they’ll have a 100-mile range, which is a good fit for in-city routes, and the trucks will first enter testing in urban areas in various parts of the u.s., including atlanta, dallas and la. the test will lead to fine-tuning, which will lead to a larger fleet deployment targeting 2019.ups’ goal with this is to help meet its corporate renewable energy and carbon footprint goals, as well as to hopefully reap benefits in terms of vehicle operation efficiency, and the cost of maintenance (which should be far less using all-electric trucks).featured image: justin sullivan/getty images





esports teams need more data about their fans, and fanai wants to give it to them

it turns out that while esports may be growing in popularity, the fans of different video games don’t spend the same way as fans for traditional sports.to try to figure out ways to part fans from their hard-earned money, teams are beginning to turn to the types of data monitoring tools used to map and predict customer spending online.enter fanai, a santa monica, calif.-based company that’s looking to use big data culled from esports teams and from social media and online content to optimize a franchise’s ability to pitch team and league paraphernalia to fans.the company just raised $2.5 million in a new round of funding from investors led by courtside ventures, with participation from a slew of other big esports backers like bitkraft esports ventures, bds capital, catalyst sports, deep space ventures, everblue management, greycroft gc tracker fund, m ventures, rosecliff ventures and sterling vc.“as esports investments have grown by orders of magnitude, the sponsorship ecosystem remains an enormous and untapped opportunity. from teams and publishers to agencies and brands, the lucrative demographic of the gaming industry has sparked a lot of interest,” said deepen parikh, partner at courtside ventures, in a statement.according to data from market analyst newzoo, esports fans were expected to spend roughly $3.64 in 2017; meanwhile, a traditional sports fan will spend roughly five times as much on a sport like basketball.given that the traditional sports world has floc...





stealth space catapult startup spinlaunch is raising $30m

advertisement what if instead of blasting cargo into space on a rocket, we could fling it into space using a catapult? that’s the big, possibly crazy, possibly genius idea behind spinlaunch. it was secretly founded in 2014 by jonathan yaney, who built solar-powered drone startup titan aerospace and sold it to google. now techcrunch has learned from three sources that spinlaunch is raising a massive $30 million series a to develop its catapult technology. and we’ve scored an interview with the founder after four years in stealth.sources who’ve spoken to the spinlaunch team tell me the idea is to create a much cheaper and sustainable way to get things like satellites from earth into space without chemical propellant. using a catapult would sidestep the heavy fuel and expensive booster rockets used by companies like spacex and blue origin.spinlaunch plans to use a centrifuge spinning at an incredible rate inside a vacuum that reduces friction. all that momentum is then harnessed to catapult a payload into space at speeds one source said could be around 3,000 miles per hour. with enough momentum, objects could be flung into space on their own. alternatively, the catapult could provide some of the power needed with cargo being equipped with supplemental rockets necessary to leave earth’s atmosphere.after some hesitation about emerging from stealth, yaney agreed to talk to techcrunch about his secretive startup, and show us the render of spinlaunch’s future launch si...





airbnb is rolling out a new tier aimed at higher-end travelers

airbnb today is rolling out a few new additions to their home-booking system, including new tiers that are aimed at higher-end customers, called airbnb plus and beyond by airbnb.the new airbnb plus tier has homes that are verified for “quality and comfort,” rolling out with around 2,000 homes to start that have been inspected against a thorough checklist. the luxury tier, called beyond by airbnb, is built around whole trips including hospitality, custom experience and — of course — higher-end homes. each appears to be targeting verticals within the travel space that make sense based on the typical hospitality industry, but weren’t specifically singled out on airbnb.rather than just searching for a home on airbnb and flipping through the photos or reviews, the new tiers may offer customers willing to spend more an opportunity to tap into the same expectations they’d get from a luxury resort — or, at least, a higher-end one aiming to hit the status of something like the sofitel in bangkok, thailand. frequent business travelers often have accumulated massive piles of reward points (and maybe have bigger travel budgets) and may be accustomed to this, and there’s also plenty of opportunity to target the same kinds of experiences that something like an atlantis full-service resort in the bahamas might offer (with water slides and all).in addition to those tiers, which are being announced at an event at san francisco this morning (i overheard there may be more than 1...





google says more than 40 carriers and device manufacturers now use its platform for rcs, the next generation of sms

rich communication services (rcs) is basically the standard for the next generation of text messaging, with apps like whatsapp, facebook messenger, line and others now offering features that go far beyond the standard sms-based messaging apps that tend to ship with your phone — unless, of course, you are an apple and imessage user.as google announced today, more than 40 carriers and device manufacturers now use its rcs platform (out of a total of about 60 that currently support it). that’s up from the 27 google cited last year.rcs is a gsm standard, but its biggest champion has long been google, which looks at the service to allow its android platform to get at least some feature parity with apple’s imessage service.with mobile world congress coming up next week, it’s no surprise that google wants to talk a bit more about rcs ahead of the event. specifically, the company today noted business messaging as one of the central features of the new service. with this, businesses can send verified rich messages with boarding passes, credit card fraud alerts and package delivery notifications, for example. those messages can include suggested replies and actions (change seat, call airline, etc.).the standard android messages app started supporting it a year ago and with jibe, google offers a platform for launching and managing rcs services.over the course of the last year, a number of new carriers in europe and latin american have signed on to google’s jibe rcs cloud, inclu...





mybagcheck lets you drop off your bags anywhere

mybagcheck is a clever system that ensures you’ll be able to spend those extra few hours in a foreign city without having to lug around 50 pounds of samsonite. the founder, micah b. lewis, created the app to allow people who have bags to get those bags picked up and stored during the day, something every traveler would love.the app is self-funded and lewis spent $60,000 of his own money to build it out. it is in the ios app store now.“we are the only on-demand mobile application that picks up, stores and delivers bags/luggage in the nyc metro 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said lewis. “no other company does this in the united states.“i’ve created an entire new segment of business,” he said.prices vary based on your location and duration, but lewis’ team will pick up and store your bag from nearly anywhere in new york.lewis says the inspiration for the app came when he spent a day in new york and had to lug a laptop bag and shopping around the city and couldn’t get back to his hotel to drop them off.“with my hands full i had miss out on the impromptu bar crawl because i didn’t want to lug all that stuff around. while walking to the train, i thought to myself there needs to be a better way to get this stuff home so i can stay out and have fun with friends,” he said.the service is in beta now and he already has a number of paying — and hands-free — customers.





snips brings its privacy-focused voice assistant to cars

french startup snips is announcing two things for its voice assistant sdk. first, the company is showing off an interesting use case in nuremberg with a snips-powered voice assistant in a car. second, you can now build voice assistants in german.snips isn’t technically competing with alexa voice service or google assistant sdk as they’re not designed the same way. snips lets you build a voice assistant that runs locally. while many hackers have been playing around with the sdk, snips eventually wants to convince manufacturers that they should embed a snips-powered assistant instead of amazon alexa or google assistant.your voice recordings or instructions are never sent to the cloud with snips. it respects your privacy and allows some low-latency use cases even if your device isn’t connected or has some connection issues.while it could be limiting in some cases if you want to build a general-purpose smart speaker, it makes a lot of sense for some devices. for instance, your car might not always be connected to the internet if you’re driving abroad. snips assistants run on arm chips that are at least as powerful as a raspberry pi 3. so it should work with most infotainment systems out there.with snips, you can still launch the navigation system and set a destination with your voice without sending any data. the company thinks that many devices are going to have a voice interface so you can interact with them directly. for instance, you only want to tell your roomba to...





amazon’s latest prime perk is free shipping on its deals site woot!

eight years after amazon snatched up the daily deals site woot!, the retailer is now leveraging the site to serve as another perk for prime members. woot! this morning announced that it will begin offering free shipping on purchases from its site to all amazon prime members.woot!, which was founded in 2004, is no longer the household name it used to be back when amazon acquired it in 2010 for $110 million. at the time, the site had gained popularity for its gimmick of “one deal per day,” which drove engagement, traffic and, of course sales, as quantities were limited.woot! was also well-known for its sense of humor, which continues today with its announcement of the prime deal. in it, the company writes: “yep. you’re welcome,” and then proceeds to quote its monkey mascot, mortimer.in the years following amazon’s acquisition, woot! distanced itself from the one-deal-a-day format, and now features a variety of special deals, including several limited-time offers across categories like computers, electronics, home and sporting goods and more.however, it makes sense that amazon would bring woot! into the fold, given that roughly one-third of woot!’s traffic comes from amazon.com, according to data from similarweb, which also claims the site saw 16.8 million visits in january, 2018.this is not the first time amazon has brought one of its subsidiaries into the prime membership program. in september 2016, amazon added free audiobooks and podcasts from audible to its l...





snap stock falls as kylie tweets, but banker ratings are in the mix too

at this point, if you haven’t accepted the celebrity influence of the kardashian/jenner machine, you probably haven’t been paying attention to pop culture at large. snap is definitely paying attention. yesterday, kylie jenner tweeted a pretty brutal takedown of snapchat with the nonchalance that only a celebrity who has mastered social media better than most can do.the words were significant not only because of who was saying it, but because it fits a pretty clear narrative that snap is slowly losing its bread-and-butter users to instagram and that its controversial redesign has alienated the core who were still holding on. it’s also important because snap’s stock has had a rough week on wall street after citi downgraded the stock tuesday in response to some of the blowback to the redesign. snap’s stock price is down 8 percent today.“while the recent redesign of its flagship app could produce positive long-term benefits, the significant jump in negative app reviews since the redesign was pushed out a few weeks could result in a decline in users and user engagement, which could negatively impact financial results,” citi’s mark may wrote tuesday.even though snap ceo evan spiegel voiced that the company was anticipating some blowback from the app’s redesign, things have still been a bit of a disaster with the company being forced to respond to a change.org petition decrying the redesign that currently has more than 1.2 million signatures. this pr nightmare has...





facebook says it’s clarifying its ad metrics

facebook is looking to clean up and clarify the way advertisers measure their campaign performance.over the past couple of years, the company has had to acknowledge multiplemistakes in its ad metrics. last fall, researchers even pointed out that facebook’s purported reach was greater than the us census population in every state.so making these kinds of tweaks (and taking other steps to increase transparency) could help restore advertisers’ confidence in the company’s numbers.facebook laid out the changes in a blog post, and also at a press event this morning, where vice president of marketing science brad smallwood was joined by edward gaffney, director of implementation research at ad agency groupm. (gaffney is part of facebook’s measurement council.)the first change comes in the way these metrics will be labelled. facebook will now explicitly point out when an ad metric is an estimate, in development or both.gaffney said that advertisers are used to working with estimates, but he recalled that even in the measurement council there was some uncertainty around which numbers were estimated versus directly measured. so this kind of clarity is needed “to understand that an estimate is just that — it’s better than a guess, but it is not the absolute truth.”meanwhile, smallwood said that it’s natural for facebook to experiment with the most effective ways to present its data. by labeling a measurement as in development, the company is telling advertisers to expec...