WeWalk raises cash to bring computer vision to smart cane for visually-impaired people

Fast-forward to today, and WeWalk is now looking to use its fresh cash injection to bolster its product with computer vision smarts, developed in partnership with Imperial College London and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Visual aid

While it’s not clear exactly what this will entail yet, the ultimate goal is to build something capable of reading road signs, or telling the user what number is on the front of a bus, or even what a specific object in their path is.

“We are aiming to maximise sensor efficiency and cost-effectiveness, leveraging smartphone sensing when appropriate,” WeWalk R&D lead Jean Marc Feghali explained to TechCrunch. “We are also investigating the state-of-the-art to determine what could be possible in different form factors.”

This initiative could also benefit from WeWalk’s existing partnership with Microsoft as part of its

WeWalk, a U.K.-based startup developing a “smart cane” for visually-impaired people, today announced it has raised £2 million ($2.4 million) in venture funding from several notable institutional and angel investors — this includes Manchester City and German international footballer İlkay Gündoğan.

Founded out of London in 2019, WeWalk has developed a GPS-enabled smart cane and smartphone app, helping users navigate their surrounding environment. Time named the WeWalk Smart Cane one of the “best inventions” of 2019.

The cane, which costs around $600, can detect physical obstacles on the sidewalk and alert the user through vibrations and sounds, while the app integration enables turn-by-turn navigation too. Last year, WeWalk announced a partnership with Intel-owned Moovit to bring local transit data into the mix.

The WeWalk Smart Cane

Fast-forward to today, and WeWalk is now looking to use its fresh cash injection to bolster its product with computer vision smarts, developed in partnership with Imperial College London and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Visual aid

While it’s not clear exactly what this will entail yet, the ultimate goal is to build something capable of reading road signs, or telling the user what number is on the front of a bus, or even what a specific object in their path is.

“We are aiming to maximise sensor efficiency and cost-effectiveness, leveraging smartphone sensing when appropriate,” WeWalk R&D lead Jean Marc Feghali explained to TechCrunch. “We are also investigating the state-of-the-art to determine what could be possible in different form factors.”

This initiative could also benefit from WeWalk’s existing partnership with Microsoft as part of its AI for Accessibility program, and may lead to deeper integrations with Microsoft’s Seeing AI app or Azure ML, according to Feghali.

The company has already started work on the project, recruiting some 30 people to help build and test the necessary software and hardware

“The RNIB is supporting user-testing and ensuring that our designs are human-centred,” Feghali said. “Imperial College is supporting the underlying sensing algorithms. We envision a product that could be attached discreetly, providing its sensors with the widest field of view without impeding the user’s typical motion. We will then look to different feedback mechanisms including auditory and tactile to inform the user of information necessary for their safe mobility.”

It’s still a while away though, with plans to have something ready for market by 2024, but the company said that it is already testing camera and remote-human assistance functionality within the WeWalk mobile app, using this as a “design platter” to add further computer vision tools in the future.

With a fresh £2 million in the bank, the company said that it also plans to support other groups by creating “adaptive mobility aids” such as walking sticks or frames for elderly people.

“We want to scale our business to reach a wider global audience and advance our technology to offer better, more meaningful information to visually impaired people, older people, and anyone that faces mobility challenges,” WeWalk co-founder and CEO Gökhan Meriçliler said in a statement.

WeWalk’s funding round was led by Nesta Impact Investments, King’s Health Partners (KHP Ventures) and APY Ventures, with participation from public investors via Crowdcube and, of course, İlkay Gündoğan.

WeWalk raises cash to bring computer vision to smart cane for visually-impaired people by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch


North Korean hackers exploited Internet Explorer zero-day to spread malware

North Korean state-sponsored hackers exploited a previously unknown zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer to target South Korean users with malware, according to Google’s Threat Analysis Group.

Google researchers discovered first discovered the zero-day flaw on October 31 when multiple individuals uploaded a malicious Microsoft Office document to the company’s VirusTotal tool. These documents purported to be government reports related to the Itaewon tragedy, a crowd crush that occurred during Halloween festivities in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul. At least 158 people were killed and 196 others were injured.

“This incident was widely reported on, and the lure takes advantage of widespread public interest in the accident,” Google TAG’s Clement Lecigne and Benoit Stevens said on Wednesday.

The malicious documents were designed to exploit a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer’s Script engine, tracked as CVE-2022-41128 with a CVSS severity rating of 8.8. Once opened, the document would deliver an unknown payload after downloading a rich text file (RTF) remote template that would render remote HTML using Internet Explorer. Although Internet Explorer was officially retired back in June and replaced by Microsoft Edge, Office still uses the IE engine to execute the JavaScript that enables the attack.

“This technique has been widely used to distribute IE exploits via Office files since 2017,” Lecigne and Stevens said. “Delivering IE exploits via this vector has the advantage of not requiring the target to use Internet Explorer as its default browser.”

The researchers added that Google reported the vulnerability to Microsoft on October 31 before it was fixed it a week later as part of Microsoft’s November 2022 Patch Tuesday security updates.

Google has attributed the activity to a North Korean-backed hacking group known as APT37, which has been active since at least 2012 and has been previously observed exploiting zero-day flaws to target South Korean users, North Korean defectors, policymakers, journalists and human rights activists. Cybersecurity company FireEye previously said it assessed with “high confidence” that APT37 activity is carried out on behalf of the North Korean government, noting that the group’s primary mission “is covert intelligence gathering in support of North Korea’s strategic military, political and economic interests.”

While Google researchers didn’t get a chance to analyze the malware APT37 hackers attempted to deploy against their targets, they note that the group is known for using a wide variety of malicious software.

“Although we did not recover a final payload for this campaign, we’ve previously observed the same group deliver a variety of implants like ROKRAT, BLUELIGHT, and DOLPHIN,” Lecigne and Stevens said. “APT37 implants typically abuse legitimate cloud services as a C2 channel and offer capabilities typical of most backdoors.”

Google TAG’s research comes after researchers at threat intelligence company Cisco Talos revealed that the North Korean state-sponsored Lazarus hacking group – also known as APT38 — is exploiting the Log4Shell vulnerability to target energy providers in the United States, Canada and Japan.

North Korean hackers exploited Internet Explorer zero-day to spread malware by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch


ShareGPT lets you easily share your ChatGPT conversations

OpenAI’s ChatGPT bot is the hot new sensation in the tech town, garnering over a million users just days after the launch. The chatbot is delivering answers to a wide-range of questions, impressing many with its ability and speed while also sometimes leaving people amused and baffled with its take. You’ve likely seen scores of such screenshots on your Twitter timeline, and may have also captured and shared some answers and gotten in on the fun yourself. Now two developers — Steven Tey and Dom Eccelston — have made a Chrome extension called ShareGPT to make it easier to capture and share the AI’s answers with the world.

ShareGPT captures the full conversation with ChatGPT and generates a URL to share it with others. So instead of taking multiple screenshots of the conversation with the AI chatbot, you can directly share the URL (like this one).

Once you have installed the Chrome extension, head to the ChatGPT website and kickstart the conversation with the bot. After you have received the answer, you will see a Share button at the bottom. You can continue the chat or click on the Share button to generate a URL for the specific conversation.

ShareGPT enables a Share button for ChatGPT conversations Image Credits: ChatGPT/ShareGPT

The neat thing is that when you share the URL on Twitter, you will see a preview of the conversation with ChatGPT, so the visual element is not lost and people don’t necessarily need to head to the website to read short conversations.

ChatGPT, currently in research preview, is free to use. And while it has linguistic and factual limitations, it’s still a fun tool to use. It’s one of those tools that lets anyone try out AI’s prowess (or weaknesses) without having a lot of technical know-how.

ShareGPT lets you easily share your ChatGPT conversations by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch


Renault China boss is making super-premium EVs that monitor your health

There’s an ever-growing list of wearables that track people’s health, but what about a vehicle that monitors one’s blood pressure and heart rate with smart sensors and algorithms? That’s the vision of BeyonCa, a young super-premium electric vehicle startup founded by Weiming Soh, the Singaporean auto veteran who’s the current CEO of Renault China and helped bring Mercedes-Benz to China back in the 1990s.

The idea of tracking one’s health conditions inside a car perhaps sounds less wild if one considers how much time they spend driving. “Take Americans for example. They spend 70 billion hours a year driving cars, which makes 1 hour per day. That’s an enormous amount of time people spend in a car because of the spacious environment,” Shaoshan Liu, BeyonCa’s chief scientist and autonomous driving lead, who also founded the self-driving startup PerceptIn, said in an interview.

“We think it’s the best time to deliver this kind of [healthcare] services in the car,” he added. Still, I can’t help but question how many people want their luxury car to play the role of a family doctor.

But maybe there’s a market for BeyonCa’s targeted demographic of health-conscious, affluent consumers. While the startup won’t disclose its price range until its first model is ready to ship in a few years, Soh puts the company’s product in the same category as the Mercedes Benz S Class and BMW 7 Series, which generally have a starting price of around $100,000.

The startup finished its Series pre-A funding round in Q3 this year from investors including Dongfeng Motor, a Chinese state-owned automaker. When seeking investment, the firm was “at the same time open to both financial and investment partners that would provide more support,” said Soh.

EV as a service platform

Soh’s ambitions for smart vehicles extend beyond merely having AI voice assistants and autonomous driving capabilities. Software is “an important tool” for vehicles, but what eventually differentiates BeyonCa will be its “services”, said the founder.

Liu elaborated on the vision, explaining that the industry is entering the “third” stage of EV development.

“The first stage is electrification, such that you convert the car to be powered by electricity. Tesla is a pioneer in that. Then we enter the second stage of intelligence. Again Tesla is a pioneer, and then Chinese firms are catching up. Now we are entering the third stage, which I think is called the ecosystem, in which we provide different vertical services, very deep services. Health is one of these services.”

The chief scientist further compared the future of vehicles to smartphones today, arguing that smart cars will be able to offer a lot more than driving in the same way smartphones can now accomplish much more than their original purpose for calling.

BeyonCa’s super premium cars, which will be equipped with medical-grade sensors and radars, will detect the health conditions of the driver and passengers at all times using BeyonCa’s proprietary AI model. If the algorithms determine that the driver can no longer control the vehicle, smart driving will kick in. The well of data gleaned by the vehicle will then go to a team of in-house medical experts, who will be available through video calls and be able to refer physicians for further treatment if necessary.


BeyonCa is unveiling the design of its first production car next spring while mass production is expected to take place in 2024. Unlike the “traditional” carmakers, “as a startup, we need to introduce the car to the market much earlier. We need to keep the market excited,” Soh said.

The firm plans to ship in both its home market China — one of the world’s largest premium auto markets — and abroad. It intends to have two factories. “We are a super premium car company, so we will most likely just have two factories in the world — one in China, and one outside. It can be in the Middle East, Europe, or Southeast Asia,” said Soh.

Soh is building BeyonCa against economic headwinds brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly dampened the confidence of consumers and investors around the world. But he isn’t too worried, saying that when the economy is doing well, the startup can hasten development, but in times of an economic downturn, the company will simply need to “pace” itself.

Renault China boss is making super-premium EVs that monitor your health by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch


France’s IRIS Capital reaches €110M first close for its new €150M venture fund

According to Atomico’s new State of European Tech 2022 report, France has taken the UK’s title as the third largest listed tech nation, with Britain moving down to fourth. Nothing to do with Brexit, of course… Meanwhile, Sista, the Paris-based organisation which campaigns for more finds for female founders recently closed €30m of an intended €100m fund to power its aims. It would appear France is definitely on the rise in startup and VC terms.

Further evidence of this thesis has emerged this week with the news that France-based IRIS Capital has reach the €110m first close for its new €150m venture fund (IRIS Venture IV), and is planning to hold a second close in 3Q 2023.

The new fund will be Seed and Series A investment focused, looking at France, Germany and across Europe. This is the fourth early-stage fund raised by IRIS. The fund will invest in Seed and Series A rounds, from €1m to €8m.

LPs include French conglomerates such as Orange, Publicis and Bpifrance, as well as newcomers including Fred Potter, founder of Netatmo, Yannis Yahiaoui, cofounder of Adot, Amirhossein Malekzadeh, cofounder of Logmatic, Grégoire Delpit, cofounder of ProcessOut, Patrick Asdaghi, founder of FoodCheri or Adrien Nussenbaum, cofounder of Mirakl.

Commenting, Julien-David Nitlech, Managing Partners at IRIS, said in a statement: “With this new Seed and Early-stage fund we intend to pursue our successful journey of selecting, backing, and scaling differentiated tech platforms developed by out of the ordinary founders who know their market well. To do so, we have structured a new team of investors bearing our selective DNA and methods.”

To date IRIS has invested in companies such as Shift Technology (insurtech), Talend (software), Kyriba (fintech), Lumapps (HR), Jedox (software), industry 4.0 and logistics experts such Exotec (logistics), Braincube (manufacturing software), Forto (freight management), Spinergie (offshore), platforms such as Virtuo (mobility), Yubo (social) and data specialists like Talon.one (marketing), Red Points (brand protection) or Scality (cloud). Newer investments include Spinergie in France, Helu in Austria and 2 more to be announced early next year.

France’s IRIS Capital reaches €110M first close for its new €150M venture fund by Mike Butcher originally published on TechCrunch


Google Combines Maps and Waze Teams in Restructuring Move

Google plans to combine the team working on the mapping service Waze with the group overseeing the company’s Maps product, as the search giant faces pressure to streamline operations and cut costs.


Pixyle AI wants to make visual search more intuitive for online retailers

Pixyle AI's team on a green mountain top

When Svetlana Kordumova was studying for her doctorate in AI and computer vision, she grew frustrated by the process of looking for items to buy online. Search results were often inaccurate, and she knew the tech she was learning could improve the experience. Pixyle AI was launched in 2019 to improve product discovery on e-commerce sites and today announced a €1 million seed round (about $1.05 million USD) from South Central Ventures.

The startup, which has offices in Amsterdam and North Macedonia, now works with over 20 clients, including Depop, Otrium and Minto. Over the past three years, it has tagged more than 250 million images and says its increased conversions for its retail customers by 10% on average.

Pixyle AI’s neural networks train its visual AI algorithms to not only identify fashion items in an image, but also categorize them by attribute, like color or pattern, that match the keywords shoppers use when searching for an item. The goal is to “see” images as a human would. For example, someone searching for a “short summer dress with flower print in pink and purple” would get results with all those attributes.

Kordumova, who earned her PhD from the University of Amsterdam, first created a visual search app for consumers before pivoting to B2B in 2019. She told TechCrunch that one of the biggest challenges faced by online retailers is cart abandonment, often because of poor site search and product discovery. Research from Google Cloud shows that even though more people than ever are shopping online because of the pandemic, 52% abandon their cart and go to another site if there is only one item they can’t find.

Pixyle AI’s team on a green mountain top

The reason for search results is usually bad data. Retailers often get incomplete and inaccurate product data from brands of people listing secondhand items for sale, which means items don’t show up in search results. Many retailers deal with that problem by manually entering better product data, but that process is labor-intensive, expensive and prone to human errors.

“Take the example of color attributes, what one person might assess as yellow, another person might find to be more orange,” said Kordumova. “In the case of secondhand marketplaces with millions of products being uploaded on the platform, it’s simply an impossible task to manually add attributes to the metadata.”

Pixyle AI automates the process of extracting detailed attributes from pictures, and now has a growing fashion taxonomy that already clocks in at more than 20,000 attributes, with the goal of covering all possible search queries about clothing.

The startup’s customers include online marketplaces, brick and mortar retailers and fashion tech startups like wardrobe cataloging app Whering, virtual fitting solution Virtusize and live shopping marketplace Galaxy. Pixyle AI has helped brands that moved from brick-and-mortar stores to “phygital,” or an omnichannel strategy that blends e-commerce with physical retail points, by automating product tagging. This increases the speed at which they are able to digitize their shopping experience.

Some examples of how Pixyle AI’s tech has been used include automating manual product entry and catalog standardization at Otrium. The end-of-season fashion marketplace had previously been manually tagging and processing product attributes, but was unable to keep up with their growing inventory. Kordumova says Otrium was able to improve its productivity by 65% after implementing Pixyle AI to automate color detection for its inbound logistics team.

For consumers, Pixyle AI offers a visual search tool that lets them upload an image of what they are looking for and get similar results. Kordumova says sustainable fashion marketplace Project Cece reported a 50% higher conversion rate to product outlinks after adding Pixyle AI’s visual search tool to its site.

Other companies that have developed visual AI-powered product discovery tools include Syte, Visenze, Vue.AI and Google, which recently launched a multi-search tool that lets people search using text and images at the same time. Kordumova says Pixyle AI differentiates by focusing on product data enrichment with detailed attributes, and giving its clients a high level of customization and tagging flexibility.

“In orders to make product data enrichment really work for each specific situation of our clients, we first let our teams align on what we’re trying to achieve, and make sure to set the right configurations before our AI models get to work,” she says. “This means we map taxonomies, configure cloud architectures and deploy customer and technical support teams to the exact needs of our customers, ensuring a successful implementation and usage of our platform to help them achieve long-term business goals.”

Pixyle AI plans to use its new funding to enhance its product offering, expand in the United States and Europe and move into new verticals. It will add new suites for industry segments and new offerings like product description generation and label detection using OCR tech that recognizes brands, material composition and size. It will also add “shop the look” and “multi-modal” search to its visual discovery product. For verticals, Pixyle AI plans to move into homeware and furniture by the last quarter of 2023.

In a statement about the investment, South Central Ventures managing partner Jan Kobler said, “A pivotal part of engaging online shoppers is product search, being able to find what you want easily and quickly. However, search has been hugely underserved and remains an unmet need for retailers and shoppers until now. Pixyle AI is laser focused on this opportunity and is already moving the dial with more sales for retailers. They have built a robust tech stack, which has been tried and tested in the market and is ready to scale.”

Pixyle AI wants to make visual search more intuitive for online retailers by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch


Sigfox tech owner UnaBiz doubles its Series B funding to $50 million

UnaBiz, the Massive Internet of Things service provider and owner of Sigfox’s technology, announced today it has raised another $25 million in Series B funding. This doubles the round’s total amount to $50 million, after the first tranche was announced in October 2021. UnaBiz, which is based in Singapore, has now raised $60 million in total.

The funding was led by SPARX Group, an investment company based in Tokyo, with participation from G K Goh Holdings and Optimal Investment, all returning investors. A UnaBiz representative told TechCrunch that the new capital will prepare UnaBiz for its next stage of growth so it can focus on driving commercial activities and delivery to customers in 2023, regardless of economic conditions.

UnaBiz acquired Sigfox’s tech in April after the French IoT startup filed for bankruptcy protection. The acquisition doubled UnaBiz’s office locations and tripled its headcount to more than 240 employees. The UnaBiz representative said it has closed down SigFox’s loss-making entities and brought in new executives, including a chief customer officer to focus on pipeline and revenue streams, a chief operating officer to oversee operations stability and cost optimization and a chief technology officer. Its goal is to consolidate its business more quickly.

UnaBiz plans to invest in four verticals (utilities, security, facilities management and supply chain and logistics) across Latin America, APAC and EMEA. The funding will also be used on research and development for the company’s 0G capabilities and expand its product portfolio to include more LPWAN and satellite tech.

In a statement about its investment in UnaBiz, SPARX Group president and CEO Shuhei Abe said, “As the technology owner of the most energy-efficient LPWAN technology available on the market, UnaBiz is in a prime position to champion the convergence of Massive IoT communication technologies (from 0G to 5G) to help enterprises achieve their digitalization and sustainability goals.”

Sigfox tech owner UnaBiz doubles its Series B funding to $50 million by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch


India’s Uolo raises $22.5M to bring edtech to the masses

Uolo, an Indian edtech platform that works with private K-12 schools to offer online learning programs to middle and low-income families, has raised $22.5 million in a funding round led by UAE-headquartered VC fund Winter Capital.

The vast majority of edtech startups operate in a business-to-consumer model and spend on ads to reach the parents and guardians of the students.

Uolo says it is reducing that cost by operating in a business-to-business-to-consumer model, working with private schools to let them offer online learning programs to their students and levy the charges as part of the school fees. The startup’s programs are also designed in tandem with the curricula of the partnered schools, making it easier for students to double down on learning the same lessons.

The Gurugram-based startup develops and provides tailor-made learning programs in coding and English speaking. Students can access these programs on their parents’ smartphones.

“We take edtech to the masses of India. And when we do that, the idea is that you make it cheap enough, affordable enough for people to be able to take it for their children,” said Pallav Pandey, chief executive of Uolo, in an interview with TechCrunch.

He said that the startup is able to provide its offerings to students at much more affordable prices.

Schools tying up with Uolo get an ERP platform called the Uolo School Platform for free. It works as a unified platform where schools can access fee management, report card management and attendance management on a single dashboard.

The ERP platform functions as an entry gate for Uolo as it allows the startup to create an ecosystem once schools start using it. This encourages parents or guardians to use the app to receive communications directly from schools — instead of using typical communication channels such as WhatsApp groups.

“What we have been able to do is get schools and students on one end of the platform, so now we need to get digital learning to flow through us,” Pandey said.

Founded in September 2020 by Pandey and his brother Ankur, Uolo has partnered with more than 8,500 schools across India and currently reaches 3.7 million students.

The $22.5 million funding has come through an equity-debt mix Series A round, seeing participation from Uolo’s existing investors Blume Ventures and new Dubai-based fund Morphosis Venture Capital — alongside Winter Capital. Although exact details of the equity and debt percentage involved were not disclosed, Pandey told TechCrunch that the debt element was in the form of optionally convertible debentures that would convert into equity over time.

The startup, which employs about 350 individuals, plans to utilize the investment to widen its reach to 50,000 schools across India over the next four years and expand its learning programs with courses across STEAM subjects in the coming months. For the latter part, it is looking to partner with education companies as well as people and entities developing high-quality content.

“The first wave of edtech companies in India have proven consumer interest in online education. However, they lacked a cost-effective distribution. We believe that there will be a new generation of edtech companies capable of building organic, low-cost distribution, allowing students to study at $10 per year rather than $10 per hour. Our investment in Uolo is based on our confidence in this type of company,” said Anton Farlenkov, Managing Director of Winter Capital, in a prepared statement.

India’s Uolo raises $22.5M to bring edtech to the masses by Jagmeet Singh originally published on TechCrunch


Twitter will reportedly charge $11 on iOS for Blue subscription to offset App Store fees

Twitter Blue plan is on halt right now but when it resumes you will have to pay $11 per month if you subscribe from iOS, according to a report from The Information.

The report noted that the subscription plan will cost $7 per month if you purchase from the web. But it will be costlier on iOS to offset Apple’s App Store fees. Notably, Apple charges 30% fees to the developers for the first year of subscription, but it drops to 15% from the second year.

When Twitter launched its new subscription plan with a verification mark on November 9, it charged users $7.99 per month. If Twitter were to offset App Store fees, it should charge $10.38 — but the new $11 fee sounds like a rounded-off figure.

Twitter owner Elon Musk recently went on a tirade against Apple for pausing advertisements on Twitter, alleging them of hating “free speech in America.” Musk also accused the tech giant of threatening to “withhold Twitter from its App Store.” However, after Musk met Tim Cook on a tour of Apple’s Cupertino campus all things went back to being good and dandy.

Musk told the world that Cook clarified that there was no consideration to boot Twitter off the App Store. Plus, Apple resumed ads on the social media platform. Apple is a big spender on Twitter as The Platformer reporter Zoe Schiffer noted that the company buys ads worth nearly $100 million a year.

The Tesla CEO hasn’t been a fan of Apple’s App Store fees either. Last month, he described them as a “secret tax” levied by the iPhone maker. However, this is not the first time Musk has criticized the App Store commission. Last year, he sided with Epic in the game company’s battle with Apple and said that these fees are “a de facto global tax on the internet.”

However, just like many disgruntled companies like Spotify, Twitter will have to play by App Store rules if it were to offer subscriptions through iOS. As my colleague Taylor Hatmaker noted in her story last month, “You can be mad that Apple takes 30% of what you make on the iPhone, but 30% of zero is still zero.” That Blue tick is looking more expensive now.

Twitter will reportedly charge $11 on iOS for Blue subscription to offset App Store fees by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch