Out of all features Apple announced at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) last week, a new addition to Apple’s Visual Lookup system — a feature where you can “pick up” an object from a photo or a video with just a press of your finger — was the most fun.
While Apple introduced a number of interesting new features to its software during the event, those didn’t quite deliver the surprise and joy that comes from using the deceptively simple new photo cutout feature — an enhancement to Apple’s existing Visual Lookup system. Launched last year with iOS 15, Visual Lookup today recognizes pets, plants, landmarks and other objects in your photos. But now, when you touch and hold on the subject of the image, you can actually lift it away from the background to use in other apps.
Essentially, the feature separates the photo’s background from the subject, then turns the subject into a separate image. This image can then be saved or dragged and dropped into a messaging app like iMessage or WhatsApp.
During the keynote, Apple described the addition as the product of an advanced machine learning model, which is accelerated by CoreML and the neural engine to perform 40 billion operations in milliseconds.
In early tests on the iOS 16 developer beta, the feature works surprisingly well with animals, humans and objects. We’ll likely see this feature used to create memes and uncountable animal stickers when it goes live.
Object separation has been a long-sought feature in all photo editing apps. Before, you would have to use apps like Photoshop or Pixelmator to meticulously draw a boundary to select an object and port it to another image. Tools like remove.bg and Canva’s background remover have made the process easier, but it’s amazing to have this feature built into the iPhone’s operating system. Apple said the feature “feels like magic,” and in this case, the hyperbole is not entirely off base. This feature surprises.
It’s also not limited to photos, as it turns out. Apple leveraged the new functionality to enhance other apps, too. For instance, if you long-press on an image in Safari, you’ll see an option called “Copy Subject,” which does the same thing as Visual Lookup: removes the background.
A post on Reddit also suggested that this feature is present in the Files app, too. When you select an image, then go to options you’ll find it available as “Remove Background.”
And on the Lock Screen, Apple’s ability to understand which part of the photo is the subject allows it to create a layered look where part of the photo can overlay on top of various Lock …read more
On the face of it, data from the first year of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s project to track the safety of advanced driver assistance systems look terrible for Tesla. Its electric vehicles were involved in 70% of the reported crashes involving Level 2 technologies, 60% of those resulting in serious injuries and nearly 85% of the fatal ones.
The data released early Wednesday were collected under the federal regulator’s Standing General Order issued last June, requiring automakers to report the most serious crashes that involved Level 2 ADAS, which need a human driver to remain fully engaged in the driving task. NHTSA is also tracking crashes involving fully automated vehicles — none of which are currently available to consumers.
There are five levels of automation under standards created by SAE International. Level 2 means two functions such as adaptive cruise and lane keeping are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, and has become increasingly common in new vehicles.
Tesla topped the ADAS list for all the wrong reasons: 273 reported crashes, three with serious injuries, and five deaths. Honda trailed far behind Tesla with 90 crashes and one fatality, while most other manufacturers reported just a handful. Nissan reported none at all.
So does that mean Tesla owners should trade in their Model 3 with Autopilot for a Nissan Leaf, and its own Level 2 ADAS, called ProPilot?
It’s a more complicated question than one might think. The way the Order is worded, the technologies that Tesla has deployed, and the sheer number of Tesla vehicles on the road mean that its vehicles may not be quite as dangerous as the numbers suggest.
For a start, there are more ADAS-equipped Teslas on the road (about 830,000) than vehicles from other manufacturers, although Nissan isn’t far off, with 560,000.
Tesla’s Autopilot can also be used on a variety of roads, unlike Nissan’s ProPilot and GM’s SuperCruise systems, which are limited to highways. Without knowing the number of miles driven with each ADAS system in operation, and where, it is impossible to compare their relative levels of safety — or how each might contrast with accident rates under full human control.
The Order required manufacturers to report all the incidents they knew about, but most vehicles on the road do not have remote telematics that send vehicle data back to the factory. Manufacturers of these cars were reliant on consumer complaints (which comprised the majority of reports), law enforcement contacts or media stories, all of which may not have accurately reported whether their ADAS systems were in use.
Tesla, on the other hand, knows exactly which vehicles were using Autopilot when they crashed, as its vehicles have cellular and Wi-Fi connections that automatically report vehicle data when a crash occurs. Almost all its crash reports were sourced from such telematics, compared to just nine from Subaru, four from GM, three from Lucid and one from Honda.
Finally, the …read more
Puffco has long led the market with innovative cannabis vaporizers. The Puffco Peak Pro is easily one of the best e-rigs available, and the company just unveiled a new vape called the Proxy. It offers the best of the Peak Pro and can be built into various form factors.
Don’t be distracted by the lovely pipe. That’s just a piece of glass. The Proxy slides into the glass piece. Think of the Proxy as a modular dabbing rig, able to fit into any form factor made for the unit. Bubbler? Sure. Glass beaker? Yep. Pipe? Obviously.
The $299 self-contained rig is about the size of a taller D-cell battery. Inside is the same heating element found in the company’s other flagship product, the Peak Pro. USB-C recharges the battery, and the unit comes pre-programmed with four different heat levels.
Puffco ships the Proxy with the pipe shown here, along with a travel case that holds cables, a cleaning kit and a concentrate container spot.
It’s simple to use: Open the carb cap at the top, drop in your favorite concentrate (resin, shatter, hash, etc.), and hit the button twice to activate the oven. Then, a couple of seconds later, blast off. I found the glass pipe smooth and comfortable, but I would also love to try it with a water piece.
“This looks like a vaporizer, just in a pipe form,” Puffco founder Roger Volodarsky said to TechCrunch. “But it’s the first truly modular vaporizer that’s been made to work in any design you want. And [Puffco] will release different accessories in other form factors that the Proxy can drop into.”
And the company is looking to makers to build other unique accessories for the Proxy.
Puffco has long had an active community that built accessories for the company’s flagship product, the Puffco Peak and the Peak Pro. Puffco sells a few on its site, and Etsy and eBay are full of custom glass pieces and utility accessories. However, the Peak’s design is limiting and requires makers to build glass pieces to a specific form factor.
Volodarsky hopes makers will find it easier to build around the self-contained Proxy.
“It takes much less work to build for the Proxy,” Volodarsky said. “If an artist is going to make a top for a Peak, it’s going to take them eight to 16 hours … unless it’s really, really cheap. [The Proxy] takes much less effort, so artists can get the value for their time. If it takes four hours to make a piece, they can charge way less for it. We think there will be much more affordable options in our community.”
The Proxy is available today at Puffco.com and several retailers for $299. In addition, the company expects new form factors and accessories to be available in the next couple of months.
Volodarsky founded Puffco in 2013 and has bootstrapped the company since. Roger doesn’t want to take venture capital money.
“I have a big problem with having to serve investors,” he told TechCrunch. “Everything has to …read more
Netflix’s real-life ‘Squid Game’ competition will feature the biggest cash prize and largest cast in reality TV history
Yesterday, Netflix greenlit “Squid Game: The Challenge,” a reality competition series based on the popular South Korean drama that, luckily, doesn’t have people killing each other “Hunger Games” style and will offer a cash prize of $4.56 million. (That’s a lifetime of dalgona candies right there!) Not only will this be the largest cash prize a competition show has ever seen, it will also feature the biggest-ever reality TV cast with 456 contestants.
Recruitment is now open on SquidGameCasting.com, and Netflix is looking for 456 English-speaking players. Netflix says “Squid Game: The Challenge” will have 10 episodes, and it will be filmed in the U.K.
“’Squid Game’ took the world by storm with director Hwang’s captivating story and iconic imagery. We’re grateful for his support as we turn the fictional world into reality in this massive competition and social experiment,” Brandon Riegg, Netflix VP of Unscripted and Documentary Series, said in a statement. “Fans of the drama series are in for a fascinating and unpredictable journey as our 456 real-world contestants navigate the biggest competition series ever, full of tension and twists, with the biggest ever cash prize at the end.”
The news follows Netflix’s confirmation that it also greenlit “Squid Game” Season 2. The first season had over 1.65 billion view hours in the first 28 days following its September 2021 premiere, the company reported.
The promo for “Squid Game: The Challenge” features the recognizable robot doll with lasers for eyes but doesn’t reveal exactly what challenges contestants will have to do. (We hope there are no glass bridges involved!) No release date for either “Squid Game” Season 2 or “Squid Game: The Challenge” have yet to be revealed.
Production will undoubtedly be difficult as you can’t exactly have cameras following every player. Likely, many will be eliminated in early rounds, as in the TV series. The streamer says “Squid Game: The Challenge” will be co-produced by Studio Lambert and The Garden. Executive producers include Stephen Lambert, Tim Harcourt, Toni Ireland, John Hay, Nicola Hill and Nicola Brown.
Studio Lambert is also producing its own competition series, “Million Dollar Island,” where 100 contestants will compete in a show much like “Survivor” with a prize of $1 million. That said, “Squid Game: The Challenge” will quadruple the number of players, so it will be interesting to see how it can be pulled off.
A big question people have is if the new “Squid Game” competition series will be livestreamed. Netflix had confirmed to TechCrunch last month that it’s in the early days of its livestreaming plans and will target unscripted content — it seems that could include a competition show with sinister children’s games.
“Women of color are the most founded, entrepreneurial demographic,” she said at the biannual business conference hosted by the Tory Burch Foundation. “They are just the least funded.”
Simone is the co-founder of Fearless Fund, one of the first funds launched by women of color that aim to only invest in women of color. At the event, her words rang true for the audience, many of whom are women entrepreneurs and know very well the daunting journey of fundraising that leaves them with only about 2% of all venture capital investment.
“It’s going to take trillions of dollars to move these statistics,” Simone said.
“When we first started the Fearless Fund, people looked at us like we were crazy.” Arian Simone, co-founder, Fearless Fund
The current market downturn might drastically hinder any progress being made on this front. Valuations have plummeted, and total funding at all stages has declined. In May, Sequoia warned its founders that the financial recovery could be long, and Y Combinator told the companies in its portfolio that their chances of successfully fundraising were “extremely low” in this downturn.
However, the situation for diverse investors and founders ironically has a silver lining. While minority, women-led businesses need to be supported at this time, Simone said, these founders are used to weathering harsh economic conditions due to systemic barriers that have already excluded them from fundraising. There might be an increased dearth of capital this year, but access to the money wasn’t necessarily promised to these founders anyway.
As a result, Simone and her portfolio have a simple plan for navigating this time: Conduct business as usual.
The goal is to persist
General Motors is investing more than $81 million to build the Cadillac Celestiq, the luxury electric hatchback, at the company’s Global Technical Center, the heart of the automaker’s engineering and design efforts. The funds will be used to purchase and install related equipment to hand-build the Celestiq at the Warren, Michigan location, the automaker said on Wednesday.
“As Cadillac’s future flagship sedan, Celestiq signifies a new, resurgent era for the brand,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s president, in a statement. “Each one will be hand-built by an amazing team of craftspeople on our historic Technical Center campus, and today’s investment announcement emphasizes our commitment to delivering a world-class Cadillac with nothing but the best in craftsmanship, design, engineering and technology.”
GM hasn’t unveiled the Celestiq yet, aside from a few teaser images earlier this week. But from what the company has shared, the EV appears to be all sleek luxury on the outside, and all high tech on the inside. The Celestiq’s roof is expected to feature “a four-quadrant, suspended-particle-device smart glass” that allows each occupant to set their own level of roof transparency. In addition, the driver and front passenger will have access to “pillar-to-pillar freeform display with active privacy to help mitigate driver distraction.”
The site where the Celestiq will be built is not only appropriate for integrating such technological features, but it is also home to GM’s Additive Industrialization Center, where the automaker has established 3D printing. The Celestiq will rely on more than 100 3D-printed components, encompassing both structural and cosmetic parts made of polymer and metal, according to GM.
Like all of GM’s EVs, the Celestiq will be built on the automaker’s Ultium platform, the underlying EV architecture and accompanying batteries that will also go into the upcoming Chevrolet Silverado, Buick crossovers and Cadillac Lyriq. GM says this will enable a strategic value chain that “commonizes and streamlines machinery, tooling and assembly processes” and will result in “lower capital investments and greater efficiencies.”
The Celestiq is slated to go on sale in 2025, with production starting at the end of 2023. Additional images of the concept vehicle will be released this summer ahead of the car show debut in late July, and renovations to the Global Technical Center campus have already begun, the automaker said.
Brad Feld, a venture capitalist of 25 years an author of several books, has just republished a book that first came out in 2013 and to which Feld, with the help of coauthors Matt Blumberg and Mahendra Ramsinghani, has added quite a bit for this new, second edition.
Called Startup Boards:A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors, its timing couldn’t be better. With the public — and now startup — markets in turmoil, board members who may have gotten along swimmingly in the longest bull market in history may suddenly find themselves at odds with the management teams they’ve funded, as well as their fellow board members. After all, hard decisions are being made right now, and faced with very different financial pressures, many VCs are discovering their jobs just became a lot more challenging, too.
We talked with Feld last week about the book and the challenges currently facing startup boards, and we touched on a wide number of issues, from the importance (or not) of having an odd number of directors to avoid gridlock, and why every startup board should have independent directors from nearly the get-go. You can listen to our conversation here; meanwhile, we hope you’ll find the excerpts below, edited for length and clarity, helpful.
TC: Why rework and republish this book? Why do startups need it?
BF: One reason is until recently, we’ve had this incredible, positive market for entrepreneurship and venture specifically where there’s been huge value created [notwithstanding a] handful of cases where there’s been really bad governance that resulted in the cataclysmic failures of companies. At the same time, there’s been this narrative, especially amongst companies, that they don’t really need boards, [with] more entrepreneurs not taking advantage of the benefit of a board — especially outside board members.
This whole notion of what role a board really plays and how it can be helpful to a fast-growing company wasn’t just lost but in a lot of ways was being ignored.
TC: Isn’t that also the fault of VCs who’ve been writing more checks, faster, and investing less in their board roles?
BF: Absolutely. There is no question that part of it was VCs being overloaded with boards, or, in some cases, not even really understanding what their role is, because you had a lot of VC board members without a lot of board experience prior to [jumping into VC].
[Part of it] . . . .tied to founder-controlled boards, where the founders have super voting rights, or the founders don’t really have a responsibility to a board per se. So you had some of that.
You also had a lot of investors, especially in the last couple of years, who put big checks into companies but didn’t take board seats.
But I think on top of all of that — a piece that’s missing from this part of the narrative — is that the most impactful part of boards, especially in fast-growing and mid-stage companies, are outside directors. Over many, many …read more
Daily Crunch: One week after expanding internationally, Dukaan says it has onboarded 1,000+ DTC brands
The super app business model is paying dividends in Southeast Asia.
Offerings from Grab, “the everyday everything app,” run the gamut from grocery delivery to investment services; Malaysia-based AirAsia has rebranded itself as Capital A as it expands its offerings to encompass ride hailing, food delivery and much more.
These companies aren’t building these new business units from scratch: They’re using strategic acquisitions to enter new markets and fence out the competition.
“As more tech companies look to the super app business model to retain users and increase monetization, we could expect more inorganic expansion and consolidation in the coming years,” says Amit Anand, founding partner of Jungle Ventures.
To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.
Today is Wednesday the 15th of June 2022. As much as we like to live in the now, we’re hella excited about tomorrow! Over on Twitter Spaces at noon PDT tomorrow, we’ll be talking with our immigration expert Sophie (who today shared what the best visa is for bootstrapping a startup). Clicky to set a reminder for yourself right now! We’ll also have our online day for TC Sessions: Climate tomorrow, so tune in for that as well if you’re a fan of climate and the crispiness level of our planet. Woohoo! — Haje and Christine
The TechCrunch Top 3
- Them’s fightin’ words: Dukaan, an Indian company that helps merchants set up e-commerce businesses, is challenging Shopify, even getting down and dirty on Twitter, Manish reports. The company’s aim is to speed up performance of websites, claiming Shopify’s speed and performance is causing merchants to lose out on sales if customers have to wait even a few additional seconds for sites to load.
- Who knew market reports were so lucrative?: AlphaSense did. The global pandemic combined with market uncertainty gave the company, which is an analysis and business intel search engine, the boost it needed to go after $225 million in new funding, Ingrid writes. This not only gives AlphaSense a $1.7 billion valuation, but also proves that even in this counternarrative environment, it’s still good for some.
- BNPL firms continue to duke it out: We can’t tell if consumers will be the winner as so many companies offer “buy now, pay later,” but it’s fun to see them all trying to one-up each other. The latest is PayPal, which is expanding its BNPL feature with a monthly pay service, Sarah tells us. This means that instead of taking 6 weeks to pay, users can now spread out payments over a 6-month to 24-month period. But be warned, customers can’t use it for a $30 T-shirt; purchases have to be between $199 and $10,000.
Startups and VC
In the world of startups, Haje made his debut on our Equity podcast, talking with Natasha M and Alex about how we are entering an era of…shall we say creative accounting.
Unrelated to creative accounting, and crypto crash be damned, Binance CEO Brian Shroder told employees yesterday that the company is “in the strongest position possible to not only successfully weather this downturn but also emerge as the leading crypto platform in the U.S.,” Anita reports.
Let’s take a stroll in startup land, looking through the lens of TechCrunch’s reporting over the past 24 hours or so:
Canadian fintech giant Wealthsimple, which was valued at $4 billion as of last year, is laying off 159 people — or about 13% of its staff.
The Toronto-based company has been a leader in the realm of democratizing financial products for consumers, including stock trading, crypto asset sales and peer-to-peer money transfers. And now it appears that Wealthsimple is an example of another company that experienced a boom during the early days of the pandemic and is now seeing a slowdown in business.
CEO and co-founder Michael Katchen addressed the move in a letter to employees, which was published as a blog post, noting that Wealthsimple’s clients “are living through a period of market uncertainty they’ve never experienced before.”
In the missive, he wrote:
If you’ve been with us over the past two years, you know it’s been a time of immense volatility. Just about anyone who made predictions about how the pandemic would affect the economy was wrong about one thing or another. The markets crashed. Then they soared. Our business grew at an unprecedented rate, and we have been aggressively building to meet the needs of a wave of new clients since then.
Of course volatility works both ways, and we’re seeing the other side of it now as the pandemic market conditions unwind.
He added that the market shift will result in the startup focusing more on core businesses such as investing and banking, as well as crypto. It will scale back its efforts in areas such as peer-to-peer payments, tax and merchant services.
The move came a week after Wealthsimple enacted a hiring freeze, according to BetaKit.
Wealthsimple’s last raise was a $610 million round led by Meritech and Greylock. At the time, the company said it had over 1.5 million users and had over $10 billion in assets under management as of the last publicly available numbers. It has raised about $900 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase. Prior to today’s layoff, it had 1,262 employees.
My weekly fintech newsletter, The Interchange, launched on May 1! Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
The recent IPOs of several tech companies in Southeast Asia might give investors cause to wonder if the time is ripe for exits and consolidation in the region.
If you’re thinking along those lines, you aren’t far off from the truth. An analysis of recent changes in the market reveals four factors that are set to catalyze consolidation in Southeast Asia in the near future.
Startups have cash and are looking to spend it
After fundraising multiple times, there are a number of large and late-stage tech startups that have ample liquidity and are increasingly open to pursuing growth inorganically.
As more tech companies look to the super app business model to retain users and increase monetization, we could expect more inorganic expansion and consolidation in the coming years.
Recent M&A in the region indicates two key strategic considerations influencing acquisitions:
- Adding new product segments/verticals or markets into offerings.
- Strengthening their existing offerings (verticals or markets).
For instance, Grab acquired Singapore-based robo-advisory startup, Bento, in 2020. The acquisition was mainly driven by the strategic consideration of adding a new product segment, because it helped Grab bring retail wealth management and investment solutions to its users and partners.
The acquisition of the Singapore-based home renovation platform Qanvast by Livspace in 2021 is an example of the second strategic consideration. This acquisition helped Livspace strengthen and consolidate its position in existing markets (Singapore and Malaysia).
We’ve summarized some more examples of strategic acquisitions below:
As cash-rich tech startups become keener to seek inorganic growth, consolidation is likely to pick up.
Companies are expanding across regions and countries
Southeast Asia is culturally diverse and countries here are different from each other despite their geographical proximity. The region has 11 countries with a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions, economic development status, etc., which give rise to very different consumer behavior and market characteristics.
As tech companies from neighboring countries and regions expand into Southeast Asia, the region’s diversity and differences pose challenges to their expansion, since each country likely requires a unique greenfield approach.