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Suppose TV can now alert you to changes in TV packages, so you get the best deal

Last year, a startup called Suppose TV entered the market to help consumers find the best deal on TV services. The site offers an online tool that lets you compare different services – including things like channel selection and pricing. But doing so still took a lot work in terms of entering your criteria, setting your channel priorities, and specifying other requirements . Today, the company is rolling out a new, automated feature to make this whole process even easier. With its “TV Service Alerts,” the startup can now email you when TV services change their prices, channel lineup or features. This way, you can make a cost-saving switch or jump to one that’s a better fit.
As the streaming landscape becomes more fragmented, this sort of thing could become a must-have tool for those who are getting overwhelmed by the various options, and don’t have the time to keep up with all the changes.
Today’s streaming services are constantly tweaking their offerings – editing their bundles, as well as hiking and lowering prices, as they try to figure out what works best.
Last year, for example, Sling TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue all raised their prices for live TV, and Netflix did for its subscription video service. Netflix has also just this month raised prices again, while Hulu dropped its price for subscription video, but raised its price for live TV.
Meanwhile, the packages are continually in flux, too. For example, Sling TV added a new free tier and à la carte channel subscriptions; Hulu dropped some channels and put them into optional add-on bundles with newly added channels. And most keep adding channels to their packages and add-on selections over time.
Who can keep up with all this?
Suppose TV can help. The site may not be pretty, but it’s handy. Here, you can customize your prefered lineup, by setting your channel selections and feature preferences. Then, as the various streaming services’ packages change, it can now email you personalized alerts that tell you if you can get a better deal.
The company’s website can also help you find services where local broadcast and regional sports networks are available to you – something that varies on a market-by-market basis. (This is currently available across the largest U.S. markets and a selection of smaller ones.) And it can now point you to promo discounts and deals for streaming services, when available.

This sort of tool will become even more useful this year, as new services begin to arrive, like Disney+, Comcast’s NBCU streaming service, and the upcoming AT&T/WarnerMedia offering, among others.
For consumers, Suppose TV’s tools can help them make a better decision, but the startup’s business lies elsewhere.
The company is also today launching an API that provides access to its live TV database and recommendation engine, which will allow partners help their customers find the right mix of streaming services.
“With our API solution, Suppose supports the delivery of TV service selection tools by partner companies like broadband providers, television OS platforms, or retailers,” says Suppose TV co-founder Andrew Shapiro, in a statement about the API launch. “These companies are well positioned to help their customers sign up for and manage their TV services.”

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Daily Crunch: Uber rolls out Rewards

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Uber Rewards is rolling out; here’s how the perks work
Uber Rewards calculates how much you’ve spent on Uber and Uber Eats in the last six months and awards you perks like no-fee cancellations if you rebook, guaranteed prices between your two favorite spots and free car upgrades.
Uber says Rewards will be available to the entire U.S. soon, but it’s now available in 25 cities across the country, including San Francisco.
2. Google will start retiring Hangouts for G Suite users in October
The company has clarified the timeline of the transition from classic Hangouts to Chat and Meet for its paying G Suite customers — for them, the Hangouts retirement party will start in October of this year. For consumers, the situation remains unclear.
3. Oracle allegedly withheld $400 million in wages from underrepresented employees
Oracle has allegedly withheld $400 million in wages from racially underrepresented workers (black, Latinx and Asian) as well as women, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said in a filing.

4. Blippar finds life after death as former investor buys assets to relaunch AR startup
One of the AR startup’s main investors, Candy Ventures, has acquired the company’s assets in a patent sale and will be keeping the brand alive underneath the leadership of founder Ambarish Mitra and “many of Blippar’s original key engineers.”
5. Hulu drops the price for its streaming service to $6 per month, but raises prices for Live TV
While Netflix is raising prices, Hulu is lowering its own.
6. YouTube TV is officially becoming available nationwide
The service has been steadily expanding since its April 2017 debut, and became broadly available a little less than a year ago when it then reached the top 100 U.S. markets, or 85 percent of the country. Today, YouTube TV will begin its expansion in an additional 95 markets, covering more than 98 percent of U.S. households.
7. Connecting African software developers with top tech companies nets Andela $100 million
Since its founding in 2014, Andela has seen more than 130,000 applicants for 1,100 developer slots. After a promising developer is on-boarded and goes through a six-month training bootcamp at one of the company’s coding campuses in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda or Uganda, they’re placed with an Andela customer to work as a remote, full-time employee.

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Melonee Wise and Anca Dragan will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

Hard to believe, but we’re only a few months out from the next TC Sessions: Robotics. As we get ready for our third year, take a trip down robotic memory lane with these highlights from last year’s big event.
We’ll be returning to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in April, this time with an added focus on artificial intelligence. Last week we announced that computer science professor Hany Farid and VC/Playground global co-founder Peter Barrett will be joining us at the event, and now we’ve got a couple more big names to share with you.

Melonee Wise is the CEO of collaborative warehouse robotics company Fetch. She previously worked at influential Bay Area robotics startup Willow Garage, where she helped develop the ROS (Robotic Operating System), the PR2 and TurtleBot. Wise has received numerous awards, including MIT Technology Review’s TR35, and was named a 2018 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Anca Dragan is an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s EECS (Electric Engineering and Computer Sciences) department, with a focus on human-robotic interaction. Her team explores the fields of autonomous vehicles, manufacturing and assistive robotics. Dragan is a co-founder of the Berkeley AI Research Lab and has received a Sloan Fellowship, MIT TR35, Okawa and NSF CAREER awards.
Grab your Early-Bird tickets today and save more than $100 before prices go up. Students, grab your tickets for just $45 here.

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How we’re finding the best lawyers for early-stage startups

We’re nearing 1,000 submissions from startup founders and leaders in Silicon Valley and across the world about the best early-stage tech lawyers to work with. As we’ve sorted through survey responses and begun scheduling interviews with the first qualified nominees, we’ve gotten a bunch of questions. We love questions.
First of all, why are we creating a living list of great tech startup lawyers? Lawyers don’t create startups, but they can help great startups succeed. They can also kill promising ventures before they have time to get off the ground. Who you use as your lawyer matters, and yet, there are no great resources to help early-stage founders navigate this decision.
Need more detail before you take the survey? Read on.
A living list
We are not making a listicle or an occasional ranking like what you might see on other news sites or legal review services. Instead, we are making a living body of knowledge about service providers by and for people who are building companies. This survey will be staying open indefinitely and we’ll be updating our findings whenever we have enough feedback from our community about an individual lawyer. Ultimately, we will add as many lawyers as there are lawyers in the world who qualify.
We are just beginning what will be a continuous process. Each additional recommendation will help you know more about who to hire to help you with your work.
Early-stage focus
We are interested in featuring lawyers who are today heavily focused on early-stage technology startups. We realize that “early-stage” can mean multiple funding rounds and many, many millions of dollars, so we are not drawing hard boundaries. As a rule of thumb, think of startups in the process of finding product-market fit and/or a scalable business model, and are maybe even in the early stages of growth.
We realize that attorneys who have succeeded with early-stage companies over the years will themselves often move into later-stage legal work. We’re happy to hear about these folks — particularly what they have done for a company in key early moments — but we know they’re often busy and will take on few if any young companies today.
We’re happy to feature them when relevant, but we’ll also note that if you’re looking for the overall top technology lawyers in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, you should really be checking out Chambers and Partners, Martindale-Hubbell, Super Lawyers, The American Lawyer, National Law Journal and the numerous other established sources for lawyer rankings.
Tech focus
“Tech” has been heavily abused by marketers in recent years. If you’re leaving a review as a founder, but you’re not clearly building some sort of meaningful technology yourself, we will likely discard your recommendation. There are plenty of great lawyers out there who can assist with starting a business, who are not going to be familiar with the myriad challenges that a startup faces when it attempts meaningful technology innovation.
Global breadth
We’re open to submissions about lawyers working anywhere in the world. As the tech industry has gone global, locally focused attorneys have helped nurture their startup hubs and develop new crops of successful companies. Based on our survey results so far, we’re going to be featuring a geographically broad range of people to help the next generation of entrepreneurs get the best support from people who understand their surroundings.
Online legal services
While traditional law firms continue to be the preferred route for many founders, especially when they scale into the later stages of company-building, we’ve gotten a number of strong recommendations about attorneys working through software-enabled services. We see this as an important part of the future of the industry — if you’ve had a great experience, let us know about both the lawyer and the product they’re working within.
Attorneys who haven’t made partner (yet)
While submissions to date tend to focus on lawyers who have already made partner at larger firms, or have founded their own established operations, we have also gotten glowing recommendations about folks who are earlier in their careers. Like companies themselves, the top lawyers of tomorrow are working hard to get there today — so we very much want to hear about them now. Maybe we can even help them get to the top faster?
Remember, we invite any lawyer who is actively working with early-stage technology companies anywhere in the world to share this survey with their clients.
Now go take the survey if you haven’t already.

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Uplift raises $123M to bring flexible payments to the travel industry

Travel financing startup Uplift is announcing that it has raised $123 million in Series C funding.
Uplift has been relatively quiet about its business until now. Its founder and CEO is Brian Barth, who previously sold his travel startup SideStep to Kayak for $200 million.
“We’ve been exceedingly low-profile, because it’s a really good idea and we wanted to keep it a secret,” said President Robert Soderberry. “But now we’re at a size and scale where we’re ready to raise our visibility.”
Besides, he acknowledge that it would be hard to “keep a $123 million Series C financing round a secret.”
The idea is pretty straightforward: Uplift works with partners like the vacation package sites of United Airlines, Southwest and American Airlines, as well as Allegiant Travel Company and Kayak, to offer financing to travelers, allowing them to pay for their trips in monthly installments. (It has a bank partner for the loans.)
For example, Soderberry said that if a family is considering a trip to Disneyland for a price of $2,000, Uplift might be able to offer a one-year financing plan with monthly payments of $189 a month.
“We make it really easy for consumers to understand,” he said. “It’s a convenient way to book travel, it reduces the upfront cost and encourages them to book more often, which in turn drives conversion for our travel partners. It’s really a win-win.”
It’s an idea that’s spreading in retail through companies like Affirm — and in fact, Affirm has been moving into travel. But Soderberry said Uplift is is the only lending company focused entirely on the travel industry.
“Planning and purchasing travel is really different buying a mattress or a gym membership,” he said. “It’s a different kind of product and different technology.”

Max Levchin’s Affirm raises $200 million at a nearly $2 billion valuation

And although Uplift launched less than two years ago, Soderberry said the company is on-track to drive nearly $1 billion in loans in 2019. He said that for some partners, Uplift represents 20 percent of their business.
The new funding should allow Uplift to bring on new partners, offer new services and otherwise grow the business. At the same time, Soderberry said the company will remain focused on travel, and on reaching consumers through its partners rather than launching a marketplace of its own
“Travel companies want to protect their customers and they don’t want us to be sourcing or acquiring their consumers,” he said. “We stand behind our partners … We don’t bring [customers] to our site to try to create a marketplace, we’re not trying to build a consumer platform, we’re building a platform for travel partners.”
PitchReport reports (membership required) that the funding was at a $195 million pre-money valuation, but an Uplift spokesperson declined to comment on this.
Uplift previously raised $23 million in funding. The Series C was led by Madrone Capital Partners, with participation from Draper Nexus, Ridge Ventures, Highgate Ventures, Barton Asset Management and PAR Capital.
“Uplift’s focused business model of bringing flexible payments to travel is a winner,” said Madrone’s Jamie McJunkin in a statement. “Our confidence to invest was driven by an experienced management team, a very large market opportunity and the competitive advantages driven by the innovations Uplift has brought to the travel market.”

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China’s Mobike will rename to Meituan Bike as its parent takes the wheel

One of China’s top bike rental apps is entering a new phase. Mobike, which neighborhood services giant Meituan-Dianping gobbled up last April, is changing its name to Meituan Bike as part of an ongoing integration with its parent, according to an internal letter from Meituan senior vice president Wang Huiwen to staff. There’s no timeline for when the new moniker will go live, and the change applies to its China business only at the moment, TechCrunch confirmed with a Mobike spokesperson on Wednesday.
The rebranding is bound to stir up nostalgia among millions of users accustomed to telling others: I’m going to Mobike from point A to point B. But deepening ties with Meituan, which claims more than 380 million annual users who use its services for food delivery, hotel booking and others, will do more good in the long run. The bike service has already been integrated into the Meituan app where users can rent a bike by tapping a visible access point on the home page, giving Mobike a potential traffic boost.
Mobike is now accessible on the Meituan-Dianping app through a visible access point (underlined in red). Screenshot: TechCrunch
Mobike, in turn, plays a key role in Meituan’s ambition to capture every touchpoint of a customer’s offline journey. Last October the Hong Kong-listed firm launched a new unit dedicated to “location-based services” that encompass ride-hailing, bikes, autonomous driving and other transportation means. The data-rich setup will enable the super app to predict, say, where users are headed next after they pay with Meituan vouchers at a restaurant, upon which the app could recommend transit solutions.
Boom and bust
China’s once-booming dockless bike market took a hit in 2018. Many went bust, and the remaining top three players — Ofo, Mobike and Hellobike — pedalled on with funding support from some of the country’s largest tech firms. Since their early days, Mobike and Ofo have been going head-to-head in a subsidy war. The fight turned into what’s seen as a proxy battle between Tencent and Alibaba after the giants snatched up stakes in Mobike and Ofo, respectively.
Meanwhile, a new challenger, Hellobike, entered the fray with financial and user acquisition support from Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Financial. Unlike Mobike and Ofo that are battling out in China’s major cities, Hellobike started off by going after the less populated, smaller cities as urban centers suffer from overcapacity, leaving huge piles of abandoned bikes on the sidewalks.
The bike rental space may be ripe for more shakeup this year. Ofo has reportedly run into “immense” cash flow issues as it continues to operate independently. Meanwhile, Meituan is freezing expansion for its unprofitable Mobike business. Hellobike remains an underdog in the game but it has a first-mover advantage in a largely untapped market for aspiring small-town customers.

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Open-source leader Confluent raises $125m on $2.5b valuation

Confluent, the commercial company built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project, announced a $125 million Series D round this morning on an enormous $2.5 billion valuation.
The round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital with participation from Index Ventures and Benchmark, who also participated in previous rounds. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $206 million, according the company.
The valuation soared from the previous round when the company was valued at $500 million. What’s more, the company’s bookings have scaled along with the valuation.
Graph: Confluent

While CEO Jay Kreps wouldn’t comment directly on a future IPO, he hinted that it is something the company is looking to do at some point. “With our growth and momentum so far, and with the latest funding, we are in a very good position to and have a desire to build a strong, independent company…” Kreps told TechCrunch.
Confluent and Kafka have developed a streaming data technology that processes massive amounts of information in real time, something that comes in handy in today’s data-intensive environment. The base streaming database technology was developed at LinkedIn as a means of moving massive amounts of messages. The company decided to open source that technology in 2011, and Confluent launched as the commercial arm in 2014.
Kreps, writing in a company blog post announcing the funding, said that the events concept encompasses the basic building blocks of businesses. “These events are the orders, sales and customer experiences, that constitute the operation of the business. Databases have long helped to store the current state of the world, but we think this is only half of the story. What is missing are the continually flowing stream of events that represents everything happening in a company, and that can act as the lifeblood of its operation,” he wrote.
Kreps pointed out that as an open source project, Confluent depends on the community. “This is not something we’re doing alone. Apache Kafka has a massive community of contributors of which we’re just one part,” he wrote.
While the base open source component remains available for free download, it doesn’t include the additional tooling the company has built to make it easier for enterprises to use Kafka.Recent additions include a managed cloud version of the product and a marketplace, Confluent Hub, for sharing extensions to the platform.
As we watch the company’s valuation soar, it does so against a backdrop of other companies based on open source selling for big bucks in 2018 including IBM buying Red Hat for $34 billion in October and Salesforce acquiring Mulesoft in June for $6.5 billion.
The company’s most recent round was $50 million in March, 2017.

Confluent raises $50M to continue growing commercial arm of Apache Kafka

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pi-top’s latest edtech tool doubles down on maker culture

London-based edtech startup, pi-top, has unboxed a new flagship learn-to-code product, demoing the “go anywhere” Pi-powered computer at the Bett Show education fare in London today.
Discussing the product with TechCrunch ahead of launch, co-founder and CEO Jesse Lozano talked up the skills the company hopes students in the target 12-to-17 age range will develop and learn to apply by using sensor-based connected tech, powered by its new pi-top 4, to solve real world problems.
“When you get a pi-top 4 out of the box you’re going to start to learn how to code with it, you’re going to start to learn and understand electronic circuits, you’re going to understand sensors from our sensor library. Or components from our components library,” he told us. “So it’s not: ‘I’m going to learn how to create a robot that rolls around on wheels and doesn’t knock into things’.
“It’s more: ‘I’m going to learn how a motor works. I’m going to learn how a distance sensor works. I’m going to learn how to properly hook up power to these different sensors. I’m going to learn how to apply that knowledge… take those skills and [keep making stuff].”
The pi-top 4 is a modular computer that’s designed to be applicable, well, anywhere; up in the air, with the help of a drone attachment; powering a sensing weather balloon; acting as the brains for a rover style wheeled robot; or attached to sensors planted firmly in the ground to monitor local environmental conditions.
The startup was already dabbling in this area, via earlier products — such as a Pi-powered laptop that featured a built in rail for breadboarding electronics. But the pi-top 4 is a full step outside the usual computing box.
The device has a built-in mini OLED screen for displaying project info, along with an array of ports. It can be connected to and programmed via one of pi-top’s other Pi-powered computers, or any PC, Mac and Chromebook, with the company also saying it easily connects to existing screens, keyboards and mice. Versatility looks to be the name of the game for pi-top 4.

pi-top’s approach to computing and electronics is flexible and interoperable, meaning the pi-top 4 can be extended with standard electronics components — or even with Littlebits‘ style kits’ more manageable bits and bobs.
pi-top is also intending to sell a few accessories of its own (such as the drone add-on, pictured above) to help get kids’ creative project juices flowing — and has launched a range of accessories, cameras, motors and sensors to “allow creators of all ages to start learning by making straight out of the box”.
But Lozano emphasizes its platform play is about reaching out to a wider world, not seeking to lock teachers and kids to buying proprietary hardware. (Which would be all but impossible, in any case, given the Raspberry Pi core.)
“It’s really about giving people that breadth of ability,” says Lozano, discussing the sensor-based skills he wants the product to foster. “As you go through these different projects you’re learning these specific skills but you also start to understand how they would apply to other projects.”
He mentions various maker projects the pi-top can be used to make, like a music synth or wheeled robot, but says the point isn’t making any specific connected thing; it’s encouraging kids to come up with project ideas of their own.
“Once that sort of veil has been pierced in students and in teachers we see some of the best stuff starts to be made. People make things that we had no idea they would integrate it into,” he tells us, pointing by way of example to a solar car project from a group of U.S. schoolkids. “These fifteen year olds are building solar cars and they’re racing them from Texas to California — and they’re using pi-tops to understand how their cars are performing to make better race decisions.”
pi-top’s new device is a modular programmable computer designed for maker projects
“What you’re really learning is the base skills,” he adds, with a gentle sideswipe at the flood of STEM toys now targeting parents’ wallets. “We want to teach you real skills. And we want you to be able to create projects that are real. That it’s not block-based coding. It’s not magnetized, clipped in this into that and all of a sudden you have something. It’s about teaching you how to really make things. And how the world actually works around you.”
The pi-top 4 starts at $199 for a foundation bundle which includes a Raspberry Pi 3B+,16GB SD card, power pack, along with a selection of sensors and add-on components for starter projects.
Additional educational bundles will also launch down the line, at a higher price, including more add ons, access to premium software and a full curriculum for educators to support budding makers, according to Lozano.
The startup has certainly come a long way from its founders’ first luridly green 3D printed laptop which caught our eye back in 2015. Today it employs more than 80 people globally, with offices in the UK, US and China, while its creative learning devices are in the hands of “hundreds of thousands” of schoolkids across more than 70 countries at this stage. And Lozano says they’re gunning to pass the million mark this year.
So while the ‘learn to code’ space has erupted into a riot of noise and color over the past half decade, with all sorts of connected playthings now competing for kids’ attention, and pestering parents with quasi-educational claims, pi-top has kept its head down and focused firmly on building a serious edtech business with STEM learning as its core focus, saving it from chasing fickle consumer fads, as Lozano tells it.
“Our relentless focus on real education is something that has differentiated us,” he responds, when asked how pi-top stands out in what’s now a very crowded marketplace. “The consumer market, as we’ve seen with other startups, it can be fickle. And trying to create a hit toy all the time — I’d rather leave that to Mattel… When you’re working with schools it’s not a fickle process.”
Part of that focus includes supporting educators to acquire the necessary skills themselves to be able to teach what’s always a fast-evolving area of study. So schools signing up to pi-top’s subscription product get support materials and guides, to help them create a maker space and understand all the ins and outs of the pi-top platform. It also provides a classroom management backend system that lets teachers track students’ progress.
“If you’re a teacher that has absolutely no experience in computer science or engineering or STEM based learning or making then you’re able to bring on the pi-top platform, learn with it and with your student, and when they’re ready they can create a computer science course — or something of that ilk — in their classroom,” says Lozano.
pi-top wants kids to use tech to tackle real-world problems
“As with all good things it takes time, and you need to build up a bank of experience. One of the things we’ve really focused on is giving teachers that ability to build up that bank of experience, through an after school club, or through a special lesson plan that they might do.
“For us it’s about augmenting that teacher and helping them become a great educator with tools and with resources. There’s some edtech stuff they want to replace the teacher — they want to make the teacher obsolete. I couldn’t disagree with that viewpoint more.”
“Why aren’t teachers just buying textbooks?” he adds. “It takes 24 months to publish a textbook. So how are you supposed to teach computer science with those technology-based skills with something that’s by design two years out of date?”
Last summer pi-top took in $16M in Series B funding, led by existing founders Hambro Perks and Committed Capital. It’s been using the financing to bring pi-top 4 to market while also investing heavily in its team over the past 18 months — expanding in-house expertise in designing learning products and selling in to the education sector via a number of hires. Including the former director of learning at Apple, Dr William Rankin.
The founders’ philosophy is to combine academic expertise in education with “excellence in engineering”. “We want the learning experience to be something we’re 100% confident in,” says Lozano. “You can go into pi-top and immediately start learning with our lesson plans and the kind of framework that we provide.”
“[W]e’ve unabashedly focused on… education. It is the pedagogy,” he adds. “It is the learning outcome that you’re going to get when you use the pi-top. So one of the big changes over the last 18 months is we’ve hired a world class education team. We have over 100 years of pedagogical experience on the team now producing an enormous amount of — we call them learning experience designers.”
He reckons that focus will stand pi-top in good stead as more educators turn their attention to how to arm their pupils with the techie skills of the future.
“There’s loads of competition but now the schools are looking they’re [asking] who’s the team behind the education outcome that you’re selling me?” he suggests. “And you know what if you don’t have a really strong education team then you’re seeing schools and districts become a lot more picky — because there is so much choice. And again that’s something I’m really excited about. Everybody’s always trying to do a commercial brand partnership deal. That’s just not something that we’ve focused on and I do really think that was a smart choice on our end.”
Lozano is also excited about a video the team has produced to promote the new product — which strikes a hip, urban note as pi-top seeks to inspire the next generation of makers.

“We really enjoy working in the education sector and I really, really enjoy helping teachers and schools deliver inspirational content and learning outcomes to their students,” he adds. “It’s genuinely a great reason to wake up in the morning.”

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Intel announces an inside-out tracking camera for robotics and AR/VR hardware

Intel is showing off a new RealSense camera with a specific focus on enabling hardware-makers to help their products understand where they are in the world. The RealSense Tracking Camera T265 is designed to easily present robotics and AR/VR hardware with inside-out tracking tech.
The Tracking camera utilizes SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) tech to orient the device while producing a detailed spatial layout of whatever environment it is in traversing. The camera is unsurprisingly powered by the Movidius Myriad 2 computer vision chipset, which handles the data processing for the camera.
Inside-out tracking has been getting less and less compute-intensive, this seems to be the area where Intel is making the most strides with the T265.
The T254 will start shipping at the end of February for $199.

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Epic Games buys 3Lateral, maker of super-realistic ‘digital humans’

Epic Games announced this morning that they’ve acquired Serbia-based 3Lateral, a game studio focused on designing more realistic computer-generated human characters.
The team of 60+ will be continuing their work with existing partners and maintaining their presence in Serbia. 3Lateral founder Vladimir Mastilovic will lead Epic Games’ worldwide digital humans efforts, the company says.
No details on a price or specific deal terms were given.
The non-digital human team behind 3Lateral
Epic Games, which operates Fortnite as well as the Unreal Engine game development platform, has worked with 3Lateral in the past on projects to push the level of realism and detail that are possible with human avatars. Epic has open-sourced this work for developers, the acquisition will likely further expand the capabilities of Unreal Engine users to promote more detailed character design.
“Real-time 3D experiences are reshaping the entire entertainment industry, and digital human technology is at the forefront. Fortnite shows that 200,000,000 people can experience a 3D world together. Reaching the next level requires capturing, personalizing, and conveying individual human faces and emotions,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said in a statement.

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Hulu drops the price for its streaming service to $6 per month, but raises prices for Live TV

While Netflix is raising prices, Hulu is lowering its own. In a move to better compete with streaming rivals – and pick up new customers who think Netflix just got too expensive – Hulu this morning announced it’s lowering the cost of its streaming service by $2.00 per month. Currently, the service is $7.99 monthly. After the price change goes into effect, it will only be $5.99.
Hulu’s changes come shortly after Netflix’s decision to raise the price for its most popular plan in the U.S. to $12.99 per month, up from $10.99. Its one-device plan is also now going up to $8.99 per month, and the four-device plan is $15.99.
Following Netflix’s announcement, various consumer surveys indicated that at least some Netflix customers may consider dropping the streaming service, as a result, or at least downgrade.
But how many people said they would actually ditch Netflix varied widely, depending on which survey you read. Streaming Observer, for example, said that 10 percent of customers were considering downgrading their plan and 65 percent would consider a discounted ad-supported plan, like Hulu. But Hub Entertainment Research said that 16 percent would downgrade, and only 9 percent said they’d leave Netflix.
In any event, if there are customers on the market now looking for a better deal on streaming, Hulu is ready to pick them up.
As another perk, Hulu in the past has seen higher engagement and retention from its $5.99 per month customers (who signed up for Hulu with a promotional discount). This also contributed to Hulu’s decision to make this its new price.
However, the company isn’t adjusting the price of its ad-free streaming service, which remains $11.99 per month, nor is it dropping the price of its Live TV service – in fact, that’s now going up.
To help make up for the fact that Hulu is using its core package as a loss leader, the price for Hulu with Live TV is increasing by $5, going from $39.99 to $44.99 per month. And the ad-free version of Hulu with Live TV is going up $7, from $43.99 to $50.99 per month.

Those new prices are dangerously close to – and in some cases, exactly the same as – the traditional cable TV package cord cutters are aiming to replace.
That could make it more difficult for Hulu to compete with other live TV packages – especially because some have the advantage of being bundled in with wireless service, like AT&T’s DirecTV Now or WatchTV. Meanwhile, others have found ways to keep prices down, like the sports-free bundle from Philo; the cheap $25/mo base package from Sling TV; or the $40/mo YouTube TV service with all your local channels (which also just became available nationwide).
Hulu’s higher pricing, however, indicates the company believes its service is worth the premium because it not only streams live programming from over 60 channels – it additionally includes Hulu’s large on-demand library of over 85,000 TV episodes, and its original content like The Handmaid’s Tale, Marvel’s Runaways, Future Man and Castle Rock.
However, Hulu is bringing down the price of some of its Live TV add-ons to make the package price increase more palatable.
Its Unlimited Screens and Enhanced Cloud DVR will each cost $5 less per month, going from $14.99 to $9.99/mo. And subscribers can buy a bundle with both for $14.98 per month.
Hulu says the new pricing will go into effect on February 26, 2019. Existing users are not being grandfathered in to current pricing, but will rather see the changes reflected on their billing cycle after the 26th.

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Posted in Tech News

Behold, a smartphone devoid of buttons and ports

Some call it madness. Others call it the next logical step in smartphone evolution. Meizu calls it, fitting, the “Zero.” It’s equal parts fascinating and maddening. And while being “totally seamless” with “a truly uninterrupted design” is probably not going to enough in and of itself to get people to purchase the thing, it’s hard to shake the idea that all handset manufactures are all heading in that direction anyway. So good on Meizu for getting there first, I suppose.

So, no Sim card slot, and no charging port — thank goodness for eSIM tech and wireless charging. There’s a fingerprint sensor under the front glass and the physical buttons have been replaced with virtual ones. As for the speaker grilles, those have been replaced by something the company calls “mSound 2.0,” which appears to utilize the screen for sound.
How well that will function versus a more traditional method remains to be seen. Honestly, it sound like a phone created on a dare, but an impressive feat nonetheless. Other specs include a 5.99 inch AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon 845 processor. The rest of the relevant info, like price and if/when it’s coming to the States are still very much up in the air.
Mobile World Congress next month seems as good a time as any to announce all of that.

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