Enhance your Thoughts

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a single-step process to print conductive material on cloth, allowing manufacturers to build stretchable wearables that can test vital signs like heart rate and muscle contraction.

From the release:

Now, Professor Takao Someya’s research group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering has developed an elastic conducting ink that is easily printed on textiles and patterned in a single printing step. This ink is comprised of silver flakes, organic solvent, fluorine rubber and fluorine surfactant. The ink exhibited high conductivity even when it was stretched to more than three times its original length, which marks the highest value reported for stretchable conductors that can be extended to more than two and a half times their original length.

Why is this important? Because it allows for the traces to and from electronic components to be amazingly stretchy. While components like chips and transistors are still hard to pull and bend, by allowing the connectors to bend and stretch in certain places you can create a tighter fit for measurement technologies and even bring connectors up close to your skin. The technology isn’t quite ready for prime time but it should be an interesting addition to the wearables world when it’s commercialized.

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There’s no shortage of products purporting to help teach kids coding these days, whether it’s Kano’s DIY computer kit, or the Robot Turtles board game, or any one of the manyprogrammable robots. Toys with a STEM twist that aim to keep kids tinkering and learning indoors are all the rage.

U.K. startup Naturebytes is bringing a different emphasis to this tech-plus-education space. It’s aiming to combine hackable technology with a mission to spark kids’ curiosity in the great outdoors. And given kids’ dictionaries have this year been jettisoning nature-related words such as acorn and buttercup, and adding in tech terms like broadband and ‘cut and paste’, there are perhaps signs technology risks becoming a little all consuming for ‘digital natives’.

Naturebytes has just kicked off a Kickstarter for a Raspberry Pi-powered camera trap kit for capturing wildlife photos. The idea is to inspire kids about what electronics and coding can do while also giving them an appetite for learning about and experiencing nature. Putting technology outdoors might also be a way to get kids interested who might otherwise prefer running around outdoors. Add to that, embedding technology in the natural environment is something we’re going to see more of, with the rise of the Internet of Things.

The weatherproof camera trap kit is designed to survive the elements. It houses a Raspberry Pi Model A microprocessor (other more powerful Pis can also be used), battery pack, Pi cam and an infrared sensor — a set up that enables motion-sensitive photo (and video) capture of any passing wildlife. The camera comes in kit form so kids get to put it all together and learn along the way. There’s also scope for expanding functionality — for instance the kit can be upgraded with a Wi-Fi link to automatically upload wildlife snaps.

As well as crowdfunding these hardware kits, Naturebytes is intending to build a web platform where users can share images they’ve captured with the camera, and get involved with citizen science projects. Kits start at £45 for more advanced makers who already have a Pi and Pi cam and want to 3D print the camera casing themselves. Stepping up to £85 for a kit that has everything except the Pi included, or £95 for all the bits and bobs.

At the time of writing the team has raised more than 10 per cent of their crowdfunding target, with a month left on their campaign clock. So not bad going. They’re targeting around $45,000 in total pledges in order to produce and ship their first batch of kits — with an estimated shipping schedule of December.

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Some of you may know that I hail from Canada, the country to the north of most of you that only occasionally enters your consciousness when someone mentions Drake or Bieber. Our nation’s symbolic birthday is July 1, next week, and so some #brands are looking to capitalize. Molson, maker of ‘Canadian’ beer, is one such #brand, but its project involved some real technical chops powered by Google’s software.

The key ingredient here is Google’s Speech Recognition API (though others like its translation services are also at work). The API lets the fridge recognize voice input in up to 40 different languages, with the ultimate goal of recognizing the single phrase “I am Canadian” (Molson’s longtime marketing slogan).

Once the fridge recognizes that signature phrase in six different languages, the door unlocks and it gives up its precious cargo of Molson Canadian cans. The working fridge was built by digital studio ThinkingBox (you can see the making of featurette below), and will actually appear in functional form in Toronto during the upcoming PanAm games coming up next month.

Of course, this is an unabashed marketing ploy from tip to toe – but it’s a well-executed one, and I find myself swelling with patriotic feels despite myself watching the first video above. Molson Canadian is still terrible beer, however.

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The Apple Watch is expanding beyond the launch group of countries today, shortly after the device first became available for in-store purchase at Apple Retail with a reservation. The international sales expansion includes Italy, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan as of today, and the next group includes the Netherlands, Sweden and Thailand starting July 17.

Here’s what today’s international sales debut looked like on the ground at Apple Stores around the world, via photos supplied by the company. My personal favorite is the one with the dog shopping companion:

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    Apple Store Puerta del Sol in Madrid
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    Apple Store Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich
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    Apple Store Puerta del Sol in Madrid
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    Apple Store Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich

Apple’s retail rollout of Watch has been slow, with initial sales restricted only to online orders. The device seems to have been severely supply constrained at launch, but Apple is catching up to demand, enabling both in-store sales and the addition of new countries to the list of places where it’s available.

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Although the Apple Watch boasts the ability to instantly notify users with important updates — breaking news stories, changes to their bank account or the achievement of a fitness goal — its 42mm screen can be a major constraint for developers and designers.

This is especially true for messaging applications, which must figure out how to create an essentials-only design that enables two-way communication without the luxury of a keyboard. When designing a messaging application for the Apple Watch there are several key considerations that must be kept in mind to ensure developers are creating something people will actually use.

Is the Apple Watch Worthy?

Jonathan Ive’s team developed the Apple Watch to help solve the problem they themselves created: smartphone addiction. Between the constant influx of notifications and the 24/7 connectivity to work, we are prisoners of our own devices.

Reluctantly, I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this in my personal life. As I play with my kids on a Saturday afternoon in the park, I can’t help but discreetly sneak a look at my phone every few minutes. We just cannot free ourselves from the thought of missing something important.

While critics claim otherwise, the Apple Watch actually frees us from our constant surreptitious phone-checking habit. By filtering the most important alerts and providing immediate notifications that can be absorbed with a glance, the Apple Watch causes users to pick up their phone less frequently and only for matters that involve a response.

Between the constant influx of notifications and the 24/7 connectivity to work, we are prisoners of our own devices.

Given the nature and purpose of the Apple Watch, the first question companies should ask is whether or not their business app interaction is worthy of immediate interruption. For enterprise messaging, the answer is a resounding Yes. The instant nature of messaging lends itself naturally for a new communication medium like the Apple Watch.

Starting From Scratch

Just like every app does not belong on the Apple Watch, every iPhone interface will not transfer to the face of a wristwatch. Over-simplification is important. You may think your iPhone app is sleek and simple, but everything changes when you drastically reduce the screen size.

Simplifying isn’t just about design; it’s about reducing the number of available features on the app. Many of the browsing or text-heavy portions of a smartphone platform are no longer applicable on the watch form factor, requiring developers to determine which features are used the most and eliminate the rest.

Color palettes on the Apple Watch also matter. Despite the assumption that a color palette would be the easiest part of the Apple Watch transition, it usually cannot be replicated from the smartphone. The Apple Watch’s black background and small screen size completely change the game, meaning that the de-saturated colors often used in traditional branding appear muted and are difficult to read, which forces designers to switch over to bright, high-contrast colors.

The Need For Context-Intelligent Responses

First and foremost, the Apple Watch is a notification platform. Punching out a lengthy message isn’t feasible without a keyboard, so messaging apps face a unique challenge not met by notification-based platforms. As we worked to solve this problem, we kept coming back to one central theme: speed.

Apple Watch users should be able to glance down at their wrist, instantly absorb the information they need and move on with their day. This is why Apple’s User Interface Guidelines suggest that app developers keep all interactions with the watch to less than 30 seconds.

With a 30-second time constraint, how do you empower users to read a notification and reply, while avoiding the often-awkward voice response? We focused on context-intelligent emojis and canned text responses to reply quickly. While the basic forms of both of these technologies have been available for years, they lacked context and the ability to accurately predict a user’s reply. That’s beginning to change.

Right now, enterprise messaging applications offer a series of canned responses, such as “Yes, I’m available now” or “We closed the deal.” Eventually, messaging applications will be able to gather relevant data to enable the creation of personalized and relevant response options.

For example, if a colleague asks to do lunch at 1pm, the app could gather information from a user’s calendar, current location, past preferences and outside data (such as access to OpenTable) to suggest personalized responses, such as “I’m not available until 1:30. Let’s meet at Salt House on Mission Street. They have tables available at that time.”

Looking Ahead

With the recent watchOS 2 announcement, which will support native apps as well as third-party complications, it is clear Apple views enriched third-party apps as critical to delivering a fully integrated wearable experience. Still, the full potential of messaging apps will not be realized until the Apple Watch can function without the iPhone.

Independent of this crutch, and with the capabilities of everything from instant communication to project management, the Apple Watch stands to become the ultimate convener, allowing users to seamlessly manage both their personal and professional lives.

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Raul Valdes-PerezCrunch Network Contributor

Raul Valdes-Perez is the co-founder of OnlyBoth.

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Robot writers are hot. No, that statement is not a call to fix their air conditioners, much less to date them. It’s to acknowledge that pioneers in artificial intelligence (AI) and automated writing have gotten a lot of media attention (partly because it hits close to home; the deployments are public and noticeable and it invokes the perennial concern about job loss due to automation).

So what does the future hold for robo-writers? Will technology leaders in natural language generation write up everything, relegating humans to mere readers? Some boosters within leading companies seem to imply that possibility, but of course that’s what boosters do; they boost and boast.

I predict that robot writers will emerge, but slowly. The main reason is that writers need to find something to say that is worth reading, whether that something is routine or consists of novel insights of lesser or greater generality. Computers can indeed cover the range from routine event summaries all the way up to novel discovery, but each competency requires work, and there’s no magic bullet, nor magic touchscreen.

To better understand the promise and limitations of robot writing, it helps to remove the specious double standards that people apply to AI-based software and to humans. One double standard consists of asserting that software can’t possibly perform X in circumstance Y, ignoring that people do it all the time. A different double standard is to imagine that if software does X, then it also can do Y, ignoring that people can’t because the skills don’t transfer.

Will robot writers write up everything? Let’s follow a single standard: Does a great and prolific science-fiction author threaten the job of a judge who writes judicial opinions? Of course not. Why not? Everybody learns to write more-or-less well.

The key ability is what to say. Writing enables, but doesn’t carry the day. It’s the content that constitutes the substantial job. Content is king, as was asserted some years ago in a different context.

Let’s apply the same standard to today’s leading automated writing companies that base their technologies on natural language generation. What tasks do these applications carry out? They excel at summarizing and narrating recurrent events that vary in their numeric details, players, attitude, etc. Recurrent events include earnings reports, sports game recaps, weather reports, perhaps even minor local elections.

Doing this well isn’t easy; it takes appreciable skill. Doing it with AI software is of course even harder. But it’s not the same task as the many other tasks that involve writing: Writing this opinion piece, responding to it with a rejection (not this time!), writing a mildly threatening letter to a contractor that loused up your kitchen, etc.

Can the even-hotter AI technology of machine learning be the impetus needed to accelerate new applications of automated writing? I’m skeptical, because machine learning’s starting point is typically many historical examples, which are then analyzed to discern the key attributes that distinguish one outcome from another. Supply lots of examples of judicial opinions that are overruled by the Supreme Court, plus lots that are upheld, and get your learning algorithm to figure out how to write a good opinion? Not likely.

Robot writing will tend to draw on classical AI to develop the knowledge-based systems that are needed to automate the task of finding something to say. That means studying the task logic, figuring out the space of possible outputs, adapting or devising heuristics that point to one output as better than another, programming it all up and so on. This takes time and skill.

Robot writers really need something worth saying. Just like people, they’ll have to pay their dues.

Featured Image: Kirill_M/Shutterstock

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LATEST: Watch the NASA press conference above, which should begin no earlier than 12:30 PM ET, to learn more about what happened during today’s failed CRS-7 mission launch.

Here’s a video of the explosion of the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule:

UPDATE: The SpaceX rocket seems to have broken apart entirely in what looks like a major mission failure. During the feed, the rocket start smoking and then appeared to come apart altogether about a minute or more into launch. The resupply mission was thankfully unmanned.

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UPDATE 2: SpaceX just tweeted to announce that the craft did indeed “experience an anomaly on ascent.”

The vehicle experienced an anomaly on ascent. Team is investigating. Updates to come.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 28, 2015

Elon Musk tweeted his own update shortly thereafter:

Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2015

This is the first major failure for a Falcon 9 mission, which number 19 total and date back to 2010.

UPDATE 3:NASA will host a press conference on the failed launch later today, currently planned for 12:30 PM ET (9:30 AM PT).

ISS Astronaut Scott Kelly posted the following to Twitter after the failed launch:

Watched #Dragon launch from @space_station Sadly failed Space is hard Teams assess below @NASAKennedy#YearInSpacepic.twitter.com/myi3col5Ix

— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 28, 2015

CRS-7 was a resupply mission, but astronauts on board the International Space Station don’t appear to be in any danger of running out of essentials as a result of this failure. Microsoft was putting its HoloLens augmented reality tech in space for the first time as part of CRS-7’s cargo, however.

UPDATE 4:Elon Musk tweeted the following about the potential cause behind the catastrophic failure:

There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2015

Original article:

Above, the feed for SpaceX’s CRS-7 resupply mission for the International Space Station is live. The streaming begins at 10 AM ET, with a liftoff targeted for 10:21 AM ET.

The mission also includes another attempt by SpaceX to recover its Falcon 9 reusable rocket stage, via an ocean-borne automated drone barge that doubles as a landing platform. SpaceX “>almost nailed the landing last time, with its CRS-6 launch on April 13.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been tweeting pictures of the drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ leaving port and preparing for this test. After last time’s near miss, his team is probably extra optimistic about its chances to nail the landing today.

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The eagle-eyed among you will notice something interesting about the Riverside Photocuring 3D Printer pictured above. Almost all of the design – from the removable build plate to the jolly front button – is a direct homage to the Formlabs Form 1. One could assume, therefore, that the Riverside should (and does) print 3D objects as well as the Form 1 and should be a comparable product. However, where the Form 1 costs $3,299 and has been tested for usability and safety, the Riverside costs $1,480.

In a normal market falling prices like these are just fine. You want a $20 t-shirt to eventually cost $2 because automation and mass production allow for lower prices and higher volume. However, in technology falling prices are dangerous. At lower price points technology doesn’t become a commodity, it becomes low-quality cruft. While I won’t say that $3,300 isn’t a lot of money, we can assume that Formlabs drove their price down as far as possible while taking into account research and development. The Riverside rides on the coattails of that design and even cuts a few corners to get there.

Arguably the Riverside has a few interesting features. The primary improvement is that it uses a resin container that lasts for “months and not weeks” because it uses a film to separate the resin from the base instead of delicate silicone. However it still uses open source software for modeling and the case design looks to be oddly primitive and derivative. It’s like one of those “cheap” Android tablets or netbooks that flooded the market, essentially destroying competition and, I would argue, tarnished Android’s reputation in the tablet market.

I don’t want to begrudge anyone a 3D-printing experience and I’m sure a maker on a budget would find the Riverside quite tempting. However, there is one thing that fans of low-cost technology don’t see: that the user experience, support, design, and usability are far better in most established makers than in new companies hell-bent on driving the prices down to take small profits in commodity sales and not on aftermarket equipment and support. Once again, the Riverside might be amazing but I’ve used enough downmarket FDM aka extrusion printers to know that once you pass a certain price point the quality falls precipitously.

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Could a manufacturer like Formlabs lower the price of their printer? Absolutely, and I’m sure they will. However, they can’t halve that price. The Form 1+ is a unique printer in that it serves both the consumer and the professional markets at the same time and is surprisingly easy to use thanks to solid software and hardware. The Riverside, which will be coming to Amazon in a few months, promises little more than a lower price. I worry that while this might be fine for some, it will probably be disappointing for many more.

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Digital privacy is on the ropes, and public cynicism is running high. But there are glimmers of innovation in what could be a new phase for Big Data: empowering the customer.

Fitbit and usage-based insurance (UBI) programs are prime examples of ways in which individuals can choose to trade personal data in a transparent market transaction. Organizations that make this possible, treating customers like data owners, can distinguish themselves competitively, increase brand loyalty and reap financial rewards. According to a recent survey by SDL, about half the consumers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia are willing to share personal information with vendors in exchange for loyalty programs and/or product/service incentives.

“I think a defining moral issue of the next decade will be that nobody should know more about your life than you do,” said Alistair Croll, founder of Solve For Interesting, in his keynote address at the Strata + Hadoop World conference in San Jose, California in February. Croll asserted that we are in “year zero” of a 10-year phase in which modern culture will be transformed by a “life feed” of information flows that Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft have the power to orchestrate.

But all of us, businesses and consumers alike, have a role to play. And the businesses that invite their customers to engage in transparent data transactions will create outsized benefits on both sides of the trade.

Personal Health

Wearable health devices make sense: informed people make better lifestyle decisions. And informed doctors provide better care, creating the right incentive to share vital data.

Startups like CipherHealth enable individuals to send sleep, diet and exercise metrics through wearables such as Fitbits to their doctor. Signs of risk prompt a reminder call to the patient, to ensure they visit the doctor when blood pressure spikes, their weight drops, etc. and solve problems before they get out control. This is just the start: Apple Watch and Apple HealthKit are spawning the creation of apps that help consenting users take their medication, adjust exercise, get recommended screenings and find the right doctor. One Drop is a free new app for diabetics to track and share their glucose, food, insulin and physical activity in exchange for tips about eating and living better.

Technology is helping a trend that is on the rise. Seven in 10 U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or someone else, and a third of those share data with others, according to research by the Pew Internet Project. Nearly half of them say personal health tracking has changed their approach and/or prompted new questions to their doctor. The results are reduced hospital visits, fewer costly hospital visits and better patient outcomes. Both sides benefit.

Usage-Based Insurance

Parents, commercial truckers and individual motorists now have the option to track their driving behavior with vehicle sensors, feeding personal driving profiles that are factored into auto insurance prices from companies such as Progressive. Both parties know more about their risks, and the resulting insurance price is more accurate. In addition, concerned parents and fleet operators are better able to reduce their risk. Cars are just the beginning. In April, John Hancock Financial started offering discounts to policyholders who wear Fitbits or other personal health devices. More steps lead to higher discounts.

The Model Applies Broadly

For decades, vendors have offered willing participants freebies for their opinions. I recently provided my coffee preferences and some demographic data in exchange for free airport Wi-Fi. This was entirely voluntary, as I was given the option to pay instead. But I chose to get my free Wi-Fi, and one or more vendors gained some customer insights, although to be honest I don’t buy enough coffee to merit close study.

Loyalty cards of all types have the same premise. Any financial services or retail company can apply the model to their customers: Let us understand you better and we will serve you better.

There is an argument that all of this feeds the larger problem. Consumers are losing their privacy, and it’s less of a choice each day as large companies essentially force customers to forfeit their data to play. We all need to surrender our social security numbers and tax records to get loans, for example. “You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to foresee a Faustian bargain — consent to a totally monitored world — emerging from these trends,” writes UC Berkeley researcher James Rule in a recent Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. (Disclosure: I received a graduate degree from UC Berkeley.)

But I agree with Alistair Croll: Nobody should know more about your life than you do. And companies that practice this philosophy will win in the next decade.

Featured Image: Ditty_about_summer/Shutterstock

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It’s the eve of Apple Music, which launches tomorrow, and all through the house, not a creature was withholding their content, not even a Taylor Swift. Also, Force Touch is basically a lock for iPhone 6/6 Plus S this fall, according to a new report from Bloomberg that says production on devices with the tech has begun.

Apple Music arrives with iOS 8.4 at 8 AM PT tomorrow, and despite the update requirement, it’s bound to be one of the busiest streaming music services around, even with the head start accrued by competitors like Spotify. We’ve seen it briefly at the WWDC launch where it was unveiled, but we’re eager to try it out for longer listening periods.

Also, Greg and Darrell discuss their dogs’ respective terror regarding fireworks, which is what makes this a very special July 4th/Canada Day holiday episode of the TechCrunch AppleCast.

Direct download available here, or find us on iTunes and SoundCloud.

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While companies like Warby Parker and Toms Shoes have made corporate responsibility more popular over the past few years, the technology industry hasn’t adapted as quickly.

Meet LSTN, a headphone company where proceeds from each sale help someone hear for the first time. The company has partnered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and has already helped over 20,000 people in more than six different countries.

LSTN’s headphones are also designed to be stylish. Each pair is encased in real ebony wood and superior audio components. Bridget Hilton, founder of LSTN, explained that while most headphone companies use generic mass-produced drivers (the small speaker inside a headphone), LSTN uses custom-made drivers that properly resonate with the wood material. This gives the headphones a unique sound — better than most other competitors on the market.

The company has also had a great deal of early retail success. LSTN was the first electric device ever in a Whole Foods on the West Coast, and other retail partners include Nordstrom and Brookstone.

Started in April 2013, the company has sold over 100,000 pairs thus far. Prices range from $49.99 (for earbuds) to $199.99 (for the newest Encore edition with mic). Hilton shared that the company soon plans to expand into other sound equipment outside of headphones, and will release eight new products before the end of the year.

While originally bootstrapped, last November the company raised a one million dollar seed round to accelerate its growth.

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Moawia Eldeeb has one of the more unfathomable and inspiring stories I’ve ever come across while working in Silicon Valley.

He was born to a farming family in Egypt and then made his way to Queens as a child where he earned $20 a day working in a pizza shop. He was in and out of school for years, then caught up on Khan Academy and later made it into Columbia University’s computer science program.

Now he’s founded a Y Combinator-backed company called Smartspot, which has just raised $1.85 million from Khosla Ventures and Signalfire.

They are a computer vision startup that re-imagines gym equipment and personal training. With a Kinect camera connected to a flat-panel screen, they’ll monitor a person’s workout and weight-lifting to make sure all of their postures and angles are correct. You can see how it works below.

Longer-term, the idea is that the $2,500 equipment can decouple personal trainers from needing to be physically there with a client, which would dramatically reduce the cost of personal training. A trainer would be able to review recorded videos from a Smartspot and give online feedback. Eldeeb and his co-founder Joshua Augustin have their Smartspot system in 10 gyms already and are trying to build out a new personal trainer program.

“This is the first time where personal training is not with a person standing next to you,” Eldeeb said.

They’ve built out a team with four people and they’re trying to hire three more in iOS and Android development.

Ben Ling is the VC from Khosla who’s leading their investment. That wasn’t a surprise to me when I heard because Ling is a known fitness buff.

“Ben works out all the time and he’s really personal with our company,” Eldeeb said.” Whatever his dreams or ideas are, he just helps us make it in our product.”

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Pinterest is starting to roll out a buy button on its pins today in the iPhone and iPad apps, the company said.

Buyable Pins let some retailers who are partners with Pinterest and retailers use Shopify and Demandware. The company unveiled Buyable Pins earlier this month, and said at the time that they would be rolling out later in June. The tool lets retailers add a buy button to pins that let users purchase products directly from Pinterest. Users will start getting emails when they can purchase products.

The buy button shows up on Rich Pins, which have much more information than just a normal pin with a link to a product. After putting in their credit card and address, users will get what they purchase delivered to them once they click the buy button. The buy button shows up in all the app’s features, like search and the home feed.

Around two-thirds of the content on Pinterest is pinned by people from business websites, Pinterest’s general manager of monetization Tim Kendall told TechCrunch at the time of the launch. For now, businesses will not be able to promote buyable pins, Kendall said at the time. Pinterest also said today that it’s working with Braintree for some merchants like Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus. Pinterest also works with Stripe to power its payments.

So, of course, this benefits Pinterest. If there’s more content in the app, and users are okay with most of it being from businesses, then there are more pins for users to discover. If they’re able to buy things directly from Pinterest, then they’ll be more likely to come back and buy products. That benefits advertisers on Pinterest and also gives the company a stronger reason to come back to the app every day.

Featured Image: Pinterest

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Apple has a new update available for GarageBand on the Mac, which provides a range of new tools aimed primarily at electronic dance music creators. The update offers an expansion of GarageBand’s Drummer tool, adding 10 new EDM and 10 new Hip Hop virtual drummers to the existing crop of acoustic ‘players.’ There’s also a new ‘Transform Pad Smart Control,’ which is a virtual input tool that lets you shape the sound you’re creating in real-time.

The update also brings support for Apple’s Force Touch trackpad, allowing users to vary the strength of some tools based on pressure changes from their presses on the trackpad on the new MacBook, and the latest Retina MacBook Pro models.

There’s plenty more besides, including a ton of new content for EDM and Hip Hop artists: 20 new electronic drum kits, plus 100 new synthesizer patches for that type of music, and 1,000 new loops across genres and a range of instruments. The goal with this update was to make it a lot easier for even novice and hobbyist EDM artists to get the most out of Apple’s free Garage Band software, which ships on every new Mac the company makes.

2. Transform Pad Smart Controls

The new Transform Pad Smart Control is the most interesting part of the whole thing, with an interface divided into eight sections that you can drag your cursor across to change the sound you’re creating. how far across each you move your pointer affects the sound, and the effects of your manipulation occur live on the track, and can be recorded directly as an adjustment layer for later playback.

The new version of GarageBand on iOS also allows for direct sharing to Apple Music Connect for artists who’ve enabled their account there, and that functionality is also going to arrive on the Mac app, albeit at a slightly later date.

This latest update is available now, and free for all existing users. New users who don’t have GarageBand from a Mac purchase can get it for $4.99 from the Mac App Store.

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Shapeways, a 3D printing service and marketplace, announced a $30 million Series D round led by INKEF Capital.

The round was supported by new investors like Hewlett Packard Ventures and Presidio Ventures, as well as existing investors like Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. Robert Jan Galema of INKEF Capital will also join the Shapeways board.

Here’s how Shapeways works: After users sign up, they can create an online store to sell their own (or commission a designer to make) 3D designs, à la Etsy. However, the main difference is that Shapeways will handle the actual printing and shipping of the item.

These products aren’t the same kinds that you are 3D printing with you desktop MakerBot. The company uses multiple advanced 3D printing techniques which allows them to print with more than 20 types of plastics and metals, including Gold, Steel, and full color plastic. This allows designers to sell 3D items ranging from plastic phone stands to a gold ring, all in one shop.

Since the company launched 7 years ago they have printed a total of 2.5 million products, with 150,000 new designed uploaded monthly to the site.

Recently, the company announced a partnership with Adam Savage of MythBusters and DJI Drones, which will help the company create an ecosystem for 3D-printed drone parts.

This funding follows a similar $30 million series C round from about two years ago, which was used to grow the team and build new factories to allow for more local production of products. Shapeways noted in a blog post that this new capital will be used to invest in the community and to work on new features and materials for its printing platform.

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Energous WattUp Power Transmitter

Technology that can wirelessly power our devices on the go could change our world. Imagine never having to plug in your cell phone again, or technology that continuously keeps your electronic car battery running.

According to Energous Corporation, that day is just around the corner. Energous’ WattUp is a wireless charger for electronic devices. It can charge your cell phone and other battery-enabled devices on the go using something that is already abundantly flowing all around us – radio waves.

There are several companies approaching this same problem in different ways. Nikola Labs presented at TechCrunch Disrupt a couple years back with the same idea – turning radio frequency signals into battery power. Energous told us that their tech could be ready for the consumer market possibly this next year.

We went to the company’s San Jose headquarters to take a look at how it works.

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Think of Anki Overdrive as slot cars for the smartphone age. With upgrades, achievements and characters, it’s a perfect marriage of smartphones with physical toys. The system debuted two years ago and the company has steadily upgraded the system since. But today, the company revealed the ship date and price of its next generation product, Anki Overdrive.

Anki debuted the Overdrive track system earlier this year. Unlike the original system which was a massive mat, Overdrive features individual track sections similar to the slot car tracks of old. This system allows for endless track layouts and even more fun than the original.

This system will start shipping in the US, UK and Germany on September 20. The $150 starter pack will include two cars and ten pieces of track. Additional track sections can be purchased separately. The company also announced six new cars today, each with different traits and abilities.

At $150 Anki Overdrive is about twice the price of a modest slot car track. But with Anki, unlike normal slot cars, as players earn points and achievements, the cars become faster, more agile and better. The cars get physically faster. It’s a rad system and worth the price of admission.

A First Look At Anki Overdrive

Anki Drive’s Next Upgrade
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One of the main issues with current 360-degree VR technology is that a successful experience typically requires a user to have both creation and consumption devices. While companies like Oculus and Samsung have begun to bring VR consumption devices to market, there is still a lack of consumer-targeted cameras that are capable of creating 360-degree VR compatible video.

Recently launched on Kickstarter, Sphericam 2 aims to provide a solution by allowing photographers to easily capture high-quality 360-degree video.

The camera is about the size of a tennis ball, and has six built-in 4K lenses to capture 360-degree video at 60fps. Sphericam 2 will also have WiFi, allowing you to live stream video to desktop or mobile devices.

The device is the second iteration of Sphericam, with the first successfully launched on Kickstarter and shipped in 2013. Jeffrey Martin, the inventor of Sphericam, is a 360-degree photo guru and holds the world record for “Largest Panorama Photo,” which is a 320 gigapixel photo of London.

VR has been steadily gaining popularity, especially with YouTube recently adding support for 360- degree video. The music industry specifically seems to be quickly embracing the medium, with musicians ranging from Paul McCartney to Hardwell both recently releasing video of concerts shot in 360 degrees.

Happy Friday of a long weekend, everyone!

To celebrate America’s Independence Day, we’ve chosen some extra fun topics for this week’s episode of the TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast. Lexus teased out a new hoverboard this week, because the world clearly isn’t weird enough yet. Anki is preparing to ship its second-generation robotic track cars very soon. And Bowling Central has figured out a way to turn your Apple Watch into a Wii-type controller for a bowling game.

This week’s episode of the TC Gadgets Podcast is brought to you by Jordan CrookGreg Kumparak and Matt Burns.

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific. And feel free to check out the TechCrunch Gadgets Flipboard magazine right here.

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PicoBrew is a beer-centered startup in Seattle, founded by brothers Bill and Jim Mitchell (Bill being an ex-Microsoft executive) and Avi Geiger. It is, in short, magical.

The machine at the heart of their operation is the Zymatic — an apparatus that simplifies one of the main steps in beer making by reducing the need to monitor the cooking process of creating wort (unfermented beer). This web-connected device provides temperature data about each step of the brewing process and automatically transfers wort to and from kegs with the intention of letting you “set it and forget it.”

Their goal is to make it possible for a novice brewer to make a good batch of beer on their very first attempt and through mechanization and standardization.

Some might say that this destroys part of the “art” in beer making—something that takes years to perfect. I think that is a bit of a simplistic way to look at it. For sure, their goal is to make the results of your beer making escapades the same every time (assuming you follow your recipe), but any great artist knows how to use new tools and bend the rules. So I think it’s just one more tool to use.

But more than just a machine, PicoBrew’s whole process of providing recipe info, excellent technical support and plans for a brew shop marketplace make it a compelling concept for home brewers of all types.

The Zymatic in action is documented at that is point and so most of my interest lies in their startup business model and the potential in the marketplace.

PicoBrew’s research indicates that coffee and beer share many commonalities and this reveals there is a market opportunity for home brewing. Therefore, with this device, the company aspires to make home brewing as easy as making coffee. I don’t know if that is truly doable, but by comparison to normal beer making, the Zymatic definitely streamlines the process about as much as possible.

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In a conversation with PicoBrew’s VP of Marketing Donald Brewer (!!) we discussed how the Zymatic already plays a roll for some breweries to cheaply make new, experimental batches—sort of a tool for innovation and experimentation. Even more interesting to me is the opportunity for small brewers—who do not have national or even regional distribution of their beer—to possibly be able to sell the intellectual property of their recipes so that people who want their beer, can replicate it at home.

For a model like that to be successful, the technology for brewing at home would have to be precise enough to replicate the taste closely, but that’s where the standardization they are going for comes into play. Interesting.

Still, to be completely sure of a product like this, I felt it was important to go through the whole process…so I did.

I made beer with it and it was good. And while the process at first seemed laborious to such a noob as myself, after I compared using the Zymatic to manual beer making…it seemed pretty easy. Most of what seemed tedious to me was my own double and triple checking of processes and timing. It would be way easier a second time.

I did consult the company’s Master Brewer Annie Johnson on occasion and also utilized their support email system (which was excellent), but most of that was done after I had already gone through various steps—more like double-checking my brewing decisions.

The bottom line though is I made a good beer on the first try. While I have decades of experience drinking beer, I have zero experience making beer. However, I followed the instructions, and I made beer that tasted good the very first time with no brewing experience.

The machine – which retails for $1999 – might seem expensive to some (and let’s be honest, 2K is not pocket change), but by comparison to high end esspresso machines it also seems reasonable. I’m guessing if you are a serious home brewer, the expense might make sense based on the time saved from this process.

For sure, it’s work and expense to make beer versus buying a six pack at the store. It takes time, patience and you need gear and preparation. This machine is probably not for everyone, but if you are the type who likes to cook and make things or home brew, I’m not sure there’s an easier way to make beer at home.

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