You can do it, robot! Watch the beefy, 4-legged HyQReal pull a plane

Posted by | Europe, Gadgets, hardware, hyqreal, italian institute of technology, Italy, Moog, robotics, science | No Comments

It’s not really clear just yet exactly what all these powerful, agile quadrupedal robots people are working on are going to do, exactly, but even so it never gets old watching them do their thing. The latest is an Italian model called HyQReal, which demonstrates its aspiration to winning strongman competitions, among other things, by pulling an airplane behind it.

The video is the debut for HyQReal, which is the successor to HyQ, a much smaller model created years ago by the Italian Institute of Technology, and its close relations. Clearly the market, such as it is, has advanced since then, and discerning customers now want the robot equivalent of a corn-fed linebacker.

That’s certainly how HyQReal seems to be positioned; in its video, the camera lingers lovingly on its bulky titanium haunches and thick camera cage. Its low slung body recalls a bulldog rather than a cheetah or sprightly prey animal. You may think twice before kicking this one.

The robot was presented today at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, where in a workshop (documented by IEEE Spectrum) the team described HyQReal’s many bulkinesses.

It’s about four feet long and three high, weighs 130 kilograms (around 287 pounds), of which the battery comprises 15 — enough for about two hours of duty. It’s resistant to dust and water exposure and should be able to get itself up should it fall or tip over. The robot was created in collaboration with Moog, which created special high-powered hydraulics for the purpose.

It sounds good on paper, and the robot clearly has the torque needed to pull a small passenger airplane, as you can see in the video. But that’s not really what robots like this are for — they need to generate versatility and robustness under a variety of circumstances, and the smarts to navigate a human-centric world and provide useful services.

Right now HyQReal is basically still a test bed — it needs to have all kinds of work done to make sure it will stand up under conditions that robots like Spot Mini have already aced. And engineering things like arm or cargo attachments is far from trivial. All the same it’s exciting to see competition in a space that, just a few years back, seemed totally new (and creepy).

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Instagram’s vertical IGTV surrenders to landscape status quo

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Entertainment, IGTV, instagram, Instagram IGTV, Mobile, Social, TC, YouTube | No Comments

A year ago Instagram made a bold bet with the launch of IGTV: That it could invent and popularize a new medium of long-form vertical videos. Landscape uploads weren’t allowed. Co-founder Kevin Systrom told me in August that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Now a dedicated hub for multi-minute portrait-mode video won’t exist anywhere at all. Following lackluster buy-in from creators loathe to shoot in a proprietary format that’s tough to reuse, IGTV is retreating from its vertical-only policy. Starting today, users can upload traditional horizontal landscape videos too, and they’ll be shown full-screen when users turn their phones sideways while watching IGTV’s standalone app or its hub within the main Instagram app. That should hopefully put an end to crude ports of landscape videos shown tiny with giant letterboxes slapped on to soak up the vertical screen.

Instagram spins it saying, “Ultimately, our vision is to make IGTV a destination for great content no matter how it’s shot so creators can express themselves how they want . . . .  In many ways, opening IGTV to more than just vertical videos is similar to when we opened Instagram to more than just square photos in 2015. It enabled creativity to flourish and engagement to rise – and we believe the same will happen again with IGTV.”

Last year I suggested IGTV might have to embrace landscape after a soggy start. “Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources,” I wrote.

The coming influx of repurposed YouTube videos could drive more creators and their fans to IGTV. To date there have been no break-out stars, must-see shows or cultural zeitgeist moments on IGTV. Instagram refused to provide a list of the most viewed long-form clips. Sensor Tower estimates just 4.2 million installs to date for IGTV’s standalone app, amounting to less than half a percent of Instagram’s billion-plus users downloading the app. It saw 3.8 times more downloads per day in its first three months on the market than than last month. The iOS app sank to No. 191 on the US – Photo & Video app charts, according to App Annie, and didn’t make the overall chart.

Instagram has tried several changes to reinvigorate IGTV already. It started allowing creators to share IGTV previews to the main Instagram feed that’s capped at 60 seconds. Users can tap through those to watch full clips of up to 60 minutes on IGTV, which has helped to boost view counts for video makers like BabyAriel. And earlier this week we reported that IGTV had been quietly redesigned to ditch its category tabs for a central feed of videos that relies more on algorithmic recommendations like TikTok and a two-wide vertical grid of previews to browse like Snapchat Discover.

But Instagram has still refused to add what creators have been asking for since day one: monetization. Without ways to earn a cut of ad revenue, accept tips, sign up users to a monthly patronage subscription or sell merchandise, it’s been tough to justify shooting a whole premium video in vertical. Producing in landscape would make creators money on YouTube and possibly elsewhere. Now at least creators can shoot once and distribute to IGTV and other apps, which could fill out the feature with content before it figures out monetization.

For viewers and the creators they love, IGTV’s newfound flexibility is a positive. But I can’t help but think this is Instagram’s first truly massive misstep. Nine months after safely copying Snapchat Stories in 2016, Instagram was happy to tout it had 200 million daily users. The company still hasn’t released a single usage stat about IGTV usage. Perhaps after seemingly defeating Snap, Instagram thought it was invincible and could dictate how and what video artists create. But the Facebook pet proved fallible after all. The launch and subsequent rethinking should serve as a lesson. Even the biggest platforms can’t demand people produce elaborate proprietary content for nothing in return but “exposure.”

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Spansive’s first wireless charger powers multiple phones simultaneously and works through thick cases

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Pi Charging, Spansive, TC, wireless chargers | No Comments

When Pi Charging (winner of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017) rebranded as Spansive last month, the company also dropped plans for its previously shown cone-shaped charger capable of charging phones placed within a few inches around it. That charger would’ve required special cases for each device — and as the world quickly adopted built-in wireless charging standards like Qi, that no longer seemed like the right move.

They did say, however, that they were working on a different, Qi-centric wireless charging device with a “few tricks” of its own, and that it’d arrive by summer. This is that charger.

Called the Spansive Source, it’s a base station capable of wirelessly charging four phones at once. Unlike their cone-shaped charger, you’ll need to set your phone pretty much right on top of the Source — but unlike most pad-based wireless chargers, you won’t need to fuss with getting it aligned just right. Built using some of the same concepts they’d figured out with the cone-shaped charger, Spansive tells me that Source can determine where your phone is placed on the pad and adjust its array of magnetic charging coils accordingly. It’s also able to charge right through many brands of phone cases.

Spansive CEO and co-founder John MacDonald brought a few of his chargers to our office — and, while it’s tough in a short demo to gauge how well something like this works, it seemed to do what they promised. He placed one phone after another onto the base station, and each one’s screen lit up, its respective battery percentage ticking upward. He placed a phone with a thick Otterbox on the charger; it started juicing right up. The last phone he added to the pile had an Otterbox and a PopSocket on it, and it seemed to work all the same.

Spansive says Source charges at a rate of up to 5W for each phone being charged wirelessly, while the USB ports push up to 12W. MacDonald tells me that the wireless charging rate isn’t impacted by the number of phones on the pad; in other words, the first phone won’t charge slower just because you’ve added another phone or two to the charger.

MacDonald was careful to note that the Source is built to charge phones, specifically. The angled design would make resting something like an Apple Watch on it a bit awkward, for example — so Source also has two USB ports on its side, meant to help charge your various other devices. Even within the phone category, Spansive isn’t promising full compatibility across all Qi phones right off the bat; MacDonald tells me they’ve focused on getting it to work with Samsung’s Galaxy phones (beginning with the S7) and iPhones (beginning with iPhone 8), with certification/compatibility with other phones likely coming down the road via over-the-air software update. It has Wi-Fi built-in for pulling down those updates, with a button on Source’s base for wiping your Wi-Fi credentials with a tap if you don’t want yet another IoT device on your network indefinitely.

Source goes up for sale today at $189, shipping immediately in two colors: white and charcoal.

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Google Assistant gets NYC subway arrival times ahead of MTA Google Pay support

Posted by | Google, Google Pay, Google-Maps, Maps, Mobile, MTA, Subway, Transportation | No Comments

Next week, New York City’s Metro Transit Authority will be adding contactless payment support for Google Pay. In the meantime, Google’s getting ready by bringing a key new commuting feature to Android.

Starting today, NYC straphangers can use Google Assistant to find out the ETA of the next train. Saying, “Hey Google, when is the next 4 train arriving?” or “Hey Google, when is the next train?” Will pop up its estimated arrival in each direction, along with walking directions to the closet station. Something I could have used this morning, after narrowly missing the R train.

If you’re located in the New York City area, odds are you’ve already seen the contactless payments pop up in a handful of locations along the 4,5,6 line. Next week, those commuting between Grand Central in Manhattan and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be able to swipe their phone as part of a public pilot.

For now, at least, it seems the future is limited to single-ride payment (versus daily/weekly/monthly cards), as the MTA works on hammering out the finer details. Stations that accept Google Pay will be added to Maps in coming weeks. Android users will also be able to add a credit or debit card via the app. That feature is also arriving for riders in Melbourne and London.

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Indiegogo hires Reddit’s Andy Yang as new CEO

Posted by | Andy Yang, Gadgets, indiegogo, Personnel, Reddit, Startups | No Comments

Indiegogo has a new chief. Andy Yang will take over for outgoing CEO David Mandelbrot, who is stepping down. According to sources close to the company, several other Indiegogo employees are also leaving. Indiegogo has yet to confirm this claim or state the number or reason for their departure.

Mandelbrot announced the move on LinkedIn, citing “personal reasons” as why he’s leaving. He was at Indiegogo for six years, starting as SVP of Operations in August of 2013.

Andy Yang comes to Indiegogo from Reddit, where he was most recently leading its product team. He was previously the CEO of 500px.

Yang comes to Indiegogo at a critical time for the company. Consumers are increasingly becoming jaded by crowdfunding projects that leave backers without their promised product. Under Mandelbrot’s leadership, he helped Indiegogo net several key partners, including General Electric and Lego. The company also enlisted the help of several manufacturing and marketing professionals to help backers make projects into products.

TechCrunch requested an interview with Yang, but has yet to be granted that request.

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Future launches $150/mo exercise app where real coaches nag you

Posted by | Apps, Exercise, funding, Fundings & Exits, Future, Health, Kleiner Perkins, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

The only way to beat laziness is with guilt, so that’s what Future sells. It assigns you an actual human trainer who builds personalized workout plans and messages you throughout the day to make sure you’re doing them. It even gives you an Apple Watch to track your activity and ensure you’re not lying. Future actually got me to the gym where my coach kicked my ass remotely with a 30-minute lifting routine I’d never have stuck to by myself.

The catch? It’s probably the most expensive app you’ve ever seen, charging $150 per month.

Future officially launches today. Luckily it comes with a one-month money-back guarantee that CEO Rishi Mandal says has only been redeemed once. It’s produced some stunning stats from its beta tests: 95% of users stuck with it for three months, and 85% kept training for six months. That’s unheard of in fitness tech.

Future’s welcome kit includes a water bottle and Apple Watch

The remarkable retention and Future’s potential to become a gateway for your exercise and nutrition spending have roped in some big-name investors. Today it’s announcing an $8.5 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins with partner Mamoon Hamid joining the board, building on its $3 million seed. Other backers include Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund and Caffeinated Capital. Athletes are betting on Future’s promise of democratizing the personal training they get, including Golden State Warrior Sean Livingston, and NFL stars Ndamukong Suh and Kelvin Beachum.

“Future manages to be both deeply personalized (and personable!) while being super convenient,” says Krieger of one of his first investments since leaving Instagram. Future’s Mandal built his old startup Sosh while sitting next to Krieger at incubator Dogpatch Labs, where Instagram was getting its start. “The always-available nature of it means travel or a shifting schedule is no longer an excuse to not work out.”

How Future works (out)

Throughout the onboarding, Future flexes the money you spend to offer what feels like a luxury app experience.

Upon signup, you’ll answer some questions about your goals like slimming down or beefing up, and pick from a few expert trainers matched to your needs. You’ll do a 15-minute video chat with your trainer to get friendly, describe your schedule and hammer out details of your workout plan. After you get your welcome kit with some swag and an Apple Watch, your trainer delivers your week’s worth of personalized daily routines that come with video instructions for each exercise. The Future app provides audio cues (and optional music) to guide you through the workouts while your trainer chimes in with personalized pointers and motivation via pre-recorded voice clips.

Future’s app guides you through workouts with instructional video clips and audio cues

But what’s unique about Future is that your trainer proactively checks in with you throughout your day to make sure you’re actually going to the gym or doing those pushups. Because you don’t switch between trainers with each workout like some apps, and because they have your activity and heart-rate data from the Apple Watch, they can spot patterns of procrastination or flaking out. You’re prompted to give feedback after each sweat session that the trainer uses to tweak your plan. That personalization and prodding go a long way to making sure Future always fits your day and actually stays part of it.

For example, I wanted to burn a few pounds without burning too much time by adding a gym day or two plus some warmup strength training before my home Peloton rides. My trainer Renee Zernicke, a former University of Wisconsin director of Sports Performance for basketball, designed a 30-minute weight-lifting circuit and some 10-minute bodyweight exercise plans for me. When I messaged her that I was doing a more intense spin class today, she remixed my warmup exercises to avoid legs so I wouldn’t be tired during my ride. So far she’s always responded within a few minutes, and been cheerful yet forceful. “I know your days are slammed, just wanted to check in and see if you were able to get to that spin class?” she messaged me at 6:30pm. That’s something even most in-person trainers don’t do.

Future matches you with several trainer options

I found most of the workout instructions easy to understand, and the audio cues make it easy to do routines without constantly staring at your phone. But the one thing you really lose with a text message trainer instead of an in-person coach is warnings when you’re doing something wrong. Bad posture or jerky motions could get you injured. It’s all a lot smoother if you know your way around a gym. Future could do more to gauge your familiarity with proper form for riskier exercises, and then either teach you or steer you away from them. I hope I’m so sore today because I’m getting built, not getting hurt.

Your pocket motivational speaker

My trainer Renee encouraging me to get to the gym

Future was inspired by some scary facts. “Seventy percent of Americans are obese and overweight,” Mandal tells me. “We spend $3.5 trillion per year on healthcare, yet we have pretty mediocre outcomes.” Mandal had gone through Stanford, worked at NASA and been at Slide when it was acquired by Google. After selling his local experience app Sosh to Postmates, he became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures, which does many medtech investments. There, Mandal realized health is largely determined by how you eat, sleep, deal with stress, take your medicine and exercise.

Thanks to smart watches, that last one had become the easiest to measure while remaining the toughest to do right on your own. Mandal set out to learn what the fittest people, professional athletes, do for exercise. They all said they relied on personal trainers to make all the workout plans and force them to do them. Home gyms or apps full of pre-made exercises weren’t enough. They needed someone to keep them accountable.

The trouble is that’s pretty expensive one-on-one. So Mandal teamed up with Justin Santamaria, a 10-year Apple veteran from the first iOS team who’d been working on iMessage and FaceTime. Together they designed Future in 2017 to make personal trainers cheap enough to be more accessible while retaining the personal connection that keeps trainees on track.

If you won’t shell out $150 per month to be nagged, there are plenty of apps like Sweat that let you choose between guided workouts. Hell, if you’ve got that much will power you could get any gym membership or just go running. But the closest thing to Future, called Fit.net, folded. AI trainers like Freeletics can’t make you feel guilty or inspired the same way. Lose It and MyFitnessPal can get fellow trainees to badger you, but Mandal found people don’t obey peers like a respected trainer.

The constant communication and sense of trust users develop with their coaches could give Future potential beyond subscription fitness. The app becomes a hub for your healthy behavior. Future already offers an in-app Shop where it recommends workout clothes, headphones and water bottles. It’s easy to imagine it partnering with fitness equipment makers, health food lines or other brands to score a cut of referred sales. “We become your most important relationship regarding your health. You only talk to your doctor two times to three times per year,” says Mandal. But you might tell your trainer you’re looking for ways to eat healthier or sleep better. “Over time, that’s the opportunity.”

Still, the biggest hurdle is convincing people to pay more than 10X their Netflix fee for a personal trainer they don’t see in person. Compared to the $1 apps we’re used to, Future can induce sticker shock. But compared to unused gym memberships, pricey private coaching and potential health problems, Future could look affordable if well-to-do professionals squint right. Humans are sluggish. Most healthy habits lapse. But Future is building the closest thing to “press button, pay money, get fitter” — which in the end looks like getting someone to enthusiastically shame/support us from afar.

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A cryptocurrency stealing app found on Google Play was downloaded over a thousand times

Posted by | app-store, apple wallet, Apps, computing, cryptocurrency, e-commerce, Google Play, iPhone, Mobile, mobile app, online marketplaces, operating systems, Security | No Comments

Researchers have found two apps masquerading as cryptocurrency apps on Android’s app store, Google Play.

One of them was largely a dud. The second was designed to steal cryptocurrency, the researchers said.

Security firm ESET said one of the two fake Android apps impersonated Trezor, a hardware cryptocurrency wallet. The good news is that the app couldn’t be used to steal cryptocurrency stored by Trezor. But the researchers found the app was connected to a second Android app that could have been used to scam funds out of unsuspecting victims.

Lukas Stefanko, a security researcher at ESET — who has a long history of finding dodgy Android apps — said the fake Trezor app “appeared trustworthy at first glance” but was using a fake developer name to impersonate the company.

The fake app was designed to trick users into turning over a victim’s login credentials. Uploaded to Google Play on May 1, the app quickly ranked as the second-most popular search result when searching for “Trezor” behind the legitimate app, said Stefanko. Users on Reddit also found the fake app and reported it as recently as two weeks ago.

According to Stefanko, the server where user credentials were sent was linked to a website linked to another fake wallet, purportedly to store cryptocurrency, and also listed on Google Play since February 25.

“The app claims it lets its users create wallets for various cryptocurrencies,” said Stefanko. “However, its actual purpose is to trick users into transferring cryptocurrency into the attackers’ wallets – a classic case of what we’ve named wallet address scams in our previous research into cryptocurrency-targeting malware.”

Both apps were collectively downloaded more than a thousand times. After ESET contacted Google, the apps were pulled offline the next day.

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Panic’s Playdate is a pint-sized gaming machine with a ‘season’ of 12 intriguing titles

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, gaming console, hardware, panic, playdate, TC | No Comments

Tired of your smartphone games, and don’t want to take the Switch with you on the train today? Panic, renowned creator of useful Mac apps and more recently publisher of interesting games, has created a tiny handheld console that goes anywhere and receives a regular trickle of new games. It’s called Playdate.

One has to admire the gumption of jumping into a space that has been so thoroughly dominated by Nintendo and smartphones over the last decade that hardly anyone has even attempted to break in. But Panic isn’t trying to build an empire — just do something interesting and new.

“Nothing’s surprising anymore and surprises are great!” reads the Playdate’s FAQ. “Panic saw an opportunity for something truly different in the world of video games. Something small-scale that could deliver a dose of fun and delight to video game players who have otherwise seen it all.”

It’s different, all right. Bright yellow with a black and white screen and with no spot for removable media like cartridges, the Playdate is more or less self-contained, except of course for the charger and wireless connection. And it’s over the wireless connection that the games come: 12 of them, exclusives created by well-known developers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Bennett Foddy (Getting Over It) and Zach Gage (Ridiculous Fishing).

They appear one at a time, weekly; the first title is Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Takahashi. Oh, right — did I mention it has a crank?

Yes, the gadget has the usual d-pad and two buttons, but on the side is a little crank that you’ll be using in all these weird little games. In the first one, for instance, you use it to advance and reverse time. Perhaps you’ll be reeling in fish, charging a flashlight, grinding stones for crafting or any number of other tasks. It’s not necessary for every game, though, so don’t worry if it seems too weird. (The crank was the inspired choice of Teenage Engineering, Panic’s hardware design partner.)

In case you didn’t notice, the games are also black and white. The 2.7-inch, 400×240 screen has no backlight; it isn’t e-paper, but rather just an LCD without color filters. I’ve been saying we should do this for years! It should make for improved battery life and change the way you play a bit — in bed by the light of a lamp instead of on the couch looking at a bright screen.

“We thought Playdate needed to be a different experience than the one you get from your phone, or from a TV-based console,” said Panic’s Director of Special Projects, Greg Maletic, in an email. “This bizarre 1-bit reflective screen was a big part of that: you just won’t see a lot of devices go this route, and for us, that was part of the attraction. And it’s worked out really well: developers have felt energized designing for this weird but cool screen.”

When the 12 titles have all been delivered, there’s the possibility that more will come, but that depends on lots of things, the company said. But they were careful to make the platform easily hackable.

“Most hardware platforms nowadays have tight restrictions, so it was important to us that Playdate be open enough to allow experimentation,” said Maletic. “That’s the kind of platform that we, as developers, were personally craving. So we’ve made sure that people will be able to develop their own games and easily share them with their friends, without having to worry about plagues of mobile development like code signing and provisioning profiles.”

You’ll be able to preorder a Playdate for $149 later in the year. Yeah, it isn’t cheap — but it’s weird and fun and for now one of a kind. That has to count for something in the increasingly genericized world of gaming hardware.

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Nectar’s sonar bottle caps could save $50B in stolen booze

Posted by | alcohol, Apps, Bars, bartender, food, funding, Fundings & Exits, hardware, Mobile, nectar, TC, ultrasound | No Comments

Bars lose 20% of their alcohol to overpours and “free” drinks for friends. That amounts to $50 billion per year in booze that mysteriously disappears, making life tough for every pub and restaurant. Nectar wants to solve that mystery with its ultrasound depth-sensing bottle caps that measure how much liquid is left in a bottle by measuring how long it takes a sonar pulse to bounce back. And now it’s bringing real-time pour tracking to beer with its gyroscopic taps. The result is that bar managers can determine who’s pouring too much or giving away drink, which promotions are working and when to reorder bottles without keeping too much stock on hand — and avoid wasting hours weighing or eyeballing the liquor level of their inventory.

Nectar’s solution to alcohol shrinkage has now attracted a $10 million Series A led by DragonCapital.vc and joined by former Campari chairman Gerry Ruvo, who will join the board. “Not a lot of technology has come to the bottle,” Nectar CEO Aayush Phumbhra says of ill-equipped bars and restaurants. “Liquor is their highest margin and highest cost item. If you don’t manage it efficiently, you go out of business.” Other solutions can look ugly to customers, forcibly restrict bartenders or take time and money to install and maintain. In contrast, Phumbhra tells me, “I care about solving deep problems by building a solution that doesn’t change behavior.”

Investors were eager to back the CEO, since he previously co-founded text book rental giant Chegg — another startup disrupting an aged market with tech. “I come from a pretty entrepreneurial family. No one in my family has ever worked for anyone else before,” Phumbhra says with a laugh. He saw an opportunity in the stunning revelation that the half-trillion-dollar on-premises alcohol business was plagued by missing booze and inconsistent ways to track it.

Typically at the end of a week or month, a bar manager will have staff painstakingly look at each bottle, try to guess what percent remains and mark it on a clipboard to be loaded into a spreadsheet later. While a little quicker, that’s very subjective and inaccurate. More advanced systems see every bottled weighed to see exactly how much is left. If they’re lucky, the scale connects to a computer, but they still have to punch in what brand of booze they’re sizing up. But the process can take many hours, which amounts to costly labor and infrequent data. None of these methods eliminate the manual measurement process or give real-time pour info.

So with $6 million in funding, Nectar launched in 2017 with its sonar bottle caps that look and operate like old-school pourers. When bars order them, they come pre-synced and labeled for certain bottle shapes like Patron or Jack Daniels. Their Bluetooth devices stay charged for a year and connect wirelessly to a base hub in the bar. With each pour, the sonar pulse determines how much is in the bottle and subtracts it from the previous measurement to record how much was doled out. And the startup’s new gyroscopic beer system is calibrated to deduce pour volume from the angle and time the tap is depressed without the need for a sensor to be installed (and repaired) inside the beer hose.

Bar managers can keep any eye on everything throughout the night with desktop, iOS and Android apps. They could instantly tell if a martini special is working based on how much gin across brands is being poured, ask bartenders to slow their pours if they’re creeping upwards in volume or give the green light to strong pours on weeknights to reward regular customers. “Some bars encourage overpours to get people to keep coming back,” says local San Francisco celebrity bartender Broke-Ass Stuart, who tells me pre-measured pourers can save owners money but cost servers tips.

Nectar now sells self-serve subscriptions to its hardware and software, with a 20-cap package costing $99 per month billed annually with free yearly replacements. It’s also got a free two-tap trial package, or a $399 per month enterprise subscription for 100 taps. Nectar is designed to complement bar point of sale systems. And if a bar just wants the software, Nectar just launched its PrecisionAudit app, where staff tap the current liquid level on a photo of each different bottle for more accurate eyeballing. It’s giving a discount rate of $29.99 per month on the first 1,000 orders.

After 2 million pours measured, the business is growing 200% quarter-over-quarter as bowling alley chains and stadiums sign up for pilots. The potential to change the booze business seduced investors like Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale and the founding family of the Modelo beer company. Next, Nectar is trying to invent a system for wine. That’s trickier, as its taps would need to be able to suck the air out of the bottles each night.

The big challenge will be convincing bars to change after tracking inventory the same way for decades. No one wants to deal with technical difficulties in a jam-packed bar. That’s partly why Nectar’s subscription doesn’t force owners to buy its hardware up front.

If Nectar can nail not only the tech but the bartender experience, it could pave a smoother path to hospitality entrepreneurship. Alcohol shrinkage is one factor leading to the rapid demise of many bars and restaurants. Plus, it could liberate bartenders from measuring bottles into the wee hours. As Phumbhra noted, “They’re coming in on weekends and working late. We want them to spend that time with their families and on customer service.”

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Amazon has turned warehouse tasks into a (literal) game

Posted by | Amazon, Gaming, hardware | No Comments

Working at an Amazon fulfillment center is tough and tedious. Stories of problematic working conditions have plagued the company for years now, and pressure has likely only increased as the retail giant is pushing to get packages out even faster.

To give the company some credit, it has worked to improve conditions, including the addition of a $15/hour minimum wage and automating certain tasks with the help of its growing robotics offering. Turns out the company has also been, quite literally, gamifying certain tasks.

WaPo (which, incidentally, is also owned by Mr. Bezos) has a write-up of an “experimental” video game designed to motivate workers to fill orders. The game, which is apparently optional for employees, lives on workstation screens, awarding points for fulfilling orders and pitting teams against one another in the process.

As the story notes, Amazon’s not alone in the idea. Gig-based companies like Uber and Lyft are similarly incentivizing workers with rewards for driving longer. In an age when we’ve gamified our own step counts through Fitbit and the like, it’s probably no surprise that companies are taking similar tacks for their duller positions.

Still, the whole thing is a bit odd — and probably a good indication of how repetitive these tasks can be. As we noted on a recent trip to the company’s massive Staten Island fulfillment center, the “picker” and “stower” gigs work closely with Amazon’s shelf-sporting robots to get packages to their destination.

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