Battlefield

N26 is launching its bank in the UK

Posted by | Banking, Battlefield, Europe, Finance, Mobile, N26, Revolut, Startups | No Comments

Nearly a year after German fintech startup N26 announced that it would launch its service in the U.K., the company is launching in the U.K. N26 is already quite popular in the Eurozone, with more than 1.5 million customers. In this new market, it will face tough competition from existing players, such as Revolut, Monzo, Starling and many others.

N26 is going to roll out its product in multiple phases. Some lucky few will be able to open an account right away. The startup will then go through its waiting list — 50,000 people already left their email addresses to express interest. After that, anybody will be able to download the app and sign up.

This might sound like a convoluted process, but N26 expects a full public launch in just a few weeks. So it should be quite quick if everything goes as planned.

So what can you expect exactly? British customers will get all the basic N26 stuff with one killer feature — U.K. account numbers and sort codes. This way, customers will be able to receive payments and share banking information with their utility providers just like they would with a regular Barclays or Lloyds account.

When you open an N26 account, you get a true bank account and a MasterCard. Basic accounts are free, and N26 has a proper banking license — your deposits up to €100,000 are guaranteed by the European deposit guarantee scheme. You can then send and receive money and pay with your card. Sending money to other N26 users is instantaneous (they call it MoneyBeam).

N26 recently launched Spaces, a new feature that lets you create sub accounts and put some money aside. It’s still limited, but the company plans to add more features.

Your MasterCard works like any other challenger bank. Every time you use it, you receive a push notification. You can set payment and withdrawal limits, lock your card if you lose it and reset your PIN code. N26 will also bring Black and Metal plans to the U.K.

How does it compare to Revolut?

Let’s be honest, the elephant in the room is Revolut . The company has hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) customers in the U.K. N26 lets you do many of the things you can already do with your Revolut account.

So let me point out a few differences. As I noted, N26 has a banking license and U.K. banking information. N26 cards work in Apple Pay and Google Pay.

When it comes to international payments, N26 lets you pay with your card anywhere in the world without any additional fee. The company uses MasterCard’s conversion rates. Revolut first converts the money with its forex feature and then lets you spend your money.

There are an infinite number of forum posts about the exchange rates you’ll get. Sometimes Revolut is cheaper, sometimes N26 is cheaper. It mostly depends on the day of the week (Revolut conversion rates are more expensive on the weekend) and the currency. Unless you plan to spend tens of thousands of GBP during your vacation, you won’t see a huge difference on your bank statement.

Revolut also has many more features than N26. You can insure your phone, buy bitcoins, buy travel insurance, create virtual cards and more. It’s clear that N26 and Revolut have two different styles.

Revolut has a bigger user base than N26. But it’s always been a bit hard to compare them, as N26 wasn’t available in the U.K. Of course, they will both say there are tens of millions of people relying on old banks — multiple challenger banks can grow at the same time if they capture market share from those aging players. Still, the battle between N26 and Revolut is on.

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Vtrus launches drones to inspect and protect your warehouses and factories

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Battlefield, Disrupt, disrupt sf 2018, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, Startups, TC | No Comments

Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? Vtrus uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time.

Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company.

There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale.

As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger.

The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings.

It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it.

The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible to do it faster and in greater detail than before. Not to mention on a drone that’s flying around an indoor space full of people and valuable inventory.

On a full charge, ABI can fly for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but the important thing isn’t staying aloft for a long time — few drones can do that to begin with — but how quickly it can get back up there. That’s where the special docking and charging mechanism comes in.

The Vtrus drone lives on and returns to a little box, which when a tapped-out craft touches down, sets off a patented high-speed charging process. It’s contact-based, not wireless, and happens automatically. The drone can then get back in the air perhaps half an hour or so later, meaning the craft can actually be in the air for as much as six hours a day total.

Probably anyone who has had to inspect or maintain any kind of building or space bigger than a studio apartment can see the value in getting frequent, high-precision updates on everything in that space, from storage shelving to heavy machinery. You’d put in an ABI for every X square feet depending on what you need it to do; they can access each other’s data and combine it as well.

This frequency and the detail which which the drone can inspect and navigate means maintenance can become proactive rather than reactive — you see rust on a pipe or a hot spot on a machine during the drone’s hourly pass rather than days later when the part fails. And if you don’t have an expert on site, the full 3D map and even manual drone control can be handed over to your HVAC guy or union rep.

You can see lots more examples of ABI in action at the Vtrus website. Way too many to embed here.

Lenoff, Moreno, and third co-founder Carlos Sanchez, who brings the industrial expertise to the mix, explained that their secret sauce is really the software — the drone itself is pretty much off the shelf stuff right now, tweaked to their requirements. (The base is an original creation, of course.)

But the software is all custom built to handle not just high-resolution 3D mapping in real time but the means to stream and record it as well. They’ve hired experts to build those systems as well — the 6-person team already sounds like a powerhouse.

The whole operation is self-funded right now, and the team is seeking investment. But that doesn’t mean they’re idle: they’re working with major companies already and operating a “pilotless” program (get it?). The team has been traveling the country visiting facilities, showing how the system works, and collecting feedback and requests. It’s hard to imagine they won’t have big clients soon.

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Unbound makes pleasure fashionable

Posted by | Battlefield, disrupt sf 2018, fda, Gadgets, sex toys, Startup Battlefield Disrupt SF 2018, TC, vibrator | No Comments

Unbound founders Polly Rodriguez and Sarah Jayne Kinney have long and varied careers. Rodriguez worked for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill on Capitol Hill before heading to Deloitte Consulting and dating startup Grouper. Kinney was a graduate of University of Cincinnati worked at Puma and then at Esquire and O, Oprah’s magazine. She worked shooting products for fashion houses in New York.

The duo met in 2014.

Now they make fashion-forward vibrators. Their latest, the Palma, is the most fashion-forward yet and it just launched at TechCrunch Disrupt.

“Unbound is closing the very real orgasm gap by putting knowledge and product in the hands of women all over the world,” said Rodriguez. “Unbound is the first brand taking sexual wellness mainstream through elevated design and accessible pricing.”

The new device masquerades as a ring, offers multiple speeds, and is completely waterproof. It’s made of surgical grade steel and comes in silver or gold. Further, the team plans to add accelerometer features to the device. It will ship in 2019.

The team has raised $3.3 million in seed funding to date and are on track to hit $4 million in revenue in 2018.

They’ve been working on improving the state of the art when it comes to vibrators. They are, it seems, tired of the status quo.

“It’s important to note that vibrators are used in one of the most absorbent parts of the body and not regulated by the FDA. The lack of regulation results in manufacturers using carcinogens in their materials like parabens and phthalates. Unbound only uses medical grade silicone,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s message is simple: she wants to destroy the negative stereotypes around sex and health. And she has good reason.

“Each of us is motivated to change the stigmas associated with sexual health for different reasons. For me, it was going through menopause at 21 as a result of radiation treatment for cancer and ending up at a seedy shop on the side of the highway trying to buy lube and a vibrator. My doctors didn’t tell me I was going through menopause, only that I wouldn’t have children. As I got older, I realized that had I been a man, that conversation would have gone very differently… because we view male sexuality has a health need and female sexuality as a vice,” she said. “To put it in perspective, think about the fact that Bob Dole, a former presidential candidate was the spokesperson for Viagra. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton being the spokesperson for a vibrator brand? That’s the difference in how we view male vs. female (cis, femme, non-gender identifying) sexuality.”

“Our dream at Unbound is for female sexual health to be viewed through the same lens as male sexuality — as a part of our overall health that deserves a conversation, platform, and shopping experience that doesn’t feel like a flaming pile of garbage,” she said.

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PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal

Posted by | Battlefield, Developer, Disrupt, disrupt sf, disrupt sf 2018, Enterprise, Gadgets, PoLTE, Startups | No Comments

Meet PoLTE, a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF.

If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset.

Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions.

And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries.

PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with Riot Micro for instance.

Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API.

It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth.

“We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me.

On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests.

It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.


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Stealthy wants to become the WeChat of blockchain apps

Posted by | Apps, Battlefield, blockchain, disrupt sf 2018, messaging, Mobile, Social, Startups, Stealthy | No Comments

Meet Stealthy a new messaging app that leverages Blockstack’s decentralized application platform to build a messaging app. The company is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF and launching its app on iOS and Android today.

On the surface, Stealthy works like many messaging apps out there. But it gets interesting once you start digging to understand the protocol behind it. Stealthy is a decentralized platform with privacy in mind. It could become the glue that makes various decentralized applications stick together.

“We started Stealthy because Blockstack had a global hackathon in December of last year,” co-founder Prabhaav Bhardwaj told me. “We won that hackathon in February.” After that, the #deletefacebook movement combined with the overall decentralization trend motivated Bhardwaj and Alex Carreira to ship the app.

Blockstack manages your identity. You get an ID and a 12-word passphrase to recover your account. Blockstack creates a blockchain record for each new user. You use your Blockstack ID to connect to Stealthy.

Stealthy users then choose how they want to store their messages. You can connect your account with Dropbox, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, etc.

Every time you message someone, the message is first encrypted on your device and sent to your recipient’s cloud provider. Your recipient can then open the Stealthy app and decrypt the message from their storage system.

All of this is seamless for the end user. It works like an iMessage conversation, which means that Microsoft or Amazon can’t open and read your messages without your private key. You remain in control of your data. Stealthy plans to open source their protocol and mobile product so that anybody can audit their code.

Some features require a certain level of centralization. For instance, Stealthy relies on Firebase for push notifications. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can disable that feature.

The company also wants to become your central hub for all sorts of decentralized apps (or dapps for short). For instance, you can launch Graphite Docs or Blockusign from Stealty. Those dapps are built on top of Blockstack as well, but Stealthy plans to integrate with other dapps that don’t work on Blockstack.

“We have dapp integrations in place right now and we want to make it easier to add dapp integrations. If somebody wants to come in and start selling messaging stickers, you could do that. If you want to come in and implement a payment system to pay bloggers, you could do that,” Bhardwaj said. “Eventually, what we want to be is to make it as easy as submitting an app in the App Store.”

When you build a digital product, chances are you’ll end up adding a messaging feature at some point. You can chat in Google Docs, Airbnb, Venmo, YouTube… And the same is likely to be true with dapps. Stealthy believes that many developers could benefit from a solid communication infrastructure — this way, other companies can focus on their core products and let Stealthy handle the communication layer.

Stealthy is an ambitious company. In many ways, the startup is trying to build a decentralized WeChat with the encryption features of Signal. It’s a messaging app, but it’s also a platform for many other use cases.

A handful of messaging apps have become so powerful that they’ve become a weakness. Governments can block them or leverage them to create a social ranking. Authorities can get a warrant to ask tech companies to hand them data. And of course, the top tech companies have become too powerful. More decentralization is always a good thing.


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N26 launches a revised metal card

Posted by | Apps, Banking, Battlefield, Europe, Mobile, N26, Startups | No Comments

Fintech startup N26 is updating its N26 Metal product and launching it tomorrow. You might remember that the company first announced its premium card at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin in December 2017. Shortly after the conference, the card was available in early access for existing N26 Black customers.

But the company had to go back to the drawing board and update the card design. N26 Metal customers had some complaints about the design of the card in particular.

While the original metal card was primarily made of a sheet of tungsten, the metallic part was still surrounded by plastic. Customers complained about scratches and the overall feel of the card.

It didn’t really feel like a metal card. It was more or less a heavy plastic card with a metal core. You could easily get scratches and the MasterCard logo was just a sticker.

@N26 such a shame my Metal card has a big scratch… it doesn’t even look like a scratch but something deeper under the plastic 🙁 pic.twitter.com/7qFTNEkqlH

— W Bonnaud-Dowell (@bonnaud_dowell) March 5, 2018

Even more surprising, some customers had some issues going through airport security because tungsten was an uncommon material.

Travelled 2 times since I have the @n26 metal card and get an extra security check each time because of this. 😒

— Alex. Delivet (@alexd) May 14, 2018

At an event in Berlin, the company announced a revised version of N26 Metal. The front of the card is going to be made out of actual metal. The MasterCard logo will be engraved. And the name of the customer is moving to the back of the card.

You can join the waiting list now and customers will start getting the new metal card tomorrow. Everybody will be able to sign up next Tuesday.

But N26 Metal isn’t just a fancy card. For around €15 per month, you get all the advantages of N26 Black as well as partner offerings.

These offerings include the basic $45 per month WeWork subscription so that you can access a WeWork office for free for one day per month and pay for extra days. You also get 10 percent off hotel bookings on Hotels.com, promo codes for Drivy, Babbel and other services. The company says that there will be new offerings in the coming months.

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Robo Wunderkind wants to build the Lego Mindstorms for everyone

Posted by | Battlefield, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Robo Wunderkind, Startups | No Comments

Lego Mindstorms have paved the way for many programmable toys. And Austrian startup Robo Wunderkind is building a new kind of Lego-like programmable kit. The startup first launched on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage and just raised $1.2 million (€1 million) from SOSV, Austrian Federal Promotional Bank and multiple business angels.

Compared to many programmable toys out there, Robo Wunderkind is still a Lego-like building kit. This is key as too many toys forget that it’s fun to build something with a few bricks.

Robo Wunderkind also has special blocks to turn your dumb robot into a connected one. In addition to the usual sensors, such as proximity sensors, motion detectors and light sensors, the company also has some more sophisticated ones. You can put a tiny camera in your construction, use an IR blaster and receiver and program a tiny LED screen.

But the best part is that Robo Wunderkind also sells Lego adapters so that you can put together a sophisticated robot that uses both Lego bricks and Robo Wunderkind modules.

The company has two different apps in the store. The first one called Robo Live lets you control your robot in real time. The other one Robo Code has a brand new user interface and now detects the blocks you’re currently using.

Robo Code is where Robo Wunderkind shines because you can put together simple algorithms by arranging virtual blocks in the iPad app. It’s a good way to introduce a kid to conditional statements and loops.

You won’t build a robot as sophisticated as a robot built using Lego Mindstorms. But Robo Wunderkind seems more accessible and good way to try robotics before switching to Arduino and Raspberry Pi when your kid grows up.

The company successfully raised a little less than $250,000 on Kickstarter back in 2015. You can now buy a starter kit for $250. Advanced and professional kits will also be available soon.

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Open Garden wants to give you tokens for sharing your internet connection

Posted by | Android, App, Apps, Battlefield, cryptocurrency, ethereum, FireChat, mesh networking, Mobile, open garden, Startups, technology, tokens, wifi sharing, wireless networking | No Comments

 Open Garden launched its mesh networking platform at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2012. Since then, the company has gone through a few iterations and found unexpected success in its Firechat offline messaging service. Now, it’s ready for the next step in its evolution. The company now wants to make it easier for anybody with an Android phone to share their Wi-Fi connections with anyone who… Read More

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WICASTR brings data to the edge

Posted by | Android, Battlefield, cisco systems, computing, deutsche telekom, Disrupt Berlin 2017, Intel, Internet of Things, Router, smartphones, Startups, TC, technology | No Comments

 Content distribution is hard. You want to keep enough of it close enough to favorite customers so they don’t have to wait and reduce latency for new data. That’s why WICASTR created the SMART Edge Platform, a system for sending content to the very edges of the network, including compatible local routers and access points. “WICASTR is an ‘all in one solution’ for… Read More

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The Sun Exchange funds solar installations with micro-investments and bitcoin

Posted by | Battlefield, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, Disrupt Berlin 2017, events, Gadgets, GreenTech, hardware, renewable energy, solar, Solar Power, TC, the sun exchange | No Comments

 Solar power could transform small communities around the world, but remote villages can’t always scrape together the thousands of dollars required to install the cells. The Sun Exchange wants to change that by leveraging the hearts and wallets of hobby investors, who cover the installation costs and then have their share of the revenue trickle in for years to come. There’s even… Read More

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