Education

Software will reshape our world in the next decade

Posted by | Alexa, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, Column, cryptocurrency, cybernetics, Education, Entertainment, food, Gadgets, iPhone, Opinion, payments, robotics, San Francisco, smartphone, Social, TC, technology, video conferencing | No Comments
Alfred Chuang
Contributor

Alfred Chuang is general partner at Race Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm.

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

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IoT solutions are enabling physical distancing

Posted by | 3 D, ambient intelligence, artificial intelligence, Column, coronavirus, COVID-19, e-sports, Education, Entertainment, Extra Crunch, facial recognition, Gaming, Health, IoT, Market Analysis, Sports, Startups, technology, telecommuting | No Comments
Tyler Cracraft
Contributor

Tyler Cracraft is an electronic engineer turned solution architect at Advantech who has more than a decade of experience working in the electronics technology industry.

If you’re a business owner or investor and are wondering about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business world, you’re not alone.

Today’s business leaders have been plunged into the deep end of telecommuting with little notice, and the way we do business has been impacted at almost every level. Travel is restricted, meetings are virtual and delivery of goods and even raw materials is being delayed. While some industries that depend on large gatherings are seeing extremely difficult challenges due to the pandemic, others such as the tech industry, see the opportunity and responsibility for innovation and growth.

As many states begin phased reopening, companies are trying to determine what the workplace and business environment will look like in a post-quarantine world. The first obvious step is the integration of personal protective equipment (PPE). Sanitization and face masks will become required and nonessential face-to-face meetings will be a thing of the past, along with shaking hands.

Additionally, relationship-driven careers such as sales and recruiting will have to find new ways to connect to be successful. Physical distancing rules will have to be established, which may include employees coming in alternate days while telecommuting the other days of the week to keep offices at reduced capacity. Large offices of 10 or more may implement thermographic camera technology for fever screening or other real-time technology-based health screenings.

One thing is for sure: IoT devices that enable physical distancing will become an integral part of reopening businesses, facilitating sales connections and embracing a different way of living.

Solutions for physical distancing

There are a variety of IoT devices available that can help business leaders successfully implement physical distancing in their offices. Thermographic camera technology coupled with facial recognition can create a baseline for each employee and then assist in determining if an employee has a temperature outside of their norm. Other remote health monitoring may also take place with healthcare providers, helping employees determine on a daily basis if they are well enough to go into work.

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Kahoot raises $28M for its user-generated educational gaming platform, now valued at $1.4B

Posted by | edtech, Education, education technology, Europe, games, Gaming, Kahoot!, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

As schools stay closed and summer camp seems more like a germscape than an escape, students are staying at home for the foreseeable future and have shifted learning to their living rooms. Now, Norwegian educational gaming company Kahoot — the popular platform with 1.3 billion active users and over 100 million games (most created by users themselves) — has raised a new round of funding of $28 million to keep up with demand.

The Oslo-based startup, which started to list some of its shares on Oslo’s Merkur Market in October 2019, raised the $28 million in a private placement, and said it also raised a further $62 million in secondary shares. The new equity investment included participation from Northzone, an existing backer of the startup, and CEO Eilert Hanoa. While it’s not a traditional privately held startup in the traditional sense, at the market close today, the company’s valuation was $1.39 billion (or 13.389 billion Norwegian krone).

Existing investors in the company include Disney and Microsoft, and the company has raised $110 million to date.

Kahoot launched in 2013 and got its start and picked up most of its traction in the world of education through its use in schools, where teachers have leaned on it as a way to provide more engaging content to students to complement more traditional (and often drier) curriculum-based lessons. Alongside that, the company has developed a lucrative line of online training for enterprise users as well.

The global health pandemic has changed all of that for Kahoot, as it has for many other companies that built models based on classroom use. In the last few months, the company has boosted its content for home learning, finding an audience of users who are parents and employers looking for ways to keep students and employees more engaged.

The company says that in the last 12 months it had active users in 200 countries, with more than 50% of K-12 students using Kahoot in a school year in that footprint. On top of that, it is also used in some 87% of “top 500” universities around the world, and that 97% of Fortune 500 companies are also using it, although it doesn’t discuss what kind of penetration it has in that segment.

It seems that the coronavirus outbreak has not impacted business as much as it has in some sectors. According to the midyear report it released earlier this week, Q2 revenue is expected to be $9 million, 290% growth compared to last year and 40% growth compared to the previous quarter, and for the full year 2020, it expects revenue between $32 million and $38 million, with a full IPO expected for 2021.

As it has been doing even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Kahoot has also continued to invest in inorganic growth to fuel its expansion. In May, it acquired math app maker DragonBox for $18 million in cash and shares. The company also runs an accelerator, Kahoot Ignite, to spur more development on its platform.

However, Hanoa said that Kahoot is shifting its focus to now also work with more mature edtech businesses.

“When we started out, we were primarily receiving requests on early stage products,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to consider mature services for either integration or corporation. It’s a different focus.”

Update: A previous version of this story said that DragonBox was acquired in March. It was acquired in May. The story has been updated to reflect this change. 

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JetBrains Academy for learning code launches for free during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted by | Android, c, computing, coronavirus, COVID-19, development tools, Education, Europe, General Assembly, Google, Java, Javascript, JetBrains Academy, Kotlin, online learning, programming languages, Python, Scala, TC, teacher | No Comments

During this pandemic, many organizations are offering free or drastically cheaper courses to help people skill-up for when we eventually get out of lock-down. There are numerous outlets if you want to learn to code from, for instance, Freecodecamp or the Free Fridays scheme from General Assembly. And for gamers, Gamedev.tv has taken 80% off its courses, where you can learn to code by building video games.

However, most online coding courses, either free or paid, essentially suggest you download a project or copy-paste code from their snippets going through their courses. They tend not to include Integrated Development Environments, which are more helpful in the learning process.

But JetBrains, a startup that makes development tools for developers, actually developed its own educational IDEs, and realised they could take a fresh approach to online learning, especially during this pandemic.

Their own IDE means that, while some of the learning happens in the browser, a large part is available in the IDE on a person’s computer. That means a student can learn coding through practicing tasks and integrated tests — directly in the professional environment of the IDE — and get instant feedback.

This new product, JetBrains Academy, was due to be launched out of beta just prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it would have been a paid-for product. But now JetBrains has decided to make the entire platform free during the pandemic, allowing people stuck at home or who were laid off or furloughed to learn new skills.

Students can learn Java, Python or Kotlin (the preferred language for Android development by Google) through 60+ projects, which they will be building themselves, and then get instant feedback because of the IDE. They are provided with the full curriculum that consists of single-concept topics that can be completed in about 15 minutes, and can try more than 5,700 interactive challenges.

They are also offering free Educational IDEs that help teach coding through practicing tasks and integrated tests — directly in the professional environment. These support Java, Kotlin, Python, Scala, JavaScript, Rust, C/C++ and Go, with more languages to come. Any teacher can create their own educational course right in the IDE with any number of lessons and share them privately or publicly with their students.

In addition, students, teachers, schools and courses can apply for educational licenses for full-on JetBrains IDEs and team tools and use them for free.

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Google Play adds a ‘Teacher Approved’ section to its app store

Posted by | Apps, children, Education, families, Google Play, kids, learning, Mobile, parents, school, teachers | No Comments

Google today is making it easier for families to find quality educational apps with the addition of a new “Teacher Approved” section to Google Play. All apps found in this section are vetted by a panel of reviewers, including more than 200 teachers across the U.S., and meet Google’s existing requirements for its “Designed for Families” program.

That program requires apps to meet government regulations around data collection and ad targeting, and also limits the types of ads that can be displayed to children, if apps are ad-supported.

The apps chosen for the “Teacher Approved” section, however, don’t just meet the program’s minimum requirements — they’re also reviewed and rated highly by teachers. These may be apps teachers suggest for supplemental learning while others may just be used for fun.

The launch arrives at a time when most U.S. children are now out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent school closures. To date, at least 55.1 million students are no longer attending their public or private school in-person, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. This change has left parents scrambling to fill their child’s time with educational activities. And even if distance learning is available in their school district, it isn’t typically enough to keep the child engaged throughout the day.

Google says it heard from parents that it was difficult to find kid-friendly apps they felt good about letting their children use, which is why it chose to launch the new “Teacher Approved” section on Google Play.

The company worked with academic experts, including lead advisors Joe Blatt (Harvard Graduate School of Education) and Dr. Sandra Calvert (Georgetown University) to create the framework for rating apps for kids. But the apps themselves are chosen by a panel with teacher involvement. The panel rates apps on various aspects like age-appropriateness, quality of experience, enrichment and whether kids enjoy using the app.

To access the new section, you can either visit the “Kids” tab on Google Play or you can look for the “Teacher Approved” badge on any given app to see if it met with teachers’ approval. In addition, Google Play Pass will offer subscribers a selection of “Teacher Approved” content under the “Apps and games for kids” section.

The apps will be grouped by age: 5 & under, ages 6-8 and ages 9-12. Google will also include information in the app’s listing about why it was rated highly.

At launch, Google tells us there will be around 1,000 Teacher Approved apps live in the Play Store and around 60 also included in Google Play Pass. The company says it’s working with its Play Pass partners to increase this number over time.

 

“I think it’s terrific that Google is taking this unprecedented stand – creating a unique space for apps that teachers have rated high in quality and value for kids and their families,” said Joe Blatt, senior lecturer and faculty director of the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, in a statement about the launch. “Over the past three years, together with faculty colleagues and students, I have worked to pinpoint criteria for developmental appropriateness, learning impact, and appeal. Then we helped Google build a rating system that enables teachers to apply these criteria reliably. I’m really impressed with the dedication and professionalism that the Google team has invested in this project,” he added.

The new Kids tab with “Teacher approved” apps will roll out in the U.S. on Google Play over the next few days. Google says it will expand the experience internationally in the months to come.

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Recap: Roblox, SuperAwesome and Fingerprint execs discuss kids’ media

Posted by | coronavirus, COVID-19, Education, Entertainment, Extra Crunch, Fingerprint, Gaming, Growth and Monetization, Media, online learning, Roblox, Startups, superawesome | No Comments

Consumption of all types of kids-focused digital media has soared with a large portion of the world’s children home from school right now. At all times of day, children are playing games, watching shows and using edtech tools — often in a social context with friends online.
This only accelerates the normalization of virtual spaces as social hubs, and it makes protection of children’s data a more pressing concern for entertainment and communications platforms (like Zoom) that haven’t built a product specific to this demographic.
During last week’s TechCrunch Live session on the state of kids’ media, I had an engaging discussion with three industry leaders about how COVID-19 is impacting companies in the space and what long-term changes could result from it:

  • Craig Donato, chief business officer of Roblox, the $4 billion gaming platform that counts the majority of U.S. kids age 9-12 among its active users.
  • Nancy MacIntyre, co-founder and CEO of Fingerprint, the company behind Kidimo, a leading subscription video and gaming service for children.
  • Dylan Collins, co-founder and CEO of SuperAwesome, the London-based creator of “kid-safe” adtech and privacy tools.

Below is the recording of our conversation as well as the full transcript (with minor edits for clarity):

TechCrunch: The COVID-19 crisis has put families all at home together and changed a lot for your businesses. I want to set context first by looking at the couple years leading up to this. What have been the two biggest changes in the kids’ media space from your perspectives?

Craig Donato: One huge shift that we’ve seen over the last five years is the evolution of games into social places — experiences where kids hang out with their friends, do things with them versus these narrow competitive environments. We really see Roblox as a medium of shared experience. That’s a pretty significant shift, and it’s really benefited platforms like Roblox, but also Minecraft and Fortnite.

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Stanford’s Doggo quadrupedal robot and siblings Pupper and Woofer are coming to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI

Posted by | artificial intelligence, bigdog, boston dynamics, Culture, doggo, Education, events, Gadgets, hardware, military robots, Python, robot, robotics, robots, sri lanka, stanford, Stanford University, TC, TC Sessions: Robotics+AI 2020 | No Comments

Animal-like, four-legged robots have been a crowd-pleaser since Boston Dynamics’ BigDog, and Stanford’s Doggo shows how the technology can be made open source, accessible and educational. Doggo’s creators will bring the diminutive robot, plus its smaller and larger siblings Pupper and Woofer, to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI on March 3.

P.S. Early-bird ticket sales end this Friday — book your tickets today and save $150.

We first heard of Doggo last year when the Stanford Robotics Club showed off the highly capable design, which uses mostly off-the-shelf parts and can be assembled by anyone… as long as “anyone” has considerable experience building robots and a couple thousand dollars to spend.

Still, a couple thousand is an order of magnitude or two lower than most quadrupedal robots go for, and project lead Nathan Kau told TechCrunch they’ve seen a ton of interest.

“I had no idea how many people were going to pick it up,” he said. “It’s complicated! But I get emails every day from people building this thing, from all over. The first team to get it running, to my knowledge, was in Sri Lanka.”

In order to further push the lower bounds of who can build and experiment with a robot like this, the team is building a smaller, even less expensive robot called Pupper. They hope to get the cost down to the level where even high school clubs can afford one.

“It’s less than $500 in development materials if you make it by yourself,” said Kau. “We imagine that if it becomes a kit and we have a partnership with the part manufacturers, it could be much less. We built it as a platform for learning, so it uses a Raspberry Pi and everything is programmed in Python. It’s about as complicated as building a drone, I’d say.”

You’ll be able to see Doggo and Pupper in action at the event, and they’ll be joined by one more robot: Woofer, a jumbo-sized step up from the others. It’s earlier in development than the other two, but to keep things simple it shares much of its codebase with the others.

Grab your tickets to the show today and get to see these awesome robots in person and hear from today’s leading minds in the industry. Early-bird tickets expire this Friday, January 31, so book yours today and save $150 before prices go up.

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TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Posted by | Airbnb, Apple, Apps, Bing, Diversity, Drama, Education, Elon Musk, Facebook, Facebook Researchgate, giphy, Hack, hardware, HQ Trivia, microsoft bing, Mobile, Personnel, pi-top, Policy, Security, Social, Startups, TC, The Boring Company, Transportation, tufts, Twitter, WannaCry | No Comments

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at tips@techcrunch.com or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

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Animated, interactive digital books may help kids learn better

Posted by | Education, Gadgets, hardware, science | No Comments

Digital books may have a few advantages over ordinary ones when it comes to kids remembering their contents, according to a new study. Animations, especially ones keyed to verbal interactions, can significantly improve recall of story details — but they have to be done right.

The research, from psychologist Erik Thiessen at Carnegie Mellon University, evaluated the recall of 30 kids aged 3-5 after being read either an ordinary story book or one with animations for each page.

When asked afterwards about what they remembered, the kids who had seen the animated book tended to remember 15-20% more. The best results were seen when the book was animated in response to the child saying or asking something about it (though this had to be done manually by the reading adult) rather than just automatically.

“Children learn best when they are more involved in the learning process,” explained Thiessen in a CMU news post. “Many digital interfaces are poorly suited to children’s learning capacities, but if we can make them better, children can learn better.”

This is not to say that all books for kids should be animated. Traditional books are always going to have their own advantages, and once you get past the picture-book stage these digital innovations don’t help much.

The point, rather, is to show that digital books can be useful and aren’t a pointless addition to a kid’s library. But it’s important that the digital features are created and tuned with an eye to improving learning, and research must be done to determine exactly how that is best accomplished.

Thiessen’s study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

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Kid-focused STEM device startup Kano sees layoffs as it puts Disney e-device on ice

Posted by | Amazon, Barclays, China, Collaborative Fund, computing, Disney, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Google, hardware, harry potter, Intel, Kano, London, Marc Benioff, Microsoft, microsoft windows, TC, United States | No Comments

London-based STEM device maker Kano has confirmed it’s cutting a number of jobs which it claims is part of a restructuring effort to shift focus to “educational computing”.

The job cuts — from 65 to 50 staff — were reported earlier by The Telegraph. Kano founder Alex Stein confirmed in a call with TechCrunch that Kano will have 50 staff going into next year. Although he said the kid-focused learn to code device business is also adding jobs in engineering and design, as well as eliminating other roles as it shifts focus.

He also suggested some of the cuts are seasonal and cyclical — related to getting through the holiday season.

Per Stein, jobs are being taking out as the company moves from building atop the Raspberry Pi platform — where it started, back in 2013, with its crowdfunded DIY computer — to a Windows-based learning platform.

Other factors he pointed to in relation to the layoffs include a new manufacturing setup in China, with a “simpler, larger contract manufacturer”; fewer physical retail outlets to support, with Kano leaning more on Amazon (which he said is “cheaper to support”); fewer dependencies on large partners and agencies, with Stein claiming 18% of US parents with kids aged 6-12 are now familiar with the brand, reducing its marketing overhead; and a desire to shrink the number of corporate managers vs makers on its books as “we’ve seen a stronger response to our first-party Kano products — Computer Kit, Pixel Kit, Motion Sensor Kit — than expected this year”.

“We have brought on some roles that are more focused on this new platform [Kano PC], and some roles that were focused on the Raspberry Pi are no longer with us,” he also told TechCrunch.

Kano unveiled its first Windows-based PC this fall. The 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer costs $300 — which puts it in the ballpark price-range of Google’s Chromebook.

The tech giant has maintained a steady focus on the educational computing market — putting a competitive squeeze on smaller players like Kano who are trying to carve out a business selling their own brand of STEM-focused hardware. Against the Google Goliath, Stein touts factors such as relative repairability and attention to computing performance for the Kano PC (which he claims is “on a par with the Surface Go”), in addition to having now thrown its lot in with rival giant, Microsoft.

“The more and more we got into school environments the more and more we were in conversations with major North American distributors to schools, the more we saw that people wanted that ‘DIY’… product design, they wanted the hackability and extensibility of the kit, they wanted the tools to be open source and manipulable but they also wanted to be able to run Photoshop and to run Class Dashboard and to run Microsoft Office. And so that was when we struck the partnership with Microsoft,” said Stein.

“The Windows computing is packed with content and curriculum for teachers and an integration with Microsoft Teams which requires a different sort of development capability,” he added.

“The roles we’re adding are around subscription, they’re around the computer, building new applications and tools for the computer and continuing to enrich the number of projects that are available for our members now — so we’re doing things like allowing people to connect the sensors in their wands to household IoT device. We’re introducing, over the Christmas period, a new collaborative drawing app.”

According to Stein, Kano is “already seeing demand for 60,000 units in this next calendar year” for its Windows-based PC — which he said is “well beyond what we expect… given the price-point.

Although he did not put a figure on exact sales to date of the Kano PC.

He also confirmed Kano will be dialling back the range of products it offers next year.

It recently emerged that an own-brand camera device, which Kano first trailed back in 2016, will not now be shipping. Stein also told us that another co-branded Disney product they’d been planning for 2020 is being “put back” — with no new date for release as yet.

Stein denied sales have been lacklustre — claiming the current Star Wars and Frozen e-products have “done enough for us”. (While a co-branded Harry Potter e-wand is selling faster than expected, per Stein, who said they had expected to have stock until March but are “selling out”.)

“The reorganization we’ve done has nothing to do with growth and users,” he told us. “We are on track to sell through more units as well as products at a higher average selling price this fiscal year. We’re selling out of Wands when we expected to have stock all the way to March. We have more pre-launch demand for the Kano PC than anything we’ve ever done.”

Of the additional co-branded Disney e-product which is being delayed — and may not now launch at all next year, Stein told us: “The fact is we’re in negotiations with Disney around this — and around the timing of it. Given that we’re not certain we’re going to be doing it in 2020 some of the contractor roles in particular that we brought on to do the licensing sign off pieces, to develop some of the content around those brands, some of the apparatus set up to manage those partnerships — we don’t need any more.”

“We introduced three new hardware SKUs this year. I don’t think we’ll do three new hardware SKUs next year,” he added, confirming the intention is to trim the number of device launches in 2020 to focus on the Kano PC.

One source we spoke to suggested Kano is considering sunsetting its partner strategy entirely. However Stein did not go that far in his comments to us.

“We’ve been riding a certain bear for a few years. We’re jumping to a new bear. That’s always going to create a bit of exhilaration. But I think this is a place of real promise,” was how he couched the pivot.

“I think what Kano does better than anyone else in the world is crafting an experience around technology that opens up its attributes to a wider audience,” Stein also said when asked whether hardware or software will be its main focus going forward. “The hardware element is crucial and beautiful and we make some of the world’s most interesting dynamic physical products. It’s an often told story that hardware’s very hard and is brutal — and yeah, because you get it right you change the fabric of society.

“It’s hard for me to draw a line between hardware and software for the business because we’ve always been asked that and seven years into the business we’ve found the greatest things that people do with the products… it’s always when there’s a combination of the two. So we’re proud that we’re good at combining the two and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The STEM device space has been going through bumpy times in recent years as early hype and investment has failed to translate into sustained revenues at every twist and turn.

The category is certainly filled with challenges — from low barrier to entry leading to plentiful (if varied quality) competition, to the demands of building safe, robust and appealing products for (fickle) kids that tightly and reliably integrate hardware and software, to checking all the relevant boxes and processes to win over teachers and support schools’ curriculum requirements that’s essential for selling direct to the education market.

Given so many demands on STEM device makers it’s not surprising this year has seen a number of these startups exiting to other players and/or larger electronics makers — such as Sphero picking up littleBits.

A couple of years ago Sphero went through its own pivot out of selling co-branded Disney ‘learn to code’ gizmos to zoom in on the education space.

While another UK-based STEM device maker — pi-top — has also been through several rounds of layoffs recently, apparently as part of its own pivot to the US edtech market.

More consolidation in the category seems highly likely. And given the new relationship between Kano and Microsoft joining Redmond via acquisition may be the obvious end point for the startup.

Per the Telegraph’s report, Kano is in the process of looking to raise more funding. However Stein did not comment when asked to confirm the company’s funding situation.

The startup last reported a raise just over two years ago — when it closed a $28M Series B round led by Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Marc Benioff, John Makinson, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital, and Barclays also participated.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report 

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