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Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

Posted by | adobe lightroom, camera+, computer graphics, digital photography, Gadgets, hardware, image stabilization, oled, Photography, Reviews, ricoh, smartphone, Sony, TC, tokyo, z1 | No Comments

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment — including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiasts and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling, the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees — but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors — unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers — provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line — it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be holding up to take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provides basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, as the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card — the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera captures two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

A769B0EF 55C0 483E 82AE 19EFF4212B2D 3

Indoors in low-light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however — which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings, including aperture to optimize your photo capture, as well as choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher-resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too — though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built-in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K, respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game — Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop photo editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising, given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for less than $1,000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device, including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category — the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best-in-class device.

If what you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, then Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting-edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

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The Sony RX100 VII is the best compact camera you can buy

Posted by | Apple, cameras, Cyber shot, Digital Cameras, Gadgets, Google, hardware, image stabilization, iPhone, real estate, Reviews, smartphone, Sony, TC, tokyo | No Comments

Sony’s latest advanced compact camera is the highly pocketable RX100 VII, the seventh iteration of the RX100. Since its debut, this line of cameras has proven a very popular option among enthusiasts looking for a great travel camera, vloggers and even pros who want a compact backup option just in case. The RX100 VII should suit all those needs very well, provided you’re okay with coughing up the $1,200 asking price.

Not that $1,200 is too expensive for what you’re getting, as Sony has packed in tremendous value, including an extremely versatile 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range, 20fps continuous burst mode shooting, a flip-up touch screen, built-in image stabilization and the same powerful autofocus technologies you’ll find on its flagship full-frame interchangeable lens pro cameras.

Sony RX100 VII 2

Pocket power

The Sony RX100 VII satisfies a specific need, but it’s one that a lot of people probably have: Striking a balance between image quality, range and portability. On the convenience end of the spectrum, the ultimate device is probably your smartphone, since you have that with you always. On the IQ and range side, you’re looking at a top-end DSLR with a high-quality, low aperture zoom lens that can weigh more than a large dog. The RX100 VII manages to be so impressive because it can deliver nearly the portability of a smartphone, with some of the photography chops of a setup that typically requires its own suitcase.

Inside the RX100 VII you’ll find a 1-inch sensor, which is very big relative to smartphone imaging sensors. This is important because it means there’s no contest between which will capture a better image, with lower noise, greater depth-of-field and better color rendering. For all the software magic that companies like Apple and Google can bring to the photography table, nothing yet can totally compensate for simply having a larger sensor.

Sony RX100 VII 4

The RX100 VII’s compactness isn’t just impressive because of the large sensor it packs inside, however; you also get an EVF, an integrated flash, an external microphone jack and an articulating LCD display. To get all of this into a package this small is astounding — the EVF in particular is a great feature for anyone who wants to be a bit more direct and particular with their shot composition, while the flip-up LCD means you also can have a great selfie screen and monitor for use when vlogging.

Sony RX100 VII 5

Last but not least in terms of its portability benefits, you can charge the RX100 VII via USB directly so that you can leave any additional charging hardware at home. The camera has a micro USB port for both data and power, and while it would’ve been nice to see this upgraded to USB-C on this camera to keep up with the latest in terms of computer and smartphone charging, it’s still better than requiring an external charger.

Zoom zoom

Sony decided on a very long zoom range for the RX100 VII, which sports a 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 powered retracting zoom lens. That’s the same range and aperture as the RX100 VI, which opts for more range over the brighter 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens found on the V and earlier.

While you’ll lose some ability to separate your subject from the background versus a brighter lens, you get a lot more reach for shooting action or wildlife. The added range definitely makes it a better all-around travel camera, too, and makes it possible to get some shots you otherwise just wouldn’t be able to get at all with a shorter lens.

The long end of the zoom range also offers stunningly sharp images, especially in bright, daylight conditions. In the examples below, you can see some of the 200mm samples shot on the RX100 VII next to the 24mm wide versions of the same scenes to get a sense of just how close you can get with this lens, and the quality of the images possible even at those extreme zoom lengths.

At the wide end, you have plenty of real estate to capture great sweeping architectural or landscape shots, and the sharpness is also fantastic in great light. There’s some distortion, but it’s mostly corrected by Sony’s software on JPG output. That 24mm wide angle is also the right width for arm-length selfies, though you’re probably going to want at least a short selfie stick for vlogging applications to give yourself a little more in the way of framing options.

DSC03049

Sticky AF

Leaving aside the fact that this is one of the better sensors available on the market for a camera this size, there’s another very compelling reason to pick up this camera, and one that likely gives it the edge over competitors from other companies. I’m talking about Sony’s autofocus system, and the RX100 VII gets the latest and greatest that Sony has developed, which is found only in much more expensive cameras from the company, like the A9 and the new A7R IV.

You get face and eye tracking, for both human and animal subjects, and these are both best-in-class when compared with other camera makers’ systems. The animal one in particular is a Sony specialty, and worked amazingly well on my real dog — and on Sony’s Aibo robot dog, captured at the Sony Ginza experience center in Tokyo.

DSC02975DSC02967

The face and eye detection settings are available in both still shooting and movies, and you can set eye preference (left or right), too. The newest AF feature, however, is object tracking, which allows you to point your AF point at a specific object and have the camera automatically track that object as you zoom or move, or as the object moves within frame. You can choose from a range of options regarding how large of a focal area to track, and this works in tandem with human face detection so that the camera will automatically focus on the subject’s face when it’s visible, and on them more generally when it’s not, which is amazing for sports or action photography.

In practice, this works extremely well. Sony’s claims about how well this sticks, and how good it is at picking a subject back up after it moves behind an object, for instance, are spot on. This is really the best AF system available on a camera in the pocketable category, at any price point, and it’s truly amazing to experience. In the shots below, you can see how it allowed me to capture a very clear picture of a soaring hawk at the 200mm tele zoom, how it tracked a bike in motion and got a clear image of the rider’s face and how it froze a motor bike in motion during a burst series (all the shots were in focus, by the way).

Low light

Another area where Sony’s RX100 VII and its 1-inch sensor are going to have a leg up on your smartphone is in sub-optimal lighting conditions. Bigger sensors mean bigger pixels and less noise, with better blacks and shadows. Sony is also using a backside illuminated stacked sensor, and there’s built-in optical image stabilization, which means you can take sharper photos at lower shutter speeds, letting in more light for clearer images.

In practice, what you get are pretty good low-light photos, especially outdoors with ambient light present, or in decently well-lit indoor settings. In poorer lighting conditions or when you’re trying to freeze action in low light, you’re going to get fairly noisy results, especially when compared to an APS-C or full-frame camera. Sony’s tech can do a lot to make the most of less than ideal photographic conditions, but at some point, it runs up against the limits of what’s possible.

Sony also doesn’t get quite as aggressive with computational photographic techniques for digitally compensating for lower available light, as do the Pixel phones and the latest iPhone 11. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though — the images from the RX100 VII present more accurate night and indoor photos, by comparison, and you can still get much better indoor images with the RX100 VII than you can with any smartphone.

As you can see in the gallery above, the camera does extremely well as long as there’s one well-lit subject or element in frame. It’s less effective when the image overall is uniformly dim, but if you’re looking for great photos in those conditions, you should probably consider upgrading to a larger camera with a larger sensor.

Movie maker

The RX100 VII’s greatest strength might just be how good it is at shooting video for a device this size. Video out of the camera with very minimal adjustment from the default shooting settings produces highly usable results, for both home video enthusiasts and for YouTubers or vloggers looking to produce great-looking content without lugging an entire film production studio along with them on their travels.

Once again, the versatile zoom range really shines here, and you can even shoot at the tele end of the zoom handheld and get totally usable footage, provided you’re a bit careful about movement, as you can see in the third clip in the sequence below, which was shot at the 200mm range. Low-light footage looks great, as is evident from the second clip in sequence, and at the wide end you can capture sweeping landscape vistas or flip up the screen and turn the camera around for selfie-style video.

The added microphone port makes it an even more powerful filmmaking tool, and if you pick up their optional VCT-SGR1 shooting grip, combined with a small shotgun mic or something like the Rode Wireless Go, you’ve got everything you need to create very compelling travel diaries in an incredibly lightweight package that will be able to produce quality and get zoom and wide shots that are impossible on a smartphone.

Bottom line

The RX100 VII is a delight of a camera and an easy recommendation to make. There’s nothing that compares in this size category in terms of the range of features, autofocus capabilities, video prowess and performance as a general all-rounder. This is the do-everything travel camera that you could really only dream of five years ago, and it’s become more ideal for this use with every generation that Sony introduces.

Whether you’re looking to step up your photographic possibilities from your smartphone, or you want to supplement your professional or advanced enthusiast equipment with a pocket camera that’s available as a b-camera for video or to grab a few choice stills, the RX100 VII is hard to top. Its only downside is that $1,200 asking price, which is definitely above average for a compact camera — but on a value basis, $1,200 isn’t at all expensive for everything this camera has to offer.

Full sample gallery

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Hackers to stress-test Facebook Portal at hacking contest

Posted by | Apps, computer security, computing, cryptography, cybercrime, Facebook, Facebook Portal, Hack, hacker, hardware, Mobile, national security, Oculus, privacy, pwn2own, Security, Software, tokyo, Trend Micro, Virtual reality, web browser | No Comments

Hackers will soon be able to stress-test the Facebook Portal at the annual Pwn2Own hacking contest, following the introduction of the social media giant’s debut hardware device last year.

Pwn2Own is one of the largest hacking contests in the world, where security researchers descend to find and demonstrate their exploits for vulnerabilities in a range of consumer electronics and technologies, including appliances and automobiles.

It’s not unusual for companies to allow hackers put their products through their paces. Tesla earlier this year entered its new Model 3 sedan into the contest. A pair of researchers later scooped up $375,000 — and the car they hacked — for finding a severe memory randomization bug in the web browser of the car’s infotainment system.

Hackers able to remotely inject and run code on the Facebook Portal can receive up to $60,000, while a non-invasive physical attack or a privilege escalation bug can net $40,000.

Introducing the Facebook Portal is part of a push by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, which runs the contest, to expand the range of home automation devices available to researchers in attendance. Pwn2Own said researchers will also get a chance to try to hack an Amazon Echo Show 5, a Google Nest Hub Max, an Amazon Cloud Cam and a Nest Cam IQ Indoor.

Facebook said it also would allow hackers to find flaws in the Oculus Quest virtual reality kit.

Pwn2Own Tokyo, set to be held on November 6-7, is expected to dish out more than $750,000 in cash and prizes.

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Transportation Weekly: Polestar CEO speaks, Tesla terminology, and a tribute

Posted by | alex roy, Android, Aptiv, Audi, Automation, automotive, BMW, Canada, car, car sharing, Carmera, cars, China, e-bikes, Environmental Protection Agency, Ford, Google, honda, Joshua Schachter, Kia, Kirsten Korosec, Las Vegas, Lyft, mobility services, Netflix, New York, Peugeot, pininfarina, Polestar, rakuten, self-driving car, sidewalk labs, simulation, TechCrunch, Tesla Model S, tokyo, toronto, Toyota, toyota research institute, Transportation, Transportation Weekly, volkswagen, volvo, waymo, Zipcar, Zum | No Comments

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fourth edition of our newsletter, a weekly jaunt into the wonderful world of transportation and how we (and our packages) move.

This week we chat with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, dig into Lyft’s S-1, take note of an emerging trend in AV development, and check out an experiment with paving. Oh, and how could we forget Tesla.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re featuring excerpts taken from a one-on-one interview with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath.

On February 27, Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand Polestar introduced its first all-electric vehicle, a five-door fastback called the Polestar 2. The EV, which has a 78 kWh battery pack and can travel 275 miles (estimated EPA guidance) on a single charge, will be manufactured at a new factory in Chengdu, China. Other notable specs: The infotainment system will be powered by Android OS, Polestar is offering subscriptions to the vehicle, and production starts in 2020.

yellow-jacket-polestar

Here is what Ingenlath had to say to me about …

EV charging infrastructure

To be very unpolitical, I think it would be totally stupid if we were to aim to develop electric charging infrastructure on our own or for our brand specifically. If you join the electric market today, of course, you would see partnerships; that’s sensible thing to do. Car companies together are making a big effort in getting out a network of necessary charging stations along the highway. 

That’s what we’re doing; we’re teaming up and have the contracts being designed and soon signed.

On the company’s approach to automation 

The terminology is important for us. We very clearly put that into a different picture, we’re not talking about, and we clearly do not ever want to label it, anautopilot.” The focus of this system is a very safe distance control, which brakes for you and accelerates for you, and of course, the lane keeping. This is not about developing an autopilot system, it is about giving your safety. And that’s where we don’t want to provoke people thinking that they have full rollout autopilot system there. But it is a system that helps you being safe and protected on the road.

I also reached out to Transportation Weekly readers and asked what they wanted to know and then sent some of those questions to Ingenlath.

TW Reader: How did it feel taking one of your personal styling elements – the C shaped rear lamps – from your previous brand over to Polestar?
Ingenlath: It’s an evolutionary process. Polestar naturally builds on its “mothers” DNA and as a new branch develops its own personality. Thor’s hammer, the rear light signature -—with each new model launch (Volvo and Polestar) those elements diverge into a brand specific species.
TW Reader: How much do you still get to do what you love, which is design?
Ingenlath: Being creative is still my main job, now applied on a broader scope — trying to lead a company with a creative and  brand building mindset. Still, I love the Fridays when I meet up with Robin and Max to review the models, sketches and new data. We really enjoy driving the design of both brands to new adventures.

Dig In

Tesla is finally going to offer customers a $35,000 Model 3. How the automaker is able to sell this electric vehicle at the long-awaited $35,000 price point is a big piece of that story — and one that some overlooked. In short, the company is blowing up its sales model and moving to an online only strategy. Tesla stores will close or be converted to “information centers” and retail employees will be laid off.

But this is not what we’re going to talk about today. Tesla has also brought back its so-called “full self-driving” feature, which was removed as an option on its website last year. Now it’s back. Owners can opt for Autopilot, which has automatic steering on highways and traffic-aware cruise control, or FSD.

FSD capability includes several features such as Navigate on Autopilot that is supposed to guide a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including navigating interchanges and making lane changes. FSD also includes Advanced Summon, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. Later this year, the system will recognize and respond to traffic lights in more complex urban environments, Tesla says.

All of these features require the driver to be engaged (or ready to take over), yet it’s called “full self-driving.” Now Tesla has two controversially named automation features. (The other is Autopilot). As Andrew Hawkins at The Verge noted in his coverage, “experts are beginning to realize that the way we discuss, and how companies market, autonomy is significant.”

Which begs the obvious question, and one that I asked Musk during a conference call on Thursday. “Isn’t it a problem that you’re calling this full self-driving capability when you’re still going to require the driver to take control or be paying attention?” (I also wanted to ask a followup on his response, but the moderator moved onto the next reporter).

His response:

“We are very clear when you buy the car what is meant by full self driving. It means it’s feature complete, but feature complete requiring supervision.

As we get more — we really need billions of miles, if not maybe 10 billion sort of miles or kilometers on that order collectively from the fleet — then in our opinion probably at that point supervision is not required, but that will still be up to regulators to agree.

So we’re just very clear.  There’s really three steps: there’s being feature complete of full self driving that requires supervision, feature complete but not requiring supervision, and feature complete not requiring supervision and regulators agree.

In other Tesla news, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a crash, that at first glance seems to be similar to the fatal crash that killed Tesla owner Joshua Brown.

In cooperation with the Palm Beach sheriff’s office, the NTSB is sending a team of three to conduct a safety investigation of the commercial motor vehicle and Tesla crash in Delray Beach, FL.

— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) March 2, 2019


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh is one of the hubs of autonomous vehicle development in the world. But what’s not so widely known — except for a group of government and company insiders — is that Mayor William Peduto is on the verge of issuing an executive order that will give more visibility into testing there. 

The city’s department of mobility and infrastructure is the central coordinator of this new executive order that aims to help guide testing and policy development there. The department is going to develop guidelines for AV testing, we’re told. And it appears that information on testing will be released to the public at least once a year.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Daimler and BMW are supposed to be competitors. And they are, except with mapping (both part of the HERE consortium), mobility services (car sharing, ride-sharing), and now the development of highly automated driving systems. The deal is notable because it illustrates a larger trend that has emerged as the AV industry hunkers down into the “trough of disillusionment.” And that’s consolidation. If 2016, was the year of splashy acquisitions, then 2019 is shaping up to be chockfull of alliances and failures (of some startups).

Also interesting to note, and one that will make some AV safety experts cringe, both companies are working on Level 3 driving automation, a designation by the SAE that means conditional driving automation in which multiple high levels of automation are available in certain conditions, but a human driver must be ready to take over. This level of automation is the most controversial because of the so-called “hand off” problem in which a human driver is expected to take control of the wheel in time.

Speaking of partnerships, another deal that got our attention this week involved New York-based mapping and data analytics startup Carmera and Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development. TRI-AD is an autonomous drive unit started by Toyota with Denso and Aisin. TRI-AD’s mission is to take the research being done over at the Toyota Research Institute and turn its into a product.

The two companies are going to test a concept that will use cameras in Toyota test vehicles to collect data from downtown Tokyo and use it to create high definition maps for urban and surface roads.

TRI-AD considers this the first step towards its open software platform concept known as Automated Mapping Platform that will be used to support the scalability of highly automated driving, by combining data gathered from vehicles of participating companies to generate HD maps. AMP is new and has possible widespread implications at Toyota. And TRI-AD is full of A-listers, including CEO James Kuffner, who came from the Google self-driving project and Nikos Michalakis, who built Netflix’s cloud platform, and Mandali Khalesi, who was at HERE.

Read more on Khalesi and the Toyota’s open source ambitions here.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Snapshot this week is a bit untraditional. It’s literally a snapshot of myself and my grandmother, months before her 100th birthday. Her memorial service was held Saturday. She died at 101. She loved cars and fast ones, but not so much driving them. And every time I got a new press car, we’d hit the road and she’d encourage me to take the turns a bit faster.

She also loved road trips and in the 1920s, her father would drive the family on the mostly dirt roads from New Jersey to Vermont and even Canada. In her teens, she loved riding in the rumble seat, a feature found in a few vehicles at the time including the Ford Model A.

She was young at heart, until the very end. Next week, we’ll focus on the youngest drivers and one automotive startup that is targeting that demographic.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Lyft’s S-1 lays out the risks associated with its micromobility business and its intent to continue relying on third parties to manufacture its bikes and scooters. Here’s a key nugget about adoption:

“While some major cities have widely adopted bike and scooter sharing, there can be no assurance that new markets we enter will accept, or existing markets will continue to accept, bike and scooter sharing, and even if they do, that we will be able to execute on our business strategy or that our related offerings will be successful in such markets. Even if we are able to successfully develop and implement our network of shared bikes and scooters, there may be heightened public skepticism of this nascent service offering.”

And another about seasonality:

“Our limited operating history makes it difficult for us to assess the exact nature or extent of the effects of seasonality on our network of shared bikes and scooters, however, we expect the demand for our bike and scooter rentals to decline over the winter season and increase during more temperate and dry seasons.”

Lyft, which bought bike-share company Motivate back in July, also released some data about its electric pedal-assist bikes this week, showing that the pedal assist bikes are, unsurprisingly, more popular than the traditional bikes. They also traveled longer distances and improved winter ridership numbers. Now, Lyft is gearing up to deploy 4,000 additional electric bikes to the Citi Bike system in New York City.

One more thing …

Google Maps has added a feature that lets users see Lime scooters, pedal bikes and e-bikes right from the transit tab in over 80 new cities around the world. Users can click the tab to find out if Lime vehicle is available, how long it’ll take to walk to the vehicle, an estimate of how much their ride could cost, along with total journey time and ETA.


Notable reads

If take the time to read anything this week (besides this newsletter), spend some time with Lyft’s S-1. The ride-hailing company’s prospectus mentions autonomous 109 times. In short, yeah, it’s something the company’s executives are thinking about and investing in.

Lyft says it has a two-pronged strategy to bring autonomous vehicles to market. The company encouraging developers of autonomous vehicle technology to use its open platform to get access to its network and enable their vehicles to fulfill rides on the Lyft platform. And Lyft is trying to build its own autonomous vehicle system at its confusingly named “Level 5 Engineering Center.”

  • The company’s primary investors are Rakuten with a 13 percent stake, GM with 7.8 percent, Fidelity with 7.7 percent, Andreessen Horowitz with 6.3 percent and Alphabet with 5.3 percent. GM and Alphabet have business units, GM Cruise and Waymo respectively, that are also developing AV technology.
  • Through Lyft’s partnership with AV systems developer and supplier Aptiv, people in Las Vegas have taken more than 35,000 rides in Aptiv autonomous vehicles with a safety driver since January 2018.
  • One of the “risks” the company lists is “a failure to detect a defect in our autonomous vehicles or our bikes or scooters”

Other quotable notables:

Check out the Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State report, a newly released report from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll called  The State of Electric Vehicles in America.


Testing and deployments

Again, deployments doesn’t always mean the latest autonomous vehicle pilot.

On Saturday, Sidewalk Labs hosted its Open Sidewalk event in Toronto. This is part of Sidewalk Toronto, a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to create a “mixed-use, complete community” on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront

The idea of this event was to share ideas and prototypes for making outdoor public space the “social default year-round.” One such prototype “hexagonal paving” got our attention because of its use case for traffic control and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. (Pictured below)

These individual precast concrete slabs are movable and permeable, can light up and give off heat. The idea is that these hexagonal-shaped slabs and be used to clear snow and ice in trouble spots and light up to warn drivers and pedestrians of changes to the street use or to illuminate an area for public uses or even designate bike lanes and hazard zones. And because they’re permeable they can be used to absorb stormwater or melted snow and guide it to underground stormwater management systems.

Sidewalk Labs tell me that the pavers have “plug and play” holes, which allow things like bike racks, bollards, and sign posts to be inserted. Sidewalk Labs initially built these with wood, and the new prototype is the next iteration, featuring modules built from concrete.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month.

The Geneva Motor Show: Press days are March 5 and March 6. Expect concept, prototype and production electric vehicles from Audi, Honda, Kia, Peugeot, Pininfarina, Polestar, Spanish car company Hispano Suiza, and Volkswagen.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW this coming week. Here’s where I’ll be.

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Self Racing Cars

Finally, I’ve been in contact with Joshua Schachter who puts on the annual Self Racing Car event, which will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at contact@selfracingcars.com.

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

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Sony Mobile Gets Into The Drone Business

Posted by | apple-iphone, Gadgets, mobile phones, Sony, tokyo | No Comments

BN-JM727_SONYDR_J_20150722051506 Sony is looking to drones to find new business opportunities. Specifically Sony Mobile, the division of Sony responsible for mobile phones, telecommunication and small imaging sensors, founded the company along with Tokyo startup ZMP Inc. But don’t expect to buy a Sony drone anytime soon. These drones are not for the general consumer. Called Aerosense, this new company will open new doors… Read More

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