Mythic, an AI-chip maker for autonomous devices banks $40M Series B

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Mythic, an AI-based microchip for parallel computing in connected and autonomous devices raised a $ 40M Series B round led by Softbank Ventures. Other investors included DFJ, Lux Capital, Data Collective, and AME Cloud Ventures, and new investors Lockheed Martin Ventures and Andy Bechtolsheim.

Mythic’s chip

The latest funding brings Mythic’s total equity funding to $ 49M as it previously raised $ 9M Series A in March last year. It will use the funding proceeds to bring to market its Silicon used in the AI chips.

Mythic was incubated at the Michigan Integrated Circuits Lab and it’s high-speed; low-power AI chips can be used in autonomous drones, fitness bands, battery-powered monitors, and smartphone. Comprised of both hardware and software, a key difference in technology Mythic is pushing to market is the use of analog electrical signals and flash memory to perform machine learning inference calculations.

It implies most of its use cases and applications will include ‘edge compute’ scenarios where data is stored and analyzed locally on the device rather than in the cloud.

An interesting and understandable development was the appointment of Rene Haas as a board member of Mythic. He belongs to Softback and has stints in Nvidia and ARM, both being major competitors of chip-making.

Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things

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Autonomous cars may soon navigate better in fog

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One major issue for autonomous vehicles is driving in fog. Many types of self-driving technology use visible light to determine how to navigate. This becomes a real problem when driving conditions are poor, and especially when there's fog. But now, r…
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Jaguar Land Rover tests autonomous parking on public roads

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Plenty of cars will help you park, but the biggest challenge is frequently finding a spot in the first place — it's no fun to circle the parking lot for 10 minutes. Fully autonomous cars can ultimately take care of this, but Jaguar Land Rover is dem…
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Retail IoT: AI firm trials autonomous smartphone checkouts

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American artificial intelligence (AI) firm AVA Retail has successfully completed the first trial of its autonomous checkout system.

The SmoothShop system allows customers to scan and pay for items with their smartphones in retail aisles. On finishing, the amounts owed by shoppers are deducted from their connected accounts with a click.

The technology is targeted at high-street retailers and smaller merchants.

Frictionless shopping

SmoothShop is designed to be a quick and convenient system for both customers and retailers. The checkout doesn’t rely on a third-party app or turnstile – AVA said “shoppers simply enter the store with their phone”.

However, the company explained that it does offer additional software and hardware for stores that want to take extra security precautions. The system is powered by “deep learning, computer vision, and sensor fusion technologies”, added the firm.

The news comes just days after UK supermarket chain Co-Op unveiled its own smartphone-based checkout service to slash queuing times.

AVA announced its frictionless checkout system in August 2016, but didn’t start trialling the technology until September 2017. Since then, it has been testing it in co-working space/start-up community WeWork’s food and beverage kiosks.

AVA has collaborated with Mastercard to bring the latter’s digital payment and security services to AVA’s cashier technology. Mastercard is on a mission to “provide comprehensive solutions for retailers across multiple categories”, explained AVA.

In the UK, the Co-op’s app is also built on Mastercard’s Masterpass secure mobile payments technology.

Stephane Wyper, senior vice president of new commerce partnerships at Mastercard, said the first trial has been a huge success. “Mastercard continues to engage with innovative companies that are developing technologies that can transform the in-store retail experience to make the consumer journey as frictionless as possible.

“This collaboration is a great example of how we can couple our rich set of payment, security, and analytic capabilities with AVA’s retail IoT assets to help retailers deploy unique experiences today,” he said.

Transforming retail

As Wyper suggested, AVA has also developed an analytics solution in partnership with Mastercard, to help retailers gain better insight into their customers’ needs and behaviours.

So far, Mastercard claims to have processed more than 30 million customer journeys, 750 million product interactions, and 20 million checkouts throughout four continents.

Atul Hirpara, chief executive officer of AVA, explained that firm is helping stores accelerate their digital transformation plans and tap into emerging technologies.

“[Retailers are using] IoT sensors to digitally transform physical retail locations, creating digital footprints of in-store shoppers, store associates, and store inventory that was not available before,” he said.

By tapping into IoT data, retailers can “create better shopper experiences, drive staffing efficiency, and higher sales conversion”, he added.

Read more: Retail IoT: Why Vodafone’s digital fitting rooms are a good fit for Mango

Read more: Retail IoT: Shoppers demand AI, VR, and a better fit online

Internet of Business says

Mastercard’s strategy to provide the underlying technology for frictionless shopping is becoming clear, and we can expect more announcements in this space in the months ahead. The tipping point will come when the biggest retailers get onboard with smartphone shopping, with many having already deployed automated self-checkouts.

As we reported in our story on the Co-op’s similar programme, frictionless shopping has become critically important to rising numbers of customers. Many use their smartphones for shopping lists, while others compare goods online along with in-store prices from other retailers in the aisles.

Now both consumers and retailers want in-store shopping to be as swift and hassle-free as ordering goods online, but with the added benefit of bricks rather than clicks: instant access to goods.

The result could be greater loyalty to the brands that deploy these technologies – the Holy Grail for all retailers, especially in the squeezed mid-market – and a more efficiently run business.

However, not all retail environments will be appropriate for the instant gratification approach: it will be a ‘horses for courses’ market, with many shops – particularly in higher-end goods and fashion – differentiating themselves by their quality of personal service, as well as their goods.

In the UK, the Co-op has said that it has seen the use of cash in its food stores diminish rapidly as alternative payment methods have become more popular. Cash transactions have fallen by more than one fifth over the last five years, and by 15 percent in the past 18 months alone, it said.

Doubtless competitors will be watching to see how secure this new system is, what the impacts are on shopper numbers, supply chain/ordering processes, and the bottom line – and whether the system is used or abused.

The post Retail IoT: AI firm trials autonomous smartphone checkouts appeared first on Internet of Business.

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Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Pedestrian in Arizona, Accident Could Have Implications for Autonomous Vehicle Testing

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An autonomous test vehicle being tested by Uber struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona early Monday, marking what appears to be the first pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle, reports The New York Times.

The Uber vehicle in question was in an autonomous driving mode with a human safety driver at the wheel, and the woman who was struck was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, according to local police. No other details on the accident are available at this time.

One of Apple’s autonomous test vehicles

Uber is cooperating with Tempe police and has suspended all of its self-driving vehicle tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto at the current time. Uber’s autonomous vehicles have previously been involved in collisions, as have vehicles from other companies like Tesla, but this is the first pedestrian-related accident that has resulted in a fatality.

This incident will likely have wide-ranging implications for all companies who are testing autonomous vehicles, including Apple, and it could potentially result in more oversight and regulation.

Apple has been testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads in California near its Cupertino headquarters since last year. Apple vehicles, which include a series of Lexus RX450h SUVs equipped with a host of sensors and cameras, have not been involved in any known accidents to date.

To date, most autonomous vehicles in California and Arizona have been using safety drivers behind the wheel who are meant to take over in the event of an emergency, but California in February lifted that rule.

Starting on April 2, companies in California that are testing self-driving vehicles will be able to deploy cars that do not have a driver behind the wheel. Arizona also allows driverless cars to be tested in the state, and Waymo has been testing autonomous driverless minivans in Arizona since November.

Related Roundup: Apple Car

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Volkswagen: €34bn reinvention as electric, autonomous car maker

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Volkswagen SEDRIC

The Volkswagen Group has laid out an ambitious electric vehicle and autonomous driving roadmap, with 16 locations around the world now set to produce electric vehicles (EVs) by the end of 2022.

The €34 billion programme marks a major up-scaling of the carmaker’s electric car programme, from its current three EV production locations. CEO Matthias Müller announced the investment at the Group’s annual conference in Berlin.

Volkswagen plans to have a further nine electric car plants up and running in the next two years.

Agreements have already been signed with battery manufacturers for Europe and China, comprising much of the €20 billion already committed, while securing battery capacity to meet demand. A supplier for North America is expected to follow soon.

The turbocharged plan follows the launch of Volkswagen’s Roadmap E strategy last autumn, in which the carmaker announced its intention to produce up to three million electric vehicles annually by 2025, and market 80 new electric models across the Volkswagen Group.

The company is set to launch three new fully electric cars and six hybrids this year, with this expected to increase to a new electric vehicle “virtually every month” in 2019, Müller announced.

Evolution or revolution?

This seems to be a watershed moment in Volkswagen’s history, and that of the car sector as a whole. Even within Volkswagen itself, the move will have far-reaching repercussions, as it owns Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini, among other famous marques.

As electric cars become more affordable and capable, overcoming the challenges of range and charging times, the industry’s giants are keen to keep their place in the vanguard of automotive innovation, fending off challengers such as Tesla, Uber, and Alphabet.

However, this doesn’t mean that Volkswagen thinks the combustion engine is dead. Müller said:

We are making massive investments in the mobility of tomorrow, but without neglecting current technologies and vehicles that will continue to play an important role for decades to come. We are putting almost €20 billion into our conventional vehicle and drive portfolio in 2018, with a total of more than €90 billion scheduled over the next five years.

The digitised cars of tomorrow

The increased focus on electric vehicles goes hand-in-hand with the Group’s wider digital transformation. Last autumn it announced the Volkswagen I.D. – a range of electric, fully-autonomous concept cars that embody its strategic vision for the space.

Now, the carmaker’s first level 5 (complete automation) concept car has been announced: SEDRIC. It forgoes a steering wheel, pedals, and even a cockpit, in favour of four inward-facing seats. (God forbid it encounters any speed bumps.)

Taken together, e-mobility, autonomous driving, networking of all road users, and new mobility services add up to a total of €34 billion in new Volkswagen investment by 2022.

“We want to redefine urban mobility, and to that end we are systematically focusing on people and their needs, and not primarily on technology,” said Müller.

One example is Volkwagen’s recent announcement of CarLa, an autonomous robot that charges your car. It is aimed at tackling one of the friction points of electric car ownership: the need for regular charging.

Summing up, Müller said:

In spite of all the challenges, particularly those we are facing in cities, we want to be part of the solution. I am convinced that the Volkswagen Group with its 12 brands is better placed to achieve that than any other mobility group.

“And because – irrespective of all the love of cars that makes us who we are and defines our success – we have understood that, ultimately, technology is always only a means to an end.”

Internet of Business says

This final note on consumer needs is an important one. In the constant drive for technology gains, it’s vital to remember the customer. Whether passengers are travelling in a diesel car or an electric one, and whether it boasts level 5 autonomy or a humble steering wheel, it all boils down to their experience. Ultimately, it’s about whether the vehicle matches their lifestyle – and gets them to where they want to go.

In the aftermath of Dieselgate, Volkswagen is eager to redefine itself as a forward-thinking sustainability advocate. And as the largest carmaker in the world by some measures, Volkswagen will play a central role in the shift to smart electric vehicles.

The company’s renewed strategic emphasis on electric cars begs the question of how this will affect the current leaders in the field. Tesla may be the industry darling, but the financial might and pedigree of Volkswagen can’t be ignored.

Read more: Lamborghini teams with Vodafone on connected supercars

Read more: Hyundai tests first autonomous fuel cell cars

Read more: TomTom brings connected car services to Kia and Hyundai

The post Volkswagen: €34bn reinvention as electric, autonomous car maker appeared first on Internet of Business.

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Autonomous Cars Are Coming, and Bringing Change Along for the Ride

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Some changes autonomous cars bring will be great… others, not so much.

The post Autonomous Cars Are Coming, and Bringing Change Along for the Ride appeared first on Futurism.


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Autonomous Robot Bees Are Being Patented by… Walmart?

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Walmart has just filed a patent for autonomous, robot bees. Yes, that Walmart — and no, you didn’t slip into another, stranger dimension. The mega-corporation’s patent specifically covers “pollination drones.” These tiny robots could act just like bees, pollinating crops autonomously.

The robot bees would operate using sensors and cameras to help them navigate to crops. Flying around autonomously, these drones could potentially pollinate as effectively as the real thing.

An artist's representation of what robot bees may look like.
Robot bees could save agriculture while real bee populations dwindle. Image Credit: Polynoid/Greenpeace/Vimeo

Oddly enough, this is not the only farming patent that Walmart has filed recently. According to CB Insights, this is only one of six Walmart patents for farming drones that would do everything from monitor crop damage to spray pesticides. Incorporating autonomous robots into farming could cut costs and increase agriculture efficiency.

The thing that’s so puzzling about this move is: why Walmart?

The retailer hasn’t publicly commented on the patents yet, so the reasons behind Walmart’s sudden interest in farming drones has to be left up to interpretation. Yet since many Walmart locations do carry produce, it’s possible that the company is looking to gain more control of the food it’s selling. Perhaps by taking such a significant role in agriculture, the company will be able to improve quality and cut costs.

This seems like a sound explanation, especially since Walmart has decided to expand its grocery delivery service. According to a patent filed by the company in January, this service will allow shoppers to accept or reject produce. While such a service has potential to rake in serious business for Walmart, it also means they will need to step up the quality of their produce. Hence, potentially, the robo-bees.

Meanwhile, honeybee populations are dying, and we can no longer take pollination for granted. These small creatures are the backbone of agriculture and the food that we eat. While scientists work to better understand declining pollinator populations, and hopefully come up with solutions, these Walmart farming drones could keep agriculture, and fresh produce, alive.

The post Autonomous Robot Bees Are Being Patented by… Walmart? appeared first on Futurism.


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Larry Page’s autonomous air taxi ‘Cora’ flies in New Zealand

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Reports surfaced in 2016 that Google co-founder (and now Alphabet CEO) Larry Page had two "flying car" projects in the works, and while we saw the Flyer recreational vehicle unveiled last year, today it's time to meet Cora. An "air taxi" developed by…
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