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Getting high on HRI

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I know I keep teasing how excited I am about July’s big robotics event, but it’s precisely because of panels like the one we announced earlier this week. We’ve got Rodney Brooks and Clara Vu teaming up for a 2-on-1 fireside to discussing the changing face of human-robot interaction.

It’s a big, broad and important topic, as robotics take an increasingly larger role in our lives. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better duo to discuss the topic with (that’s the nice thing about running programming for an event).

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Brooks is the co-founder and CTO of deep learning robotics software firm Robust.AI. He also co-founded iRobot and cobot firm Rethink Robotics, and served as the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)  for a decade. Vu is the co-founder and CTO of collaborative robotic safety firm Veo and a co-founder of Harvest Automation.

Both Brooks and Vu have appeared onstage at TC Sessions: Robotics in previous years, and I’m psyched to have them in conversation this time out. All right, that’s enough plugging from me this week.

Image Credits: Qualcomm

Kicking things off with Qualcomm this week. Unsurprisingly, the company is making a new push into the robotics world this week, in hopes of leveraging its 5G technologies for autonomous robotic systems. The Qualcomm Robotics RB6 Platform is a development kit announced this week at the company’s 5G summit, and the Southern Californian chip maker is casting the net quite wide here, with a focus on drones, delivery robots, collaborative systems and more.

Says Qualcomm’s Dev Singh:

Building on the successful growth and traction of Qualcomm Technologies’ leading robotics solutions, our expanded roadmap of solutions will help bring enhanced AI and 5G technologies to support smarter, safer, and more advanced innovations across robotics, drones and intelligent machines. We are fueling robotics innovations with 5G connectivity and premium edge-AI that will transform how we think and approach challenges and ever-evolving industry expectations in the digital economy.

RB6, which is built on top of the Qualcomm Robotics Platform, arrives along with the RB5 AMR Reference Design to help kickstart robotics hardware development that utilizes the firm’s components. Given the recent explosive growth of automation, it’s clear why companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia and Intel are all making pushes to get in on the ground floor of development.

Some fun research out of Hangzhou, China’s Zheijang University this week. The school is showcasing drone swarming in a difficult to navigate forest setting. The 10 drones are controlled by a central computer, flying in formation and following human subjects, all while avoiding crashing into trees.

Image Credits: DJI

Speaking of crashing into trees, we’ve done our fair share at TechCrunch while testing DJI drones. The company’s got a new version of the Mini 3 Pro, which weighs in at 249 grams. That’s precisely one gram from the FAA cutoff that requires drone users to register their systems. It has been fascinating watching the company iterate on the folding Mavic line over the last several years.

These things are getting impressively powerful at their size, and much as smartphone innovations have created components that have launched several other fields, it seems likely that the work being done in the consumer drone space is going to have a profound impact in the broader automation field, going forward. Oh, and the new version of the Mini has even more safety features, theoretically making it more difficult to accidentally slam into trees.

Theoretically.

Image Credits: Hyundai

This one completely flew under our radar a few weeks back. Hyundai is recommitting to some of those wild Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) concepts by launching the New Horizons Studio (NHS). The Bozeman, Montana-based studio will be focused on iterating some of those ideas courtesy of a $20 million investment over the next five years.

As to why the company chose Montana, New Horizon head John Suh says, “Montana is quickly becoming a hub for high-tech companies and entrepreneurs with a growing talent pool of skilled labor in the field of engineering, research and natural science. Bozeman is a thriving and economic micropolitan city. Nestled near dozens of off-road trails with more than 150 miles of terrain and mountain access for UMV testing — it’s the perfect fit for our new R&D Lab.”

As for the concepts the team is working on, Hyundai notes, “The first is an uncrewed transforming intelligent ground excursion robot (similar to what was revealed at CES in 2021) designed to carry various types of payloads while traveling over treacherous terrain. The second, inspired by Elevate, is a larger (size of a two-person ATV) vehicle with robotic legs that can address challenging driving situations and potentially save lives as the first responder in natural disasters.”

The founders of Eureka Robotics with an Archimedes robot arm

Image Credits: Eureka Robotics

This week was a little light on actual funding news, but we’ve got one addition, just under the wire: Eureka Robotics. The Singapore-based firm caused a minor online sensation back in 2018 with its Ikea furniture building robot. Turns out its technology was successful enough to earn it a $4.25 “Pre-Series A” for robots that can drill, inspect, assemble and perform other complex tasks.

The round, which was led by The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners, will be used to deploy and accelerate development on the company’s flagship Eureka Controller. The company co-founder, Dr. Pham Quang Cuong, tells Catherine, “while the core technologies are mature and have already been deployed in production, we want to make those technologies really easy to use by System Integrators. Making advanced technologies easy to use by non-programmer engineers is actually difficult.”

Image Credits: ABB Robotics

Closing us out this week for good measure is an ABB demo featuring a car-painting robot. Haje notes:

For this PR stunt, the company collaborated with eight-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital design collective Illusorr, to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. The project is showing off the company’s PixelPaint technology, which is basically an inkjet printer with 1,000 nozzles mounted on an industrial robot.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Fire up that robotic arm and subscribe to Actuator. 

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Match restructures executive leadership, hires former Snap VP of Product as new CTO

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Match Group, the parent company of several popular dating apps, including Tinder and Hinge, has announced a revamped executive leadership team. Most notably, the company is bringing on former Vice President of Product at Snap Will Wu as its new chief technology officer in a newly created role. Wu will oversee product innovation across Match’s portfolio of apps, the company says.

During his time at Snap, Wu led the team charged with the creation and commercialization of Snap’s developer platforms. Wu led the creation of many of Snap’s popular features, including the “Discover” content platform, the “Chat” messaging feature and Snap’s social gaming initiative. Match says Wu will now work directly with its executives to launch new features, emerging technologies and innovative products.

“Will is truly a product savant,” said Match Group CEO Bernard Kim in a statement. “For nine years, he has forged new technologies at scale that have redefined user experiences and expectations of social products, particularly amongst Gen Z. I’ve known him for a long time, and have seen the massive impact he’s had on the way people connect at Snap, and I can’t wait to see what he will bring to the dating experience. This leadership team has a deep bench of knowledge, proven track records, and we are all ready to collaborate and capitalize on the opportunities ahead.”

The company also announced that Gary Swindler, who was previously the chief operating officer and vhief financial officer of Match, will become the president and chief financial officer of Group. In addition, Malgosia Green, who was previously CEO of Plenty of Fish, will become chief executive officer of Match Group Asia.

Another leadership change will see Hesam Hosseini, the CEO of Match and Affinity brands, taking on a newly created role as Match Group CEO of Evergreen & Emerging Brands. In this position, Hosseini will oversee Match, Meetic, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, in addition to emerging brands such as The League, BLK and Chispa. Last, Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, will now report directly to Kim.

Match says the new changes are designed to maximize profitability, enhance growth, streamline operations and prioritize new business opportunities. The move comes as Match is looking to grow its business beyond traditional, swipe-based matchmaking and into the so-called “metaverse.” Match has spoken previously about its plans for a dating metaverse, complete with a virtual goods-based economy, real-time audio and the ability for online daters to meet up in a virtual space to have conversations.

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A network of knockoff apparel stores exposed 330,000 customer credit cards

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If you recently made a purchase from an overseas online store selling knockoff clothes and goods, there’s a chance your credit card number and personal information were exposed.

Since January 6, a database containing hundreds of thousands of unencrypted credit card numbers and corresponding cardholders’ information was spilling onto the open web. At the time it was pulled offline on Tuesday, the database had about 330,000 credit card numbers, cardholder names, and full billing addresses — and rising in real-time as customers placed new orders. The data contained all the information that a criminal would need to make fraudulent transactions and purchases using a cardholder’s information.

The credit card numbers belong to customers who made purchases through a network of near-identical online stores claiming to sell designer goods and apparel. But the stores had the same security problem in common: any time a customer made a purchase, their credit card data and billing information was saved in a database, which was left exposed to the internet without a password. Anyone who knew the IP address of the database could access reams of unencrypted financial data.

Anurag Sen, a good-faith security researcher, found the exposed credit card records and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting it to its owner. Sen has a respectable track record of scanning the internet looking for exposed servers and inadvertently published data, and reporting it to companies to get their systems secured.

But in this case, Sen wasn’t the first person to discover the spilling data. According to a ransom note left behind on the exposed database, someone else had found the spilling data and, instead of trying to identify the owner and responsibly reporting the spill, the unnamed person instead claimed to have taken a copy of the entire database’s contents of credit card data and would return it in exchange for a small sum of cryptocurrency.

A review of the data by TechCrunch shows most of the credit card numbers are owned by cardholders in the United States. Several people we contacted confirmed that their exposed credit card data was accurate.

TechCrunch has identified several online stores whose customers’ information was exposed by the leaky database. Many of the stores claim to operate out of Hong Kong. Some of the stores are designed to sound similar to big-name brands, like Sprayground, but whose websites have no discernible contact information, typos and spelling mistakes, and a conspicuous lack of customer reviews. Internet records also show the websites were set up in the past few weeks.

Some of these websites include:

  • spraygroundusa.com
  • ihuahebuy.com
  • igoodlinks.com
  • ibuysbuy.com
  • lichengshop.com
  • hzoushop.com
  • goldlyshop.com
  • haohangshop.com
  • twinklebubble.store
  • spendidbuy.com

If you bought something from one of those sites in the past few weeks, you might want to consider your banking card compromised and contact your bank or card provider.

It’s not clear who is responsible for this network of knockoff stores. TechCrunch contacted a person via WhatsApp whose Singapore-registered phone number was listed as the point of contact on several of the online stores. It’s not clear if the contact number listed is even involved with the stores, given one of the websites listed its location as a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Houston, Texas.

Internet records showed that the database was operated by a customer of Tencent, whose cloud services were used to host the database. TechCrunch contacted Tencent about its customer’s database leaking credit card information, and the company responded quickly. The customer’s database went offline a short time later.

“When we learned of the incident, we immediately contacted the customer who operates the database and it was shut down immediately. Data privacy and security are top priorities at Tencent. We will continue to work with our customers to ensure they maintain their databases in a safe and secure manner,” said Carrie Fan, global communications director at Tencent.

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All Raise CEO steps down again

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Less than a year after assuming the role, All Raise CEO Mandela SH Dixon has stepped down from her position at the nonprofit. The entrepreneur, who previously ran Founder Gym, an online training center for underrepresented founders, said in a blog post that the decision was made after she realized “being in the field working directly with entrepreneurs everyday” is her passion. Dixon said that she will be exploring new opportunities in alignment with that.

Her resignation is effective starting February 1st, 2023. She will remain an advisor to the Bay Area-based nonprofit.

This is the second chief executive to leave All Raise since it was first founded in 2017. In 2021, Pam Kostka resigned as the helm of the nonprofit to rejoin the startup world as well; Kostka is now an operator in residence and limited partner at Operator Collective, according to her LinkedIn. With Dixon gone, Paige Hendrix Buckner, who joined the outfit as chief of staff nine months ago, will step in as interim CEO. In the same blog post, Buckner wrote that “Mandela leaves All Raise in a strong position, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue the hard work of diversifying the VC backed ecosystem.”

Dixon did not immediately respond to comment on the record. It is unclear if All Raise is immediately kicking off a permanent CEO search.

The nonprofit has historically defined its goals in two ways: first, it wants to increase the amount of seed funding that goes to female founders from 11% to 23% by 2030, and, second, it wants to double the percentage of female decision-makers at U.S. firms by 2028.

In previous interviews, Dixon said that the company will work on creating explicit goals around what impact it wants to have for historically overlooked individuals. The data underscores the challenge ahead. Black and LatinX women receive disproportionately less venture capital money than white women; non-binary founders can also face higher hurdles when seeking funding, as All Raise board member Aileen Lee noted in the blog post.  The nonprofit has created specific programs for Black and Latinx founders but has not disclosed a specific goal for the cohort yet. These disconnects can be lost if not tracked. All Raise’s last impact report was published in 2020 and they’re working on bringing that analysis back, Lee tells TechCrunch in an interview.

“All Raise is in great hands with Paige as interim leader and we’ve got a lot of exciting things that we’re shaping and scaling,” Lee said. “We have to all continue to link arms to try and continue to make improvements for our industry…we’ve made good progress that we can’t let up.”

Since launch, the nonprofit has raised $11 million in funding, and opened regional chapters in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC and, soon, Miami.

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