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The Hair-Raising, Record-Setting Race to 331 MPH

The Hair-Raising, Record-Setting Race to 331 MPH

Ultimately, Webb says, the limiting factor on the road that morning wasn’t the car—its 5.9-L twin-turbo V8 was still good for at least another 20 mph, SSC engineers estimate—but the conditions. “We didn’t have six lanes on a test track to play with,” says Webb, who competes in multiple race series, including Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship, in addition to being a test and stunt driver. “This is two lanes, and if you get pushed over one lane you only have 6 inches before it’s game over. So it was me deciding to back out of the run. In ideal conditions, we could have gone faster.”

The effort is the culmination of a 10-year development process for the $1.6 million Tuatara, which succeeds the company’s SSC Ultimate Aero. That car had set the record in 2007 for fastest production car, with a speed of 256.18 mph. SSC

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content, including exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic — though uncensored and ad-free — experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the live stream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream disconnects and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage when it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces an additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special live stream fan event.

Apple says that Apple Music 1 won’t be producing exclusive content for the live-streamed station, but instead will run the video content it already produces across its radio stations — Apple Music 1, Apple Music Country, and Apple Music Hits — as interstitial content on Apple Music TV.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT, Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres — Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other live stream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO or, more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

Pimloc gets $1.8M for its AI-based visual search and redaction tool

Pimloc gets $1.8M for its AI-based visual search and redaction tool

U.K.-based Pimloc has closed a £1.4 million (~$1.8 million) seed funding round led by Amadeus Capital Partners. Existing investor Speedinvest and other unnamed shareholders also participated in the round.

The 2016-founded computer vision startup launched a AI-powered photo classifier service called Pholio in 2017 — pitching the service as a way for smartphone users to reclaim agency over their digital memories without having to hand over their data to cloud giants like Google.

It has since pivoted to position Pholio as a “specialist search and discovery platform” for large image and video collections and live streams (such as those owned by art galleries or broadcasters) — and also launched a second tool powered by its deep learning platform. This product, Secure Redact, offers privacy-focused content moderation tools — enabling its users to find and redact personal data in visual content.

An example use case it gives is for law enforcement to anonymize bodycam footage so it can be repurposed for training videos or prepared for submitting as evidence.

Pimloc has been working with diverse image and video content for several years supporting businesses with a host of classification, moderation and data protection challenges (image libraries, art galleries, broadcasters and CCTV providers),” CEO Simon Randall tells TechCrunch.

“Through our work on the visual privacy side we identified a critical gap in the market for services that allow businesses and governments to manage visual data protection at scale on security footage. Pimloc has worked in this area for a couple of years building capability and product; as a result, Pimloc has now focused the business solely around this mission.”

Secure Redact has two components: A first (automated) step that detects personal data (e.g. faces, heads, bodies) within video content. On top of that is what Randall calls a layer of “intelligent tools” — letting users quickly review and edit results.

“All detections and tracks are auditable and editable by users prior to accepting and redacting,” he explains, adding: “Personal data extends wider than just faces into other objects and scene content, including ID cards, tattoos, phone screens (body-worn cameras have a habit of picking up messages on the wearer’s phone screen as they are typing, or sensitive notes on their laptop or notebook).”

One specific user of redaction with the tool he mentions is the University of Bristol. There, a research group, led by Dr Dima Damen, an associate professor in computer vision, is participating in an international consortium of 12 universities which is aiming to amass the largest data set on egocentric vision — and needs to be able to anonymise the video data set before making it available for academic/open source use.

On the legal side, Randall says Pimloc offers a range of data processing models — thereby catering to differences in how/where data can be processed. “Some customers are happy for Pimloc to act as data processor and use the Secure Redact SaaS solution — they manage their account, they upload footage and can review/edit/update detections prior to redaction and usage. Some customers run the Secure Redact system on their servers where they are both data controller and processor,” he notes.

“We have over 100 users signed up for the SaaS service covering mobility, entertainment, insurance, health and security. We are also in the process of setting up a host of on-premise implementations,” he adds.

Asked which sectors Pimloc sees driving the most growth for its platform in the coming years, he lists the following: smart cities/mobility platforms (with safety/analytics demand coming from the likes of councils, retailers, AVs); the insurance industry, which he notes is “capturing and using an increasing amount of visual data for claims and risk monitoring” and thus “looking at responsible systems for data management and processing”; video/telehealth, with traditional consultations moving into video and driving demand for visual diagnosis; and law enforcement, where security goals need to be supported by “visual privacy designed in by default” (at least where forces are subject to European data protection law).

On the competitive front, he notes that startups are increasingly focusing on specialist application areas for AI — arguing they have an opportunity to build compelling end-to-end propositions which are harder for larger tech companies to focus on.

For Pimlock specifically he argues it has an edge in its particular security-focused niche — given “deep expertise” and specific domain experience.

“There are low barriers to entry to create a low-quality product but very high technical barriers to create a service that is good enough to use at scale with real ‘in the wild’ footage,” he argues, adding: The generalist services of the larger tech players do not match up with domain specific provisions of Pimloc/Secure Redact. Video security footage is a difficult domain for AI, systems trained on lifestyle/celebrity or other general data sets perform poorly on real security footage.”

Commenting on the seed funding in a statement, Alex van Someren, MD of Amadeus Capital Partners, said: “There is a critical need for privacy by design and large-scale solutions, as video grows as a data source for mobility, insurance, commerce and smart cities, while our reliance on video for remote working increases. We are very excited about the potential of Pimloc’s products to meet this challenge.”

“Consumers around the world are rightfully concerned with how enterprises are handling the growing volume of visual data being captured 24/7. We believe Pimloc has developed an industry leading approach to visual security and privacy that will allow businesses and governments to manage the usage of visual data whilst protecting consumers. We are excited to support their vision as they expand into the wider Enterprise and SaaS markets,” added Rick Hao, principal at Speedinvest, in another supporting statement.

Mobile by Peak Design is a new, complete mobile mounting solution for everyday convenience

Mobile by Peak Design is a new, complete mobile mounting solution for everyday convenience

After a steady stream of successful product launches and Kickstarter campaigns, Peak Design is back with a new one – Mobile by Peak Design. The startup that created a rich ecosystem of photography and packing gear is tackling mobile devices next, and has devices a clever interconnect system that seems to have anticipated Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic phone accessory scheme – but that’s designed for all smartphones and mobile devices.

Similar to Peak Design’s Capture, Anchor and mounting plate system, Mobile by Peak Design offers a way to connect smartphones to all kinds of accessories, including tripods, car mounts, charging stands, bike handlebars and much more. The system is entered around what Peak calls its “SlimLink” connector, which is a clever combo magnetic and physical mounting receiver that you can attach to your phone either with dedicated cases, or a universal sticky-backed accessory. SlimLink then works with both soft-lock and hard-lock accessories, which use either magnets alone (soft) or magnets combined with physical catchments (hard) for varying degrees of stable connection with a line of mounts.

Peak Design is launching on Kickstarter with a crowdfunding campaign, but the product is already designed and produced to a high level of quality. It sent out media samples of a range of products in the Mobile lineup, including a SlimLink universal phone mount, a handlebar mount, the folding tripod, two magnetic/stick-backed universal mounting pads, and an in-car dashboard mount.

I’ve been using these for the past couple of weeks and have found them to be incredibly versatile and convenient. Peak also supplied an iPhone 11 Pro case, but since I’m using an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I just affixed the 3M-backed universal plate directly to my phone using the included sizing and alignment guide. The attachment is incredibly secure, and doesn’t add very much thickness to your phone at all (it basically provides just enough clearance that the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera bump barely clears table surfaces).

The magnetic connection between it and the ‘soft-lock’ mounts is strong enough that I’m never worried about them coming loose – I’ve used the general purpose magnetic mounts on my fridge often, and the phone hasn’t moved. The bike mount, with its additional physical prongs, is rock solid while actually biking around, and the arm on the mount puts the phone is a great position for acting as a navigation device while biking around, in both portrait and landscape orientations.

Peak has really outdone itself with the design of this system, but that is maybe most true when it comes to the tripod. The clever, three-legged folding design is tiny – smaller overall footprint than a credit card, though a bit thicker – and it’s amazing to be able to carry this everywhere in a pocket and have a stable platform for taking time-lapse photos. You can adjust its stability using the included Allen key, too.

The car mount has an adhesive backing for sticking to your dashboard, and fits in the recessed SlimLink slot on the phone mount/case without physically catching. It’s stable and secure in testing, and best of all, Peak has made the adjustable ball that lets you orient your phone just the right amount of stiff that you can move it but it doesn’t require any additional tightening. My one complaint thus far with the universal mount has been that it isn’t compatible with my Nomad Base Station Pro charger, though Peak says it’s testing the accessory with wireless chargers and will advise as to compatibility in future. The Peak Everyday phone case, meanwhile, is compatible with many Qi chargers.

Peak says these designs are subject to change, and of course, MagSafe was a surprise to the company just as it was to the rest of the world. Peak still plans to create iPhone 12 cases for the range, and says that all of its soft-locking accessories will also work with both Apple MagSafe phones, as well as MagSafe cases. Apple MagSafe accessories, like the wallet, will also likewise attach to MagSafe phones.

This could’ve been one of those moments where Apple announces something that renders a competing product obsolete before it even gets to market, but Peak’s Mobile system design actually makes them complimentary – and provides very similar benefits to phones and devices that otherwise would’ve have been able to take advantage of what MagSafe offers.

The Kickstarter campaign launches today, and Peak believes it will be able to ship the Mobile system cases and accessories starting in Spring 2021.

Equity Monday: Three neat venture rounds, and Alibaba’s latest

Equity Monday: Three neat venture rounds, and Alibaba’s latest

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode.

  • American equities are set to rise, which is good news for the startup-VC world as it means that the current up-cycle will continue. But the good public market is not landing evenly, as Europe sees its VC-backed IPO tally lag the rest of the world.
  • The biggest recent news stories in tech and venture were Alibaba’s enormous Sun Art deal that echoes the Amazon-Whole Foods deal at first blush, and SpaceX’s latest success. The quiet weekend could herald the return of a slower, holiday news cycle as we close in on November.

On the funding front, we found three super cool startups:

  • AiFi raised $14.5 million in a round that Crunchbase News covered. Autonomous, checkout-free stores? Count us in.
  • Lawmatics raised a $2.5 million Seed round. The startup does vertical SaaS (CRM, marketing) for lawyers. That just sounds lucrative.
  • And then there was Chiper, which put together a $12 million round to help build out its ecommerce service in Latin America. Investors Monashees, Kaszek Ventures, and WIND Ventures put the money up.

And to close we took a look at some Q3 2020 data from CBInsights and Crunchbase News.

That’s all we got. The show is back in just a few days. Hugs!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram

Following the updates to Instagram and Messenger that delivered cross-app communication and other features, Facebook today announced its Messenger API has also been updated to allow businesses to manage their communications across Instagram, in addition to Messenger.

Before today, businesses could only respond to customer inquiries through the Instagram app and through Facebook’s unified business inbox. This could work for some smaller businesses, but for larger brands with a high volume of messages, it could be difficult to be efficient this way.

The update means businesses will be able to now also integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations. Specifically, they’ll be able to use rich media — like photos, URL links and more — and work with developers to integrate the API with their product and customer databases to provide the same experience on Instagram as they do today on Messenger.

For example, a business with a CRM system integration would be able to view the customer loyalty information and take that into account when they respond.

Businesses using the API can also manage their Instagram presence, including their Profile, Shops and Stories, Facebook says.

Image Credits: Facebook

The change comes at a time when Instagram is pushing Shopping as a core activity on Instagram, and follows the launch of Instagram shops and visual changes to the app to highlight shopping features.

According to Facebook, daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram combined grew over 40% over the last year.

With the launch of the new API, Facebook is also introducing new features on Instagram that will allow businesses to respond immediately to common questions using automation, while still offering to connect customers to live support, if needed. An alpha test with partner Clarabridge on this feature indicated that client brands improved response rates on Instagram by up to 55% by managing DMs through its platform.

The updated Messenger API is launching into beta testing with businesses like Adidas, Amaro, Glossier, H&M, MagazineLuiza, Michael Kors, Nars, Sephora and TechStyle Fashion Group, among other consumer brands. The beta is also open to a limited number of developer partners. Today, other businesses and developers can join a waitlist to request access to the API post-beta.

Cross-app communication, a key part of the recent Instagram and Messenger update, is not available in the API at launch, however. For now, the messages will appear a brand’s Messenger or Instagram tab depending on where their customers are messaging from. However, Facebook confirmed it plans to “eventually” bring cross-app communication to businesses and developers in a later update.