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AI-based firefighter safety startup Prometeo wins IBM Call for Code Challenge

During an event at the United Nations Delegates Dining Room in New York City, IBM unveiled the winners to its annual  Call for Code Global Challenge. The competition, which is targeted at computing solutions for global problems, crowned five winners, ranging from first responders to health care info.

Prometeo took the top price for its Watson-based AI solution targeted at firefighters. The team, which is lead by a 33-year firefighting veteran, has developed a tool designed to monitor health and safety in the industry, both long term and in real-time. The Spanish startup developed a smartphone-sized device that straps onto the wearer’s arm to gauge things like temperature, smoke and humidity.

“If the color signal is green, the health of the firefighter is okay,” cofounder Salomé Valero explains on IBM’s site. “But if the color signal is yellow or red, the command center must do something. They must take immediate action in order to rescue or remove the firefighter from the fire.”

The team is working to roll out the device for testing in Spain, but is currently seeking funding for the project. The $200,000 prize from IBM ought to help out a bit.

The second place price went to India/China/US-based Sparrow, which has developed a platform for addressing physical and psychological health during natural disasters. U.C.L.A. team, Rove scored third place with a similar concept.

Call for Code is a five year program that aims to hand out $30 million for teams addressing widespread societal issues.

Roblox EC-1, immigration requirements doubling, grief in the workplace, and cannabis startups

The Roblox EC-1

Following in the wake of our deep profiles of Patreon and Niantic, we have our next EC-1 package, this time on children’s gaming platform Roblox . Extra Crunch writer Sherwood Morrison has covered gaming and startups for years, and he got an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the incredibly popular startup with interviews with many of the company’s principals. This is your weekend read.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

In part one of this EC-1, Morrison looks at the origin story of Roblox, which has to be one of the most interesting I have read in some time. Founders Dave Baszucki and Erik Cassel first worked together on a physics simulation engine called Knowledge Revolution before founding Roblox in 2004 (then known as Dynablox).

Since those humble origins 15 years ago, Baszucki and his team have grown the company dramatically through a sequence of smart strategic moves that Morrison illuminates, eventually culminating in the company’s massive $150 million Series F venture capital round last year from Greylock and Tiger Global, valuing the company at a reported $2.5 billion. Roblox now has 90 million active users, tripling in just a few short years.

Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Meanwhile, in part two of this EC-1, Morrison illuminates the challenges and opportunities facing Roblox in the years ahead as it looks to conquer a greater swath of the gaming market, or what Baszucki calls “human co-experience.”

First and foremost, Roblox has to expand internationally and capture a greater share of children’s entertainment. Then, the company wants to start to expand beyond its children’s gaming roots to reach other, older demographics. It has to do all this while also maintaining safety for its users and increasing the quality of its game engine against competitors like Unity and Unreal.

As Morrison writes:

If Roblox can continue to grow, it will serve as a guiding example for a whole new generation of companies. And if it continues to evolve, it may yet prove that human co-experience is more than a fever dream. A whole generation of companies failed to create immersive social environments — but in the space between games and chat, Roblox may yet prove that there’s a whole new social category waiting to be discovered.

Be sure to check out both parts, and if you haven’t already, be sure to read the Patreon EC-1 and the Niantic EC-1 as well for similar deep profiles of leading Silicon Valley startups.

Minimum investment for EB-5 investor green card expected to more than double

Immigrants make up a huge portion of Silicon Valley’s workers and investors. That’s why news that the Trump Administration is changing the eligibility for investor green cards is a huge story, particularly for immigrants from India.

Huawei launches AI-backed database to target enterprise customers

China’s Huawei is making a serious foray into the enterprise business market after it unveiled a new database management product on Wednesday, putting it in direct competition with entrenched vendors like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

The Shenzhen-based company, best known for making smartphones and telecom equipment, claims its newly minted database uses artificial intelligence capabilities to improve tuning performance, a process that traditionally involves human administrators, by over 60 percent.

Called the GaussDB, the database works both locally as well as on public and private clouds. When running on Huawei’s own cloud, GaussDB provides data warehouse services for customers across the board, from the financial, logistics, education to automotive industries.

The database launch was first reported by The Information on Tuesday citing sources saying it is designed by the company’s secretive database research group called Gauss and will initially focus on the Chinese market.

The announcement comes at a time when Huawei’s core telecom business is drawing scrutiny in the West over the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese government. That segment accounted for 40.8 percent of Huawei’s total revenues in 2018, according to financial details released by the privately-held firm.

Huawei’s consumer unit, which is driven by its fast-growing smartphone and device sales, made up almost a half of the company’s annual revenues. Enterprise businesses made up less than a quarter of earnings, but Huawei’s new push into database management is set to add new fuel to the segment.

Meanwhile, at Oracle, more than 900 employees, most of whom worked for its 1,600-staff research and development center in China, were recently let go amid a major company restructuring, multiple media outlets reported earlier this month.

Data provided to TechCrunch by Boss Zhipin offers clues to the layoff: The Chinese recruiting platform has recently seen a surge in newly registered users who work at Oracle China. But the door is still open for new candidates as the American giant is currently recruiting for more than 100 positions through Boss, including many related to cloud computing.

Big tech companies are looking at Hollywood as the next stage in their play for the cloud

This week, both Microsoft and Google made moves to woo Hollywood to their cloud computing platforms in the latest act of the unfolding drama over who will win the multi-billion dollar business of the entertainment industry as it moves to the cloud.

Google raised the curtain with a splashy announcement that they’d be setting up their fifth cloud region in the U.S. in Los Angeles. Keeping the focus squarely on tools for artists and designers the company talked up its tools like Zync Render, which Google acquired back in 2014, and Anvato, a video streaming and monetization platform it acquired in 2016.

While Google just launched its LA hub, Microsoft has operated a cloud region in Southern California for a while, and started wooing Hollywood last year at the National Association of Broadcasters conference, according to Tad Brockway, a general manager for Azure’s storage and media business.

Now Microsoft has responded with a play of its own, partnering with the provider of a suite of hosted graphic design and animation software tools called Nimble Collective.

Founded by a former Pixar and DreamWorks animator, Rex Grignon, Nimble launched in 2014 and has raised just under $10 million from investors including the UCLA VC Fund and New Enterprise Associates, according to Crunchbase.

“Microsoft is committed to helping content creators achieve more using the cloud with a partner-focused approach to this industries transformation,” said Tad Brockway, General Manager, Azure Storage, Media and Edge at Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re excited to work with innovators like Nimble Collective to help them transform how animated content is produced, managed and delivered.”

There’s a lot at stake for Microsoft, Google and Amazon as entertainment companies look to migrate to managed computing services. Tech firms like IBM have been pitching the advantages of cloud computing for Hollywood since 2010, but it’s only recently that companies have begun courting the entertainment industry in earnest.

While leaders like Netflix migrated to cloud services in 2012 and 21st Century Fox worked with HP to get its infrastructure on cloud computing, other companies have lagged. Now companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are competing for their business as more companies wake up to the pressures and demands for more flexible technology architectures.

As broadcasters face more demanding consumers, fragmented audiences, and greater time pressures to produce and distribute more content more quickly, cloud architectures for technology infrastructure can provide a solution, tech vendors argue.

Stepping into the breach, cloud computing and technology service providers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are trying to buy up startups servicing the entertainment market specifically, or lock in vendors like Nimble through exclusive partnerships that they can leverage to win new customers. For instance, Microsoft bought Avere Systems in January, and Google picked up Anvato in 2016 to woo entertainment companies.

The result should be lower cost tools for a broader swath of the market, and promote more cross-pollination across different geographies, according to Grignon, Nimble’s chief executive.

“That worldwide reach is very important,” Grignon said. “In media and entertainment there are lots of isolated studios around the world. We afford this pathway between the studio in LA and the studio in Bangalore. We open these doorways.”

There are other, more obvious advantages as well. Streaming — exemplified by the relationship between Amazon and Netflix is well understood — but the possibility to bring costs down by moving to cloud architectures holds several other distribution advantages as well as simplifying processes across pre- and post-production, insiders said.

 

IBM launches deep learning as a service inside its Watson Studio

IBM’s Watson Studio is the company’s service for building machine learning workflows and training models, is getting a new addition today with the launch of Deep Learning as a Service (DLaaS). The general idea here, which is similar to that of competing services, is to enabled a wider range of businesses to make user of recent advances in machine learning by lowering the barrier of entry.

With these new tools, developers can develop their models with the same open source frameworks they are likely already using (think TensorFlow, Caffe, PyTorch, Keras etc.). Indeed, IBM’s new service essentially offers these tools as cloud-native services and developers can use a standard Rest API to train their models with the resources they want — or within the budget they have. For this service, which offers both a command-line interface, Python library or interactive user interface, that means developers get the option to choose between different Nvidia GPUs, for example.

The idea of a managed environment for deep learning isn’t necessarily new, With the Azure ML Studio, Microsoft offers a highly graphical experience for building ML models, too, after all. IBM argues that its service offers a number of distinct advantages, though. Among other things, the service offers a drag-and-drop neural network builder that allows even non-programmers to configure and design their neural networks.

In addition, IBM’s tools will also automatically tune hyperparameters for its users. That’s traditionally a rather time-consuming processes when done by hand and something that sits somewhere between art and science.

IBM dangles carrot of full encryption to lure buyers to new z14 mainframe

IBM z14 mainframe computer IBM is doing its damnedest to keep the mainframe relevant in a modern context, and believe it or not, there are plenty of monster corporations throughout the world who still use those relics from the earliest days of computing. Today, the company unveiled the z14, its latest z-Series mainframe, which comes with the considerable draw of full encryption. Is that enough for even corporate giants… Read More

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IBM and Salesforce partner to sell Watson and Einstein

Server room in data center Two of the best-marketed names in artificial intelligence are coming together to pitch their wares to a sea of unwitting rubes new customers with the announcement that IBM and Salesforce are going to partner. The new partnership amounts to a way for IBM to sell consulting services across both Salesforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Watson AI-branded businesses. Insights from Watson will now… Read More

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IBM adds new API to quantum computing cloud service

IBM Quantum Computer IBM announced today that it was updating its Quantum Experience cloud with a new API that it hopes will increase the abilities of researchers and other interested parties to build more sophisticated applications with its experimental quantum computing system.
Last May, IBM opened up its 5 qubit computer in its NY state labs to the public in the form of a cloud service. The hope was that by… Read More

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Google Station is coming to an Indian city before anywhere else in the world

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Moving beyond railway stations in India, Google will soon begin working on its Station project to bring fast Wi-Fi at other public places.

About 150km south-east of Mumbai, the city of Pune will soon become the first place in the world to see Google deploy fast-internet hotspots at public places as part of its Station project, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The move comes as IT giant Larsen & Toubro (L&T), in association with Google, state-run internet service provider RailTel, and IBM form a consortium to bag a Rs 1,500 million ($22.2 million) with local authority Pune Smart City Development Corporation to turn Pune into a smart city.  Read more…

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