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ClassPass is headed to Asia via an imminent launch in Singapore

U.S fitness startup ClassPass is headed to Asia after it announced plans to go live in Singapore, its first city in the continent. Four-year-old ClassPass allows its users to book fitness classes and packages across a multitude of gyms. The company claims to work with more than 10,000 fitness partners across over 50 cities globally. That’s mostly in the U.S. but it has also forayed into Canada, the UK and Australia and now it is seeking out additional growth opportunities. The move into Asia has been expected for some time after ClassPass hired a head of international in May . The company told TechCrunch at the time that it would soon arrive in three countries in Asia and Singapore, which has many similarities to the West in terms of economics and culture, is a logical pick as the starting point. Added to that, the country’s sovereign fund, Temasek, led ClassPass’s $70 million Series C funding round last year so you could say that is an extra factor. The identity of the other two cities remains unclear at this point, but you’d imagine that Hong Kong will be one of them. ClassPass hasn’t given a specific date for its launch other than it will come to Singapore “in the lead-up to National Day” — that’s August 9.

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Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase shared big news Monday that federal regulators are allowing the popular cryptocurrency exchange to proceed with plans to sell cryptocurrency tokens that are deemed securities. Last month, Coinbase acquired  Keystone Capital , a California-based FINRA-registered broker-dealer that operates as an alternative trading system. With the announcement, the SF-based cryptocurrency exchange disclosed that it would still need to get regulatory approval to operate under the Keystone licenses. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority gave Coinbase just that, Bloomberg reported, approving that deal alongside the acquisitions of Venovate Marketplace and Digital Wealth. Today’s news opens up the scope of Coinbase’s ambitions to the billions of dollars that have been raised in initial coin offerings over the past several months. With permission to trade tokenized securities, Coinbase users could soon have the ability to move beyond the limited cryptocurrency options currently available to be traded on the site’s central exchange which currently just lists Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin. The company announced last week that it was exploring adding five new tokens to its exchange, including Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x. In a blog post, the company specified that the announcement did not necessarily deem that these tokens were not securities and that classification might vary by jurisdiction.

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Aiming to make billboard advertising more programmatic, Adquick raises $2.1 million

Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Initialized Capital and an investor in Adquick , a new service that’s looking to bring billboard advertising into the internet age, bought his last billboard ad just this year. For several years, the Reddit founder had turned to outdoor advertising as a tool to troll politicians and advocate for various positions (and celebrate his famous wife ). The last political billboard, in 2012, was to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. It was also the impetus for his investment in Adquick. “I’d seen pitches from a number of competitors that were all just static websites on top of the single business,” says Ohanian. What he was looking for, and what he eventually found in Adquick was a company that had managed to map all of the billboard advertising options available in the U.S. and was offering would-be advertisers a way to digitally distribute their ads and book inventory. “For us the reason why it was such an exciting initial investment was because we saw the opportunity and the talent of the team,” Ohanian says. Matthew O’Connor, Adquick’s chief executive previously worked at Instacart and it was there that he and his team first learned about dragging traditional businesses into the online world. “This team had come out of Instacart… they came well recommended by the founders over there,”Ohanian said.

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Lyft outlines bike and scooter plans

On the heels of Lyft’s acquisition of bike-share company Motivate , the company is gearing up to fully integrate bicycle and scooter sharing into the app. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely this will happen soon. Lyft is also investing $1 million to advance transportation equity to people in underserved communities. As part of its commitment, Lyft will work with non-profit organizations like TransForm to develop programs that support people with low incomes. “Soon you will be able to get real-time transit information, plan a multi-modal trip, and use Lyft Bikes and Scooters to connect to a local transit stop or shared ride pickup location,” Lyft wrote in a blog post. In June, Lyft revamped its rider app to encourage shared rides . Currently, 35 percent of Lyft rides are shared, but the goal is to reach 50 percent shared rides by 2020, Lyft VP of Government Relations Joseph Okpaku told TechCrunch last month. With scooters and bikes offered via the app, Lyft envisions being better equipped to “bridge the first and last-mile gap.” By the end of 2019, Lyft says it aims to take one million cars off the road. Last year, Lyft says 250,000 of its community members gave up their personal cars. This comes shortly after Uber invested in part of Lime’s $335 million round . Uber’s plan is to put its logo on Lime’s scooters, Bloomberg previously reported.

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Hear BMW’s Dieter May explain the connected car at Disrupt SF 2018

Mobility is undergoing a radical transformation and the topic will be thoroughly examined at Disrupt SF this September. We’re excited to have BMW’s Dieter May speak on the main stage about how the German car company is addressing the connected car while still building, what they say is, the ultimate driving machine. And bonus! May plans to unveil something brand new right on the Main Stage. We can’t share many details on the unveiling, but we can say that it’s certainly worth your attention. May has been at BMW since 2014 when he joined the car company after eight years at Nokia. He currently leads the digital products and services as a Senior Vice President. It’s an interesting position that puts him in the middle of merging consumer technology with the driving experience — and doing it in a safe manner. That’s the tricky part and a topic we’re excited to speak to him about. BMW is in a tough position like most auto makers. Consumers expect the latest and flashiest technology. Massive LCD screens are expected now to display rich navigation with always-updated information. Auto makers need to deploy this technology in a manner that is safe and practical. BMW just revealed its latest in-car operating system that upends traditional BMW style in favor of what’s best for the driver. We’re excited to talk to talk to May about how automakers and startups alike should address consumer’s expectations. Dieter May joins several other notable figures in the mobility space speaking at Disrupt SF including Cruise’s Kyle Vogt and Aurora’s Chris Urmson.

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Uber’s head of policy for flying taxis and autonomous vehicles leaves for self-driving car startup Voyage

Uber’s head of policy for autonomous vehicles and urban aviation, Justin Erlich, has left the company to join self-driving car startup Voyage, TechCrunch has learned. To lead its policy efforts for autonomous vehicles, Uber recently brought on Miriam Chaum, previously of Philanthropy University. “We wish Justin all the best with his new opportunity at Voyage,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. Erlich’s departure comes a couple of months after Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, left the company . At Voyage, Erlich will lead the company’s strategy, policy and legal efforts. Voyage, led by CEO Oliver Cameron, spun out of Udacity last year and has since deployed Level 4 autonomous vehicles in retirement communities in California and Florida . Erlich previously worked under Attorney General Kamala Harris, where he focused on emerging technology and the key policies that the government will want to have in place to ensure technology helps the people of California. During his time, autonomous vehicles were becoming more and more exciting, he told me back in February. You can hear that full conversation below. I’ve reached out to Erlich and Voyage and will update this story if I hear back.

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Instapaper is leaving Pinterest, two years after being acquired

Back in August of 2016, Pinterest acquired Instapaper , the read-it-later bookmarking service originally built by Marco Arment. Just shy of two years later, Instapaper is going back to being independent. In a blog post published this afternoon , the team clarifies that a new company called “Instant Paper, Inc.” has been formed to oversee Instapaper, and that it’ll largely be made up of the same folks who’ve worked on it since ~2013. Don’t expect much to change, for better or worse — at least, not immediately. The company is waiting three weeks before officially transferring ownership, in order to “give its users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.” The team doesn’t outline the reasoning for splitting away, but it has many users hoping its newly regained independence means it can become GDPR-compliant sooner than later. Instapaper shut off its services in Europe back in May so they could “make changes in light of GDPR”; two months later, the service remains offline in the EU. Instapaper confirmed this afternoon that GDPR-compliance is still a goal: We're working on GDPR compliance and hope to have the service available to everyone in the EU as soon as we can — InstapaperHelp (@InstapaperHelp) July 16, 2018

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Amazon puts its own devices on sale early for Prime Day

Amazon is kicking off today’s Prime Day a bit early. Although its annual sale technically begins at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET this afternoon, it put its own devices on sale 12 hours early. The company is marking down its Alexa-enabled products like Echo, Fire TV, and Fire tablets, as well as its home security products like the Cloud Cam and more recently acquired Ring Video Doorbell. The retailer has also released a list of Prime Day deals, which encompasses other Amazon product discounts, as well as those from other manufacturers. This year’s Prime Day promises to be the largest yet, both in terms of the number of deals and the length of the sale itself, which has been stretched to 36 hours. Prime members will be able to shop over 1 million deals worldwide in an expanded number of international markets outside the U.S. That’s up from over 100,000 deals just two years ago, the retailer noted. The Amazon devices on sale now include the following: Save $20 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, only $19.99 Save $110 on Toshiba 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition, only $289.99 Save $30 on Echo Spot, only $99.99 Save $30 on Echo (Second Generation), only $69.99 Save $20 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, only $59.99 Save $100 on Echo Look, only $99.99 Save $60 on Amazon Cloud Cam, only $59.99 Save $75 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, only $174 Save $30 on Fire HD8 tablet with Alexa, only $49.99 Save $30 on Fire HD 8 tablet and new Show Mode Charging Dock bundle, only $79.99 Eligible Prime members get 10% back on select Amazon devices, including Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle, when they shop on Prime Day using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card or Amazon Prime Store Card Prime members new to Amazon Music Unlimited can six months free of the premium music streaming service with purchase of select Amazon Echo devices during Prime Day Amazon heavily discounts its own devices on Prime Day, so you can be sure these are pretty good deals. For example, the lowest price on the Fire TV Stick before today was $24.99 – now it’s $19.99. The Fire TV (Pendant) is also $10 less than it was during its biggest price drop. And even the brand-new Fire TV Cube has been marked down from $119.99 to $89.99. If you bundle it with a Cloud Cam, you can save $90 off both. Though oddly not in Amazon’s advertised list above, the Echo Dot is on sale, too. The smaller Echo speaker was last year’s best seller on Prime Day, and Amazon is clearly hoping to repeat history by marking down the Dot again. Last year, it was $34.99 on Prime Day, now it’s $29.99  – and one of the better deals to be found

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Roku unveils $200 wireless speakers made for Roku TV

Roku is getting into the speaker business with today’s announcement of Roku TV Wireless Speakers. Mark Ely, the company’s vice president of product management, said Roku is trying to address a growing consumer problem — the fact that as TVs get thinner, you end up buying “this beautiful TV, but it sounds bad.” To address this, you may end up purchasing a soundbar or creating a more elaborate home theater setup, but Ely argued that many consumers find this process confusing and intimidating. So as the name suggests, Roku has created wireless speakers specifically for Roku TVs , the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Ely described them as speakers that deliver “really premium sound in a really compact package,” and at an affordable price. (They’re about seven inches tall and weigh four pounds each, he said.) Roku says it should be easy to pair these speakers wirelessly with a Roku TV using Roku Connect, and since the company controls both the video and audio experience, it can ensure that they’re sync’d up perfectly, without lag. To minimize those moments when you’re frantically reaching for the remote to adjust the volume, the speakers also come with Automatic Volume Leveling to lower the sound in particularly loud scenes and boost the sounds when it gets too quiet. Ely said the product takes advantage of Roku’s acquisition last year of Danish audio startup Dynastrom : “The goal has been to have audio be a real center of excellence for the company.” “Our fundamental belief here is that by delivering a better sound experience, you get a better entertainment streaming experience,” he added. The speakers will also come with a new remote called the Roku Touch, which is designed to emphasize voice controls without fully giving up the benefits of a regular remote — you can press-and-hold to deliver voice commands, but it still has buttons for playback control and others that you can preset. Smart speakers from big tech companies like Apple and Amazon are seen as one main ways to get into the voice-powered home assistant market. Roku has its own voice assistant (which it’s  making available to manufacturing partners ), but Ely and Director of Consumer PR Seana Norvell said it’s really focused on understanding your entertainment needs — rather than, say, telling you the weather or helping you order products online. While Roku says the speakers will ship in late October at a price of $199.99, they’re available for pre-order now, with pricing at $149.99 until July 23, and then $179.99 until October 15. Ely said the company is only selling the speakers from the Roku website , at least initially, because that allows it to “market directly to Roku TV customers” while ensuring that other Roku customers (namely, those who have a Roku streaming device but not a Roku TV) don’t end up buying these speakers, which won’t work for them.

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PayPal leads $50M round for PPRO, a profitable cross-border payment specialist

As payments companies continue to look to the long tail of global markets to expand their businesses, a startup that helps them do business in disparate economies is getting a strategic investment from one of payment world leaders. PayPal is leading a $50 million investment into PPRO , a London-based business that is focused on cross-border payments for merchants, specifically by offering the merchants a seamless way of accepting payments from customers using whatever the most popular payment form happens to be in a particular country. To date, the PPRO platform covers some 140 payment methods, and the plan will be to add more countries, and more payments, into the mix. The deal comes at the tail end of a wave of acquisitions from PayPal as it looks for new ways of expanding its business as growth tails off in its more established markets and established business lines. Between mid-May and now, it has acquired iZettle  for $2.2 billion to expand its mobile point-of-sale opportunities; AI-based CRM specialist Jetlore ; AI-based fraud and risk management firm Simility  for $120 million; and gig economy payment facilitator  Hyperwallet for $400 million. This PPRO investment also includes participation from new investor Citi Ventures and previous backer HPE Growth Capital. PPRO is not disclosing its valuation but Simon Black, its CEO, said in an interview that it’s definitely up on its previous funding and described it as a “minority investment” in the company. Interestingly, PPRO has raised only around $10.6 million since its founding in 2006; it is already profitable; it has around 200 employees; and it competes with the likes of Adyen, which recently went public at a valuation of over $8 billion — to give you an idea of the opportunity and value of the company. The challenge PPRO — pronounced “pea-pro” — is addressing is an interesting and complicated one. While the growth in e-commerce has been a global phenomenon, like a plant, it has grown differently and adapted to each market depending on local conditions. In the case of payments, that has meant a disparate range of payment methods that are standard in some countries, but not others. While credit cards or debit cards, for example, are very standard in the US and UK, in Japan , a lot of people pay for items purchased online by cash on delivery, or at convenience stores. In the Netherlands, there is a system called iDEAL that routes payments directly through your bank account. And so on. For a merchant that is based in one country but interested in selling to people in another, this can pose a problem, if it doesn’t accept whatever the local payment method happens to be. That’s where a company like PPRO comes in

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WeWork’s biggest rival in China is on an acquisition spree

WeWork may have combined forces with its fiercest rival in China, Naked Hub, in a recent merger , but its new enemy numero uno in the country is also building up a roster of friends through aggressive M&A. Ucommune may not be spending the kind of cash WeWork China did — it reportedly spent $400 million to get Naked Hub — but it is quietly picking up smaller rivals via acquisitions. Last week, it completed its fourth piece of M&A of the past year with a deal to buy  Workingdom for 300 million RMB, or roughly $45 million. Two-year-old Workingdom offers working spaces in Shanghai, and online services that help SMEs and multinationals growth their businesses. An acquisition spree from Ucommune — which was forced to rebrand from UrWork following a lawsuit from WeWork — has seen it snap up lesser but strategic players  Wedo , Woo Space  and New Space  to boost its presence and rival WeWork. All told, and thanks to these deals, Ucommune claims to operate 60 offices in Beijing, 20 more in Shanghai and a significant presence in Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong. In comparison, Naked Hub says it has 10,000 members across its 24 office locations while WeWork says it has 10,000 members in 13 locations in Greater China. The U.S. firm plans to grow its reach to 40 offices by the end of this year, a move that it says will quadruple its membership numbers in China to 40,000. Those numbers explain why the acquisition deals aren’t likely to stop any time soon for Ucommune. The Chinese he company said in its latest announcement that it will “continue to acquire more co-working companies to grow its global footprint.” Currently, its presence outside of China includes New York and Singapore, but it is clearly exploiting the bursting of the co-working bubble which initially attracted a huge number of companies to the space, particularly in China. Inside a Ucommune space Ucommune last raised money when it closed a $17 million round at a valuation of 9 billion RMB ($1.4 billion) in February 2018.

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A list of ten things that billionaire owners of EV, clean energy and rocket companies should and should not tweet

So… apparently there’s been another kerfuffle on the Twitter about some asinine things that a certain wealthy, rocket-building, payment-revolutionizing, electric vehicle company-creating entrepreneur has written in tweets to millions of followers. This billionaire is, by all accounts, incredibly difficult to work for, very visionary and … a bit thin-skinned for someone with such a habit of courting press. this is what @elonmusk did to a guy with 2 tweets. pic.twitter.com/S38FLRiZZR — drew olanoff (@yoda) July 15, 2018 I’m not saying that’s his fault. He’s been shredded by hundreds of people in thousands of messages on a platform that’s given him millions of (fake and) real followers and a megaphone that would be powerful enough to change the world (or at least the world’s coverage of him) with a single bloviating bit of textual hot air. And boy, as a billionaire entrepreneur, does this fella blow the hot air. Wait… I am saying some of this is his fault. That said, he’s done some truly amazing things for the world. AND IS A BILLIONAIRE . With that in mind, here’re a few humble suggestions for him to keep in mind as he approaches the touchpad, keyboard, or any other tweet-enabling appliance as he looks to foray further into the wild feathered world of the Twitter-birds. Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch THINGS THAT ARE OKAY TO TWEET Tweeting about offers to help people in dire need of help. Listen, I know you got a lot of heat for this one, and it was ultimately an unnecessary gesture that some folks chalked up to a cynical attempt to change the subject, but I believe that your heart was in the right place. People love John Henry stories — especially now when technology threatens to overwhelm all of us.

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Sacha Baron Cohen is about to add jet fuel to Showtime’s rise, starting tonight

Netflix has been killing competitors with its original TV shows and movies. A Morgan Stanley survey released back in May had 39 percent of U.S. consumers naming Netflix as offering the “best original programming” among subscription video services, with everyone else eating its dust, including HBO, which nabbed 14 percent, Amazon Prime Video (5 percent) and Showtime Networks, with a measly 3 percent of the votes. That could well change with a new, seven-part Showtime series by Sacha Baron Cohen, the English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer who has played fictional characters Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, and Bruno, and who is back in brilliant form, including as Israeli anti-terrorist expert Col. Erran Morad. If you doubt that the series — “ Who is America ” — is going to be the talk of the internet (and offline word), check out this clip streamed last night ahead of its premiere tonight at 10 p.m. EST. Among other things, it features former Congressman Trent Lott promoting putting guns in the hands of “law-abiding citizens, good guys, whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children and or highly trained preschoolers . “ (Lott hardly appears to have an, ahem, gun to his head, either.) The clip may well leave you speechless at first, especially if you have parented, or even momentarily interacted with, or possibly just seen on TV, a preschooler.

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Disney tech smooths out bad CG hair days

Disney is unequivocally the world’s leader in 3D simulations of hair — something of a niche talent in a way, but useful if you make movies like Tangled , where hair is basically the main character. A new bit of research from the company makes it easier for animators to have hair follow their artistic intent while also moving realistically. The problem Disney Research aimed to solve was a compromise that animators have had to make when making the hair on characters do what the scene requires. While the hair will ultimately be rendered in glorious high-definition and with detailed physics, it’s too computationally expensive to do that while composing the scene. Should a young warrior in her tent be wearing her hair up or down? Should it fly out when she turns her head quickly to draw attention to the movement, or stay weighed down so the audience isn’t distracted? Trying various combinations of these things can eat up hours of rendering time. So, like any smart artist, they rough it out first: “Artists typically resort to lower-resolution simulations, where iterations are faster and manual edits possible,” reads the paper describing the new system. “But unfortunately, the parameter values determined in this way can only serve as an initial guess for the full-resolution simulation, which often behaves very different from its coarse counterpart when the same parameters are used.” The solution proposed by the researchers is basically to use that “initial guess” to inform a high-resolution simulation of just a handful of hairs. These “guide” hairs act as feedback for the original simulation, bringing a much better idea of how the rest will act when fully rendered. The guide hairs will cause hair to clump as in the upper right, while faded affinities or an outline-based guide (below, left and right) would allow for more natural motion if desired. And because there are only a couple of them, their finer simulated characteristics can be tweaked and re-tweaked with minimal time. So an artist can fine-tune a flick of the ponytail or a puff of air on the bangs to create the desired effect, and not have to trust to chance that it’ll look like that in the final product. This isn’t a trivial thing to engineer, of course, and much of the paper describes the schemes the team created to make sure that no weirdness occurs because of the interactions of the high-def and low-def hair systems. It’s still very early: it isn’t meant to simulate more complex hair motions like twisting, and they want to add better ways of spreading out the affinity of the bulk hair with the special guide hairs (as seen at right)

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ACLU calls for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition technologies

Technology executives are pleading with the government to give them guidance on how to use facial recognition technologies, and now the American Civil Liberties Union is weighing in. On the heels of a Microsoft statement asking for the federal government to weigh in on the technology, the ACLU has called for a moratorium on the use of the technology by government agencies. “Congress should take immediate action to put the brakes on this technology with a moratorium on its use, given that it has not been fully debated and its use has never been explicitly authorized,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel, in a statement . “And companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others should be heeding the calls from the public, employees, and shareholders to stop selling face surveillance technology to governments.” In May the ACLU released a report on Amazon’s sale of facial recognition technology to different law enforcement agencies. And in June the civil liberties group pressed the company to stop selling the technology.  One contract, with the Orlando Police Department, was suspended and then renewed after the uproar. Meanwhile, Google employees revolted over their company’s work with the government on facial recognition tech… and Microsoft had problems of its own after reports surfaced of the work that the company was doing with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. Some organizations are already working to regulate how facial recognition technologies are used. At MIT, Joy Buolamwini has created the Algorithmic Justice League , which is pushing a pledge that companies working with the technology can agree to as they work on the tech. That pledge includes commitments to value human life and dignity, including the refusal to help develop lethal autonomous vehicles or equipping law enforcement with facial analysis products.

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