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This UK startup thinks it can win the self-driving car race with better machine learning

A new U.K. self-driving car startup founded by Amar Shah and Alex Kendall, two machine learning PhDs from University of Cambridge, is de-cloaking today. Wayve — backed by New York-based Compound, Europe’s Fly Ventures, and Brent Hoberman’s Firstminute Capital — is building what it describes as “end-to-end machine learning algorithms” to make autonomous vehicles a reality, an approach it claims is different to much of the conventional thinking on self-driving cars. Specifically, as Wayve CEO Shah explained in a call last week, the young company believes that the key to making an autonomous vehicle that is truly just that (i.e. able to drive safely in any environment it is asked to), is a much greater emphasis on the self-learning capability of its software. In other words, self-driving cars is an AI problem first and foremost, and one that he and co-founder Kendall argue requires a very specific machine-learning development skill set. “Wayve is building intelligent software to decide how to control a vehicle on all public roads,” he tells me. “Rather than hand-engineering our solution with heavily rule-based systems, we aim to build data-driven machine learning at every layer of our system, which would learn from experience and not simply be given if-else statements. Our learning-based system will be safer in unfamiliar situations than a rule-based system which would behave unpredictably in a situation it has not seen before”. To explain his thinking in laymen’s terms, Shah points to the way a human who is relatively proficient in driving in one city can quickly adapt to the differences in a completely new city, without having to be given extra training or instruction beforehand. It may take around 30 minutes or even a few hours to become fully climatized to new driving conditions or environment, but humans don’t need very much new data to do so. “Humans have a fascinating ability to perform complex tasks in the real world, because our brains allow us to learn quickly and transfer knowledge across our many experiences,” he says. “We want to give our vehicles better brains, not more hardware”. To problem, thus far, the pair argue, is that companies like Google and Uber are throwing an engineering mindset at making vehicles autonomous, in the sense of designing rule-based systems that try to pre-empt and deal with every edge case, whilst in tandem adding more sensors and capturing more data.

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Maze turns your InVision prototypes into flexible testing tools

Meet Maze , a startup building a user interface testing tool for your app prototypes. Maze is a simple web-based service that lets you turn InVision and Marvel files into UX tests. While most designers work with InVision and Marvel, it’s hard to turn those designs into a quantitative test. Maze isn’t a video recording tool and doesn’t require you to watch video footage. It isn’t a new prototyping tool either as the startup wants you to keep using InVision and Marvel. Maze can record a user path from a web browser on desktop or mobile without having to install anything. After setting up your test, you can share a link with a bunch of users. When you open this link, you get clear instructions telling you what you’re supposed to do (“find the nearest Lebanese restaurant” or “add John as friend” for instance). After each test, Maze automatically shows you the next one so you can keep going. Developers then get a dashboard with a clear overview of the different tests. You can see the success rate, the time it takes to do something and the screen areas that get a lot of taps. You can also look at individual tests. You can use Maze for simple A/B tests by sending two different designs to different groups and comparing the results

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Announcing the last judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech

VivaTech  is starting in a couple of days, which means TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe is also starting on Thursday. So let me introduce you to the last batch of judges that will come to Paris for the event. If you haven’t been to TechCrunch Disrupt, the Startup  Battlefield  is arguably the most interesting part of the show. Before everybody started doing a startup competition, there was the Startup Battlefield. Companies like Dropbox, Fitbit, N26 and Yammer all launched on the TechCrunch stage. And we’re bringing talented investors and founders to judge the startups. Here’s the third round of judges (see  part 1 ,  part 2 and part 3 ). Roxanne Varza, Director, Station F Roxanne Varza is the Director of Station F, which is the largest startup campus worldwide, backed by Xavier Niel. She is also involved in the European Commission's European Innovation Council (EIC) and is on the board of Agence France Presse (AFP). Prior to her current role, Roxanne was the lead for Microsoft’s start-up activities in France, running both Bizspark and Microsoft Ventures programs for 3 years. She was also Editor of TechCrunch France from 2010-2011 and has written for several publications including Business Insider and The Telegraph. In April 2013, Business Insider listed her as one of the top 30 women under 30 in tech. She has also been listed in additional rankings by Business Insider, Vanity Fair and Le Figaro, The Evening Standard and more.

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Whisk, the smart food platform that makes recipes shoppable, acquires competitor Avocando

Whisk , the U.K. startup that has built a B2B data platform to power various food apps, including making online recipes ‘shoppable’, has acquired Avocando, a competitor based in Germany. The exact financial terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although TechCrunch understands it was all-cash and that Whisk is acquiring the tech, customer base, integrations, and team. Related to this, Avocando’s founders are joining Whisk. “The team is joining Whisk to help scale a joint global vision to help leading businesses create integrated and meaningful digital food experiences using cutting-edge technology,” says Whisk in a statement. To that end, Whisk’s “smart food platform” enables app developers, publishers and online supermarkets/grocery stories to do a number of interesting things. The first relates to making recipes shoppable i.e. making it incredibly easy to order the ingredients needed to cook a recipe listed online or in an app. Specifically, Whisk’s platform parses ingredients in a recipe, and matches it to products at local grocery stores based on user preferences (e.g. “50g of butter, cubed” matched to “250g Tesco Salted Butter”). It then interfaces with the store to fill the users basket with the needed items. The second is recipe personalisation. Based on user preferences (e.g

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zGlue launches a configurable system-on-a-chip to help developers implement customized chipsets

The complexity and cost of packing an array of sensors and power inside a small amount of space has opened the door to a wider and wider variety of use cases for internet-connected devices beyond just smart thermostats or cameras — and also exposed a hole for getting those ideas into an actual piece of hardware. So there are some startups that are looking to address this hole by providing developers a path to creating the customized chipsets they need to power those devices. zGlue is one of those, led by former Samsung engineering director Ming Zhang.  The company’s chiplets are built around the kind of system-on-a-chip approach that you’ll see in most modern devices, where everything is in a single unit that reduces some of the complexity of moving processes around a larger piece of hardware — shrinking the space constraints and allowing all these actions to happen on a device, such as a smartphone. As more and more IoT devices come online, they may all have varying form factor demands, which means companies — like zGlue and others — are emerging to address those needs. “From the developer point of view, think of us as a system that is not different from any thing else on the market, user-interface-wise,” Zhang said. “It is just smaller in size, faster in time to market, and flexible — customizable by individuals rather than just by Apple and Qualcomms. We’re democratizing chip innovation so it is no longer a privilege of Fortune 500 companies.” The company’s first product is called the zOrigin, a “chip-stacking” product that aims to allow developers to embed the sensors and processes necessary for their devices. Stemming from an ARM 32-bit core processor (meaning it can handle more complex and precise calculations), the first launch costs $149 for the wearable and development board and can include pieces like a Bluetooth radio, accelerometers, and other necessary features. zGlue’s chipsets have embedded memory, which is an increasingly common approach to try to reduce the number of trips going from the actual processing power to where the information is stored. Those trips cost power, speed, and can restrict the scope of use cases for internet-connected devices. Zhang said the chiplets are packaged closer together — literally reducing the space that information has to cross — in order to speed it up, though that of course carries consequences when it comes to heat constraints these processors can have. “That’s the price to pay for the continuation of Moore’s law, as it has in the past 40 years,” Zhang said. “Heat dissipation in our system is not going to be any worse than a conventional system. In fact, with the silicon substrate in place, it’s easier to conduct heat compared to a conventional package or board substrate.” As a kind of templated approach, zGlue is geared toward helping developers produce a custom setup that the can implement into devices that may require a wide set of sensors. The company says it looks to help developers go from a design to a prototype in a few weeks, and then reduce the turnaround time from a prototype to production in “weeks or months,” depending on the complexity and volume.

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WARD is an app for placing fantasy predictions on esports games

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely esports. And it’s a big market. Fantasy esports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017, more than 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the Super Bowl viewership. By 2020, the esports industry is estimated to be worth more than $1.5 billion, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum. Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around esports as it happens? That’s the aim of WARD , a startup out of Berlin that has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes. Billed as a fantasy esports game that provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 seed round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product, but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the U.S. So how does it work?

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Job search engine Adzuna raises £8M Series C from Smedvig Capital

Adzuna , the meta-search engine for jobs, has raised £8 million in Series C funding from Smedvig Capital. The U.K. company’s previous backers include Index Ventures, Passion Capital, LocalGlobe , and over 400 Crowdcube investors. It takes total funding to £12 million. Founded by the team behind Gumtree, Zoopla and Qype, Adzuna essentially aggregates job listings across the web to offer a single destination to search for a job. It launched first in the U.K. in 2011 but has since expanded to 16 countries, in which co-founder Doug Monro tells me the U.K., U.S., Germany, Netherlands, France, and Brazil are its strongest markets. “We’re growing very quickly in several of the others. We are really excited about the growth we are seeing in the U.S. in particular,” he says. Across the 16 sites Adzuna operates, the jobs search engine is seeing 10 million monthly visitors, and has 7 million registered users. “Millions” of CVs have been uploaded to the site — no doubt drawn in by Adzuna’s data-driven “ ValueMyCV ” tool — and it currently aggregates 5,000 sources of jobs

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Boosted Boards founders launch heavy-duty scooter renter Skip

All electric scooters are not created equal. I’ve found ones from Spin, Bird, and Lime to often be broken, shaky, or out of battery. But now the founders of Boosted Boards, which makes the steadiest and safest-feeling electric skateboards, are bringing their rugged hardware expertise to the scooter world. Today, they’re coming out of stealth with a supposedly stronger and longer-lasting dockless electric scooter rental startup called Skip . And the surprise is they’re hoping to only operate where permitted unlike their backlashed competitors but no guarantees, with a deployment today in partnership with Washington D.C. and plans for San Francisco. Formerly known by its Y Combinator codename Waybots, the company is exclusively announcing its funding and rebrand to Skip today on TechCrunch. The startup has raised a $6 million seed round led by Initialized Capital via Alexis Ohanian and Ronny Conway’s A Capital, with SV Angel joining in.”High integrity, thoughtful founders with all the relevant experience, demonstrated success, and an eye toward safety make this exactly the kind of investment I love” says Ohanian. “We think the vehicle matters” Skip and former Boosted co-founder/CEO Sanjay Dastoor tells me. “It’s not the same as rideshare where two or more companies are all using the same car. There’s a big spectrum of quality in the base vehicles. A lot of these companies are buying off the shelf vehicles  that are designed for personal ownership.  I think these vehicles will need to be designed for a different level of use and upkeep.” That’s why Skip is modifying bigger pre-made scooters to be more durable, and plans to build its own custom scooters.  For the same $1 plus $0.15 per minute price as other services, you get a wider riding platform, full suspension, and head/tail/brake lights. The strategy is that if people feel safe and steady riding Skips, they’ll choose them over the competition

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Headspace gets a new CTO and head of data analytics

Headspace might just be considered an app that plays back a soothing voice to help you meditate, but the company says it is increasingly carries a more difficult technology problem as it continues to grow — and it’s hiring on a few people today to tackle it. Headspace said it has brought on both a head of data science and a new chief technology officer today as it tries to figure out how to continue scaling across new geographies without any hiccups, in addition to making sure it grows in its core markets. Paddy Hannon and  Punnoose Isaac, previously at Edmunds.com as the chief technology officer and head of data and analytics respectively, will be joining Headspace to reprise similar roles for the startup that’s trying to become a daily habit for users. “You can go through the dot-com bubble of the 90s, over all those years, and look at how many companies built great technologies that were solutions looking for problems,” Hannon said. “I think this is a different opportunity — we’re a product company. Technology and content are there to serve the aims and goals of the company. It’s all focused on that. The tech needs to be focused on that, and the product needs to be focused on that. We think about how to transform this company into one that has a global scale that co-founders Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson envision. Their vision isn’t Andy’s voice throughout the world, their vision is building products that help people.” As startups start to take a deeper look at their products and what kinds of interactions users have, they have to actually think about where they can start tracking what their users are doing in sensitive ways in order to improve the experience. That might mean figuring out how often they are logging in, when they are checking their progress, how long they are listening, and other examples in a non-invasive way. But another big challenge is ensuring all that is wrapped up in a way where statisticians and product people can actually easily query all that data and start doing the math on it to figure out how to improve things, and building that out will be part of Isaac’s main jobs

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Headspace gets a new CTO and head of data analytics

Headspace might just be considered an app that plays back a soothing voice to help you meditate, but the company says it is increasingly carries a more difficult technology problem as it continues to grow — and it’s hiring on a few people today to tackle it. Headspace said it has brought on both a head of data science and a new chief technology officer today as it tries to figure out how to continue scaling across new geographies without any hiccups, in addition to making sure it grows in its core markets. Paddy Hannon and  Punnoose Isaac, previously at Edmunds.com as the chief technology officer and head of data and analytics respectively, will be joining Headspace to reprise similar roles for the startup that’s trying to become a daily habit for users. “You can go through the dot-com bubble of the 90s, over all those years, and look at how many companies built great technologies that were solutions looking for problems,” Hannon said. “I think this is a different opportunity — we’re a product company. Technology and content are there to serve the aims and goals of the company. It’s all focused on that. The tech needs to be focused on that, and the product needs to be focused on that. We think about how to transform this company into one that has a global scale that co-founders Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson envision. Their vision isn’t Andy’s voice throughout the world, their vision is building products that help people.” As startups start to take a deeper look at their products and what kinds of interactions users have, they have to actually think about where they can start tracking what their users are doing in sensitive ways in order to improve the experience. That might mean figuring out how often they are logging in, when they are checking their progress, how long they are listening, and other examples in a non-invasive way. But another big challenge is ensuring all that is wrapped up in a way where statisticians and product people can actually easily query all that data and start doing the math on it to figure out how to improve things, and building that out will be part of Isaac’s main jobs.

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FCTRY wants to be a new type of startup studio

Startup Studios are becoming more and more prevalent, with big name companies like Giphy and Girlboss coming from the studio model. The premise is strong: use venture on a small, concentrated number of ideas, fostered by experts and internal resources, to create strong businesses. But a new startup studio is prepping to launch in NYC with a different idea in mind. FCTRY , led by Jules Ehrhardt, doesn’t necessarily think that money is always the best way to help startups grow. Ehrhardt thinks of FCTRY as more of a Creative Capital Studio, wherein experts from various fields (with a particular focus on creative, design, and engineering) offer their insight and knowledge to help startups grow rather than venture capital. Of course, these startups would still trade equity in exchange for these services. Ehrhardt comes from UsTwo , the digital product studio that helped develop the wildly popular game Monument Valley. The focus of FCTRY won’t be the foundry model, where studios come up with their own ideas in conjunction with smart serial entrepreneurs and build them from scratch in house. Rather, FCTRY will help existing early-stage and mid-stage companies with their creative strategy, processes and culture. “The typical advisory system is broken,” said Ehrhardt. “Usually the advisory structure comes from a one to five percent equity pool and usually ends up in disappointment, where the advisor was supposed to make introductions or provide actionable insight that never comes through.” Ehrhardt says he wants to bring more charity to that, tapping into the same pool of expert advisors but with the proper structure in place for offering that expertise and delivering on the task. FCTRY will focus on three pillars of startup success: product, people, and growth. “Product” might sound a bit obvious and nebulous all at once, but FCTRY is particularly concerned with building a framework for delivering on product, helping set up the processes and organizational structure that allow companies to build great products.

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Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, finally rolls out Apple Pay

Monzo , the U.K. challenger bank, has finally added Apple Pay to its mobile-only current account. The just over three year-old fintech says it has been one of the most requested features for its banking app, with over 2,000 mentions of Apple Pay on Monzo’s forum, whilst its customer support team have been asked about the functionality more than 13,000 times. In other words, the rollout can’t come soon enough. Noteworthy, Monzo was able to add Google Pay all the way back in October 2017. Meanwhile, many of its passionate and vocal users will be wondering what took Monzo so long (as an aside, rival challenger Starling was able to add Apple Pay in July 2017 ). The upstart bank, which usually makes a virtue of its community-driven approach and transparency hasn’t been able to say (or even fully acknowledge that the feature was coming), likely because Apple imposes strict rules on the ways its partners communicate working with the tech giant. And when you sign an NDA with Apple it’s not untypical for it to stipulate that you don’t talk about said NDA. What we do know is that — similar to Apple’s iOS App Store when submitting an app — the Apple Pay approval process for a new bank partner is not for the faint-hearted. Industry insiders tell me that Google Pay has less hurdles to jump in comparison. Now that the feature is live, Monzo is talking up the security and privacy aspect of using Apple Pay, noting that when you use a credit or debit card with Apple Pay, the actual card numbers are not stored on the device, nor on Apple servers. Instead, “a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your device… and each transaction is authorised with a one-time unique dynamic security code”. Of course, most people simply like Apple Pay for its convenience, letting you use your phone to pay rather than fumbling for a debit or credit card, and when shopping online not having to repeatedly enter card details. Cue Monzo’s Tom Blomfield waxing lyrical in a company statement about Apple’s design and UX.

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Bossa Studios launches Worlds Adrift, the first game built on Improbable’s SpatialOS

Bossa Studios , the London gaming startup backed by Atomico and behind popular titles ‘Surgeon Simulator’ and ‘I am Bread’, is embarking on its biggest and most ambitious project yet. Described as a “Community-Crafted MMO,” where players have literally co-built the game’s environment and will continue to do so, Worlds Adrift sees its wider public outing today via the Steam Early Access program. The new game, which has been three years in the making and was born out of a Bossa Studios “game jam,” akin to the kinds of internal ‘hackathons’ many startups routinely hold, is attempting to pull off a number of firsts. For starters (and probably most noteworthy to TechCrunch readers), it is the debut game to be built on top of Improbable’s SpatialOS, the cloud-based platform for creating games and other virtual environments that need to go beyond the limitations of traditional server architectures. Improbable raised a whopping $502 million last May from Softbank and existing investors at a $1 billion-plus valuation, and so — inadvertently, at least — likely has quite a lot riding on Worlds Adrift. For the Bossa Studios team, the stakes are even higher. Improbable’s tech isn’t exactly proven and, in comparison, Bossa Studios is a smaller and much less well-funded startup attempting to punch way above its weight, even if the team has a lot of gaming industry pedigree. In a video call with two of its founders, Roberta Lucca and Henrique Olifiers, they were visibly excited by the launch but conceded a large amount of pre-launch nerves. When the Worlds Adrift concept was first conceived during that soon-to-be infamous game jam several years ago, it was indefinitely put on hold due to being far too ambitious per the size of the company. A chance meeting with Improbable some time later — where I’m told the two young companies were introduced somewhat serendipitously through having the same PR agency — it became clear that it might just be possible. In the coming weeks and months, Bossa Studios will find out if that bet, which meant redirecting all of the startup’s resources into by far its largest undertaking, has likely paid off. The other first, explained Lucca and Olifiers, is the sheer open-ended, community-driven and ‘persistent’ scale of the game

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Bossa Studios launches Worlds Adrift, the first game built on Improbable’s SpatialOS

Bossa Studios , the London gaming startup backed by Atomico and behind popular titles ‘Surgeon Simulator’ and ‘I am Bread’, is embarking on its biggest and most ambitious project yet. Described as a “Community-Crafted MMO,” where players have literally co-built the game’s environment and will continue to do so, Worlds Adrift sees its wider public outing today via the Steam Early Access program. The new game, which has been three years in the making and was born out of a Bossa Studios “game jam,” akin to the kinds of internal ‘hackathons’ many startups routinely hold, is attempting to pull off a number of firsts. For starters (and probably most noteworthy to TechCrunch readers), it is the debut game to be built on top of Improbable’s SpatialOS, the cloud-based platform for creating games and other virtual environments that need to go beyond the limitations of traditional server architectures. Improbable raised a whopping $502 million last May from Softbank and existing investors at a $1 billion-plus valuation, and so — inadvertently, at least — likely has quite a lot riding on Worlds Adrift. For the Bossa Studios team, the stakes are even higher. Improbable’s tech isn’t exactly proven and, in comparison, Bossa Studios is a smaller and much less well-funded startup attempting to punch way above its weight, even if the team has a lot of gaming industry pedigree. In a video call with two of its founders, Roberta Lucca and Henrique Olifiers, they were visibly excited by the launch but conceded a large amount of pre-launch nerves. When the Worlds Adrift concept was first conceived during that soon-to-be infamous game jam several years ago, it was indefinitely put on hold due to being far too ambitious per the size of the company. A chance meeting with Improbable some time later — where I’m told the two young companies were introduced somewhat serendipitously through having the same PR agency — it became clear that it might just be possible. In the coming weeks and months, Bossa Studios will find out if that bet, which meant redirecting all of the startup’s resources into by far its largest undertaking, has likely paid off. The other first, explained Lucca and Olifiers, is the sheer open-ended, community-driven and ‘persistent’ scale of the game. Tapping into the ‘makers’ trend, early testers of Worlds Adrift have shaped the game itself via Bossa’s Island Creator tool. This has seen 10,000 designs submitted, and Worlds Adrift is launching with 300 ‘floating islands,’ nearly all of which have been created by the community rather than Bossa Studios staff.

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This jolly little robot gets goosebumps

Cornell researchers have made a little robot that can express its emotions through touch, sending out little spikes when it’s scared or even getting goosebumps to express delight or excitement. The prototype, a cute smiling creature with rubber skin, is designed to test touch as an I/O system for robotic projects. The robot mimics the skin of octopi which can turn spiky when threatened. The researchers, Yuhan Hu, Zhengnan Zhao, Abheek Vimal and Guy Hoffman, created the robot to experiment with new methods for robot interaction. They compare the skin to “human goosebumps, cats’ neck fur raising, dogs’ back hair, the needles of a porcupine, spiking of a blowfish, or a bird’s ruffled feathers.” “Research in human-robot interaction shows that a robot’s ability to use nonverbal behavior to communicate affects their potential to be useful to people, and can also have psychological effects. Other reasons include that having a robot use nonverbal behaviors can help make it be perceived as more familiar and less machine-like,” the researchers told IEEE Spectrum . The skin has multiple configurations and is powered by a computer-controlled elastomer that can inflate and deflate on demand. The goosebumps pop up to match the expression on the robot’s face, allowing humans to better understand what the robot “means” when it raises its little hackles or gets bumpy. I, for one, welcome our bumpy robotic overlords.

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