Aug 16, 2017

$550 dock turns a smartphone into a medical lab


Retrofitting medical technology onto smartphones isn't anything new. We've already seen innovation in HIV testing and fertility tracking, for example. But researchers say the TRI analyzer boasts a wider spectrum of applications, and the relatively cheap, portable nature of the kit means it could have uses in other sectors such as animal health, food safety and environmental monitoring, as well as health diagnostics.

"Our TRI Analyzer is like the Swiss Army knife of biosensing," said Professor Brian Cunningham. "It's capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it."



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Aug 10, 2017

AssemblyAI wants to put customized speech recognition within reach of any developer

It’s clear that voice is becoming a major interface, as we witness the rise of the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Cortana and their ilk. We’re also seeing an increasing use of chat bots and other voice-driven tools, which often require speech recognition with a very specific vocabulary.

That’s where AssemblyAI, a member of the Summer ’17 Y Combinator class comes in. The startup is building an API that will help developers build customized chat interfaces quickly.

“We’re building an API for customized speech recognition. Developers use our API for transcribing phone calls or creating custom voice interfaces. We help them recognize an unlimited number of custom words without any training,” Dylan Fox, AssemblyAI’s founder told TechCrunch.

He says, most off-the-shelf speech recognition APIs are designed to be one size fits all. If you want to customize it, it gets really expensive. AssemblyAI hopes to change that.

When Fox was working at his previous job as an engineer at Cisco, he saw first-hand how difficult it was to create a speech recognition program with custom words. It usually involved a lot of engineering resources and took a long time. He came up with the idea of AssemblyAI as a way to make it easier, less costly and much faster. He added, that recent advancements in AI and machine learning have made it possible to do what his company is doing now.

It’s worth noting that the tool requires GPUs, rather than CPUs, for increased processing power because the task is so resource-intensive. Getting access to a sufficient number of GPUs to build and run the tasks has been a challenge for the three-person startup, but their affiliation with Y Combinator has helped in that regard. It’s also brand new tech, so they have to solve every problem they encounter on their own. There are no books to read or solutions to look up on Google. Right now the team consists of just three people, creating the tool, while trying to build a company.

Even though they are just three people, they believe user experience is going to be key to their success, so they have one team member fully devoted to developing the front end. They claim that no training is required to run the API. You just upload a list of terms or names and the API takes care of the rest.

Fox fully recognizes that it’s hard for startup to build a speech recognition tool without constantly worrying about the bigger companies swooping in and grabbing their market share, but he says his company is working hard to differentiate itself as a go-to tool for developers.

“As a smaller company focused on a speech recognition technology, we can provide a better experience [than the bigger companies].” He says that means paying attention to the little things that attract developers to a tool like better documentation, simpler integration and just making it easier to use overall.

So far the product is in private beta with several companies deploying it on GPUs in the cloud, but it’s early days. He says when the customers come, they will have to scale to meet those demands using additional cloud-based GPU resources. If it works as described, that shouldn’t be long now.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch


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Jul 27, 2017

Google launches its own AI Studio to foster machine intelligence startups

A new week brings a fresh Google initiative targeting AI startups. We started the month with the announcement of Gradient Ventures, Google’s on-balance sheet AI investment vehicle. Two days later we watched the finalists of Google Cloud’s machine learning competition pitch to a panel of top AI investors. And today, Google’s Launchpad is announcing a new hands-on Studio program to feed hungry AI startups the resources they need to get off the ground and scale.

The thesis is simple — not all startups are created the same. AI startups love data and struggle to get enough of it. They often have to go to market in phases, iterating as new data becomes available. And they typically have highly technical teams and a dearth of product talent. You get the picture.

The Launchpad Studio aims to address these needs head-on with specialized data sets, simulation tools and prototyping assistance. Another selling point of the Launchpad Studio is that startups accepted will have access to Google talent, including engineers, IP experts and product specialists.

“Launchpad, to date, operates in 40 countries around the world,” explains Roy Geva Glasberg, Google’s Global Lead for Accelerator efforts. “We have worked with over 10,000 startups and trained over 2,000 mentors globally.”

This core mentor base will serve as a recruiting pool for mentors that will assist the Studio. Barak Hachamov, board member for Launchpad, has been traveling around the world with Glasberg to identify new mentors for the program.

The idea of a startup studio isn’t new. It has been attempted a handful of times in recent years, but seems to have finally caught on with Andy Rubin’s Playground Global. Playground offers startups extensive services and access to top talent to dial-in products and compete with the largest of tech companies.

On the AI Studio front, Yoshua Bengio’s Element AI raised a $102 million Series A to create a similar program. Bengio, one of, if not the, most famous AI researchers, can help attract top machine learning talent to enable recruiting parity with top AI groups like Google’s DeepMind and Facebook’s FAIR. Launchpad Studio won’t have Bengio, but it will bring Peter Norvig, Dan Ariely, Yossi Matias and Chris DiBone to the table.

But unlike Playground’s $300 million accompanying venture capital arm and Element’s own coffers, Launchpad Studio doesn’t actually have any capital to deploy. On one hand, capital completes the package. On the other, I’ve never heard a good AI startup complain about not being able to raise funding.

Launchpad Studio sits on top of the Google Developer Launchpad network. The group has been operating an accelerator with global scale for some time now. Now on its fourth class of startups, the team has had time to flesh out its vision and build relationships with experts within Google to ease startup woes.

“Launchpad has positioned itself as the Google global program for startups,” asserts Glasberg. “It is the most scaleable tool Google has today to reach, empower, train and support startups globally.”

With all the resources in the world, Google’s biggest challenge with its Studio won’t be vision or execution — but this doesn’t guarantee everything will be smooth sailing. Between GV, Capital G, Gradient Ventures, GCP and Studio, entrepreneurs are going to have a lot of potential touch-points with the company.

On paper, Launchpad Studio is the Switzerland of Google’s programs. It doesn’t aim to make money or strengthen Google Cloud’s positioning. But from the perspective of founders, there’s bound to be some confusion. In an ideal world we will see a meeting of the minds between Launchpad’s Glasberg, Gradient’s Anna Patterson and GCP’s Sam O’Keefe.

The Launchpad Studio will be based in San Francisco, with additional operations in Tel Aviv and New York City. Eventually Toronto, London, Bangalore and Singapore will host events locally for AI founders.

Applications to the Studio are now open — if you’re interested you can apply here. The program itself is stage-agnostic, so there are no restrictions on size. Ideally early- and later-stage startups can learn from each other as they scale machine learning models to larger audiences.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin


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Jul 16, 2017

The First Trailer for Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time Is Here, and It's Fantastic


The first trailer for Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time is finally here, and it’s everything we hoped it would be.

Young actress Storm Reid stars as Meg Murry, with an all-star cast of adult actors backing her up, including the cosmic trio of Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which, Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, and Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine play Meg’s parents, Dr. Kate Murry and the mysteriously-missing Dr. Alex Murry. Newcomer Deric McCabe plays Meg’s gifted little brother, Charles Wallace.

We’re so excited for this movie, we’re gonna overlook the fact that the trailer contains yet another use of an edgy remake of a familiar pop song as its background music. A Wrinkle in Time will be out March 9, 2018.



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Jul 15, 2017

Google’s life sciences unit is releasing 20 million bacteria-infected mosquitoes in Fresno

Verily, the life science’s arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has hatched a plan to release about 20 million lab-made, bacteria-infected mosquitos upon Fresno, California — and that’s a good thing!

You see, the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is prevalent in the area. Earlier this year, a woman contracted the first confirmed case of Zika in Fresno through sexual contact with a partner who had been traveling. Now there’s the fear of most likely inevitable mosquito meets patient if we don’t do something about it. Verily’s plan, called the Debug Project, hopes to now wipe out this potential Zika-carrying mosquito population to prevent further infections.

Could messing with the mosquito population have some unforeseen disastrous consequences? Not likely. This particular mosquito species entered the area in 2013.

So what’s the plan to get rid of them? Verily’s male mosquitos were infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which is harmless to humans but when they mate with and infect their female counterparts, it makes their eggs unable to produce offspring.

Bonus, male mosquitos don’t bite so Fresno residents won’t have to worry about itching more than they usually would.

No word from the company on how much something like this will cost, but Linus Upson, an engineer on the team releasing the mosquitos told MIT Technology Review the company planned to do something similar in Australia next.

“We want to show this can work in different kinds of environments,” he told the magazine.

Verily plans to release about 1 million mosquitos a week over a 20-week period in two 300 acre neighborhoods in the Fresno area — the largest U.S. release to date of mosquitos infected with the Wolbachia bacteria.

Those in the Fancher Creek neighborhood may notice a Verily van releasing healthy swarm of the little bugs throughout its streets starting today.

Featured Image: Department of Foreign Affairs/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE


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Jul 12, 2017

Google's new AI acquisition aims to fix developing world problems

As part of its continued push into the AI sector, Google has just revealed that it has purchased a new deep learning startup. The Indian-based Halli Labs are the latest addition to Google's Next Billion Users team, joining the world-leading tech comp...

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Jul 5, 2017

Einride's self-driving truck looks like a giant freezer on wheels


The truck uses a hybrid driverless system. While on highways, the T-pod drives itself, but on main roads, a human will remotely manage the driving system. People will also monitor T-pods as they drive on highways in case a situation arises that necessitates human control. Einride is currently working on charging stations for the trucks.

Einride isn't the only company working on driverless shipping trucks. Waymo, Uber and Daimler are among the companies also developing similar vehicles. For shipping at larger scales, self-navigating and remote-controlled ships as well as massive drones are also in the works.

The T-pod prototype isn't fully developed quite yet, but Einride expects to have its first completed truck available to customers in the fall. By 2020, the company plans to have a fleet of 200 goofy-looking trucks that will travel between Swedish cities Gothenburg and Helsingborg, carrying an expected two million pallets per year.



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