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Hero Labs raises £2.5M for its ultrasonic device to monitor a property’s water use and prevent leaks – TechCrunch

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Hero Labs, a London-based startup that is developing “smart” technology to help prevent water leaks in U.K. properties, has raised £2.5 million in seed funding. The round is led by Earthworm Group, an environmental fund manager, with further support via a £300,000 EU innovation grant and a number of unnamed private investors.

The new capital will be used by Hero Labs to accelerate development of its first product: a smart device dubbed “Sonic” that uses ultrasonic technology to monitor water use within a property, including the early detection of water leaks.

Founded in 2018 by Krystian Zajac after he exited Neos, a smart home insurer that was acquired by Aviva, Hero Labs was born out of the realisation that a lot of smart home technology either wasn’t very smart or didn’t solve mass problems (Zajac had also previously ran a smart home company focusing on ultra high net-worth individuals that delivered bespoke designs for things like motorised swimming pool floors or home cinemas doubling up as panic rooms).

Coupled with this, the Hero Labs founder learned that water wastage was a very costly problem, both financially and environmentally, with water leaks being the number one culprit for property damage in the U.K. ahead of fires, gas explosions or break-ins combined. This sees water leaks cost the U.K. insurance industry £1 billion per year, apparently.

“My vision for the company is to solve real-life problems with truly smart technology,” Zajac tells me. “From working at Neos and alongside some of the world’s largest home insurers I understood the problems that impacted ordinary homeowners and their families on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps most surprisingly, I learnt that water leaks are far and way the biggest cause of damage to homes… I also wanted to do more for the environment in my next venture after learning that water leaks waste 3 billion litres of water a day in the U.K. alone”.

To that end, the Sonic device and service is described as a smart leak defence system. Aimed at anyone who wants to prevent water leaks in their property — including homeowners, landlords, facilities management, property developers and businesses — the ultrasonic device typically attaches to the piping below your sink and “listens” to the vibrations coming off the interconnected pipes.

Sonic then monitors the water flow using machine learning and its algorithms to identify usage and detect anomalies. This requires the technology to understand the difference between appliances, running taps and even flushing toilets so that it can build up a picture of normal water usage in the home and in turn identify if that pattern is broken. Crucially, if needed, Sonic can automatically shut off the water supply to prevent a water leak damaging the property or its possessions.

Will a full launch planned for later this year, Sonic is targeting consumers as well as small businesses initially. “We are [also] in discussions with insurers who might subsidise the product or give it away completely for free to certain more affluent customers to minimise the risk of water escape,” adds Zajac.

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Google enables end-to-end encryption for Android’s default SMS/RCS app

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Enlarge / If you and your chatting partner are both on Google Messages and both have RCS enabled, you’ll see these lock icons to show that encryption is on.

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Google has announced that end-to-end encryption is rolling out to users of Google Messages, Android’s default SMS and RCS app. The feature has been in testing for months, and now it’s coming to everyone.

Encryption in Google Messages works only if both users are on the service. Both users must also be in a 1:1 chat (no group chats allowed), and they both must have RCS turned on. RCS was supposed to be a replacement for SMS—an on-by-default, carrier-driven text messaging standard. RCS was cooked up in 2008, and it adds 2008-level features to carrier messaging, like user presence, typing status, read receipts, and location sharing.

Text messaging used to be a cash cow for carriers, but with the advent of unlimited texting and the commoditization of carrier messaging, there’s no clear revenue motivation for carriers to release RCS. The result is that the RCS rollout has amounted to nothing but false promises and delays. The carriers nixed a joint venture called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” in April, pretty much killing any hopes that RCS will ever hit SMS-like ubiquity. Apple executives have also indicated internally that they view easy messaging with Android as a threat to iOS ecosystem lock-in, so it would take a significant change of heart for Apple to support RCS.

The result is that Google is the biggest player that cares about RCS, and in 2019, the company started pushing its own carrier-independent RCS system. Users can dig into the Google Messages app settings and turn on “Chat features,” which refers to Google’s version of RCS. It works if both users have turned on the checkbox, but again, the original goal of a ubiquitous SMS replacement seems to have been lost. This makes Google RCS a bit like any other over-the-top messaging service—but tied to the slow and out-of-date RCS protocol. For instance, end-to-end encryption isn’t part of the RCS spec. Since it’s something Google is adding on top of RCS and it’s done in software, both users need to be on Google Messages. Other clients aren’t supported.

Google released a whitepaper detailing the feature’s implementation, and there aren’t too many surprises. The company uses the Signal protocol for encryption, just like Signal, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger. The Google Messages web app works fine since it still relies on an (encrypted) local connection to your phone to send messages. Encrypted messages on Wear OS are not supported yet but will be at some point (hopefully in time for that big revamp). Even though the message text is encrypted, third parties can still see metadata like sent and received phone numbers, timestamps, and approximate message sizes.

If you and your messaging partner have all the settings right, you’ll see lock icons next to the send button and the “message sent” status.

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Apple’s podcast subscriptions went live today—with a 30 percent cut

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As previously announced in April, Apple has today launched its new Podcasts Subscriptions feature on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. The system allows users to subscribe to podcasts (or groups of podcasts called Channels) for extra perks.

Perks can include early access to episodes, as well as ad-free listening. Some shows may offer bonus content for subscribers as well. You can subscribe to a podcast with just one button using Apple’s payment system.

Podcast creators can charge whatever they please, with the minimum subscription fee being $0.49 per month. Apple takes 30 percent of that amount for the first year, but if a subscriber remains active beyond 12 months, Apple switches to taking just 15 percent of that subscription fee.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t have any rules against additional ways to monetize podcasts that offer these subscriptions, such as asking listeners to also back a Patreon.

When you subscribe to a podcast, its show page will have a “Subscriber Edition” label on it. You can also trial subscriptions to participating podcasts to see if they’re worth actually paying for. The length of time these trial subscriptions last varies, but it seems to usually be a few days or as long as a week.

Channels are basically podcast bundles curated by someone. Channels aren’t limited to podcasts using Apple’s new subscriptions offerings, though. When you follow more than one channel, a new “My Channels” section will appear in the Listen Now tab of the Podcasts app. Initiating a paid subscription to a channel gives you subscriber status with all its member podcasts.

Podcasts Subscriptions will be available in 170 countries and regions on devices running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, and macOS 11.4 or later.

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Make way for Windows 11? Windows 10 end-of-life is October 2025

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Enlarge / Please show your retired operating system the respect it deserves, with a proper Viking funeral.

A new Windows visual refresh, code-named Sun Valley. is on the way this summer. Until recently, we’ve assumed that this update would simply bring a new look for Windows 10 21H2—the major release of Windows 10 in the second half of 2021—but new information in the form of posted end-of-life (EOL) dates for Windows 10 and a leaked screenshot of something purporting to be “Windows 11 Pro” heavily imply that serious changes are on the way.

Windows 10 EOL in 2025

Rumors of Sun Valley being “Windows 11” have been circulating for months—but until recently, we didn’t put much stock in them. Windows 10 was intended to be Windows as a Service—a radical departure from the prior era of new, major Windows releases every three years or so. It seemed likely that Sun Valley’s “sweeping visual rejuvenation” would result in Windows 10 21H2 looking very different from Windows 10 21H1. Why fix what’s not broken?

The first strong indication that bigger things may be coming landed last week from a Microsoft-published EOL notice for Windows 10. “Windows 10 Home and Pro”—no codenames, no minor version numbers—is now listed as retiring on October 14, 2025. “Retiring” is a part of the Modern Lifecycle Policy and means that the retired product leaves support entirely; this does not follow the old Fixed Lifecycle Policy with “mainstream” and “extended” support. Retired is retired—hit the pasture.

As Windows Central points out, the retirement date isn’t entirely a new phenomenon—Microsoft initially launched the operating system with “mainstream support” through October 2020 and “extended support” through October 2025, the same five-/10-year-support period it provides for server and enterprise operating systems. What has changed is the way Microsoft talks about that end of support—there was no retirement date for Windows 10 as a whole shown on the home-and-pro life cycle page until recently.

There isn’t any real question about the end of life at this point—Microsoft has published it, and we have no reason to think it won’t happen. The interesting questions revolve around what comes next and when it will happen.

Windows 11 in 2021?

We’ve been seeing rumors about Sun Valley being a new Windows 11 for a few months—and until Microsoft posted a fresh EOL for Windows 10, we were skeptical. Windows 10 has been touted as “Windows as a Service” with no real expiration date for some time now, and there was no real reason to expect anything different.

The end-of-life date for Windows 10 as an entire operating system changes that—and it’s backed up by leaked screenshots of a Windows build claiming to be “Windows 11 Pro” which showed up today on Baidu. The new build is visually similar to the canceled Windows 10X, and its screenshots appear legitimate. (The Verge says it can “confirm they are genuine,” with no details as to how.)

What does a new version of Windows mean for me?

For now, it’s unclear what a new “Windows 11” means for end users—there are no guarantees that existing Windows 10 licenses will allow the use of Windows 11, let alone an in-place upgrade. We also have no concrete idea about when new releases of Windows 10 will cease, when the first Windows 11 will be available, or what costs will be.

We do have an educated guess or two, though—Microsoft’s generous upgrade policies from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (you can still upgrade for free today!) strongly imply a similar policy for 11, which Microsoft will presumably be keen to get users on. We also don’t expect under-the-hood changes as sweeping as the ones which took place between 7 and 10. In all likelihood, in-place upgrades will be available.

We’d also like to point out that the consumer support cycle for Windows 10 is short. For example, Windows 10 21H1—the most current build—is only supported through December 2022. That’s a roughly 18-month lifecycle, and there are no extended support policies for consumer Windows anymore. When it leaves support, you’re expected to upgrade to the next version if you want to continue getting support and bugfixes.

We may or may not see a Windows 10 21H2 or even a Windows 10 22H1. But we don’t expect to see a new Windows 10 build past 2023 at the latest since that would imply the need to support 10 past its October 2025 retirement date.

More details are on the way

If you find the lack of concrete detail here frustrating, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long—Microsoft’s What’s Next for Windows digital event is coming June 24, and we expect plenty of screenshots, news, and more detailed upgrade guidance at that time.

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