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Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 more colleges – TechCrunch

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If you’re a student at UC Berkeley, the diminutive rolling robots from Kiwi are probably a familiar sight by now, trundling along with a burrito inside to deliver to a dorm or apartment building. Now students at a dozen more campuses will be able to join this great, lazy future of robotic delivery as Kiwi expands to them with a clever student-run model.

Speaking recently at TechCrunch’s Robotics + AI Session at the Berkeley campus, Kiwi’s Felipe Chavez and Sasha Iatsenia discussed the success of their burgeoning business and the way they planned to take it national.

In case you’re not aware of the Kiwi model, it’s basically this: When you place an order online with a participating restaurant, you have the option of delivery via Kiwi. If you so choose, one of the company’s fleet of knee-high robots with insulated, locking storage compartments will swing by the place, your order is put within, and it brings it to your front door (or as close as it can reasonably get). You can even watch the last bit live from the robot’s perspective as it rolls up to your place.

The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy, but for now this is how it is.

That the robots are being controlled in some fashion by a team of people in Colombia (from where the co-founders hail) does take a considerable amount of the futurism out of this endeavor, but on reflection it’s kind of a natural evolution of the existing delivery infrastructure. After all, someone has to drive the car that brings you your food, as well. And in reality, most AI is operated or informed directly or indirectly by actual people.

That those drivers are in South America operating multiple vehicles at a time is a technological advance over your average delivery vehicle — though it must be said that there is an unsavory air of offshoring labor to save money on wages. That said, few people shed tears over the wages earned by the Chinese assemblers who put together our smartphones and laptops, or the garbage pickers who separate your poorly sorted recycling. The global labor economy is a complicated one, and the company is making jobs in the place it was at least partly born.

Whatever the method, Kiwi has traction: it’s done more than 35,000 deliveries at an increasing rate since it started two years ago (now up to over 10,000 per month) and the model seems to have proven itself. Customers are happy, they get stuff delivered more than ever once they get the app and there are fewer and fewer incidents where a robot is kicked over or, you know, catches on fire. Notably, the founders said onstage, the community has really adopted the little vehicles, and should one overturn or be otherwise interfered with, it’s often set on its way soon after by a passerby.

Iatsenia and Chavez think the model is ready to push out to other campuses, where a similar effort will have to take place — but rather than do it themselves by raising millions and hiring staff all over the country, they’re trusting the robotics-loving student groups at other universities to help out.

For a small and low-cash startup like Kiwi, it would be risky to overextend by taking on a major round and using that to scale up. They started as robotics enthusiasts looking to bring something like this to their campus, so why can’t they help others do the same?

So the team looked at dozens of universities, narrowing them down by factors important to robotic delivery: layout, density, commercial corridors, demographics and so on. Ultimately they arrived at the following list:

  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M
  • Parsons
  • Cornell
  • East Tennessee State University
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Stanford
  • Harvard
  • NYU
  • Rutgers

What they’re doing is reaching out to robotics clubs and student groups at those colleges to see who wants to take partial ownership of Kiwi administration out there. Maintenance and deployment would still be handled by Berkeley students, but the student clubs would go through a certification process and then do the local work, like a capsized bot and on-site issues with customers and restaurants.

“We are exploring several options to work with students down the road, including rev share,” Iatsenia told me. “It depends on the campus.”

So far they’ve sent 40 robots to the 12 campuses listed and will be rolling out operations as the programs move forward on their own time. If you’re not one of the unis listed, don’t worry — if this goes the way Kiwi plans, it sounds like you can expect further expansion soon.

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Google will soon default to blurring explicit image search results

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Enlarge / Google’s new “Blur” setting for SafeSearch will soon be the default, blurring explicit images unless you’re logged in and over 18.

Aurich Lawson

Google has debuted a new default SafeSearch setting, somewhere between “on” and “off,” that automatically blurs explicit images in search results for most people.

In a blog post timed to Safer Internet Day, Google outlined a number of measures it plans to implement to “protect democracies worldwide,” secure high-risk individuals, improve password management, and protect credit card numbers. Tucked into a series of small-to-medium announcements is a notable change to search results, Google’s second core product after advertising.

A new setting, rolling out “in the coming months,” “will blur explicit imagery if it appears in Search results when SafeSearch filtering isn’t turned on,” writes Google’s Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of Core Systems & Experiences. “This setting will be the new default for people who don’t already have the SafeSearch filter turned on, with the option to adjust settings at any time.”

Google’s explanatory image (seen above) shows someone logged in and searching for images of “Injury.” A notice shows that “Google turned on SafeSearch blurring,” which “blurs explicit images in your search results.” One of the example image results—”Dismounted Complex Blast Injury (DCBI)” from ResearchGate—is indeed quite explicit, as far as human viscera and musculature goes. Google provides one last check if you click on that blurred image: “This image may contain explicit content. SafeSearch blurring is on.”

Explicit images, such as the "blast injury" shown in Google's example, will be blurred by default in Google search images, unless a user is over 18, signs in, and turns it off.
Enlarge / Explicit images, such as the “blast injury” shown in Google’s example, will be blurred by default in Google search images, unless a user is over 18, signs in, and turns it off.

If you click “View image,” you see life’s frail nature. If you click “Manage setting,” you can choose between three settings: Filter (where explicit results don’t show up at all), Blur (where both blurring and are-you-sure clicks occur), and Off (where you see “all relevant results, even if they’re explicit”).

Signed-in users under the age of 18 automatically have SafeSearch enabled, blocking content including “pornography, violence, and gore.” With this change, Google will automatically be blurring explicit content for everybody using Google who doesn’t log in, stay logged in, and specifically ask to show it instead. It’s a way to prevent children from getting access to explicit images, but also, notably, a means of ensuring people are logged in to Google if they’re looking for something… very specific. An incognito window, it seems, just won’t do.

Google turned on SafeSearch as its default for under-18 users in August 2021, having been pressured by Congress to better protect children across its services, including search and YouTube.

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OnePlus takes on the iPad with the OnePlus Pad

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Android tablets are on their way back, and one of Android’s biggest manufacturers (we’re talking about OnePlus parent company BBK) is bringing an Android tablet to the US for the first time. Say hello to the OnePlus Pad, an 11.61-inch tablet with an optional keyboard and stylus. We don’t know how much it costs, so don’t ask. There’s also no hard release date, but preorders start in April.

What we do know are the specs. The 11.61-inch display is a 144 Hz LCD, with a resolution of 2800×2000. That’s an aspect ratio of 7:5, or a bit wider than a 4:3 display, which OnePlus claims is a “book-like” aspect ratio. The SoC is a MediaTek Dimensity 9000. That’s a rarity in the US, but it’s basically a generic ARM design for 2022 flagship phones, with one 3.05 GHz ARM Cortex X2 CPU, three A710 CPUs, and four A510 CPUs. It’s a 4 nm chip with an ARM Mali-G710 MC10. You also get 8GB of RAM (there’s an option for 12GB), 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a 9510 mAh battery. This is not in the super-flagship tablet territory and should (hopefully) come with an affordable price tag.

As always, OnePlus’ trademark quick-charging is here, and it’s 67 W. On a tiny phone battery, that kind of charging will usually take a phone from 0-100 in around a half hour, but with a big tablet battery, a full charge still takes “just over 60 minutes.” In the fine print, OnePlus actually gives a warning against any repair attempts, saying, “The battery has been especially encrypted for safety purposes. Please go to an official OnePlus service center to repair your battery or get a genuine replacement battery.” I’ve never heard of a battery being “encrypted” before, but I think they mean there is a serial number check in the firmware somewhere and that it will presumably refuse to work if you replace it. As for the possibility of an “official OnePlus service center” actually existing, there is a business finder on the OnePlus India website, but not one in the US, so it’s looking like mail-in service only.

The tablet is made up of an aluminum unibody that weighs 555 g. The sides are rounded over, which should make it feel comfortable to hold. It comes with four speakers, a USB-C port on the right side, and a set of three pogo pins on the bottom for the keyboard. The back has a circular camera bump that makes it look like a close cousin of the OnePlus 11, and it holds a single 13 MP camera. We also hope you like green, because that appears to be the only color.

There’s no fingerprint sensor at all. There is a cutout that looks like it might be a fingerprint sensor, but we guess that’s just a radio signal window. There’s also no GPS listed on the spec sheet. We know next to nothing about the “OnePlus Magnetic Keyboard” and “OnePlus Stylo” pen. The keyboard has a small trackpad that supports swiping. The pen has a 2 ms response time, which sounds pretty good. That’s about it. Presumably we’ll know more in April.

Listing image by OnePlus

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Report: Sonos’ next flagship speaker will be the spatial audio-focused Era 300

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Enlarge / Sonos One smart speaker.

Sonos will release a new flagship speaker “in the coming months,” according to a report Monday from The Verge. The publication said this will be called the Era 300 and that Sonos is prioritizing the device’s spatial audio capabilities.

The Verge claimed that Sonos is aiming for the Era 300 to be its most accurate speaker yet. It pointed to a heightened focus on making Dolby Atmos content shine, as well as improving music using spatial audio. According to The Verge, the Era 300 will be a “multidirectional speaker built to get the most from spatial audio” by way of a “completely re-architected acoustic design.”

We don’t have deeper details, like specs or pricing. However, Wi-Fi 6 and a USB-C port are apparently “likely,” and Bluetooth support is also possible. According to The Verge, Sonos has at least looked into including all these features on the Era 300.

The Verge first started reporting about the Era 300, codenamed Optimo 2, in August. This week, it identified more evidence of the speaker’s development in the form of two recent documents from TV mount-maker Sanus that name the Era 300.

In August, The Verge, citing “early, work-in-progress images” it reportedly viewed, said that Sonos’ upcoming flagship speaker would include “an arsenal of drivers, including several that fire in different directions from beneath the shell between the front speaker grille and backplate.” It also suggested a more beefed-up product, with twice the RAM and eight times the flash memory as the highest-specced Sonos speaker today.

The Verge also claimed this week that Sonos is working on a lower-priced Era 100, suggesting that it could include Dolby Atmos support and serve as a follow-up to the Sonos One, which has a $179 MSRP as of writing.

Should the Era 300 truly debut soon, it will face competition from Apple’s recent $299, full-sized HomePod revival, which supports spatial audio with Dolby Atmos with Apple apps and Apple TV 4K. Besides superior audio quality, a new Sonos flagship could score points with shoppers by playing better with non-Apple devices, such as by including Bluetooth and by besting the Apple speaker’s Wi-Fi 4 support.

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