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Ocean drone startup merger spawns Sofar, the DJI of the sea – TechCrunch

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What lies beneath the murky depths? SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive wants to help you and the scientific community find out. He’s just led a $7 million Series A for Sofar Ocean Technologies, a new startup formed from a merger he orchestrated between underwater drone maker OpenROV and sea sensor developer Spoondrift. Together, they’re teaming up their 1080p Trident drone and solar-powered Spotter sensor to let you collect data above and below the surface. They can help you shoot awesome video footage, track waves and weather, spot fishing and diving spots, inspect boats or infrastructure for damage, monitor acquaculture sites or catch smugglers.

Sofar’s Trident drone (left) and Spotter sensor (right)

“Aerial drones give us a different perspective of something we know pretty well. Ocean drones give us a view at something we don’t really know at all,” former Spoondrift and now Sofar CEO Tim Janssen tells me. “The Trident drone was created for field usage by scientists and is now usable by anyone. This is pushing the barrier towards the unknown.”

But while Rive has a soft spot for the ecological potential of DIY ocean exploration, the sea is crowded with competing drones. There are more expensive professional research-focused devices like the Saildrone, DeepTrekker and SeaOtter-2, as well as plenty of consumer-level devices like the $800 Robosea Biki, $1,000 Fathom ONE and $5,000 iBubble. The $1,700 Sofar Trident, which requires a cord to a surface buoy to power its three hours of dive time and two meters per second speed, sits in the middle of the pack, but Sofar co-founder David Lang things Trident can win with simplicity, robustness and durability. The question is whether Sofar can become the DJI of the water, leading the space, or if it will become just another commoditized hardware maker drowning in knock-offs.

From left: Peter Rive (chairman of Sofar), David Lang (co-founder of OpenROV) and Tim Janssen (co-founder and CEO of Sofar)

Spoondrift launched in 2016 and raised $350,000 to build affordable ocean sensors that can produce climate-tracking data. “These buoys (Spotters) are surprisingly easy to deploy, very light and easy to handle, and can be lowered in the water by hand using a line. As a result, you can deploy them in almost any kind of conditions,” says Dr. Aitana Forcén-Vázquez of MetOcean Solutions.

OpenROV (it stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle) started seven years ago and raised $1.3 million in funding from True Ventures and National Geographic, which was also one of its biggest Trident buyers. “Everyone who has a boat should have an underwater drone for hull inspection. Any dock should have its own weather station with wind and weather sensors,” Sofar’s new chairman Rive declares.

Spotter could unlock data about the ocean at scale

Sofar will need to scale to accomplish Rive’s mission to get enough sensors in the sea to give us more data on the progress of climate change and other ecological issues. “We know very little about our oceans since we have so little data, because putting systems in the ocean is extremely expensive. It can cost millions for sensors and for boats,” he tells me. We gave everyone GPS sensors and cameras and got better maps. The ability to put low-cost sensors on citizens’ rooftops unlocked tons of weather forecasting data. That’s more feasible with Spotter, which costs $4,900 compared to $100,000 for some sea sensors.

Sofar hardware owners do not have to share data back to the startup, but Rive says many customers are eager to. They’ve requested better data portability so they can share with fellow researchers. The startup believes it can find ways to monetize that data in the future, which is partly what attracted the funding from Rive and fellow investors True Ventures and David Sacks’ Craft Ventures. The funding will build up that data business and also help Sofar develop safeguards to make sure its Trident drones don’t go where they shouldn’t. That’s obviously important, given London’s Gatwick airport shutdown due to a trespassing drone.

Spotter can relay weather conditions and other climate data to your phone

“The ultimate mission of the company is to connect humanity to the ocean as we’re mostly conservationists at heart,” Rive concludes. “As more commercialization and business opportunities arise, we’ll have to have conversations about whether those are directly benefiting the ocean. It will be important to have our moral compass facing in the right direction to protect the earth.”

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Airbnb’s party-pooper tech claims to stop likely party-throwers from renting

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Airbnb really wants to shut down parties in its rentals. On Tuesday, the company announced the deployment of “anti-party tools” that it claims will help identify users who are likely to throw a party and prevent them from renting a property.

Airbnb is launching the tools in the US and Canada, it said. The tools use an algorithm that flags “potentially high-risk reservations” by looking at user characteristics like “history of positive reviews (or lack of positive reviews), length of time the guest has been on Airbnb, length of the trip, distance to the listing, weekend vs. weekday, among many others.”

“This anti-party technology is designed to prevent a reservation attempt from going through,” Airbnb said. “Guests who are unable to make entire home bookings due to this system will still be able to book a private room (where the Host is more likely to be physically on site) or a hotel room through Airbnb.”

Airbnb has earned scorn and even lawsuits due to hosting sites with a reputation for turning into large gatherings that range from annoyingly loud to destructive. Some of these parties have even culminated in deadly violence. The latter includes a widely publicized 2019 shooting at an Airbnb party in Orinda, California, that left five dead.

Later that year, Airbnb banned properties meant for parties. In 2020, it announced age-based restrictions that prevented people under 25 from renting local homes unless they had at least three positive and zero negative reviews or planned a long-term stay.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbnb issued a temporary ban on parties at rental properties but made the ban permanent on June 28, citing “feedback from the longstanding and trusted members of our global Host community.”

Airbnb hasn’t directly pointed to shootings on Airbnb properties as the reason for its war on parties. Instead, it referenced “a commitment to our Host community—who respect their neighbors and want no part of the property damage and other issues that may come with unauthorized or disruptive parties.”

The company has been piloting the algorithm in Australia since October and claimed that there has been a 35 percent drop in the number of unauthorized parties reported since. The figure shows that Airbnb still has a long way to go before it can guarantee renters won’t throw parties while the host is out of town. And some of the factors Airbnb is relying on may not have any relevance to the potential for partying, depending on the renter.

In June, Airbnb said that it suspended more than 6,600 people from its platform for trying to party.

This story has been updated to correct the location of Orinda, California.

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Report: Apple will hold next iPhone-focused event on September 7

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Enlarge / The iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Samuel Axon

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and new iPhones in September. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that this year’s iPhone event will be held on Wednesday, September 7th.

According to Gurman, the non-pro iPhone 14 lineup will axe the 5.4-inch mini display size that Apple has sold for the last couple of generations. The standard 6.1-inch model will instead be joined by a large-screened 6.7-inch version, matching the screen size of the current iPhone Pro Max model. But these phones will also continue to use the current Apple A15 Bionic chip and will look externally similar to the iPhone 13.

The iPhone 14 Pro will reportedly be more exciting, replacing the current camera notch with a pair of pinhole cutouts for the front-facing camera and FaceID scanner; many Android phones have already switched to similar pinhole cutouts to save screen space. The Pro phones will also reportedly get a faster chip and an even-larger three-lens camera assembly anchored by a 48-megapixel wide-angle camera plus 12-megapixel ultra-wide and telephoto cameras.

Apple also plans to introduce new Apple Watches, the report says. The Series 8 watches will reportedly include a standard model that looks similar to the current Series 7, plus a long-rumored larger and more “rugged” titanium model with more battery life and additional fitness tracking features.

The basic Apple Watch SE will reportedly receive a faster chip—the current SE uses an Apple S5, and a new one could use an S6, S7, or some newer as-yet unannounced chip. This new SE model will hopefully mean the end of the long-lived Apple Watch Series 3, which the company still sells even though it won’t be receiving the watchOS 9 update this fall.

A September 7th announcement for the new iPhones and watches probably means at least some new devices will be available to buy toward the middle of the month, roughly coinciding with the release of iOS 16—Gurman says that Apple Store employees have been told to prepare for a September 16th launch.

Apple often holds an iPad- and Mac-focused event in October to complement the September event, which is when we’d expect to see updates to those products and the release of macOS Ventura and the reportedly delayed iPadOS 16. Gurman predicts we’ll finally see a USB-C version of the low-end iPad, new M2-based iPad Pros, and updated Mac mini and MacBook Pros before the end of the year.

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New macOS 12.5.1 and iOS 15.6.1 updates patch “actively exploited” vulnerabilities

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Apple has released a trio of operating system updates to patch security vulnerabilities that it says “may have been actively exploited.” The macOS 12.5.1, iOS 15.6.1, and iPadOS 15.6.1 updates are available for download now and should be installed as soon as possible.

The three updates all fix the same pair of bugs. One, labeled CVE-2022-32894, is a kernel vulnerability that can allow apps “to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges. The other, CVE-2022-32893, is a WebKit bug that allows for arbitrary code execution via “maliciously crafted web content.” Both discoveries are attributed to an anonymous security researcher. WebKit is used in the Safari browser as well as in apps like Mail that use Apple’s WebViews to render and display content.

Apple didn’t release equivalent security patches for macOS Catalina or Big Sur, two older versions of macOS that are still receiving regular security updates. We’ve contacted Apple to see whether it plans to release these patches for these older OSes, or if they aren’t affected by the bugs and don’t need to be patched.

Apple’s software release notes for the updates don’t reference any other fixes or features. Apple is actively developing iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, and those updates are due out later this fall.

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