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Pyka and its autonomous, electric crop-spraying drone land $11M seed round – TechCrunch

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Modern agriculture involves fields of mind-boggling size, and spraying them efficiently is a serious operational challenge. Pyka is taking on the largely human-powered spray business with an autonomous winged craft and, crucially, regulatory approval.

Just as we’ve seen with DroneSeed, this type of flying is risky for pilots, who must fly very close to the ground and other obstacles, yet also highly susceptible to automation; That’s because it involves lots of repetitive flight patterns that must be executed perfectly, over and over.

Pyka’s approach is unlike that of many in the drone industry, which has tended to use multirotor craft for their maneuverability and easy take-off and landing. But those drones can’t carry the weight and volume of pesticides and other chemicals that (unfortunately) need to be deployed at large scales.

The craft Pyka has built is more traditional, resembling a traditional one-seater crop dusting plane but lacking the cockpit. It’s driven by a trio of propellers, and most of the interior is given over to payload (it can carry about 450 pounds) and batteries. Of course, there is also a sensing suite and onboard computer to handle the immediate demands of automated flight.

Pyka can take off or land on a 150-foot stretch of flat land, so you don’t have to worry about setting up a runway and wasting energy getting to the target area. Of course, it’ll eventually need to swap out batteries, which is part of the ground crew’s responsibilities. They’ll also be designing the overall course for the craft, though the actual flight path and moment-to-moment decisions are handled by the flight computer.

Example of a flight path accounting for obstacles without human input

All this means the plane, apparently called the Egret, can spray about a hundred acres per hour, about the same as a helicopter. But the autonomous craft provides improved precision (it flies lower) and safety (no human pulling difficult maneuvers every minute or two).

Perhaps more importantly, the feds don’t mind it. Pyka claims to be the only company in the world with a commercially approved large autonomous electric aircraft. Small ones like drones have been approved left and right, but the Egret is approaching the size of a traditional “small aircraft,” like a Piper Cub.

Of course, that’s just the craft — other regulatory hurdles hinder wide deployment, like communicating with air traffic management and other craft; certification of the craft in other ways; a more robust long-range sense and avoid system and so on. But Pyka’s Egret has already flown thousands of miles at test farms that pay for the privilege. (Pyka declined to comment on its business model, customers or revenues.)

The company’s founding team — Michael Norcia, Chuma Ogunwole, Kyle Moore and Nathan White — comes from a variety of well-known companies working in adjacent spaces: Cora, Kittyhawk, Joby Aviation, Google X, Waymo and Morgan Stanley (that’s the COO).

The $11 million seed round was led by Prime Movers Lab, with participation from Y Combinator, Greycroft, Data Collective and Bold Capital Partners.



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Report: Windows 11 22H2 update will be released on September 20

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Enlarge / A selection of apps from the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft

Windows 11’s first major update, also called Windows 11 22H2, is due to be released to the public on September 20, according to separate reports from The Verge and Windows Central.

The update has been available in near-final form in Microsoft’s Windows Insider Preview channels since May, and we’ve already covered most of its major changes—Windows 11 22H2 will include a few new security features (and new default settings for existing features), a redesigned Task Manager, new touchscreen gestures and window management features, and tweaks for the Start menu and taskbar, among other things. It also continues to replace old bits of Windows 8- and 10-era UI (like the brightness and volume indicators) with rounded Windows 11-style versions, bringing more visual consistency to Windows PCs.

Like all major Windows updates, it likely won’t be offered to all current Windows 11 users on September 20. Microsoft usually sends the update to a small number of PCs first and gradually expands availability until all Windows 11 PCs have installed it. Users can manually install new updates by downloading an ISO or using the Windows 11 Installation Assistant from this page.

Microsoft’s update plans for Windows have changed a lot in the last year, and they’re reportedly still in a state of flux. The company said last year that Windows 11 would receive major updates once a year and that Windows 10 would move from its twice-a-year update model to the same once-per-year schedule. But even as the pace of major updates has officially slowed down, Microsoft has also made some changes to its development and release practices that allow it to roll out small- to medium-size changes at shorter intervals. In the 10 months since Windows 11 was released, we’ve gotten a long list of user interface tweaks, updates for a number of preinstalled first-party apps, and Android app support. Microsoft also reportedly plans to go back to releasing new numbered Windows versions every three years or so, although the company has neither confirmed nor denied this.

For Windows 10 users who can’t or don’t want to install Windows 11, Windows 10 is getting its own 22H2 update. Microsoft released a preview build for it late last month, but the company isn’t talking about what this update actually does. It’s not likely to include many big user-facing improvements.

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Pixel 6 owners who upgrade to Android 13 can never go back

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Android 13 is slowly rolling out to Pixel phones, but here’s something to consider when that update message finally pops up on your device: You can never go back.

Google is apparently changing the way Android updates are enforced on its latest devices. A new warning message on the Pixel Factory Image page says that the Pixel 6, 6 Pro, and 6a can never go back to older versions of Android once they update:

Anti-rollback was first introduced in Android 8 as a security feature. Google can patch all the exploits it wants, but security fixes are meaningless if an attacker can just roll back a device to a previous version that’s full of security holes. Rollback protection works by recording the newest installed version into tamper-evident storage that persists across device wipes, and now the system knows if it’s on an old version or not. Previously, this feature would just show a warning message on boot (and it looks like that will still happen on the Pixel 5 and lower), but now, Google plainly says of the Pixel 6, “You will not be able to flash older Android 12 builds.”

It’s not clear why only the Pixel 6 is affected by this change. If you don’t count Android 12L, this is the Pixel 6’s first major OS update. The three phones listed are also the only three phones that use Google’s first in-house SoC, the Google Tensor, so maybe the chip is flexing its muscles with new anti-downgrade capabilities.

This isn’t a big deal for most consumers, but in previous Android versions, it was nice to have an escape hatch if Google came out with a particularly buggy first release. If you frequently try out different software builds, this change will presumably mean that you can’t use any older third-party ROMs, either.

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Almost-certain Nest Wifi appears at FCC with Wi-Fi 6E on-board

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Enlarge / We can’t show you Google’s likely new Nest Wifi router because it’s confidential. But “white” and “spherical” are pretty good bets.

Google has a new device awaiting approval at the FCC, and all signs point to it being an updated Nest Wifi router that not only addresses the notable lack of Wi-Fi 6 on its last model but leapfrogs ahead to Wi-Fi 6E.

In FCC documents made available yesterday, Google asked the FCC to keep confidential its schematics and operational details, including an “Internal Proprietary Antenna Solution consisting of 6 antennas.” As pointed out by Android Police, the fillings also show support for the 6 GHz frequencies of Wi-Fi 6E. There are also the standard 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, Bluetooth Low-Energy, and the 2.4 GHz frequencies that smart home connection standard Thread relies upon.

The model number—A4R-G6ZUC—is akin to other Nest products, and 9to5Google says it has confirmed that this is the number for the next Nest Wifi router.

In late 2019, when Google skipped Wi-Fi 6 for Nest Wifi, citing (questionable) cost concerns, we noted that a Wi-Fi 6 router wouldn’t do much for a home mostly filled with Wi-Fi 5 and 4 (i.e., 802.11ac and 802.11n) devices. And yet, had Nest’s router and points used Wi-Fi 6, their ability to use this newly freed-up spectrum space to speak to newer devices—and especially for backhaul moving of traffic from node to node—could have benefitted homes full of noisy devices or those competing with close-by neighbors’ gear.

It’s the same story with Wi-Fi 6E. There’s a small list of devices using the relatively recent Wi-Fi 6E right now: the Pixel 6 and 6a, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra, some brand-new laptops (not including the latest MacBook Air), and any PC you upgrade yourself with a 6E card. Wi-Fi 6E also lets devices make use of the wider 80 and 160 MHz channels, opening up capacity and reducing interference.

Broadcom chart illustrating the difference between a noisy 5GHz channel and a clean 6GHz channel.
Enlarge / Broadcom chart illustrating the difference between a noisy 5GHz channel and a clean 6GHz channel.

Broadcom

It’s worth noting that this FCC filing is only for a Nest Wifi router. It remains to be seen whether Google will offer Nest hubs with built-in speakers, as with the previous Nest Wifi. One more notable improvement Google could latch onto new Nest hubs would be Ethernet ports, something painfully lacking from the current generation.

In our benchmark review of Nest Wifi, we were impressed with Nest’s coverage of a 3,500-square-foot, difficult-layout home but found lots of room for improvement. Given the other options available at the same price points, it seemed like an option best suited for those already enthusiastic about Google Assistant speakers.

By the time Nest Wifi arrives (likely at an October Google hardware event), there will probably be strong Wi-Fi 6E mesh competition. We’ll see if the product has the same value proposition then.

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