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Shine Bathroom raises $750K for a smart home add-on that flushes away your toilet doldrums – TechCrunch

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One ongoing theme in the world of smart homes has been the emergence of gadgets and other tools that can turn “ordinary” objects and systems into “connected” ones — removing the need to replace things wholesale that still essentially work, while still applying technology to improve the ways that they can be used.

In the latest development, a smart home startup from Santa Barbara called Shine Bathroom has raised $750,000 in seed funding to help build and distribute its first product: an accessory you attach to an existing toilet to make it a “smart toilet.”

It’s a dirty business, but someone had to do it.

Shine’s immediate goal is to flush away the old, ecologically unfriendly way of cleaning toilets; and to provide the tools to detect when something is not working right in the plumbing, even helping you fix it without calling out a plumber.

The longer-term vision is to apply technology and science to rethink the whole bathroom to put less strain on our natural resources, and to use it in a way that lines up with what we want to do as consumers, using this first product to test that market.

“Bathrooms are evolving from places where we practice basic hygiene to where we prepare ourselves for the day,” said Chris Herbert, the founder and CEO of Shine. “Wellness and self care will be happening more in the home, and this is a big opportunity.”

Shine’s first injection of money is coming from two VCs also based in Southern California: Entrada Ventures (like Shine, also in Santa Barbara), and Mucker Capital, an LA fund specifically backing startups not based in Silicon Valley (others in its current portfolio include Naritiv, Everipedia and Next Trucking).

The Shine Bathroom Assistant, as the first product is called, is currently being sold via Indiegogo starting at $99, with the first products expected to ship in February 2020.

It’s a fitting challenge for a hardware entrepreneur: toilets are a necessary part of our modern lives, but they are unloved, and they haven’t really been innovated for a long time.

Herbert admitted to me (and I’m sure Freud would have something to say here, too) that this has been something of a years-long obsession, stretching back to when he made a trip to Japan as a sophomore in high school and was struck by how companies like Toto were innovating in the business, with fancy, all-cleaning (and all-singing and dancing) loos.

“We thought to ourselves, how could we make a better bathroom?” he said. “We decided that the answer was through software. When you take a thesis like that, you can see lots of opportunity.”

Sized similar to an Amazon Echo or other connected home speaker, Shine’s toilet attachment is battery operated and comes in three parts: a water vessel, a sensor and spraying nozzle that you place inside your toilet bowl, and a third sensor fitted with an accelerometer that you attach to the main line that fills up the toilet’s tank. The vessel is filled with tap water (which you replace periodically).

That water is passed through a special filter that electrolyzes it (by sending a current through the water) and then sprays it with every flush to clean and deodorize. Shine claims this spraying technique is five times as powerful as traditional deodorizing spray, and as powerful as bleach, but without the harsh chemicals: the water converts back into saline after it does its work. (And to be clear, there are no soaps or other detergents involved.)

Alongside the cleaning features, the second part of the bathroom assistant is Sam, an AI on your phone. Linked up to the hardware and sensors, Sam identifies common toilet problems, such as leaks that trickle out hundreds of gallons of water, by measuring variations in vibrations, and when it does, it sends out a free repair kit to fix it yourself.

Users can also link up Sam to work with Alexa to order the machine to clean, check water levels and do more in the future.

AlexaAskSam

The solution of monitoring vibrations, and using smart sensors to connect dumb objects is notable for how it links up with a past entrepreneurial life for Herbert and some of his team.

Herbert was one of two co-founders of Trackr, a Tile-like product that also played on the idea of making “dumb” objects smart: Trackr’s basic product was a small fob with Bluetooth inside it that could be attached to keys, wallets, bags and more to find their location when they were misplaced.

The company’s longer-term goals extended into the area of IoT and how “dumb” machines could be made smarter by attaching sensors to them to monitor vibrations and sounds to determine how they were working — concepts that never materialised at Trackr but have found a new life at Shine.

Trackr, indeed, makes for a cautionary tale about how a good idea can be inspiring, but not always enough.

The startup in its time raised more than $70 million, from a set of top investors that included Amazon, Revolution, NTT, the Foundry Group and more. Ultimately, the basic concept was too commoditized (Bluetooth trackers are a dime a dozen on Amazon), and Tile emerged as the market leader among the independents — a position it’s used to evolve its product and ink lucrative investments and partnerships with the likes of Comcast.

But even with that momentum, I’d say the market has not definitively determined if there really is a profitable business to be had here, and what effect it might have if platform companies potentially make their move to upset it in a different way (Apple being the latest rumored to be considering a Tile competitor).

Eventually, Trackr’s team (including Herbert) scattered and a new leadership team came in and rebranded to Adero. Now, even that team is gone, with the CEO Nate Kelly and others decamping to Glowforge. Multiple attempts to contact the company have been unanswered, and I’ve received a note from a current employee noting that Adero has sent out notices saying the company is now insolvent.

Apparently, there may be more coming despite that.

“There is still something there, and I hope they can do something,” Herbert said of his previous startup.  

Meanwhile, he and four of his ex-Trackr colleagues have now turned their attention to a new shiny challenge, the toilet and the bigger bathroom where it sits, and investors want in.

“We were impressed by Shine’s vision for a bathroom to better prepare us for our day head and saw a massively overlooked opportunity in the bathroom space,” said Taylor Tyng from Entrada Ventures.

Updated with more information about Trackr/Adero .



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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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