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Amazon is buying iRobot for $1.7B – TechCrunch

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Amazon this morning announced plans to acquire iRobot for an all-cash deal valued at $1.7 billion. The home robotics firm, best known for pioneering the robotic vacuum, was founded in 1990 by  MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab members Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner. Twelve years after its founding, the company introduced the Roomba, a brand that has since become synonymous with the branding, selling more than 30 million units as of 2020.

Brooks and Greiner have gone on to found and lead several other companies, while Angle has remained on-board as CEO — a position he will maintain post-acquisition.

“Since we started iRobot, our team has been on a mission to create innovative, practical products that make customers’ lives easier, leading to inventions like the Roomba and iRobot OS,” CEO Colin Angle said in a release. “Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I cannot think of a better place for our team to continue our mission. I’m hugely excited to be a part of Amazon and to see what we can build together for customers in the years ahead.”

Amazon, too, has been aggressively tackling the robotics space in the decade since it acquired Kiva Systems, though the Amazon Robotics division is focused solely on its warehouse/fulfillment play. More recently, the company has made small steps into the home with the launch of Astro, a cheery ‘bot that lacks the Roomba’s single focus.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle, Image Credits: (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

“We know that saving time matters, and chores take precious time that can be better spent doing something that customers love,” Amazon Devices SVP Dave Limp said in the release. “Over many years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to reinvent how people clean with products that are incredibly practical and inventive—from cleaning when and where customers want while avoiding common obstacles in the home, to automatically emptying the collection bin. Customers love iRobot products—and I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent in ways that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.”

Amazon and iRobot have had an increasingly close partnership over the past several years, through Roomba’s embrace of Alexa functionality and use of AWS servers. Angle, too, has often spoken about Roomba — and home robots generally — as a kind of connective tissue for the smart home. “The home of the future is a robot,” he noted in an interview with TechCrunch. “And the vacuum cleaners and the other devices are hands and eyes and appendages of the home robot. Ultimately, this smart home of the future isn’t controlled by you cell phone. If you have 200 devices, you’re not going to turn them on by pulling out your cell phone. We need a home that programs itself, and you just live in your home, and the home does the right thing based on understanding what’s going on.”

The company has, however, found difficulty recapturing the Roomba’s success — but not for lack of trying. It has experimented with several different home robot services, from cleaning gutters and pools to mopping floors and mowing the lawn. The latter arrived in the form of Terra, which has been put on indefinite hold during the pandemic. That news came in April 2020, alongside word the company had laid off 70 employees, comprising around 5% of its global workforce.

Amazon’s home robot, Astro

During a Twitter Spaces last month Angle told me with regards to finally launching Terra, “What we said in the latest call is that we are working on non-floor-cleaning robots. Interpret that as you will.” Having the tremendous resources of Amazon behind it will no doubt accelerate its ability to launch non-Roomba systems. The company was founded on such experimentation, as well, having built everything from baby dolls to military machines before hitting gold with Roomba.

The company spun off its military contract wing in 2016 as Endeavor, which went on to be acquired by FLIR systems in early 2019. A year prior, iRobot spun out the telepresence robotics startup, Ava. iRobot has made its own acquisitions, as well, purchasing connected air purifying company Aeris late last year, in a bid to diversify its in-home presences.

The acquisition is pending the standard regulatory scrutiny. The companies will have to convince regulators — among other things– that they are maintaining the proper privacy safeguards. Amazon’s acquisition of Ring has raised all manner of red flags for advocacy groups, and its ownership of a the world’s most popular in-home robot will almost certainly raise eyebrows. Recent versions of the Roomba have increasingly sophisticated sensors built-in for building 3D maps of users homes.

 

 

 



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Spotify starts selling live music tickets to fans directly – TechCrunch

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Spotify has launched a new site to sell fans tickets to live gigs directly from its platform instead of redirecting users to partners like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite. The company’s new website lists upcoming concerts and lets users purchase tickets to these shows through debit or credit card; users need to have a Spotify account to buy tickets, though.

The company hasn’t officially announced the launch of its ticketing platform, but Chris Messina first noted about the site being available for the public to book tickets earlier today.

The site lists gigs that are available to book on the home page, and under the My Events section, users can see their past and upcoming ticket bookings. Currently, the Spotify Tickets site lists gigs for artists like Limbeck, Crow, Annie DiRusso, Four Years Strong, and TOKiMONSTA that are performing in the U.S. in the coming months.

Spotify

The Spotify Tickets home page Image Credits: Spotify

The company revamped its in-app live event discovery page in June with better gig discovery for events around the user’s local area. Until now, Spotify used its ticketing partners like Ticketmaster, AXS, DICE, Eventbrite, and See Tickets to list these events; for ticket booking, it used to link out to these partners from the event page. With the launch of its ticketing platform, this may change. While currently, events listed on the Spotify Tickets site are not available on the Live events page, the company’s support page says: “Some tickets listed there [on the Live Events page] are available for purchase directly from Spotify.” Tickets directly sold through Spotify are also not currently listed on the artist page. We have asked the firm if it plans to list directly ticketed events on the Live Events page and artists’ pages.

Spotify ticketing site’s legal section says that the company only acts as a ticketing agent and takes a booking fee. It also mentions that it can be selling tickets on behalf of “third parties which can include venues, event promoters, fan clubs, and artists, as their disclosed ticketing agent”. We have asked the company for details on what cut — if any — it takes from ticket sales, and how this differs from affiliate fees it earns from its third-party ticketing partnerships.

Notably, some venues listed on the Spotify Ticket page come under the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a U.S.-based organization representing independent venues. So the company might be currently avoiding venues that are under Ticketmaster owner Live Nation’s distribution. Live Nation has been accused of monopolistic practices regarding ticket distribution with lawmakers asking President Joe Biden to launch an investigation into the ticket distribution firm last year.

In a blog published in June, Spotify’s product manager for Live Events Discovery Sam Sheridan said that while people were engaging with artists on the app, they left the platform to find events for their live performances. With the revamped live events feed and the ticketing platform, the company is trying to solve the discovery problem and earn some money through ticket booking directly or as an affiliate partner. Last year, the company also experimented with selling tickets to virtual pre-recorded concerts due to the pandemic. The company has been under constant scrutiny for not paying artists enough from streaming, so with this new initiative, Spotify could argue that it will drive more ticket sales for artists.

Spotify’s ticketing platform launch comes days after TikTok partnered with Ticketmaster to let users discover concerts and other live events. In February, Snap struck a similar partnership with the ticket booking platform to power event discovery through Snap Minis — third-party party programs on Snapchat.





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South Africa’s DataProphet closes $10M to scale its AI-as-a-service platform for manufacturers – TechCrunch

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Manufacturing plants or factories take raw material inputs and add value through a sequence of unit processes before shipping a product. Now, this process must follow a recipe. There are a series of instructions for products such as cars; in those instructions, a list of parameter values, specific temperature for iron melting, specific pressure for mold casting… and the list goes on.

These factories, for instance, those in the automotive space, do all of the quality inspections, in-line and end-of-line, to ensure the cars are in good shape; if not, they are scrapped or reworked, becoming lost capacity and effort for the factories. Employees hired to keep these processes in check can make mistakes; thus, such factories also rely on software to evaluate their experiences, change parameters if needed and ensure that the car reaches the end-of-line as high quality as possible.

DataProphet is one such company. The South African firm, founded by Frans Cronje and Daniel Schwartzkopff, provides AI-as-a-service software in the manufacturing sector and is announcing the completion of its $10 million Series A round.

Cronje, the company’s CEO, told TechCrunch on a call that DataProphet’s focus on providing end-to-end prescriptive AI for manufacturing plants to improve their yield started in 2017. The company provides prescriptive advice and suggested changes to manufacturers’ recipes to avoid making the defects that cause their products to be scrapped or reworked. The company said its flagship AI solution, PRESCRIBE, has helped its clients experience a significant and practical impact on the factory floor, reducing the cost of non-quality by an average of 40%.

Manufacturers use DataProphet at different points on their digitization journeys; data collation and centralization are crucial to kickstart them. The first product in DataProphet’s stack, CONNECT, enables manufacturers to augment their data infrastructure and bring data from where they’ve been using it for compliance in the manufacturing space to a point where they can use it for optimization. The company currently ingests about 100 million unique data points daily on its platform. With this data, PRESCRIBE can make informed decisions to reduce defects, scrap, or non-quality processes and improve manufacturers’ yield.

Cronje says DataProphet employs a hands-on approach, where it continuously monitors data streams and pushes advice and feedback to the operating floor, ensuring that its clients follow them. And in cases where clients don’t follow the advice DataProphet provides, the company engages with the customer to understand their concerns.

“Usually, when we talk about reducing defects, scrap or rework by an average, we do a reduction of about 40% when the customer follows our advice,” said Cronje, who has a degree in management consultancy and statistics. “It’s a wonderful application of AI and manufacturing because it’s a deep application of the theory to realize practical, meaningful impact for our customers and their yield.”

The 50-person team serves clients mainly from the automotive, semiconductor, rubber and foundry industries, deploying its solution to manufacturing plants based in Japan, China, India, Europe, South Africa, the U.S and South America. Some of its competitors — which are international, not local — include Braincube and Seebo.

“I think the way we differentiate ourselves is that we approach this from a holistic factory control where implementing our PRESCRIBE solution can enable a customer to realize this full site optimization,” commented Cronje on DataProphet’s unique selling proposition. “And there’s a second aspect: The solution we’ve got to enable customers to realize yield is an end-to-end prescriptive solution. What I mean by that is that it has the capacity to integrate some of the lowest data levels in factories. And we don’t see that in our competitors.” The chief executive also mentioned that, unlike other players, DataProphet doesn’t depend on its clients to have employees with data science capabilities, which defeats the purpose of providing an AI-as-a-service platform that thrives on organizing data infrastructure itself.

Knife Capital led the Series A round. The South African venture capital firm had initially invested in DataProphet in early 2018 via its KNF Ventures Section 12J funding vehicle. This latest round is the first investment made by Knife Fund III, the targeted $50 million fund it launched last year to support the international expansion of its portfolio companies.

“Accelerating the international expansion of DataProphet, given the leading nature of its technology, is exactly the mandate of our new Fund — and it couldn’t be more fitting for our first investment to be a follow-on investment from our existing cohort,” comments Keet van Zyl, co-founder and partner at Knife Capital on the investment.

Other investors in the round include South Africa’s IDC and Norican, one of the world’s largest metal surface preparation and finishing equipment providers. Per a statement, DataProphet says the infused capital will help it invest further in its industrial AI product set while facilitating targeted growth in selected geographies and manufacturing verticals.

“This is where we’ll be applying a lot of this fund: to support international sales,” added Cronje. “And they’ll support functions needed in markets away from the major engineering hub, South Africa. So part of the investment will be used to develop a European sales office and subsequently a U.S.-based sales office to support customers and partners abroad.”



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Elon Musk sells nearly $7 billion in Tesla shares – TechCrunch

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk is at it again selling shares of his electric vehicle company, per regulatory filings. Since Friday, the executive has sold 7.9 million shares, which totals about $6.9 billion. This is the first time Musk has sold shares in Tesla since April, when he disposed of 9.6 million shares, worth about $8.5 billion.

Musk appears to be selling the shares to stock up on cash in case he’s forced to go through on his $44 billion Twitter acquisition. The executive tweeted Tuesday evening that he was done selling for the moment.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close and some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” tweeted Musk.

Last month, Musk told Twitter he’s killing the deal because he believed the social media company to be misleading in its bot calculations. However, over the weekend, the executive waffled a bit, tweeting: “If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms. However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

Musk also tweeted Tuesday evening that if the Twitter deal doesn’t close, he’ll buy back his shares. Perhaps he’ll wait until Tesla issues its three-to-one stock split, which Tesla shareholders approved last week, so he can buy them back on the cheap.

Over the last ten months, Musk has sold around $32 billion worth of stock in Tesla.

Tesla shares were down 2.44% today but are trading relatively flat in after-hours, suggesting the stock sales are yet to have an effect on Tesla’s share price. Tesla’s stock took a hit late last year when Musk sold off more than $16 billion worth of sales after polling his Twitter fans on whether he should trim his stake, a move that got him in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This article has been updated with confirmation from Elon Musk that the stock sales are related to his Twitter acquisition.





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