Density, a buzzy Upfront Ventures-backed startup that big tech companies like Facebook and Google as well as the U.S. government have used to anonymously monitor how employees are using buildings, can now provide a more accurate count of the number of occupants in a room.
Previously the company's infrared sensors were only used at entryways. A new addition, called Open Area, puts a radar smaller than a palm of a hand above any open space that can track a room of up to 1325 square feet. Each sensor will cost $399 plus an additional $199 for the monitoring software every year.
Although the technology was first designed to help companies better utilize office space and get rid of money draining empty offices and conference rooms, it can also be used to help enforce social distancing rules.
At first glance, the company's tracking devices could appear as a privacy nightmare, but Density says its technology is actually much less intrusive than traditional surveillance cameras because all of the information on the platform is anonymous; Workers merely show up as dots.
Density has seen 407% revenue growth from the same period last year as warehouses, factories and universities have all signed on as clients as they try to navigate keeping workers and students safe amid the pandemic, according to co-founder and CEO Andrew Farah.
Density raised $51 million in Series C funding in July led by Kleiner Perkins, with participation from 01 Advisors, Upfront Ventures, Founders Fund, Ludlow Ventures, Launch, and DTA. The new round brought its total funding to $74 million.
Upfront managing partner Mark Suster sits on the board along with Jason Calacanis, the well-known angel investor who was an early backer of Uber.
Amazon unveiled a new lineup of spherical Echo devices, an autonomous flying indoor Ring security camera, a new cloud gaming service, and new features to help Alexa converse and interact more naturally with users.
The flurry of news came Thursday morning during the company's annual Devices & Services event, a virtual version of a fall tradition in which the company typically shows its newest Echo speakers and other Alexa-enabled devices.
Luna, the cloud gaming service, will cost $5.99/month during an early access period. It will be available on Fire TV, Mac, Windows PCs, iOS and later Android, going head-to-head with similar offerings from Microsoft and Google. Amazon will offer a dedicated game controller for the service, available for $49.99, which connects directly to the cloud to let gamers switch quickly between devices. Games can also be played with a keyboard and mouse or a Bluetooth game controller. Luna integrates with the Amazon-owned Twitch streaming service.
The new spherical Echo offers upgraded sound and a built-in smart home hub, something that was previously available on higher-end Echo devices. It will sell for $99.99, and a spherical Echo Dot will sell for $49.99. A version of the Echo Dot with a visible clock will sell for $59.99.
The company also showed new Alexa features including the ability to learn different modes for reading or vacation unique to each user. With a new "natural turn-taking" feature, users will also be able to ask Alexa to join a conversation taking place in the kitchen, for example, chiming in as two people order a pizza and pick a movie for the evening.
The company says Alexa uses "multi-sensory artificial intelligence," including audio and visual cues to determine whether the request or comment is directed at Alexa or another person in the room.
Dave Limp, Amazon's senior vice president of Devices & Services, said the company is moving toward a more "ambient home," with fewer explicit verbal interactions with Alexa. "That's not to say you won't speak to your home, but it's going to understand you more. It's going to anticipate your needs and be more contextual," he said.
"This is our long term vision. But trust me there is a lot of work to be done to make this a reality," he said.
New security features will include the ability to ask Alexa to "delete everything I've said," to remove all saved voice recordings associated with the customer's Amazon account. Amazon says customers will also be able to opt out of voice recordings.
Limp also outlined new environmental sustainability initiatives, including a new energy dashboard, a rollout of low power mode for Echo devices, and carbon offsets.
The company's Ring subsidiary, which was hit with a series of security issues last year, announced new end-to-end encryption for video, as well as a new Ring Car Alarm and Car Cam for auto security, along with an API dubbed Ring Car Connect for implementation by auto manufacturers, starting with Tesla.
But the biggest surprise was the Ring "Always Home Cam," an indoor camera that can fly autonomously around the home for checking in remotely.
Ring's "Always Home Cam."
"This autonomous indoor security camera flies your chosen, personalized paths so that you can easily check in on your home for peace of mind—like whether someone left a window open or forgot to turn the stove off," says Jamie Siminoff, the Ring founder, in a blog post about the new product. It will cost $249.
Amazon's new Echo Show 10, priced at $249.99, will come with a built-in shutter cover for privacy, with support for Netflix streaming, and Zoom and Amazon Chime video calls. It's currently listed as "coming soon" on Amazon's site.A
Amazon's Echo Show 10
Alexa-enabled devices introduced at this event last year included a smart ring, eyeglasses and wireless earbuds.
In advance of the event, an FCC filing surfaced for the Amazon game controller, as spotted by Dave Zatz, fueling speculation that the company was preparing to unveil a rumored cloud gaming service at the event, as reported by The Verge. The company shielded its identity by using the fake name "Zippy Hippie Twister Limited Liability Company," but a logo on one the labels in the filing revealed that it was Amazon's controller.
New gaming controller just cleared the FCC. Current tally: * 4 new devices hit today (so far, it's early!) * 2 e… https://t.co/0LnqIhlhEy— Dave Zatz (@Dave Zatz)1600956628.0
But the Amazon Sidewalk neighborhood wireless network may be a better indication of the company's broader ambitions for its Devices & Services business. Sidewalk, introduced at the same event last year, is an intermediate-range shared network that leverages low-bandwidth, wireless spectrum to provide connectivity to small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smart lights, weather stations, trackers and sensors in places such as mailboxes and gardens.
"There are a lot of things where Bluetooth is way too short-range, WiFi is way too high-power, and so to have something that's still low-power, but that has much longer range is really a gap in the marketplace," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters after the event last year. "People don't even realize yet how important that intermediate range is going to be."
Sidewalk is slated to launch later this year. Amazon announced Tile as the first third-party Sidewalk device earlier this week, along with new technical details about the network.
Amazon has been able to maintain a sizeable lead over Google and other companies in the smart speaker market, with about 70% market share, according to research released in February by eMarketer.
"Over time, we'll see slowing growth in the number of smart speakers as people turn to voice assistants built into other things within homes, vehicles and on-the-go," said Victoria Petrock, a principal analyst at eMarketer, in a statement at the time. "Amazon's next challenge will be to maintain its dominance in these other environments as well."
This story originally appeared on GeekWire.
- Anaheim's 'Star Wars' Celebration is Canceled
- L.A. Congressman Looks to Limit Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology
- L.A. Seed Rounds Are Getting Bigger
Anaheim's 'Star Wars' Celebration is Canceled
Chalk up another disappointment to the coronavirus. The organizers of Anaheim's 'Star Wars Celebration' are calling it off this year, due to concerns about hosting an indoor event in the midst of a global pandemic. Would-be attendees can exchange their tickets for the 2022 event (plus a limited edition stormtrooper pin), trade them for merch or get a refund. You can find more information at their website.
L.A. Congressman Looks to Limit Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology
Amazon, IBM and Microsoft either pulled sales of their facial recognition technology to law enforcement or halted their business last week as pressure from civil rights leaders, companies and legislators grew over how the surveillance technologies were being used.
The issue has played out for years in the Los Angeles communities Congressman Jimmy Gomez represents. Activists regularly object to the use of technology that has the potential to exacerbate racial bias. Now, it has exploded anew on the national stage in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests.
Gomez, who sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told Politico last week he's drafting legislation that would place restrictions on local and state police from using the technology.
"If facial recognition is considered the future of policing, it's just going to perpetuate the same biases that are already out there because it's in and of itself is biased," he told VentureBeat in a separate interview. "It's been flawed. It's been shown to be flawed and can [misidentify] people of color, mainly black women, Latinos, African Americans — and the darker the skin color, the more mistakes it makes. That's going to lead to more negative interactions between law enforcement and people of color, which can lead to deadly consequences."
Gomez told the outlet Amazon gave him the run around as Congress probed the issue.
"We need them to cooperate and give us data so we can be better informed on how to craft this legislation," he said. "If not, we'll just work with the civil rights groups, and we'll just try to pass it through, and they're going to most likely try to oppose it, in my opinion, at the end of the day if they don't like it."
L.A. Seed Rounds Are Getting Bigger
Image from Amplify.LA
In the first quarter of this year, 19 Los Angeles startups raised seed rounds of more than $2.5 million. The average seed round raised was $4 million, according to Amplify.LA's latest LA Seed Report.
"While nothing new for larger ecosystems like SF and NY, it's a relatively new phenomenon here in L.A.," wrote Conner Sundberg, an associate at Amplify.LA.
Amplify also found seed activity in Q1'20 was nearly double that of Q1'19. 38 companies closed seed rounds in the first quarter while fintech re-emerged as one of the top dealmaking sectors.
"Since starting this project years back, we've noted more funds being raised in L.A., a higher percentage of capital coming from local investors, and early stage teams tackling more varied verticals," wrote Sundberg.
— Ben Bergman
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