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Earlier this week, I wrote about Los Angeles-based LinearB, a software management platform that measures software engineers’ efficiency and assesses how well they’re doing. The startup raised $50 million in funding from the likes of San Francisco venture firm Tribe Capital and Salesforce Ventures, the VC arm of cloud software giant Salesforce.
Using software to micromanage an employee’s work—LinearB’s platform can track how many hours developers have been coding specific projects—has been increasingly prevalent in the tech world. One notorious example is Amazon, which uses such technology to surveil its warehouse employees and delivery drivers.
But high-salary tech workers aren’t immune from these productivity pressures, either. When I worked in Seattle, I had the chance to tour Facebook and Google’s new office campuses in the city, which were proudly equipped with draft latte stations, freshly-baked scones from local bakeries and state-of-the-art fitness centers, among other amenities. Facebookers and Googlers could enjoy beautiful views of Seattle’s skyline from the offices, which they could walk to from their shiny new luxury apartment towers located mere blocks away.
If they ever left the office in the first place. As well-compensated as these tech employees are, the demands of their jobs made you wonder if it was really all worth it. I know someone at Facebook whose fridge is full of takeout from the campus eatery. I know someone else that does his laundry for free on Google’s campus. (He’s not the same person who moved into a truck and lived in Google’s parking lot, to avoid paying Silicon Valley rents and utilize all of the company’s free amenities). I know another who works late at Microsoft’s Seattle campus to get regular haircuts and beard trims from the on-campus barber. Being in the office that long, for better or worse, makes you work longer and harder.
The pandemic, of course, took many of these amenities away. In their wake, companies like LinearB and Jellyfish have popped up to parse through tech engineers’ every hour of work. And though many employees are rather satisfied with their new work-from-home situations, Google, Amazon, and other companies are still insisting that they return to the office, and discouraging them from moving to states that have a lower cost of living by slashing their salaries.
It will be interesting to see how many more startups like these crop up in the coming years, as tech companies contend with the new normal of remote work. — Keerthi Vedantam
Santa Monica is experimenting with a range of mobility startups looking to electrify last-mile deliveries and cut carbon emissions. Los Angeles-based URB-E may have the simplest solution: electric bicycles.
At this week's Milken Institute Global Conference, media executives said the viability of streaming services may depend on the reemergence of commercials and bundled subscriptions, and agreed that the future of TV could end up looking a lot like its past.
The Manhattan Beach-based company said Thursday that it will reveal the sports car’s final design in August 2023, with plans to begin production in the second half of 2024.
Los Angeles-based TCG and its partners will own 25% of the toy company, best known for its licensed figurines of movie and TV characters that have become popular collectibles.
On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, the senior vice president of Evoke Advisors discusses the guidance he gives to entrepreneurs and his take on the current investment landscape.
Come join the dot.LA team for a fun and enlightening evening that will convene top proptech founders, investors and operators to mingle and discuss how SoCal real estate startups are reshaping the world’s largest asset class. Interested in attending? Let us know!
What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
- L.A. City Council advances a motion to make the city a "green hydrogen hub."
- ICANN has a new tool for combatting malware and phishing schemes.
- Gov. Newsom signs executive order to regulate and incorporate crypto technology into state operations.
- ChimeTV announces the launch of its English-language Asian entertainment on Spectrum TV Select.
- Customer experience platform DISQO acquires startup Feedback Loop.
- Blizzard hires former Disney exec Jessica Martinez as its vice president of culture.
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.