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The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller

18:37 | 5 November

Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step-up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available, and make it that much better.


This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charging your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch at nine feet. Of course, you can also use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, since it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity vs. resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair trigger locks, which mean you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a d-pad you can use to place the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you can also tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a ‘Shift’ key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can also seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, since all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there’s actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

[gallery ids="1908338,1908336,1908334,1908333"]

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.



Nio, Intel’s Mobileye partner to build self-driving electric cars for consumers

18:31 | 5 November

Mobileye, the Israeli-based automotive sensor company acquired by Intel in 2017 for $15.3 billion, is partnering with Chinese electric car startup Nio to develop autonomous vehicles that consumers can buy.

The companies, which describe this as a “strategic collaboration” aims to bring highly automated and autonomous vehicles to consumer markets in China and “other major territories.”

Under the agreement, Nio will engineer and manufacture a self-driving system designed by Mobileye. The self-driving system will target consumer autonomy — meaning cars people can buy — a departure from the traditional industry approach of developing autonomous vehicles just for ride-hailing services.

Nio will mass produce the system for Mobileye’s driverless ride-hailing services and also plans to integrate the technology into its electric vehicle lines for consumer markets. This variant will target initial release in China, with plans to subsequently expand into other global markets, the companies said.

The self-driving system, will be based on Mobileye’s Level 4 AV kit and be engineered for automotive qualification standards, quality, cost and scale, the companies said in a joint statement.

One year ago, Volkswagen Group, Intel’s Mobileye and Champion Motors said they planned to deploy Israel’s first self-driving ride-hailing service in 2019 through a joint venture called New Mobility in Israel. The group was supposed to begin testing this year in Tel Aviv and roll out the service in phases until reaching full commercialization in 2022. (Intel and Mobileye began testing self-driving cars in Jerusalem in May 2018.)



ZenHub adds roadmapping to its GitHub project management tool

18:17 | 5 November

ZenHub, the popular project management tool that integrates right into GitHub, today announced the launch of Roadmaps. As you can guess from the name, this is a roadmapping feature that allows teams to better plan their projects ahead of time and visualize their status — all from within GitHub.

“We’re diving into a brand new category which is super exciting and we’re really starting to think not only about how forward-thinking software teams are managing their software projects but how they’re actually planning ahead,” ZenHub CEO and co-founder Aaron Upright told me. “And we’re really using this as an opportunity to really evolve the product and really introduce now a new kind of entrant into the space for product roadmapping.”

The product itself is indeed pretty straightforward. By default, it takes existing projects and epics a team has already defined and visualizes those on a timeline — including data about how many open issues still remain. In its current iteration, the tool is still pretty basic, but going forward ZenHub will add more advanced features like blocking. As Upright noted, that’s just fine, though, because while the main goal here is to help teams plans, ZenHub also wants to give other stakeholders a kind of 30,000-foot overview of the state of a project without having to click around every issue in GitHub or Jira.

Upright also argues that existing solutions tend to fall short of what teams really need. “Smaller organizations — teams that are 10, 15 or 25 people — they can’t afford these tools. They’re really expensive. They’re cost-prohibitive,” he said. “And so oftentimes what they do is they turn to Excel files or Google spreadsheets in order to keep track of their roadmap. And keeping the spreadsheets up to date really becomes a complex and really a full-time job.” Yet those tools that are affordable often don’t offer a way to sync data back and forth between GitHub and their platforms, which results in the product team not getting those updates in GitHub, for example. Since ZenHub lives inside of GitHub, that’s obviously not a problem.

ZenHub Roadmaps is now available to all users.



Chronosphere launches with $11M Series A to build scalable, cloud-native monitoring tool

18:07 | 5 November

Chronoshere, a startup from two ex-Uber engineers, who helped create the open source M3 monitoring project to handle Uber-level scale, officially launched today with the goal of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.

It also announced an $11 million investment led by Greylock with participation from venture capitalist, Lee Fixel.

While the founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, were working at Uber they recognized a gap in the monitoring industry, particularly around cloud native technologies like containers and micro services. There weren’t any tools available on the market that could handle Uber’s scaling requirements. So like any good engineers, they went out and built their own.

“We looked around at the market at the time and couldn’t find anything in open source or commercially available that could really scale to our needs. So we ended up building and open sourcing our solution, which is M3. Over the last three to four years we’ve scaled M3 to one of the largest production monitoring systems in the world today,” Mao explained.

The essential difference between M3 and other open source, cloud native monitoring solutions like Prometheus is that ability to scale, he says.

One of the main reasons they left to start a company, with the blessing of Uber, was that the community began asking for features that didn’t really make sense for Uber. By launching Chronosphere, Mao and Skillington would be taking on the management of the project moving forward (although sharing governance for the time being with Uber), while building those enterprise features the community has been clamoring for.

The new company’s first product will be a cloud version of M3 to help reduce some of the complexity associated with managing an M3 project. “M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,” Mao said.

Jerry Chen, who led the investment at Greylock, saw a company solving a big problem. “They were providing such a high resolution view of what’s going on in your cloud infrastructure and doing that at scale at a cost that actually makes sense. They solved that problem at Uber, and I saw them, and I was like wow, the rest of the market needs what guys built and I wrote the Series A check. It was as simple as that,” Chen told TechCrunch.

The cloud product is currently in private Beta, and they expect to open to public Beta early next year.



UPS and CVS deliver prescription medicine via drone to U.S. residential customers for the first time

18:03 | 5 November

UPS is rolling along with its drone delivery program, working with partner CVS Pharmacy to deliver prescription drugs to customer doorsteps via its newly deployed commercial drones. UPS delivered medications to two paying customers on November 1, using the M2 drone system that the logistics company developed in partnership with Matternet.

UPS got approval from the FAA to fly its fleet of commercial drones in service of customers at the beginning of October, and now it plans to iterate its drone delivery program “in the coming months,” with the aim of ensuring that it can deploy UAVs in a commercial capacity at increasing scale. It also launched ‘UPS Flight Forward,’ a dedicated division focused on autonomous drone delivery.

For these early deliveries, drones were loaded with prescriptions filled by pharmacists at a CVS location in Cary, North Carolina. Once a UPS employee loaded the cargo onto the drones, they flew autonomously from the store location to nearby customer homes, dropping off the packages from a hover height of around 20 feet above these locations. One of the customers has mobility challenges that would make travel to a CVS store for prescription pick-up difficult, UPS points out.

This isn’t the first time UPS has deployed drones in a healthcare industry setting: The company has been working with Mattternet and WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, doing commercial deliveries of medical samples in a B2B setting.



Pigeon, a ‘Waze for public transit’ from Google’s Area 120, expands across the U.S.

18:02 | 5 November

Crowdsourced transit app Pigeon, developed within Google’s Area 120 lab for experimental projects, is today rolling out to five new cities across the U.S., in addition to New York — including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Unlike traditional transit apps that rely on schedules and updates from a local transit authority, Pigeon takes more of a Waze-like approach where commuters help one another by reporting delays, crowds, and other issues.

The result is a transit app that can better inform users about unexpected incidents, as well as real-time crowds and offer more context about delays. The app will also send out alerts to users about things like power outages or major service changes, in addition to personalized alerts sent before commuters leave their home or office so they can plan around the delays, reroutes or weather-related incidents.

While the app’s goal is to offer better transit information to riders, it’s also working to develop a community within Pigeon.

Similar to Waze where users establish profiles and communicate with friends, Pigeon offers a social component. Users can post not only about delays, but also other transit happenings with both comments and images. These reports are then shared along a rider’s route in an activity feed.

For example, users may post about dirty or unsafe conditions, crowds, or escalator outages, then share a photo along with that information. But some of the posts may be more positive — like those applauding a local entertainer or noting a cute dog.

If anything, Pigeon could encourage more of these kinds of social posts as its users, unlike on Waze, aren’t stuck behind the wheel and only able to quickly tap a button to share a report with the crowd.

However, even users who don’t want to contribute directly can benefit from the app’s push notifications about unexpected delays and incidents.

The app was developed internally at Google, through its in-house incubator Area 120, and launched to New York users in September 2018. (TechCrunch actually spotted it go live in May 2018, but Google wasn’t sharing much information at the time.)

Since then, Pigeon has helped its early adopters across hundreds of thousands of transit trips each month, the company says. It’s also releasing an NYC Subway Insights Report detailing some of those learnings — like which lines had the most rush-hour delays or most crowds, which station was reported to be the hottest in the summer, and more.

Google’s app isn’t alone in tackling public transit from a new angle. Startups like Transit, Moovit, Citymapper, and others are also participating in this space — sometimes with their own crowdsourced components.

Today, Pigeon is live on iOS in these half-dozen U.S. cities and supports transit information for subway, bus, rail, ferry and cable car.

Android users can sign up for the waitlist to be alerted as to when Pigeon becomes available.



Friended is a new social network that wants to get real

18:00 | 5 November

Though the social media landscape is dominated by a few major players, consumers still seem to want something new and different. Just look at TikTok.

Today, a new social app is launching called Friended, which is taking an altogether different strategy when it comes to connecting people online. Friended was started by Thumb cofounder and CEO Dan Kurani, Friended wants to give users a deeper and more meaningful connection to one another, which the company believes they crave.

On Friended, users can post to the community about what they’re thinking or feeling. But rather than catalyze a ‘town hall’-style group conversation, members of the community can respond privately to that post, offering their insights, anecdotes, or advice.

The idea is to give people a chance to share how they really feel in a vulnerable, one-to-one setting. In playing around with the app, I had conversations with people about how to make friends in NYC and why it sometimes feel like others don’t care about us as much as we care about them.

Anyone can respond to a thread, and comments on threads can be liked by the poster or respondent, but from the moment a response comes through, that conversation is one-on-one and private.

“People feel more lonely now than ever before,” said Kurani. “Part of the blame is the social media algorithms that only promote people’s highlights for more ad impressions. It’s isolating to see everyone’s happy moments, and, then get silence when you share something vulnerable. But, it’s also just plain hard to open up and share your feelings because of the pressure to be perfect.”

Because Friended wants to be a place where you always have someone to talk to, the company has eliminated ads as a possible revenue stream. Instead, the company is working to implement a premium tier.

Right now, users can only post a conversation starter every eight hours. The premium tier, which costs $4.99/week, allows users to post as frequently as they want, and also includes a few other premium features like the ability to talk to people in your location.

Friended has raised a $500K seed round from investors such as Jonah Goodhart, Dr. Lara Otte, Jared Fliesler, and Bobby Goodlatte. Though the company won’t disclose monthly active user numbers, it did say that it has 500,000 registered users with an average of 11 sessions per day per active user during its beta. More than 2.5 million messages were sent last month.



Segwey-Ninebot now has an electric dirt bike

17:48 | 5 November

Segway-Ninebot introduced Tuesday an electric dirt bike that marks the company’s expansion into the powersports market.

The Chinese scooter company launched two versions of its new “Dirt eBike” at the automotive specialty products show SEMA in Las Vegas.

Segwey’s first foray into powersports products combines aspects of a mountain bike with the get-up-and-go of a dirt bike. And it’s all electric.

These days, Segwey is known for its micromobility products, namely scooters. For instance, Segwey unveiled in January the Model Max scooter, a more robust product designed to help shared scooter services like Bird and Lime reduce operating and maintenance costs.

But Segwey is aiming to do more than supply scooters. The company wants to offer a range of mobility devices that combine software, robotics, and its patent-protected Segway self-balancing technology. The debut of the Dirt eBike follows the introduction of three other hybrid off-road products, including an ATV all in an effort to build out its new SegwayPowersports business unit.

The Dirt eBike falls under Segway’s line of personal products, including other micromobility solutions such as the Ninebot Kickscooter and Ninebot GoKart Kit, according to the company.

“Our core focus is to create innovative transportation solutions that will help people move around their
communities — including solutions for the urban dweller and outdoor adventurer,” said Julie Tang,
marketing director at Segway. “The popularity of electric vehicles has made its way to the biking
segment and we are proud to meet the growing eco-conscious consumer demands by introducing Segway Dirt eBike, our first product focused solely on the outdoor consumer who wants a rugged and
high performance dirt biking experience.”

The Dirt eBike will come in two versions, the X160 and X260. The X260 will be, as you might assume, is the beefier, heavier, longer range and more capable bike. It will also be more expensive, coming in at about $4,500.

The X260 weighs 121 pounds with the battery. While the X160, which costs $3,000, is about 105 pounds.

The X260 comes with a headlight, can hit a top speed of 46.6 miles per hour and handle steeper slopes of up to 45 degrees.

Both versions have swappable batteries. The X260 has an estimated battery range of 74.6 miles on a single charge, while the X160 has 40.4-mile range.

The product will be available for consumers will be in the first quarter of 2020, the company said.



Learn how to raise your Series A at Disrupt Berlin

17:44 | 5 November

There are more seed funds than ever helping business get off the ground but the Series A financing continues to be one of the toughest deals to close.

Not only will we welcome early-stage investors to teach entrepreneurs how to raise their first round of venture capital, we will have a group of investors intimately familiar with the Series A on deck at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin this December to offer their best tips and tricks.

Joining us on stage is Blossom Capital partner Louise Samet and Penta founder Jessica Holzbach.

Samet, for her part, joined Blossom Capital, a new European venture capital fund focused on leading Series A investments, earlier this year. Based in Stockholm, Samet’s career includes years of angel investig with standout bets including LendingHome, Bloomcredit and Stravito. Blossom portfolio companies include Duffel, Frontify, Fat Llama, Sqreen and Before Blossom, Samet was the director of technical sales at Klarna, a high profile European fintech startup.

Finally, Holzbach, who leads the digital only banking platform for SMEs, Penta, has spent her career founding startups and working as a management consultant, supervising various CRM projects for financial institutions and insurance companies. Penta, where she is currently CCO, has raised millions in venture capital funding, including a €7 million Series A last year. She can speak to the process of securing funding and the challenges she faced as a founder.

Join us at Disrupt Berlin, running December 11 and December 12, to hear more from these experts on how to secure one of the most influential funding rounds in a company’s lifespan. Tickets to the show are available here!



Coda Biotherapeutics is developing a cure for pain

17:29 | 5 November

If the researchers, executives and investors behind Coda Biotherapeutics have their way, one day soon there really could be a cure for pain.

Co-founded by researchers Joseph Glorioso, from the University of Pittsburgh’s microbiology and molecular genetics department; and Dr. Nicholas Boulis, the founder of Emory’s Gene and Cell Therapy for Neurorestoration Laboratory; Coda uses gene therapies to treat neurological diseases starting with severe pain and epilepsy.

America is a country in pain. There are over 19 million Americans who live with chronic neuropathic pain, according to Coda’s own statistics. And over the past twenty years the doctors treating those Americans and the drug companies developing therapies for them have managed to turn their treatment into a new epidemic — opioid addiction.

In 2017, 47,600 Americans died from opioid-involved overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those deaths, about 60% involved synthetic opioids.

“The incentives were there for people to prescribe more and more, particularly when they had already been convinced it was the right thing to do — the compassionate thing to do,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford University and a former White House drug-policy adviser, told the journal Nature.

As the pain epidemic and attendant opioid crisis began to skyrocket several companies have been racing to find alternatives to the drug treatments that were now killing Americans by the thousands. Other approaches like electrical nerve stimulation can carry risks, and invasive surgeries are an unappealing last resort, according to Coda’s chief executive.

Coda’s experimental treatment is based on a science called chemogenetics, which uses a harmless virus to create new receptors in the sensory neurons that provide signals to the brain about physical stimuli. Those receptors can be unlocked by small molecule drugs, which would instruct the sensory neurons to stop firing, thereby cutting off the signals of pain to the brain.

Coda’s virus on a neural cell (Image courtesy of Coda Biotherapeutics)

The idea behind chemogenetics is to engineer a receptor that when you put it in with a… gene therapy… it does nothing. We’ve engineered it so that it is no longer responsive,” says Michael Narachi, the president and chief executive officer at Coda. “Most of these receptors are naturally opened or closed by acetylcholine… We’ve engineered these receptors so that  they’re no longer responsive to acetylcholine, but they are responsive to a man-made drug.”

The company then draws from a portfolio of receptor small-molecule drug pairs that were developed and tested for their pharmacological and toxicological effects, but discarded because of a lack of efficacy, to create new therapies with receptors tailored to respond to those drugs.

“What we’ve done is flipped the whole paradigm on its head. We’re making the lock that can work with these keys,” says Narachi. 

So far, the company has raised $34 million as investors including Versant Ventures, MPM Capital and Astellas Venture Management have doubled down on their initial $19 million commitment to the new drug developer. 

“Since coming out of stealth mode last September, the CODA team has made tremendous progress in developing its gene therapy program that is tunable, durable and highly selective, which allows for better efficacy and safety with fewer off-target effects,” said Tom Woiwode, Ph.D., managing director at Versant Ventures and CODA Chairman, in a statement. “CODA’s platform holds great promise to significantly transform how we treat challenging conditions and disorders for which new therapeutic options are greatly needed.” 

Pain isn’t the only condition that Coda hopes to treat. The company is also working on therapies that can reduce the severity of epilepsy for the nearly 3.4 million people in the U.S. who have the condition. While the company can’t treat all kinds of epilepsy, Coda says that it could address focal epilepsy, which represents 60% of all manifestations of the condition, and is linked to a specific region of the brain.

By engineering neurotransmitter receptors that are activated by medicines that can be taken orally, Coda thinks it can control the activity of neurons responsible for both chronic pain and focal epilepsy.

The next step for the company — and part of the use of proceeds from its new $15 million cash infusion — will . be to proceed with early animal trials. These clinical trials will be followed by human trials.

“This is a research platform,” says Narachi. “We have this portfolio of engineered receptors and we’re testing them in cells. The next step is to go into human clinical trials.”


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