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Main article: Disrupt Berlin 2017

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 110

Watch Ultrahaptics use ultrasound to let you feel imaginary objects

19:45 | 5 December

Ultrahaptics lets you touch what you see in virtual and augmented reality, or even give a 2D poster 3D feeling. It uses small speaker-like ultrasound wave emitters to give the sensation of pressure and texture when you’re just waving your hands in the open air.

Ultrahaptics CTO Tom Carter demoed the technology on stage today at TechCrunch’s Disrupt Berlin conference. It feels like some combination of static electricity from laundry, a fan, and heavy bass without the sound.

He showed how he could allow you to feel a movie poster you pass on the street. In his demo, you could wave your hands in front of a Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster, and touch ‘the force’ — a tingly feeling synced to a lightsaber sound and animation of crackling energy on the poster’s screen.

The startup has raised around $38 million to bring the ultrasound technology to market. It could eventually be built into VR headsets or tabletop models.

I feel the force, demoing Ultrahaptics’ ultrasound emitter Star Wars poster

Carter claims that the technology is totally safe, which you’d hope considering ultrasound is how we do imaging of babies in the womb. The technology could compete with alternative ways to feel virtual reality, like Tactical Haptics’ Reactive Grip product — a controller with moving surfaces that rub against your hands to give the impression of a fish tugging on a line or you stretching a piece of rubber.

For now, Ultrahaptics can only let you feel a vague sensation of touch, but it’s working on letting you sense different textures too. Unfortunately, ultrasound won’t ever be strong enough to make it seem like you’re actually holding a complex virtual object like a gun while playing a first-person shooter game. But it could still let you interact with virtual reality or augmented reality without the need for gloves or wearables.

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Long-term, Carter imagines cars using the technology to deliver non-distracting information to a driver. And eventually, he believes ultrasound will be paired with voice technology. You’ll be able to sift through data or navigate interfaces with voice, but then touch or manipulate what you call up.

Virtual reality has taken a lot longer to ‘arrive’ than many people expected. Headset penetration is pretty low, great experiences are somewhat scarce, and augmented reality that better integrates into life is starting to eclipse VR. But as VR and AR mature, technology like Ultrahaptics could boost immersion and reduce the feeling that you’re divorced from the real world.

 


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And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2017 is… Lia Diagnostics

19:36 | 5 December

At the very beginning, there were 15 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.

Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win €42,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Blik, Caspar Health, eTrack Tech, Lia Diagnostics and Wandelbots.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Suranga Chandratillake (Balderton Capital), Tugce Ergul (Angel Labs), Luciana Lixandru (Accel Partners), Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Mark Schmitz (Lakestar).

And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017.

Winner: Lia Diagnostics

The Lia Diagnostics pregnancy test will be the first-ever flushable test to hit the market, offering a more sustainable, disposable, convenient and private way for women to find out if they’re pregnant or not. Unlike traditional tests, Lia’s tests are made from a special paper that will disperse in water and biodegrade.

Read more about Lia Diagnostics in our separate post.

Runner-Up: Blik

Blik aims to modernize the process of knowing what’s in your warehouse, where certain items are stored and where they are in the production process. To do this, it uses a combination of wireless sensors and indoor location tracking.

Read more about Blik in our separate post.

 


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Volocopter: Expect our flying taxis running for real in “two to three years”

17:07 | 5 December

So how far out are flying cars that you can actually hail via an app, get inside and be whisked off to your destination? Germany based Volocopter reckons a commercial service powered by its electric vertical-take-off-and-landing aircraft could be up and running before 2020.

“We think that in two or three years we’ll have the first commercial applications somewhere in the world with our service,” said co-founder and CIO Alex Zosel, who was speaking on stage here at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

“This is not so far away,” he added.

Zosel suggested the first service is likely to be a pretty targeted one though, that likely aims to tackle a particular mobility issue — such as a traffic blackspot.

“I believe strongly the first commercial application will be a point to point solution over a bottleneck somewhere where you have a lot of congestions or you have a river or something else. And then you have some aircrafts — like 10 or 20 aircrafts — flying point to point and shuttling people… This will come really fast.”

Also speaking on the panel was Yann de Vries of Atomico, which invests in the rival Lilium VTOL electric aircraft. He painted a picture of flying cars revolutionizing mobility by collapsing city to city distance via a network of speedy hops.

“Within 15 minutes, with Lilium, you can be within a 70km radius. So think about all the possibilities these offer,” he suggested, adding: “You can never do this with a car, even with autonomous vehicles, with all the traffic on the roads.”

“Here you can build a high speed, mesh network of 300km per hour links to any point that’s required, right. The use case is you land from London into JFK and then you can be in Manhattan… less than 10mins later.”

de Vries couldn’t put a timeline on his portfolio company getting its flying taxis up in the air commercially but also suggested it’s going to be sooner rather than later. Or, as he put it: “several years, not decades”.

What about landing spots? He suggested that initially at least flying car companies will be able to leverage existing helipads — claiming that in the US 90 per cent of the population is within 15 minutes of an existing pad.

Though he added that the big vision for the tech remains for it to power a “mass transportation market”.

 


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ResearchGate CEO denies scraping accounts from rival site to generate sign-ups

16:05 | 5 December

Ijad Madisch, co-founder and CEO of ResearchGate – the so-called Facebook for scientists – shot down an accusation about a questionable way it may have acquired users in the past. The question was raised by a panel moderator, TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher, at the Disrupt Berlin 2017 conference this morning.

According to Butcher’s multiple sources, ResearchGate had scraped rival Academia.edu in order to spam their users in an effort to get them to sign up to ResearchGate.

Madisch, who didn’t flinch at the accusation that he paid an agency to scrape and spam users, denied this was the case.

“No, for sure not,” he said, in response to the question.

When Butcher pressed on why his sources would have told him such a thing, Madisch pointed a finger not too subtly right back at his competitors.

“We have 100 million visitors a month now,” he said. “I would do maybe the same if I would be number two.”

Plus, he added, “you have to find stories that make me nervous on stage.”

Butcher says he trusts his sources on this matter, but they’ve declined to go on record. He still felt he needed to ask the CEO directly, however.

Berlin-based ResearchGate this year raised $52.6 million in Series D funding, bringing its total raise to date to over $100 million, but is not yet profitable despite saying back in 2014 that it would be profitable with job ads by the end of the year. But a financial statement from 2015 showed that the site went from losing  €5.4m in 2014 to losing €6.2m in 2015, Butcher noted.

The CEO said the site was now on “break even” track, though when that would be the case, he couldn’t pinpoint.

He spoke of plans for its advertising business, which would allow vendors – like say, a microscope manufacturer – to advertise their products next to scholarly articles where scientists had mentioned they used the product in question.

In addition, to the profitability questions and other allegations, the network for scholarly articles is facing a number of challenges in a competitive market where it’s up against an open source, scholarly hub set up by academics – something that Madisch also seemed unfazed by, when asked.

“I think we’re on different horizons,” he said. “We have grown quite a lot over the last years. We have activity on our network that no one has produced in an academic environment.” Plus, he said, he didn’t necessarily think that open source on its own is a better solution.

More recently, ResearchGate has been accused of infringing copyright on a massive scale with publishers seeking removal of millions of papers on its site, via a lawsuit.

The founder claimed that it’s not the only site faces these sort of problems. Academia.edu had takedown notices, too, he said, shrugging off the issue.

 


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CEO of automation company ABB says we shouldn’t fear automation

15:01 | 5 December

Here’s a surprise: at our Disrupt Berlin event, Ulrich Spiesshofer, the CEO of 125-year old automation giant ABB,  argued that automation is nothing to fear.

“I think we need to take this fear extremely seriously and get people out of this fear,” he said. In his view, automation and robotics has allowed millions of people to move beyond the extreme poverty line and it’s the countries that embraced automation — including the likes of China and India — that are doing much better than some of their counterparts that have resisted automation.

“Technology can be really good if you play it right,” Spiesshofer noted. “The truth is that the countries with the highest robot density — South Korea, Germany, Japan — have the lowest unemployment rates.” If people are afraid, Spiesshofer seemed to say, that’s because they don’t know the facts. ABB itself, he said, now has more employees who are robot engineers than it ever had casting mechanics.

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This isn’t an easy path, though. Spiesshofer noted that we need a lifelong education ecosystem that enables intergenerational education. And companies like ABB need to embrace this and allow their employees to learn new skills. Ideally, the secondary benefit of doing that is increased morale and employee loyalty.

Looking ahead, though, isn’t the end-state artificial intelligence and a future where robots don’t need to collaborate with humans? Spiesshofer believes AI is all about augmenting human potential (a view he has in common with the likes of Satya Nadella). AI will only make humans more productive, and in the end, you’ll still need engineers who understand how these machines function.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the CEO of ABB believes that automation will have a positive impact. Still, Spiesshofer clearly argues that this won’t be an easy path for everybody. You won’t be able to just do one job for the rest of your life, after all. You will have to learn new skills and ideally, you’ll learn how to program the robots that will then help you do your job. Good luck, humans.

 


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The menopause is on our roadmap, says Clue’s Ida Tin

13:02 | 5 December

Femtech startup Clue is looking at expanding the feature-set of its period tracking app to attract women outside its current younger demographic.

“Menopause is a huge space,” said founder Ida Tin, speaking on stage here at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. “I’ve been submerged into this area of female health for almost a decade now and every day I learn something new and everywhere I look I’m like ‘why is nobody dealing with this?’

“Where is technology? How is technology serving women’s needs when they go through menopause? There is nothing — it’s really, really just this open space. So what we really want to do with Clue is to kind of be a companion as they walk through life.”

While she said the current priority for the app is adding more features to serve its existing user base, who are mainly using it for period tracking, features for tracking menopause symptoms could also be added “in the coming months and years”.

The transformative potential of tracking data to unlock a deeper understanding of health issues was also discussed during the session.

“Give it a few years and I think that people will start understanding that having this longitude data-set of your health is going to be an incredibly valuable thing to have — almost like life insurance,” said Tin.

“Because we will learn to pick up early signals of disease that currently we have no ways to detect early enough — ovarian cancer would be one of them. Which is totally treatable if you catch it early. But it’s hard to catch it early.

“And I think there will be many more things like this where people will learn to know that collecting data for your health is just a really, really smart thing to do.”

But on the data front she also cautioned that technology companies pushing into the health space really need to prioritize data transparency and ethics.

Taking time to do due diligence on potential partners is one of the reasons Clue has been holding off on doing more integrations with third parties which could expand its own data pipe, she added, noting also that it would rather partner with a hardware maker than build its own devices.

Hardware devices that are really exciting her are “the kind of things that can tell us about what’s going on in the body at a more molecular level”, she said.

“And also things where the user experience can be true mass market — I think at the moment we have some solutions for natural family planning but… the user experience is not what it needs to be for it to be something that’s really working for a lot of people. So those are the kinds of things we think we have ideas that could make that better.”

“That’s definitely an ambition that we have to integrate with a lot of different things — and it’s wonderful to be in this space of femtech because there is so much happening,” added Tin. “But we’ve been holding off til we’ve figured out what really to do with those extra data streams, what partnership we felt is a really good brand fit.

“Especially with some of the big corporations — we want to really make sure that we have the user’s needs at the center of our attention. And make sure that we can navigate something as challenging as a partnership with a big corporation without that, in the end, not benefiting the user.”

Responding to a question about concerns raised in the UK by a data-sharing and app development partnership between ad giant Google DeepMind and the country’s National Health Service, she said: “I think the lack of transparency is really problematic.”

This summer, a 2015 agreement between the Royal Free NHS Trust and DeepMind was judged by the UK’s data protection watchdog to have broken privacy laws. Under the arrangement, the medical records of 1.6M patients using three London hospitals passed to DeepMind without the people’s knowledge or consent — and, as it turned out, with no legal basis for the information to be shared.

“Things that happen without users understanding where their data is going I think just shouldn’t happen,” said Tin.

“There’s always this kind of tension between — that data can be used for bad and data that can be used for good. And I think right now there’s so much connotation that data is kind of a negative thing, and people are misusing it, selling it, hacking it, breaking it. And I really want to also raise the voice — and it’s a fantastic thing that we can now understand all this thing that we couldn’t understand before. And really be a stance that we can use data for good — we just need to get it right. We shouldn’t shy away and think data’s bad.

“Data’s fantastic — it’s when we misuse it, it becomes problematic,” she added. “So let’s build good, ethical, solid data companies.

“It’s starts with a very deep, ethical choice that you make as a founder, as a company… What kind of company do we want to be? And what do we think is right? And then living by those standards.”

 


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N26 launches a premium debit card for ‘the digital customer,’ partners with WeWork

12:27 | 5 December

N26, the European mobile banking service, today announced the launch of N26 Metal, the company’s premium Mastercard-affiliated debit card “tailored to the needs of digital customers” at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. N26 Black customers in Germany, France, Italy and Austria will be able to sign up for the new NFC-enabled card, which obviously features a metal core made from tungsten and that makes the card weigh a lot, starting December 14.

So what’s special about this card? N26 describes the N26 Metal as its new “top-of-the-line premium Mastercard product, after all. The company argues that the card offers dedicated customer service, worldwide travel insurance, no foreign withdrawal fees and good exchange rates.

To be honest, that doesn’t feel all that special, especially given the perks U.S. credit card companies often provide on top of this. In Europe, however, these kind of perks are still rather unusual (in large part due to the lower interchange fees in Europe). But N26 says that it also offers its customers exclusive partner programs that cater “to the needs of digital customers who expect easy on-demand access to the products and services they enjoy.”

It’s also worth noting that this is the first metal card in Europe that supports contactless payments.

What better company to partner with then than co-working and real estate startup WeWork. Using the N26 Metal service, N26 customers will also be able to join the WeWork network and get credits to reserve workspaces and conference rooms. “It’s fitting with the lifestyle that we are aiming for — and that of our customers,” N26 CEO Valentin Stalf noted today.

 


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Parity CEO is confident that $150M in frozen Ethereum isn’t lost forever

12:15 | 5 December

Earlier this year, Parity Technologies seemingly lost about $150 million worth of Ethereum (513,774.16 Ether) when a user of its wallet accidentally deleted a code library that made Parity’s wallets work. At least 1 million in ETH became frozen — and about $90 million of those were actually from Parity co-founder and Ethereum core developer Gavin Wood’s token sale for its Pokadot blockchain technology. The money may not be lost forever, though.

Today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Woods and Parity CEO and co-founder Jutta Steiner retraced their story of what happened. “A library that governs the logic of the wallets that people use had a bug, which was due to a delicate refactoring at the time when the tools weren’t yet that developed,” Steiner said, arguing it’s a symptom of the technology still being young at the time. “We hadn’t figured out how to deal with bugs.”

As TechCrunch editor-at-large Mike Butcher noted, though, the bug that caused this freeze was actually known and had been reported long before it caused this issue. Steiner didn’t disagree, but noted that this issue wasn’t reported as a critical security flaw at the time. “It sounded like a nice-to-have update,” she said.

Steiner, however, said that she is confident that a fix for this issue, which could unfreeze the money, may happen when the next scheduled update goes live in the next four to six months.

How upset is Woods about this? It doesn’t seem like he’s too fazed by it. “It’s a long-term savings account for us right now,” he quipped. But while the two might have sounded nonchalant on stage about the issue, it’s clearly a sensitive subject for both Parity and Polkadot.

It’s still extremely early days for these technologies, and as Butcher noted, we’re in the ‘moon-landing’ phase of this brand new industry.

 


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Watch Disrupt Berlin Day 2 LIVE right here!

11:01 | 5 December

Disrupt Berlin 2017 pushes onward, and today we have a jam-packed lineup of tech super stars.

We’ll be joined on stage by Parrot’s Henri Seydoux, Atomico’s Yann de Vries, ABB’s Ulrich Spiesshofer and Clue’s Ida Tin.

Plus, we’ll head into the Startup Battlefield Finals, judged by some of the world’s finest investors: Suranga Chandratillake (Balderton Capital), Tugce Ergul (Angel Labs), Luciana Lixandru (Accel), Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Mark Schmitz (Lakestar).

For those of you that can’t make it to Arena Berlin, we’ll be bringing the action directly to you.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!

Ways to watch:

  • YouTube
  • Twitch
  • TechCrunch

Select panels will be available on Twitter/Periscope as well as Facebook Live.

 


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Meet the five finalists at the Disrupt Berlin Startup Battlefield

22:30 | 4 December

Disrupt is back in Berlin, where 15 teams have just taken the stage as part of the Startup Battlefield.

Each startup demonstrated their product and answered questions from our expert judges. Afterwards, we narrowed it down to five companies that will be competing tomorrow to take home €42,000 and the Battlefield Cup.

Tune in tomorrow at 3:10pm Berlin time to watch the finals.

Blik

Blik aims to modernize the process of knowing what’s in your warehouse, where certain items are stored and where they are in the production process. To do this, it uses a combination of wireless sensors and indoor location tracking.

Caspar Health

Caspar Health wants to make rehabilitative care easier and more accessible. The digital platform allows doctors to assign customizable therapy treatment plans to patients following an injury, surgery or other medical event, which patients then access via a mobile app.

eTrack Tech

eTrack Tech aims to ensure that equipment functions properly so that employees are safer and industrial companies can save money on one of their biggest expenses. The company’s device looks like a router with an array of multifunctional sensors, with data streamed to a hub device for collection and analysis.

Lia Diagnostics

The Lia Diagnostics pregnancy test will be the first-ever flushable test to hit the market, offering a more sustainable, disposable, convenient and private way for women to find out if they’re pregnant or not. Unlike traditional tests, Lia’s tests are made from a special paper that will disperse in water and biodegrade.

Wandelbots

Wandelbots focuses on solving a key problem in robotics. Its first product is a sensor-laden suit that a person can wear to demonstrate actions so that a robot can then replicate what they do.

 


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