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Main article: Electron

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With cinnamon, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine gum, is LA’s Lucy Goods the next Juul?

22:18 | 24 February

David Renteln, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Soylent and the co-founder and chief executive of new nicotine gum manufacturer Lucy Goods, thinks there should be a better-tasting, less-medicinal offering for people looking to quit smoking.

That’s why he founded Lucy Goods, and that’s why investors, including RRE Ventures, Vice Ventures and FundRX joined previous investors YCombinator and Greycroft in backing the company with $10 million in new funding.

“We reformulated nicotine gum and the improvements that we made were to the taste, the texture and the nicotine release speed,” said Renteln.

These days, any startup that’s working on smoking cessation or working with tobacco products can’t avoid comparisons to Juul — the multi-billion-dollar startup that’s at the center of the surge in teen nicotine consumption.

“The Juul comparison is something that’s obviously top of people’s minds,” Renteln said. “It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference in nicotine products.”

Renteln points to statements from former Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb (who’s now a partner at the venture firm New Enterprise Associates), which drew a distinction between combustible tobacco products on one end and nicotine gums and patches on the other.

“Nicotine isn’t the principle agent of harm associated with these tobacco products,” said Rentlen. “It’s addictive but not inherently bad for you.”

Lucy Goods also doesn’t release its nicotine dosage in a concentrated burst like vapes, which are designed to replicate the head rush associated with smoking a cigarette, said Renteln.

“It is a stimulant and they will get a sensation, but it’s not as intense as taking a very deep drag of a cigarette,” Renteln said. 

The company’s website also doesn’t skew to young, lifestyle marketing images. Instead, there are testimonials from older, ex-smokers hawking the Lucy gum.

“I don’t want anyone underage using any nicotine product or any drug in general… [and] the flavors have been around for a long time.”

Joining Renteln in the quest to create a better nicotine gum is Samy Hamdouche, a former business development executive at several Southern California biotech startups and the previous vice president of research at Soylent. 

For both men, the idea is to get a new product to market that can help people quit smoking — without a social stigma — Renteln said.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States claiming over 480,000 lives every year and costing the U.S. an estimated $300 billion in direct health costs and lost productivity. Lucy is committed to bringing innovative nicotine products to the market to eliminate tobacco related harm and we’re proud to be part of their journey,” said RRE investor, Jason Black in a statement.

 


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How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps

03:08 | 20 February

Apple banned vaping apps in November 2019. Since then, the company has said very little about its decision, leaving many companies upset and confused about its blanket prohibition.

Three months later, companies are working around Apple’s ban. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Apple’s wide-sweeping ban on vaping affected apps from Juul, Pax and many others, including apps that calculate electrical resistance because they can be used to build vape components. It appears to have hit the cannabis industry at a higher rate than tobacco, as few tobacco vapes have a companion application.

The removal was sudden but not unexpected, given the climate at the time. In 2019, the vaping industry suffered a crisis as the Centers for Disease Control stumbled through a health scare caused by illicit products. Industry experts quickly identified a filler additive as the source of the illnesses, but these reports were ignored for months, creating widespread panic. Consumer sentiment promptly settled on the conclusion that all vapes are harmful, even when clear data shows the opposite. Vapes sourced through legal means are proven to be safer alternatives than other consumption methods.

It’s important to note Apple didn’t disable the apps or force the removal from phones. Apps that had already been downloaded continued to work, though they could not be updated.

 


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Rocket Lab will launch a satellite to the Moon for NASA to prepare for the Lunar Gateway

00:57 | 15 February

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been awarded a contract to launch a CubeSat on behalf of NASA for the agency’s CAPSTONE experiment, with the ultimate aim of putting the CAPSTONE CubeSat into cislunar (in the region in between Earth and the Moon) orbit – the same orbit that NASA will eventually use for its Gateway Moon-orbiting space station. The launch is scheduled to take place in 2021.

The CAPSTONE launch will take place at Rocket Lab’s new Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) facility at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Rocket Lab opened its launch pad there officially in December, and will launch its first missions using its Electron vehicle from the site starting later this year.

The launch is significant in a number of ways, including being the second ever lunar mission to launch from the Virginia flight facility. It’s also going to employ Rocket Lab’s Photon platform, which is an in-house designed and built satellite that can support a range of payloads. In this case, Photon will transport the CAPSTONE CubeSat, which weighs only around 55 lbs, from Earth’s orbit to the Moon, at which point CAPSTONE will fire up its own small engines to enter its target cislunar orbit.

Rocket Lab introduced Photon last year, noting at the time that it is designed in part to provide longer-range delivery for small satellites – including to the Moon. That’s a key capability to offer as NASA embarks on its Artemis program, which aims to return human astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, and establish a more permanent human presence on and around the Moon in preparation for eventual missions to Mars.

CAPSTONE will play a key role in that mission, by acting “as a pathfinder” for the lunar Gateway that NASA eventually hopes to build and deploy.

“CAPSTONE is a rapid, risk-tolerant demonstration that sets out to learn about the unique, seven-day cislunar orbit we are also targeting for Gateway,” said Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA in a press release. detailing the news “We are not relying only on this precursor data, but we can reduce navigation uncertainties ahead of our future missions using the same lunar orbit.”

In total, the launch contract with Rocket Lab has a fixed price of $9.95 million, the agency said. NASA expects contractors Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems to begin building the CAPSTONE spacecraft this month ahead of its planned 2021 launch.

 


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Maniv Mobility General Partner Olaf Sakkers is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

02:49 | 14 February

In case you haven’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is back for second year. This one-day event, which will be held May 14 in San Jose, promises to feature some of best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.

We have announced several speakers for the event, including Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, Waymo’s  href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/tc-sessions-mobility-2020-boris-sofman-of-waymo-and-nancy-sun-of-ike/">Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.

And now we have another star to add to our TC Sessions: Mobility list. TechCrunch is excited to announce that Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility will be joining us on stage this year. Sakkers is a founding partner at Maniv Mobility, a global fund investing in mobility.

Maniv started out with a focus on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel, with a few in investments in the U.S. It expanded its mission to the global stage, a move buoyed by a $100 million fund that it closed last July with backing from 12 corporations, including the venture arms of Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp., LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.

Maniv’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owlcam, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel, Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

If you’re an early-stage, mobility startup, make sure you grab an exhibitor package to get your startup in front of today’s leading mobility leaders. Packages come with 4 tickets each and are just $2000. Book yours here.

 


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Aptiv’s self-driving cars have given 100,000 paid rides on the Lyft app

14:00 | 11 February

What started out as a temporary pilot project to test a robotaxi service in Las Vegas has turned into a multi-year partnership between self-driving software company Aptiv and Lyft and a new milestone that suggests the operation is ramping up.

The companies announced Tuesday that they’ve given 100,000 paid rides in Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles via the Lyft app.

“To our knowledge this is the largest open-to-the-public commercial pilot,” Aptiv Autonomous Mobility President Karl Iagnemma said in a recent interview. “To me this partnership is a great example of the next-generation ecosystem at work.”

The milestone has a few important caveats. Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles — which initially began with BMW 5 series — have a human safety driver behind the wheel to take over if needed. The human driver operates the vehicle manually in parking lots and hotel lobby areas. 

The program, even if with those human safety drivers behind the wheel, has proven invaluable to the companies, according to Iagnemma and Jody Kelman, who leads the self-driving platform team at Lyft.

“We’ve got something here,” Kelman said. “This is really a blueprint for what future mobility partnerships can look like.”

Companies in this so-called “race” to commercially deploy on-demand ride-hailing services using self-driving vehicles must master more than the technical bits. Fleet management, real-time routing, and designing an approachable user interface are just a few critical components needed to operate a profitable robotaxi service.

The program has taught Aptiv how to “get and keep a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the road and keep them highly utilized,” Iagnemma said, later adding that this project positions Lyft and Aptiv to be major winners in this space. The companies also learned how to work with various regulatory bodies, in this case, with the city of Las Vegas, Clark County and the region’s transit authority.

Lyft and Aptiv first launched the pilot in January 2018 as a one-week experiment and then announced plans to extend the program. The program surpassed 5,000 self-driving rides by August and jumped to more than 25,000 paid autonomous rides by December 2018, all while maintaining an average passenger rating of 4.95 out of five stars, Aptiv said at the time. 

By May 2019, the companies reported they had given more than 50,000 paid self-driving rides in Las Vegas.

Aptiv’s investment in Las Vegas expanded as those ridership numbers grew. The company opened in December 2018 a 130,000-square-foot technical center in the city to house its fleet of autonomous vehicles as well as an engineering team dedicated to research and development of software and hardware systems, validation and mapping.

 


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Samsung teases videocalling on its next foldable during the Oscars

12:59 | 10 February

It was South Korea’s — rather than Netflix’s — night at the Oscars, thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s biting class satire Parasite, which won best picture (among other well-deserved gongs)

But tech giant Samsung appears to have been hoping to steal a little of the national limelight: The Korean phone maker chose a prime Oscars ad slot to show off a 360-degree view of its next foldable, running it as a teaser for its Unpacked 2020 unboxing event — which takes place in San Francisco tomorrow.

The ad shows the flip phones from all angles, opening and closing while the Comic Strip sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot pop and crackle in the background.

Notably we see the foldable propping itself up, with the screen half or three-quarters open, for a hands-free face-time style chat. (In case you were wondering what the point of a flip phone might be in 2020.)

There’s also an eye-popping iridescent purple colorway on show that seems intended to make the most of the screen-concealing clamshell design. A black version does a much better job of blending into the background.

While a brief side view of the phone shows what looks like a side-mounted fingerprint scanner — per earlier leaks.

And if you’re wondering how you’ll screen incoming calls when the clam is closed the ad shows a micro display that tells you the name of the person calling. tl;dr you can still ghost your frenemies while packing a flip.

We’ve seen renders of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip leak online before but this is an official full view of the foldable Samsung hopes will spark a retro fashion craze for clamshell flip phones. (See also the rebooted Motorola Razr.)

Samsung will also of course be hoping this foldable can bend without immediately breaking

Stay tuned for all the details from Samsung Unpacked 2020 as we get them (we’re most keen to find out the price-tag for this foldable) — including our first look at the next flagship Galaxy S device. TechCrunch’s intrepid hardware editor, Brian Heater, will be on the ground in San Francisco tomorrow to get hands on with all the new kit so you don’t have to.

 


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After Iowa caucus flub, can tech be trusted in elections?

22:13 | 6 February

An app intended to speed up reporting of election results for the Iowa caucuses has failed spectacularly, not only confusing the electorate but perhaps poisoning their feelings toward making any technological “improvements” to the voting process whatsoever.

TechCrunch staff reporters Brian Heater, Jonathan Shieber, Zack Whittaker, Devin Coldewey and Ingrid Lunden discussed the issue informally.

Brian Heater: We all agree that this is a good sign of a healthy democracy, right?

Jonathan Shieber: Totally agree with Brian here.

Brian Heater: I’m legitimately finding it difficult to discuss these sorts of things without delving into the conspiratorial. That said, I think it’s far more likely that this was just a massive fuck-up on the part of the Iowa Dems. Chalking it up to a conspiracy is honestly giving them entirely too much credit.

Devin Coldewey: But what’s the nature of the fuck-up? Fundamentally?

Brian Heater: An app that wasn’t tested at the scale of a statewide election. The more we move away from more traditional means of accounting, the more of these we’re going to see.

 


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Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

19:22 | 24 January

Samsung, which once led the smartphone market in India, slid to the third position in the quarter that ended in December even as the South Korean giant continues to make major bets on the rare handset market that is still growing.

According to research firm Counterpoint, Chinese firm Vivo surpassed Samsung to become the second biggest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2019. Xiaomi, with command over 27% of the market, maintained its top stop in the nation for the 10th consecutive quarter. A Samsung spokesperson in India did not respond to a request for comment.

Vivo’s annual smartphone shipment grew 76% in 2019. The Chinese firm’s aggressive positioning of budget S series of smartphones in the brick and mortar market and expansion into e-commerce sales helped it beat Samsung, said Counterpoint analysts. Vivo’s market share jumped 132% between Q4 of 2018 and Q4 of 2019, according to the research firm.

Realme, which spun out of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, claimed the fifth spot. Oppo assumed the fourth. Realme has taken the Indian market by a storm. The two-year-old firm has replicated Xiaomi’s playbook in the country and so far focused on selling aggressively low-cost Android smartphones online.

The report, released late Friday (local time), also states that India, with 158 million smartphone shipments in 2019, took over the U.S. in annual smartphone shipment for the first time.

India, which was already the world’s second largest smartphone market for total handset install base, is now also the second largest smartphone market for annual shipment of smartphones in a year.

Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, told TechCrunch that about 150 million to 155 million smartphone units were shipped in the U.S. in 2019.

More to follow…

 


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Scopely is buying FoxNext Games, adding MARVEL Strike Force to its game portfolio

22:01 | 22 January

Scopely, the massively funded mobile game publisher, has made good on its promise to start buying up more properties with the treasure chest it amassed in a whopping $200 million round last year.

The target this time is Walt Disney Company’s FoxNext Games Los Angeles and Cold Iron Studios. Disney picked up Fox’s game division in the huge $71.3 billion deal which merged the two entertainment powerhouses in 2019.

There’s no word on how much Scopely spent on the deal, but the company is quickly becoming one of LA’s biggest mobile game studios, joining the ranks of companies like Jam City as mega-players in the mobile games ecosystem emerging in Los Angeles.

The city has long been home to game development talent including Riot Games, Activision Blizzard, and others.

FoxNext is already the home of the popular “Marvel Strike Force” game and is developing “Avatar: Pandora Rising”, which is a multiplayer strategy game based on the James Cameron blockbuster, “Avatar”.

The portfolio doesn’t include the Fox IP licensed game titles, which will continue to live under Disney’s licensed game business.

“We have been hugely impressed with the incredible game the team at FoxNext Games has built with MARVEL Strike Force and can’t wait to see what more we can do together,” said Tim O’Brien, Chief Revenue Officer at Scopely, in a statement. “In addition to successfully growing our existing business, we have been bullish on further expanding our portfolio through M&A, and FoxNext Games’ player-first product approach aligns perfectly with our focus on delivering unforgettable game experiences. We are thrilled to combine forces with their world-class team and look forward to a big future together.”

As a result of the acquisition, FoxNext’s President, Aaron Loeb will join Scopely in a newly created executive role, according to the company. Meanwhile, Amir Rahimi, FoxNext’s senior vice president will become assume the mantle of President, Games at FoxNext Games Los Angeles studio, the company said.

Last year, Scopely hit $1 billion in lifetime revenue and recently bought the DIGIT Game Studios to further expand its footprint in Europe and across North America.

 


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Rocket Lab’s first launch of 2020 is a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office

22:02 | 20 January

Rocket Lab has announced its first mission for 2020 – a dedicated rocket launch on behalf of client the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) with a launch window that opens on January 31. The Electron rocket Rocket Lab is using for this mission will take off from its Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand, and it’ll be the first mission Rocket Lab secured under a new contract the NRO is using that allows it to source launch providers quickly and at short notice.

This new Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract model is pretty much ideal for Rocket Lab, since the whole company’s thesis is based around using small, affordable rockets that can be produced quickly thanks to carbon 3D printing used in the manufacturing process. Rocket Lab has already demonstrated the flexibility of its model by bumping a client to the top of the queue when another dropped out last year, and its ability to win an NRO mission under the RASR contract model is further proof that its aim of delivering responsive, timely rocket launch services for small payloads is hitting a market sweet spot.

The NRO is a U.S. government agency that’s in charge of developing, building, launching and operating intelligence satellites. It was originally established in 1961, but was only officially declassified and made public in 1992. Its mandate includes supporting the work of both the U.S. Intelligence Community, as well as the Department of Defense.

Increasingly, the defense industry is interested in small satellite operations, mainly because using smaller, more efficient and economical satellites means that you can respond to new needs in the field more quickly, and that you can also build resiliency into your observation and communication network through sheer volume. Traditional expensive, huge intelligence and military satellites carry giant price tags, have multi-year development timelines and offer sizeable targets to potential enemies without much in the way of redundancy. Small satellites, especially acting as part of larger constellations, mitigate pretty much all of these potential weaknesses.

One of the reasons that Rocket Lab opened its new Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) launch pad in Wallops Island, Virgina, is to better serve customers from the U.S. defense industry. Its first mission from that site, currently set to happen sometime this spring, is for the U.S. Air Force.

 


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