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Main article: Internet of Things

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 30

Small satellite startup Kepler opens sign-ups for its IoT developer kits

22:06 | 31 October

Kepler Communications, the Toronto-based startup that’s focused on developing and deploying shoebox-sized satellites to provide telecommunications services, is opening up registration for those interested in getting their first developer kits. These developer kits, designed to help potential commercial customers take advantage of its Internet of Things (IoT) narrowband connectivity deploying next year, will then be made available to purchase for elect partners next year.

This kind of early access is designed to give companies interested in using the kind of connectivity Kepler intends on providing a head start on testing and integration. Kepler‘s service is designed to provide global coverage using a single network for IoT operators, at low costs relative to the market, for applications including tracking shipping containers, railway networks, livestock and crops and much more. Kepler says that its IoT network, which will be made up of nanosatellites designed specifically for this purpose it plans to launch throughout next year and beyond, is aimed at industries where you don’t need high-bandwidth, as you would for say HD consumer video streaming, but where coverage across large, often remote areas on a consistent basis is key.

IoT connectivity provided by constellations of orbital satellites is an increasing are of focus and investment, as large industries look to modernize their monitoring and tracking operations. Startup Swarm got permission from the FCC to launch its 150-small satellite constellation earlierr this month, for instance, to establish a service to address similar needs.

Kepler, founded in 2015, has raised over $20 million in funding so far, and has launched two small satellites thus far, including one in January and one in November of 2018. The company announced a contract with ISK and GK Launch Services to deploy two more sometime in the middle of next year aboard a Soyuz rocket.

 


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Huawei 5G indecision is hitting UK’s relations abroad, warns committee

15:20 | 19 July

The UK’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay.

In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency”.

Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply.

The delay in the UK settling on a 5G supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weight and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two UK prime ministers in three years.)

Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning towards giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year.

A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks.

The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him.

The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading to carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month.

But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed to step down as PM back in May, the decision on 5G supply is on hold. It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over from May, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply UK 5G networks.

Though whichever of the men wins the vote they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — in a mere three months, with an October 31 extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk that 5G may not seem as urgent an issue as Brexit, and a decision once again be kicked back.

In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the UK’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.”

The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, without specifying what the latter functions might be.

“It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.”

The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition.

But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment”.

“This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of UK intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes.

It also couches a UK decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without them paying the full and necessary attention to the security piece.

“The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes.

The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the UK’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier.

“One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns.

It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted”, pressing the next UK prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward”

 


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Spy on your smart home with this open source research tool

13:16 | 13 April

Researchers at Princeton University have built a web app that lets you (and them) spy on your smart home devices to see what they’re up to.

The open source tool, called IoT Inspector, is available for download here. (Currently it’s Mac OS only, with a wait list for Windows or Linux.)

In a blog about the effort the researchers write that their aim is to offer a simple tool for consumers to analyze the network traffic of their Internet connected gizmos. The basic idea is to help people see whether devices such as smart speakers or wi-fi enabled robot vacuum cleaners are sharing their data with third parties. (Or indeed how much snitching their gadgets are doing.)

Testing the IoT Inspector tool in their lab the researchers say they found a Chromecast device constantly contacting Google’s servers even when not in active use.

A Geeni smart bulb was also found to be constantly communicating with the cloud — sending/receiving traffic via a URL (tuyaus.com) that’s operated by a China-based company with a platform which controls IoT devices.

There are other ways to track devices like this — such as setting up a wireless hotspot to sniff IoT traffic using a packet analyzer like WireShark. But the level of technical expertise required makes them difficult for plenty of consumers.

Whereas the researchers say their web app doesn’t require any special hardware or complicated set-up so it sounds easier than trying to go packet sniffing your devices yourself. (Gizmodo, which got an early look at the tool, describes it as “incredibly easy to install and use”.)

One wrinkle: The web app doesn’t work with Safari; requiring either Firefox or Google Chrome (or a Chromium-based browser) to work.

The main caveat is that the team at Princeton do want to use the gathered data to feed IoT research — so users of the tool will be contributing to efforts to study smart home devices.

The title of their research project is Identifying Privacy, Security, and Performance Risks of Consumer IoT Devices. The listed principle investigators are professor Nick Feamster and PhD student Danny Yuxing Huang at the university’s Computer Science department.

The Princeton team says it intends to study privacy and security risks and network performance risks of IoT devices. But they also note they may share the full dataset with other non-Princeton researchers after a standard research ethics approval process. So users of IoT Inspector will be participating in at least one research project. (Though the tool also lets you delete any collected data — per device or per account.)

“With IoT Inspector, we are the first in the research community to produce an open-source, anonymized dataset of actual IoT network traffic, where the identity of each device is labelled,” the researchers write. “We hope to invite any academic researchers to collaborate with us — e.g., to analyze the data or to improve the data collection — and advance our knowledge on IoT security, privacy, and other related fields (e.g., network performance).”

They have produced an extensive FAQ which anyone thinking about running the tool should definitely read before getting involved with a piece of software that’s explicitly designed to spy on your network traffic. (tl;dr, they’re using ARP-spoofing to intercept traffic data — a technique they warn may slow your network, in addition to the risk of their software being buggy.)

The dataset that’s being harvesting by the traffic analyzer tool is anonymized and the researchers specify they’re not gathering any public-facing IP addresses or locations. But there are still some privacy risks — such as if you have smart home devices you’ve named using your real name. So, again, do read the FAQ carefully if you want to participate.

For each IoT device on a network the tool collects multiple data-points and sends them back to servers at Princeton University — including DNS requests and responses; destination IP addresses and ports; hashed MAC addresses; aggregated traffic statistics; TLS client handshakes; and device manufacturers.

The tool has been designed not to track computers, tablets and smartphones by default, given the study focus on smart home gizmos.

Users can also manually exclude individual smart devices from being tracked if they’re able to power them down during set up or by specifying their MAC address.

Up to 50 smart devices can be tracked on the network where IoT Inspector is running. Anyone with more than 50 devices is asked to contact the researchers to ask for an increase to that limit.

The project team has produced a video showing how to install the app on Mac:

 


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Cheap internet of things gadgets betray you even after you toss them in the trash

23:28 | 30 January

You may think that the worst you’ll risk by buying a bargain-bin smart bulb or security camera will be a bit of extra trouble setting it up or a lack of settings. But it’s not just while they’re plugged in that these slapdash gadgets are a security risk — even from the garbage can, they can still compromise your network.

Although these so-called internet of things gadgets are small and rather dumb, they’re still full-fledged networked computers for all intents and purposes. They may not need to do much, but they still need to take many of the same basic precautions to prevent them from, say, broadcasting your private information unencrypted to the world, or granting root access to anyone walking by.

In the case of these low-cost “smart” bulbs investigated by Limited Results (via Hack a Day), the issue isn’t what they do while connected but what they keep onboard their tiny brains, and how.

All the bulbs they tested proved to have no real security at all protecting the information kept on the chips inside. After exposing the PCBs, they attached a few leads and in a moment each device would spit out its boot data and be ready to take commands.

The data was without exception totally unencrypted, including the wireless password to the network to which the device had been connected. One device also exposed its private RSA key, used to create secure connections to whatever servers it connects to (for example to check for updates, upload user data to the cloud, and so on). This information would be available to anyone who grabbed this bulb out of the trash, or stole it from an outdoor fixture, or bought it secondhand.

“Seriously, 90 percent of IoT devices are developed without security in mind. It is just a disaster,” wrote Limited Results in an email. “In my research, I have targeted four different devices : LIFX, XIAOMI, TUYA and WIZ (not published yet, very unkind people). Same devices, same vulnerabilities, and even sometimes exactly same code inside.”

Now, these particular bits of information exposed on these devices aren’t that harmful in and of themselves, although if someone wanted to, they could take advantage of it in several ways. What’s important to note is the utter lack of care that went into these devices — not just their code, but their construction. They really are just basic enclosures around an off-the-shelf wireless board, with no consideration given to safety, security, or longevity. And this type of thing is not by any means limited to smart bulbs.

These devices all proudly assert that they support Alexa, Google Home, or other standards. This may give users a false sense that they are in some way accredited, inspected, or otherwise held to basic standards.

In fact, in addition to all of them having essentially no security at all, one had its (conductive) metal shell insulated from the PCB only by a loose piece of adhesive paper. This kind of thing is an electrical fire or at least a short waiting to happen.

As with any other class of electronics, there’s always a pretty good reason why one is a whole lot cheaper than another. But in the case of a cheap CD player, the worst you’re going to get is skipping or a scratched disc. That’s not the case with a cheap baby monitor, a cheap smart outlet, a cheap internet-connected door lock.

I’m not saying you need to buy the premium version of every smart gadget out there — consumers need to be aware of the risks they are exposing themselves to with the installation of any such device, let alone a poorly made one.

If you want to limit your own risk, a simple step you can take is to have your smart home devices and such isolated on a subnet or guest network. Making sure that the devices and of course your router are password protected, and take common sense measures like changing that password regularly.

 


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GE ‘s digital future looking murkier with move to spin off Industrial IoT biz

19:07 | 14 December

When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it was spinning out its Industrial IoT business and selling most of its stake in ServiceMax, the company it bought in 2016 for $915 million.

For one thing, Jeff Immelt, the CEO who was leading that modernization charge, stepped down 6 months after my visit and was replaced by John Flannery, who was himself replaced just a year into his tenure by C. Lawrence Culp, Jr. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge, nobody could stop the bleeding stock price, which has fallen this year from a high of $18.76 in January to $7.20 this morning before the markets opened (and had already lost another .15 a share as we went to publication).

It hasn’t been a great year for GE stock. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Immelt at least recognized that the company needed to shift to a data-centered Industrial Internet of Things future where sensors fed data that provided ways to understand the health of a machine or how to drive the most efficient use from it. This was centered around the company’s Predix platform where developers could build applications using that data. The company purchased ServiceMax in 2016 to extend that idea and feed service providers the data they needed to anticipate when service was needed even before the customer was aware of it.

As Immelt put it in a 2014 quote on Twitter:

“If you went to bed last night as an industrial company you’re going to wake up a software & analytics company.” –

— General Electric (@generalelectric)

That entire approach had substance. In fact, if you look at what Salesforce announced earlier this month around service and the Internet of Things, you will see a similar strategy. As Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo described in a blog post, “Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set.”

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The ServiceMax acquisition and the Predix Platform were central to this, and while the idea was sound Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that the execution was poor and the company needed to change. “The vision for GE Digital made sense as they crafted a digital industrial strategy, yet the execution inside GE was not the best. As GE spins out many of its units, this move is designed to free up the unit to deliver its services beyond GE and into the larger ecosystem,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Current CEO Culp sees the spinout as a way to breathe new life into the business “As an independently operated company, our digital business will be best positioned to advance our strategy to focus on our core verticals to deliver greater value for our customers and generate new value for shareholders,” Culp explained in a statement.

Maybe so, but it seems it should be at the center of what the company is doing, not a spin-off  –and with only a 10 percent stake left in ServiceMax, the service business component all but goes away. Bill Ruh, GE Digital CEO, the man who was charged with implementing the mission (and apparently failed) has decided to leave the company with this announcement. In fact, the new Industrial IoT company will operate as a wholly owned GE subsidiary with its own financials and board of directors, separate from the main company.

With this move though, GE is clearly moving the Industrial IoT out of the core business as it continues to struggle to find a combination that brings its stock price back to life. While the Industrial Internet of Things idea may have been poorly executed, selling and spinning off the pieces that need to be part of the digital future seem like a short-sighted way to achieve the company’s longer term goals.

 


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Smart home makers hoard your data, but won’t say if the police come for it

22:01 | 19 October

A decade ago, it was almost inconceivable that nearly every household item could be hooked up to the internet. These days, it’s near impossible to avoid a non-smart home gadget, and they’re vacuuming up a ton of new data that we’d never normally think about.

Thermostats know the temperature of your house, and smart cameras and sensors know when someone’s walking around your home. Smart assistants know what you’re asking for, and smart doorbells know who’s coming and going. And thanks to the cloud, that data is available to you from anywhere – you can check in on your pets from your phone or make sure your robot vacuum cleaned the house.

Because the data is stored or accessible by the smart home tech makers, law enforcement and government agencies have increasingly sought out data from the companies to solve crimes.

And device makers won’t say if your smart home gadgets have been used to spy on you.

For years, tech companies have published transparency reports — a semi-regular disclosure of the number of demands or requests a company gets from the government for user data. Google was first in 2010. Other tech companies followed in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations that the government had enlisted tech companies’ aid in spying on their users. Even telcos, implicated in wiretapping and turning over Americans’ phone records, began to publish their figures to try to rebuild their reputations.

As the smart home revolution began to thrive, police saw new opportunities to obtain data where they hadn’t before. Police sought Echo data from Amazon to help solve a murder. Fitbit data was used to charge a 90-year old man with the murder of his stepdaughter. And recently, Nest was compelled to turn over surveillance footage that led to gang members pleading guilty to identity theft.

Yet, Nest — a division of Google — is the only major smart home device maker that has published how many data demands they receive.

As first noted by Forbes last week, Nest’s little-known transparency report doesn’t reveal much — only that it’s turned over user data about 300 times since mid-2015 on over 500 Nest users. Nest also said it hasn’t to date received a secret order for user data on national security grounds, such as in cases of investigating terrorism or espionage. Nest’s transparency report is woefully vague compared to some of the more detailed reports by Apple, Google and Microsoft, which break out their data requests by lawful request, by region, and often by the kind of data that the government demands.

As Forbes said, “a smart home is a surveilled home.” But at what scale?

We asked some of the most well-known smart home makers on the market if they plan on releasing a transparency report, or disclose the number of demands they receive for their smart home tech.

For the most part, we received fairly dismal responses.

What the big four tech giants said:

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment when asked if it will break out the number of demands it receives for Echo data, but a spokesperson told me last year that while its reports include Echo data, it would not break out those figures.

Facebook said that its transparency report section will include “any requests related to Portal,” its new hardware screen with a camera and a microphone. Although the device is new, a spokesperson did not comment on if the company will break out the hardware figures separately.

Google pointed us to Nest’s transparency report but did not comment on its own efforts in the hardware space — notably its Google Home products.

And Apple said that there’s no need to break out its smart home figures — such as its HomePod — because there would be nothing to report. The company said user requests made to HomePod are given a random identifier that cannot be tied to a person.

What the smaller but notable smart home players said:

August, a smart lock maker, said it “does not currently have a transparency report and we have never received any National Security Letters or orders for user content or non-content information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),” but did not comment on the number of subpoenas, warrants and court orders it receives. “August does comply with all laws and when faced with a court order or warrant, we always analyze the request before responding,” a spokesperson said.

Roomba maker iRobot said it “has not received any demands from governments for customer data,” but wouldn’t say if it planned to issue a transparency report in the future.

Both Arlo, the former Netgear smart home division, and Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, said that they do not have transparency reports. Arlo didn’t comment on its future plans, and Signify said it has no plans to publish one. 

Ring, a smart doorbell and security device maker, did not answer our questions on why it doesn’t have a transparency report, but said it “will not release user information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us” and that Ring “objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.” When pressed, a spokesperson said it plans to release a transparency report in the future, but did not say when.

Neither spokespeople for Honeywell or Canary — both of which have smart home security products — did not comment by our deadline.

And, Samsung, a maker of smart sensors, trackers and internet-connected televisions and other appliances, did not respond to a request for comment.

Only Ecobee, a maker of smart switches and sensors, said it plans to publish its first transparency report “at the end of 2018.” A spokesperson confirmed that, “prior to 2018, Ecobee had not been requested nor required to disclose any data to government entities.”

All in all, that paints a fairly dire picture for anyone thinking that when the gadgets in your home aren’t working for you, they could be helping the government.

As helpful and useful smart home gadgets can be, few fully understand the breadth of data that the devices collect — even when we’re not using them. Your smart TV may not have a camera to spy on you, but it knows what you’ve watched and when — which police used to secure a conviction of a sex offender. Even data from when a murder suspect pushed the button on his home alarm key fob was enough to help convict someone of murder.

Two years ago, former U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper said that the government was looking at smart home devices as a new foothold for intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance. And it’s only going to become more common as the number of internet-connected devices spread. Gartner said more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

As much as the chances are that the government is spying on you through your internet-connected camera in your living room or your thermostat are slim — it’s naive to think that it can’t.

But the smart home makers wouldn’t want you to know that. At least, most of them.

 


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Meet Alchemist Accelerator’s latest demo day cohort

00:30 | 18 May

An IoT-enabled lab for cannabis farmers, a system for catching drones mid-flight, and the Internet of Cows are a few of the seventeen startups that are exhibiting today at Alchemist Accelerator’s 18th demo day. The event, which will be streamed live here, focuses on Big Data and AI startups with an enterprise bent.

The startups are showing their stuff at Juniper’s Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale, California at 3pm today but you can catch the whole event online if you want to see just what computers and cows have in common. Here are the startups pitching on stage.

Tarsier – Tarsier has built AI computer vision to detect drones. The founders discovered the need while getting their MBAs at Stanford, after one had completed a PhD in Aeronautics. Drones are proliferating. And getting into places they shouldn’t — prisons, R&D centers, public spaces. Securing these spaces today requires antiquated military gear that’s clunky and expensive. Tarsier is all software. And cheap, allowing them to serve markets the others can’t touch.

Lightbox – Retail 3D is sexy — think Virtual Try-Ons, VR immersion, ARKit Stores. But creating these experiences means creating 3D models of thousands of products. Today, artists slog through this process, outputting a few models per day. Lightbox wants to eliminate the humans. This duo of recent UPenn and Stanford Computer Science grads claim their approach to 3D scanning is pixel perfect without needing artists. They have booked $40K to date and want to digitize all of the world’s products.

Vorga – Cannabis is big business — over $7B in revenue today and growing fast. The crop’s quality — and a farmer’s income — is highly sensitive to a few chemicals in it. Farmers today test the chemical composition of their crops through outsourced labs. Vorga’s bringing the lab in-house to the cannabis farmer via their IoT platform. The CEO has a PhD in Chemical Physics, and formerly helped the Department of Defense keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. She’s now helping cannabis farmers get high…revenue.

Neulogic – Neulogic is founded by a duo of Computer Science PhDs that led key parts of Walmart.com product search. They now want to solve two major problems facing the online apparel industry: the need to provide curated inspiration to shoppers and the need to offset rising customer acquisition costs by selling more per order. Their solution combines AI with a fashion knowledge graph to generate outfits on demand.

Intensivate – Life used to be simple. Enterprises would use servers primarily for function-driven applications like billing. Today, servers are all about big data, analytics, and insight. Intensivate thinks servers need a new chip upgrade to reflect that change. They are building a new CPU they claim gets 12x the performance for the same cost. Hardware plays like this are hard to pull off, but this might be the team to do it. It includes the former Co-Founder and CEO of CPU Startup QED which was acquired for $2.3 Billion, and a PhD in Parallel Computation who was on the design team for the Alpha CPU from DEC.

Integry – SaaS companies put a lot of effort into building out integrations. Integry provides app creators their own integrations marketplace with pre-boarded partners so they can have apps working with theirs from the get go. The vision is to enable app creators to mimic their own Slack App directory without spending the years or the millions. Since these integrations sit inside their app, Integry claims setup rates are significantly better and churn is reduced by as much as 40%.

Cattle Care – AI Video Analytics applied to cows! Cattle Care wants to increase dairy farmers’ revenue by more than $1M per year and make cows healthier at the same time. The product identifies cows in the barn by their unique black and white patterns. Algorithms collect parameters such as walking distance, interactions with other cows, feeding patterns and other variables to detect diseases early. Then the system sends alerts to farm employees when they need to take action, and confirms the problem has been solved afterwards.

VadR – VR/AR is grappling with a lack of engaging content. Vadr thinks the cause is a broken feedback loop of analytics to the creators. This trio of IIT-Delhi engineers has built machine learning algorithms that get smarter over time and deliver actionable insights on how to modify content to increase engagement.

Tika – This duo of ex-Googlers want to help engineering managers manage their teams better. Managers use Tika as an AI-powered assistant over Slack to facilitate personalized conversations with engineering teams. The goal is to quickly uncover and resolve employee engagement issues, and prevent talent churn.

GridRaster –  Gridraster wants to bring AR/VR to mobile devices. The problem? AR/VR is compute-intensive. Latency, bandwidth, and poor load balancing kill AR/VR on mobile networks. The solution? For this trio of systems engineers from Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Texas Instrument, it’s about starting with enterprise use cases and building edge clouds to offload the work. They have 12 patents.

AitoeLabs – Despite the buzz around AI Video Analytics for security, AitoeLabs claims solutions today are plagued with 100s of thousands of false alarms, requiring lots of human involvement. The engineering trio founding team combines a secret sauce of contextual data with their own deep models to solve this problem. They claim a 6x reduction in human monitoring needs with their tech. They’re at $240K ARR with $1M of LOIs.

Ubiquios – Companies building wireless IoT devices waste over $1.8B because of inadequate embedded software options making products late to market and exposing them to security and interoperability issues. The Ubiquios wireless stack wants to simplify the development of wireless IoT devices. The company claims their stack results in up to 90% lower cost and up to 50% faster time to market. Qualcomm is a partner.

4me, Inc. – 4me helps companies organize and track their IT outsourcing projects. They have 16 employees, 92 customers and generate several million in revenue annually. Storm Ventures led a $1.65m investment into the company.

TorchFi – You know the pop up screen you see when you log into a WiFi hotspot? TorchFi thinks it’s a digital gold mine in the waiting. Their goal is to convert that into a sales channel for hotspot owners. Their first product is a digital menu that transforms the login screen into a food ordering screen for hotels and restaurants. Cisco has selected them as one of 20 apps to be distributed on their Meraki hotspots.

Cogitai – This team of 16 PhD’s wants to usher in a more powerful type of AI called continual learning. The founders are the fathers of the field — and include professors in Computer Science from UT Austin and U Michigan. Unlike what we commonly think of as AI, Cogitai’s AI is built to acquire new skills and knowledge from experience, much like a child does. They have closed $2 million in bookings this year, and have $5 million in funding.

LoadTap – On-Demand Trucking Apps are in vogue. LoadTap explicitly calls out that it is not one. This team which includes an Apple software architect and founder with a family background in trucking is an enterprise SaaS only solution for shippers who prefer to work with their pre-vetted trucking companies in a closed loop. LoadTap automates matching between the shippers and trucking companies using AI and predictive analytics. They’re at $90K ARR and growing revenue 50% month over month.

Ondaka – Ondaka has built a VR-like 3D platform to render industrial information visually, starting with the oil and gas industry. For these industrial customers, the platform provides a better way to understand real-time IoT data, operational and job site safety issues, and how reliable their systems are. The product launched two months ago, they have closed 3 customers already, and are projecting ARR in the six figures. They have raised $350K in funding.

 


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We love augmented reality, but let’s fix things that could become big problems

02:30 | 7 May

Cyan Banister Contributor
Cyan Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, where she invests across sectors and stages with a particular interest in augmented reality, fertility, heavily regulated industries and businesses that help people with basic skills find meaningful work.
Alex Hertel Contributor
Alex Hertel is the co-founder of Xperiel.

Augmented Reality (AR) is still in its infancy and has a very promising youth and adulthood ahead. It has already become one of the most exciting, dynamic, and pervasive technologies ever developed. Every day someone is creating a novel way to reshape the real world with a new digital innovation.

Over the past couple of decades, the Internet and smartphone revolutions have transformed our lives, and AR has the potential to be that big. We’re already seeing AR act as a catalyst for major change, driving advances in everything from industrial machines to consumer electronics. It’s also pushing new frontiers in education, entertainment, and health care.

But as with any new technology, there are inherent risks we should acknowledge, anticipate, and deal with as soon as possible. If we do so, these technologies are likely to continue to thrive. Some industry watchers are forecasting a combined AR/VR market value of $108 billion by 2021, as businesses of all sizes take advantage of AR to change the way their customers interact with the world around them in ways previously only possible in science fiction.

As wonderful as AR is and will continue to be, there are some serious privacy and security pitfalls, including dangers to physical safety, that as an industry we need to collectively avoid. There are also ongoing threats from cyber criminals and nation states bent on political chaos and worse — to say nothing of teenagers who can be easily distracted and fail to exercise judgement — all creating virtual landmines that could slow or even derail the success of AR. We love AR, and that’s why we’re calling out these issues now to raise awareness.

Ready Player One

Without widespread familiarity with the potential pitfalls, as well as robust self-regulation, AR will not only suffer from systemic security issues, it may be subject to stringent government oversight, slowing innovation, or even threaten existing First Amendment rights. In a climate where technology has come under attack from many fronts for unintended consequences and vulnerabilities–including Russian interference with the 2016 election as well as ever-growing incidents of hacking and malware–we should work together to make sure this doesn’t happen.

If anything causes government overreach in this area, it’ll likely be safety and privacy issues. An example of these concerns is shown in this dystopian 

, in which a fictional engineer is able to manipulate both his own reality and that of others via retinal AR implants. Because AR by design blurs the divide between the digital and real worlds, threats to physical safety, job security, and digital identity can emerge in ways that were simply inconceivable in a world populated solely by traditional computers.

While far from exhaustive, the lists below present some of the pitfalls, as well as possible remedies for AR. Think of these as a starting point, beginning with pitfalls:

  • AR can cause big identity and property problems: Catching Pokemons on a sidewalk or receiving a Valentine on a coffee cup at Starbucks is really just scratching the surface of AR capabilities. On a fundamental level, we could lose the power to control how people see us. Imagine a virtual, 21st century equivalent of a sticky note with the words “kick me” stuck to some poor victim’s back. What if that note was digital, and the person couldn’t remove it? Even more seriously, AR could be used to create a digital doppelganger of someone doing something compromising or illegal. AR might also be used to add indelible graffiti to a house, business, sign, product, or art exhibit, raising some serious property concerns.
  • AR can threaten our privacy: Remember Google Glass and “Glassholes?” If a woman was physically confronted in a San Francisco dive bar just for wearing Google Glass (reportedly, her ability to capture the happenings at the bar on video was not appreciated by other patrons), imagine what might happen with true AR and privacy. We may soon see the emergence virtual dressing rooms, which would allow customers to try on clothing before purchasing online. A similar technology could be used to overlay virtual nudity onto someone without their permission. With AR wearables, for example, someone could surreptitiously take pictures of another person and publish them in real time, along with geotagged metadata. There are clear points at which the problem moves from the domain of creepiness to harassment and potentially to a safety concern.
  • AR can cause physical harm: Although hacking bank accounts and IoT devices can wreak havoc, these events don’t often lead to physical harm. With AR, however, this changes drastically when it is superimposed on the real world. AR can increase distractions and make travel more hazardous. As it becomes more common, over-reliance on AR navigation will leave consumers vulnerable to buggy or hacked GPS overlays that can manipulate drivers or pilotsmaking our outside world less safe. For example, if a bus driver’s AR headset or heads-up display starts showing illusory deer on the road, that’s a clear physical danger to pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers.
  • AR could launch disturbing career arms races: As AR advances, it can improve everything from individual productivity to worker data access, significantly impacting job performance. Eventually, workers with training and experience with AR technology might be preferred over those who don’t. That could lead to an even wider gap between so-called digital elites and those without such digital familiarity. More disturbingly, we might see something of an arms race in which a worker with eye implants as depicted in the film mentioned above might perform with higher productivity, thereby creating a competitive advantage over those who haven’t had the surgery. The person in the next cubicle could then feel pressure to do the same just to remain competitive in the job market.

How can we address and resolve these challenges? Here are some initial suggestions and guidelines to help get the conversation started:

  • Industry standards: Establish a sort of AR governing body that would evaluate, debate and then publish standards for developers to follow. Along with this, develop a centralized digital service akin to air traffic control for AR that classifies public, private and commercial spaces as well as establishes public areas as either safe or dangerous for AR use.
  • A comprehensive feedback system: Communities should feel empowered to voice their concerns. When it comes to AR, a strong and responsive way for reporting unsecure vendors that don’t comply with AR safety, privacy, and security standards will go a long way in driving consumer trust in next-gen AR products.
  • Responsible AR development and investment: Entrepreneurs and investors need to care about these issues when developing and backing AR products. They should follow a basic moral compass and not simply chase dollars and market share.
  • Guardrails for real-time AR screenshots: Rather than disallowing real-time AR screenshots entirely, instead control them through mechanisms such as geofencing. For example, an establishment such as a nightclub would need to set and publish its own rules which are then enforced by hardware or software.

While ambitious companies focus on innovation, they must also be vigilant about the potential hazards of those breakthroughs. In the case of AR, working to proactively wrestle with the challenges around identity, privacy and security will help mitigate the biggest hurdles to the success of this exciting new technology.

Recognizing risks to consumer safety and privacy is only the first step to resolving long-term vulnerabilities that rapidly emerging new technologies like AR create. Since AR blurs the line between the real world and the digital one, it’s imperative that we consider the repercussions of this technology alongside its compelling possibilities. As innovators, we have a duty to usher in new technologies responsibly and thoughtfully so that they’re improving society in ways that can’t also be abused -we need to anticipate problems and police ourselves. If we don’t safeguard our breakthroughs and the consumers who use them, someone else will.

 


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MateLabs mixes machine learning with IFTTT

22:59 | 12 July

If you’ve ever wanted to train a machine learning model and integrate it with IFTTT, you now can with a new offering from MateLabs. MateVerse, a platform where novices can spin out machine learning models, now works with IFTTT so that you can automatically set up models to run based on conditional statements.

If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, it’s an automation tool for creating your own if/then statements without any programming knowledge. The service makes it possible to say, receive a notification if the temperature outside rises above 50 degrees or post pictures directly to Twitter.

MateLabs’ integration works much the same way, but with machine learning. As of now, the company is offering computer vision and natural language processing tools that can respond to Twitter, Slack, Google Drive, Facebook and more. Hypothetically, you could set up a process to analyze a Twitter mention to determine why the mention occurred.

Of course you can build your own models — if you would like you can upload your own data on the MateVerse platform and train your own models for specific use cases. All of this is useful for those who might be unfamiliar with complex machine learning frameworks, but that doesn’t mean more advanced developers couldn’t also benefit from the streamlined experience.

As this technology matures it will be cool to see what hackers are able to do with it. I can imagine that one could build some weird IFTTT integrations with hardware — i.e. a camera that can turn on specific lights depending on whether you or your cat walks into a room.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

 


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Dojo smart home security gizmo goes on sale in the US

13:47 | 1 June

Security firm BullGuard has launched a consumer-focused Internet of Things product in the U.S., following its acquisition of Israeli startup Dojo-Labs last year.

The startup had been stealthily working on the network monitoring device designed for smart homes all the way back in 2014, before showing off the physical pebble-shaped device for displaying visual alerts in 2015 — and starting to take pre-orders.

As well as the pebble’s traffic-light style visual alerts, an in-app messaging interface aims to make it easier for consumers to manage smart home security needs across a range of different connected devices.

While the team’s original aim was to start shipping in March 2016 that date came and went with no Dojo. Then in August last year Dojo-Labs was acquired by UK security firm BullGuard. Getting the device to market would be its “immediate focus”, the larger security firm said at the time.

Nine months later the Dojo is finally shipping — albeit, only in the U.S., where the smart home has built up more momentum vs many other markets.

It’s being priced at $199, which includes the first 12-months of service. Thereafter the ongoing service charge is $99 per year or $9.99 per month.

All traffic on a home network has to be routed via the Dojo for it to be able to see what’s going on across all your various connected devices and thus perform its anomaly detection function. So, while the hero shots of the device may look pretty, you’ll need to plug the white box into your wi-fi router with an Ethernet cable. You’ll also need to be comfortable proving a third party company with data stream visibility of your home network.

Once plugged in to the wi-fi, the Dojo generates a view of all the devices connected to the network and continuously monitors activity. It uses machine learning and pattern matching to determine what’s normal and what’s a potential problem — flagging alerts to the user when it spots something suspicious, by displaying red or amber lights on the pebble and/or via in-app alerts.

While the product certainly looks to have been thoughtfully designed, it remains to be seen how well it functions against IoT hacking risks.

And how much demand there will be for what is effectively a new category of security product. The key question here is whether consumers can be sold on the idea that they are the ones who should have to pay a subscription service to secure their smart home — vs robust security being a baked into their IoT devices from the get-go.

 


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