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Who’s kissing who? Self driving cars edition

(TECH NEWS) With so many players, partnerships and rivalries in the self driving car game, we thought we’d try to put everything in one place for you.

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We begin with a story.

In the grim darkness of the 2000s, when I was but a little Matt, cocooned in higher learning, intent on writing the Man and sticking it to the Great American Novel and/or vice versa, a friend showed me a remarkable object.

This friend, and her friends, and their friends, had joined in fearsome female conspiracy to produce a list of who, in the… “complicated” is underselling it. Who, in the lunatic “Game of Thrones with twice the beer, half the IQ and no sharp objects” social congress of a co-ed dorm full of liberal arts majors, had been canoodling with whom.

My entry appeared 18th. High midfield – there were about 80. I never got up the nerve to ask how we were ranked.

You wouldn’t believe how useful that list has been to my life. Not the list itself, beyond a healthy infusion of self-doubt (18th?). But the concept, friends. Who’s smooching whom? It’s the universal question. Money and math are just ways to track it. Map the relationships, you’ve mapped the thing.

Let us therefore speak of self-driving cars. Because they’re coming, we all know it, and like any reasonable person you would like to acquire a giant Scrooge McDuck money pool to swim in thereby.

First, for our purposes, assume every car manufacturer has an in-house outfit at least looking at autonomous cars, because duh. For our purposes, they’re celibate. Nothing wrong with that.

Second, for the sake of their self-image (18th? Really? I mean, it was 80-some, but… really?) I’ll keep my smoochers alphabetical.

Now. Who, amongst the people actually building autonomous cars, is smooching whom?

Daimler, or Mercedes to be all American about it, is smooching..

…Smart. Yep, just Smart, which is a Daimler brand. Daimler is quite monogamous in its autonomous automotive endeavors. Aww. And seriously, the self-driving Smart Car is freaking adorable.

…Lyft, which is branching out of the X-as-a-service business to actually build stuff. At least, it says it is. Fair dues, it says it emphatically, like “by 2021 a majority of our rides will be in self-driving cars, and by 2025 personal car ownership won’t be a thing.” To that end, they’re smooching…

…Ford, because, you know, Ford makes cars and Lyft doesn’t.

…themselves. We’ve all been there.

But there’s more to Lyft. I ain’t saying Lyft is a gold digger, but it is not frequently seen in the company of partners with less than substantial means. They’re looking to be network of choice for other people’s self driving cars. That is, Lyft seeks to be smooched. Big-name volunteers currently include GM and Jaguar.

Uber. I’m almost hesitant to write about Uber, because, my Deity of Choice, Uber is a hot mess right now. Like, really. But they do theoretically have a business model other than litigation, and they have made a commitment to actually making, not just contracting, self-driving cars. To that end, they’ve been doing some hopefully less-skeezy-than-usual smooching with…

…Otto. Otto was Uber’s Waymo, their in-house startup. Unfortunately, they’re currently in court arguing that it’s not Uber’s Waymo in the sense that a Waymo executive stole a bunch of stuff from Waymo, then hooked up with Uber. Oh my, the drama. Poor Otto, like so many third wheels, appears to have been dropped, but there was smoochin’ going on. Litigious smooching! That is the worst kind of smooching.

…Volvo. Volvo was going to be to Uber what Fiat Chrysler was to Waymo. You may be sensing a pattern. Also, the Uber Volvo self-drivers are back in testing after smacking into somebody in Arizona. See aforementioned “mess, hot.”

Volvo. What’s to say about Volvo? My first car was a Volvo wagon (of course it was, I am, as noted elsewhere in my oeuvre, a painfully stereotypical fluffy hippie) and I can think of nothing exciting to say about Volvo. That (un)said, Volvo has a rep for surprisingly forward thinking techwise, given its cars are best known for safety, reliability and other unsexy things. That’s borne out in its smooching, which includes…

…Autoliv, which, world’s largest auto safety supplier. Sounds like Volvo.

…Nvidia, which, what? Nvidia’s definitely the “s/he’s hooking up with who?” entry on this list. For non-nerds in the audience, Nvidia’s main consumer-focused business is graphics processing for PCs. Gamer stuff. They make sure you can see the individual folds of brain tissue off the zombie you just domed. As an Nvidia customer myself, I’d never lower myself to a stereotype-laden joke like “Nvidia’s doing cars? Nvidia customers don’t go outside!” but, well. On the other hand, chipsets. They are very good at them.

Waymo, the Alphabet-owned (read “Google, but for things we don’t want to call Google”) startup that’s all autonomous cars, all the time, is smooching…

…well, mostly Google. They would be. But – can we be real a second? Google’s a slut. We all know it. Get a little entrepreneurial Natty Light in ‘em and they’ll go home with anything. So in practice, Waymo is smooching…

Fiat Chrysler Automotive to get the cars on the road. That’s already happened with their Early Rider Program, which has put 500 robo-Chryslers on the streets of Phoenix, something I still find vaguely intimidating. If the satnav says “Exterminate!” I’m moving to Mars.

Intel for hardware. Waymo still does its development entirely in-house, but Intel, being noted for building nice chips, is building the chips.

The great thing about “who’s smooching whom” is that, when you map that one aspect, you get a sense of the whole. That list from the first paragraph? An alien could be given that and no other information about h. sapiens collegiensis and determine “these organisms have little impulse control, no understanding of consequences, and should probably consume less of a mysterious resource called ‘beer.’”

The Spock analysis of automotive smooching yields similar results. For all the crazed Lannister decadence above, the relationships people are building in order to make self-driving cars a reality come down to three things: a business plan for their use, top-tier tech, and a whole bunch of actual cars.

As yet, nobody has all three, hence the smooching. Lyft has a business plan, but no cars, so smooches for Ford, GM and Jag. Volvo has cars, but no tech or business plan, so Nvidia and Autoliv get their smooches.

The question is, who will get all three in one place in a way customers care about?

That’s where you come in. Read the above, read this (that goes into far greater detail). It has maps!

After that, your call. It’s your money. Like any good smooch, you don’t know how it’s gonna go until it’s gone.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

Favor founders’ foray into real estate tech yields serious questions

(TECH NEWS) As Favor’s founders launch Sunroom, we have unanswered questions that will reveal the company’s intentions once answered.

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sunroom real estate rentals on demand

Popular delivery startup, Favor, was acquired by Texas grocer HEB in February for an undisclosed sum, freeing up the founders Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais up for their next venture. Enter Sunroom which makes property rental tours on-demand.

Sunroom seeks to improve the property rentals process – renters can search available properties, select the addresses they’d like to tour, and then order a “tour guide,” which is a licensed Sunroom agent that is paid an average of $20 per hour, kind of like Uber for property rentals.

The company currently serves Austin but has expressed publicly that they intend to expand.

Property managers pay Sunroom if a qualified tenant is placed, and renters never pay for the app (just like apartment locators, a common practice in Texas). At launch, the company differentiated itself as a tech contender with a $1.5M round of seed funding from heavy hitters like Tim Draper of Draper Associates, and Joshua Baer of Capital Factory.

Maurais told AustinInno, “We knew we wanted to do something inside of the rental market because it’s so massive and affects a lot of people. I’ve had bad landlords in the past and have been renting for the past decade. So I understand first hand.”

He also said that renters can keep application info saved in the app for their next rental experience, “almost like you’re building out your renter’s resume.” Perhaps the long game is building an alternative credit rating for renters? Now that would actually be interesting.

Technologists are inquisitive by nature – put a bunch in a room for a weekend hackathon and with technology, they’ve solved a problem that they hadn’t even thought about prior to the weekend. Thus, the industry is prone to inherently believe they have the answers to everything, and they’re accustomed to make decisions quickly and move nimbly which is something I personally admire.

But if you go to any tech meetup (we’ve hosted one monthly for 10+ years), and mention real estate, their beautiful brains flip into action mode, and there is an instinct that they can fix real estate. As a whole. What sucks about real estate? Not sure, but they know it sucks, and they can fix it.

That combination doesn’t mean they’re stupid or evil, just that they’re fixers. But it also means that endless attempts at “disruption” come from technologists rather than industry insiders with technology experience. And most efforts inevitably fail. Or they pivot into a modified version of the traditional model they sought to innovate in the first place (like Redfin).

Speaking of Redfin, that’s what first comes to mind when we see Sunroom (regarding how they potentially pay agents). But what also comes to mind is the model the founders created with Favor (compete with a national brand locally where they have a soft spot, seek acquisition by a large company to suit their tech needs).

So the future of Sunroom relies heavily on the answers to the following questions that we have sent to them multiple times, without answer:

  1. The 8 agents you have licensed under your broker, are they the only agents on demand?
  2. Who gets the commission on the rental, and what is the split for the $20/hr agent that showed the property?
  3. Do consumers sign any locator representation agreement with you?
  4. Are the agents on salary, hourly, or commission with a bonus of hourly pay for touring properties?
  5. Ben and Zac are now licensed agents – do either of you intend on being the broker when eligible? How’d you find the current broker? What’s the plan there?
  6. Do you guys intend on expanding beyond Austin? Which cities are next, and what does the growth plan look like?
  7. Has Redfin’s model been of inspiration for your model?
  8. What am I missing in why you’re so disruptive?

Further, what does the fiduciary relationship look like? Does Sunroom represent the renter or the property manager, or are they attempting dual agency? Are the agents employees or do they remain independent contractors? See how things can get hairy?

We’ve seen a bajillion startups come and go where outsiders try to get a cut of a commission via a slick app that implies representation, and even more than that seeking to manage the contract portion of rentals, and even MORE that offer showings on demand, but where I see disruption is in the pay model for agents (and the potential to cut agents out of the rental market), but until Sunroom answers basic questions, we simply won’t know.

Stay tuned – they’re either the first exciting disruption to hit the real estate market in so many years, or they’re another group of technologists that see a profit opportunity.

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Tech News

A visual guide to the Dark Web to get you up to date

The Dark Web isn’t new, but most people don’t know of its existence or what happens in this anonymous corner of the world.

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disrupter smartphone dependency addiction dark posts

There’s the internet that you and I use. The “Surface Web,” which is comprised of the usual sites such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and everything else a search typically shows. But this only makes up about 10 percent of the whole internet. Think about that. Only 10 percent.

Then, there is the other 90 percent of the Internet that we don’t use. The hidden side of the internet, known as the Dark Web.

While it is technically a public space, it can only be accessed via a specific browser called Tor. Despite attempts to index the Dark Web, much is still unknown about its contents. What we do know is that it is the infinitely secret side of the internet.

The Dark Web is full of hidden services including buying/selling drugs, black market sites, whistleblowing, pornography, blogs, abuse and other things that aren’t meant to be public. Hackers often hide under the anonymity provided by the Dark Web.

Likewise, fraud runs rampant, with numerous sites and forums dedicated to scamming and counterfeiting.

Entrepreneurs need to understand the dark web because of its implications for businesses. Many of the services offered via the dark net may pose a threat to your company. It is very easy for your information to be stolen, duplicated and quickly sold, all done in total anonymity and little risk of consequence.

On the Dark Web, a Social Security number costs just $1.00 and medical records go for around $50. Just think about if your credit card or bank details were to be put up for sale.

For the most part, you won’t ever encounter the Dark Web directly. Occasionally, Dark Web links make it onto popular sites such as Youtube, Twitter, Reddit and online forums. However, it isn’t recommended that you start browsing around the Dark Web on your own. Government agencies have long known about the Dark Web and have taken steps to reduce its criminal activity. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working to index the Deep Web.

It’s not all shady activity.

The Dark Web isn’t totally full of criminal activity. The Dark Web was initially developed so that protestors being muzzled by their government abroad could communicate to fight for their freedom. Others, such as whistleblowers, activists, or cryptocurrency users take also advantage of the anonymity. Regardless, you should be aware that the internet, be it Dark or otherwise, is unfathomable and mysterious.

Beyond the confines of most people’s online lives, there is a vast other internet out there.

The-Dark-Web

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Tech News

The number of digital assistants is rising quickly #robotapocalypse

(TECH NEWS) Anyone remember iRobot? A recent survey shows that the robot apocalypse could happen sooner than later via digital assistants.

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google home smart-home digital assistants

Outnumbered

Seven and a half billion. That’s a number that’s been on a lot of people’s minds lately. It raises some formidable questions, to be sure. Can our infrastructure conceivably support such a vast population? What shifts in markets and demographics, philosophies and principles can we expect from that kind of rise in scale? Where in heaven’s name are we going to get all that white plastic and swipable glass?

bar
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about human population? That’s adorable.

Robots! Everywhere!

As a robot apocalypse aficionado, I note with horrified glee that Ovum, highly regarded research and consulting firm, predicts that by 2021, four whole years from now, the world will contain 7.5 billion digital assistants.

That is to say, more robots than people.

Awesome. I’m super psyched about that. As I recall from my steady diet of dystopian science fiction, having more robots than folks and ceding control of our lives to them always ends super well.

But seriously

What Ovum is really tracking is a sea change in the nature of applied tech. The big paradigm shift, go figure, was the smartphone. That was where the active process of integrating a seamless digital interface into the tasks of daily life got going, where the assumption became that consumers would handle a given task digitally rather than not.

Go figure, the 3.5 billion digital assistants that already existed as of 2016 mostly lived in phones.

That number is doubling itself because we want that functionality in the rest of our lives. I jest about the robot apocalypse, but the rise of the smartphone led to nothing more apocalyptic than mild irritation of dudes with boundary issues. That’s because the point of smartphones, the point of digitization in general, is to provide consumers with more control over their lives, not less. It’s the opposite of conquest. It’s the claiming of power.

Likewise the rise of the digital assistant

It’s all about exporting smartphone-level interactivity to more stuff. Ovum predicts the rise will come primarily in the form of assistant enabled cars and in-house tech like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The big winner will be Google Assistant, because Google is primarily a service provider.

So at the risk of coming in on the side of our steel overlords, I’m calling this one a good thing.

This isn’t another step toward a Matrix pod. It’s how you get deeper, clearer and more directly interactive with less-than-revolutionary tech like your house and car.

#BringOnTheBots

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