BrainQ aims to cure stroke and spinal cord injuries through mind-reader tech

Israel-based BrainQ is a new neurotech startup hoping to take over brain-computer interface( BCI) companies like Braintree founder Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

It’s not clear yet what Musk’s startup intends to do with the computer chips it plans to put in our heads, but Johnson’s startup tells it is focused on developing “technologies to understand and treat neurological diseases in new and exciting ways.”

Whatever sector each company runs for, both plan to insert chips in our brains to connect us to computers — the consequences of which could have dramatic impacts on human memory, intelligence, communication and many other areas that could rocket humanity forward, should they work out.

But it’s early days in this industry, including for BrainQ, which plans to use a non-surgically embedded EEG machine instead to gather data and help improve outcomes for stroke and spinal cord patients.

Aside from the brain implant options, BrainQ faces quite a bit of competitor in this area. EEG machines are nothing new , not even in the spinal cord trauma space. Missouri-based NeuroLutions is working on similar EEG type technology to improve and restore function to paralytics. NeuroPace, a Kleiner-funded startup, is focused on seizures rather than stroke and spinal cord traumata, but is based on the same idea.

BrainQ admits it is also a couple years out from being fully operational here. It still needs to get through clinical human trials and gain Food and Drug Administration approval to sell its services in the U.S.

So far, the company is in the process of conducting two human clinical trials for stroke patients in Israel and a spokesperson for the company, Assaf Lifshitz, tells BrainQ will likely try to go to other marketplaces first while waiting on the FDA. BrainQ tells TechCrunch it hopes to be available in the U.S. market by 2020.

Alzheimer’s research is another area TechCrunch was told the company wants to get into soon, and perhaps children’s syndromes, as well.

There are a lot of different areas the company could go into with this type of tech but it’s probably safest to bet on a few narrow areas in the beginning, as there is already so much competitor in the space in just the U.S. For instance, NeuruLutions’ Ipsihand device is already connecting stroke patients’ brains to a moveable bracing they can control with thought and help them move certain body parts again.

And, while Lifshitz believes BrainQ is at least ahead of the market as far as Kernel and Neuralink run, that’s too easy of a comparison to stimulate. EEG is a low-risk entry toward a BCI device win FDA approval. All the company needs to show, as many of these companies are either on their style to proving or have proved already, is that the device runs. That is far from the same thing as a chip surgically inserted into your head.

BrainQ will continue to forge ahead, of course. Google’s Launchpad Studio chose to work with the startup this last fall, based on what it thought was some interesting machine learning tech. The company also has raised about $3.5 million to date from various Israeli investors and angels, and presented previous clinical findings to the World Congress of Neuro Rehabilitation.

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Bose is carving out $50 million for startups using its new audio-focused AR tech

The high-end audio technology company Bose is getting into the augmented reality game with a new product and a $50 million money devoted to startups that will develop services for its new platform.

While most of the industry is focused on a visually augmented experience, Bose is most concerned with the intersection of sound and vision.

The Bose AR prototype, which was unveiled at South by Southwest in Austin this year, will use visual info captured by the glasses and add contextually relevant audio information to its wearer.

Bose’s AR kit is a “wafer-thin” acoustics package that the company hopes can be added to headphones, eyewear, helmets and other wearables to give a new spin on reality “augmentation.” The company said the new technology can be controlled with voice commands, head gestures and simple touch gestures.

The new product is a clever spin on augmented reality and a product that plays into Bose’s strength. “It places audio in your surroundings , not digital images, so you can focus on the amazing world around you — rather than a tiny showing, ” said John Gordon, vice president of the Consumer Electronics Division at Bose, in a statement posted. “It knows which way you’re facing, and can instantly connect that place and hour with endless the chances of traveling, learn, music and more. And it can be added to products and apps we already use and love, removing some of the big obstacles that have maintained AR on the sidelines.”

The first prototype glasses are Bluetooth compatible for bellows or to integrate with Siri or Google Assistant. A new technology developed for the glass ensures that the audio is audible merely to the listener wearing the glasses, and the acoustic packages fit inside the arms of the glasses.

Sensors in the glasses track the orientation of a listener and integrate with an iOS or Android device to track place and motion, which is sent to the AR-enabled application in the wearables.

The company is already working with ASICS Studio, Strava, TripAdvisor, TuneIn and Yelp on cooperations that will provide content for the wearables, while MIT’s Media Lab and the NYU Future Reality Lab are also playing around with prototypes.

But Bose wants entrepreneurs and programmers to develop their own applications. They’ve made a $50 million fund to finance companies that would like to work with the new audio technology and is providing an SDK and updated glasses afterwards this summer.

Bose has invested in a number of companies already — unrelated to its new augmented reality platform — that are all based on novel wearable technologies.

The platform includes investments like Embr Labs, a wearable for governing body temperature; Qleek, a company that embeds augmented reality experiences onto custom designed wooden blocks; and Vesper, a MEMS-powered microphones.

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Nuros self-driving vehicle is a grocery-getter and errand-runner

Not every self-driving auto has to be able to move passengers from point A to point B. Take, for example, Nuro: The startup just disclosed their unique autonomous vehicle platform, which is more of a mobile small logistics platform than a self-driving car.

The company, which has been working away in stealth mode in Mountain View until now, has raised a $92 million Series A round led by Banyan Capital and Greylock Partners to help make its unique vision of autonomous transport take shape.

Nuro’s vehicle is a small, narrow box on wheels, which is about half the width of a regular vehicle, and which is designed to be a lightweight style to get goods from a local enterprises to a customer, or from one person to another within a neighborhood or city. The platform is just one example of what Nuro wants to do, however; the startup bills itself as a product company focused on bringing “the benefits of robotics” to everyday use and ordinary people.

Nuro’s AV also operates altogether autonomously, and looks like something you’d ensure on a Moon base in a retro-futuristic sci-fi demonstrate. There’s a pin pad for user interaction, so that only the right customer can access the contents stored under, and a top-mounted sensor array that includes LiDAR, optical cameras and radar( other sensors are located around the vehicle to enable its autonomous driving ).

The young startup’s objective is to partner with businesses to set up transportation services. You can easily imagine this slotting in nicely to something like Uber Eats, and bringing food from the local lunch place to offices around where people are hungry but can’t build the trip out to their usual places in person. Or, they are able supporting Amazon’s last mile be required for in-city delivery, for example. Nuro isn’t yet talking about specific partnerships, however.

This fit-for-purpose vehicle and dedicated focus could help Nuro achieves some of the vision that Ford has for its AV program, for example, with potentially fewer barriers to deployment in limited markets and specifically bounded surroundings. It’s still early days for the startup, however, and it’s also competing in some way with more established young companies like Starship Robotics. Still, it’s a neat first product and an interesting vision.

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Robomart is the latest startup to try and unseat the local convenience store

The startup assault on the humble neighborhood store continues to intensify.

First came Bodega, the awfully named, and mostly misguidedstartup with its mission to bring the non-perishable necessities available at the corner store to the masses and “disrupt” the corner store.

Now there’s Robomart, which wants to bring the groceries, cooked goods and prepared foods of the supermarket aisle to your doorstep with a white-labeled service for wholesalers and big box retailers.

The culmination of a ten-year vision from founder Ali Ahmed, Robomart is an autonomous grocery store department on wheels.

Robomart is the serial entrepreneur’s latest startup. Ahmed, who first conceived of the rolling grocery store theory while an employe at Unilever ten years ago, went on to saw LuteBox , which was around the social sharing of media content.

From LuteBox, the London-based entrepreneur moved on to the now-defunct Dispatch, a competitor to the U.S.-based on-demand concierge services like Magic, which pitched a bespoke service where users could — for a fee — get almost anything their hearts desired( but you couldn’t get a tiger ).

At its height, Dispatch had 1500 deliverers and the company received the most orders from folks who wanted grocery deliveries( this was in the early days of on-demand before Instacart, etc. had brought grocery delivery to the masses ).

After investors bought Ahmed out of Dispatch, the entrepreneur endeavoured to Santa Clara, Calif. to start Robomart.

“I believe we’re creating a new category, ” Ahmed says. “We think we’re vying with the sidewalk robots.” In fact, Ahmed seems to be competing with the corner store — which offers the same fractional amount of goods with the debate of proximity and convenience.

Just as sidewalk robots are being met with friction in California, Robomart also expects to face some tough hurdles.Traffic and parking are probably the biggest among them.

And while Ahmed was contended that his autonomous delivery vehicles could be purchased by a collective of local stores to compete with big box retailers( or wholesalers who are looking to go direct) — those companies are the more likely customers.

Customers would license the platform, vehicle and all, on a 24 month rental. “It’s significantly cheaper than setting up a new store, ” Ahmed said. “And customers can shop for goods without pre-ordering.”

Interiors come equipped with either a refrigeration or heating system, and Ahmed says he’s talked to wholesalers about equipping separate trucks to mimic different sections of a grocery aisle — from dairy, to poultry, to meat, to vegetables.

A final benefit for retailers, Ahmed said, is that grocers and other retailers who license the technology will retain all of the customer information rather than giving it away to Uber, Postmates, Instacart or others.

The company, part of Nvidia’s inception program and a alumnu of the Archetype incubator and consulting program, is in the process of building out prototypes through the partnership agreement with Corbin, the once heralded — then humiliated — developer of a prototype electric vehicle in 1996, and Hevo Power. a wireless charging startup for electric vehicles which has yet to deliver a product to marketplace( although Hevo Power has reportedly installed prototypes at Google’s super secret self-driving automobile headquarters in the California desert ).

Those are not the partners that instill the most confidence in an operation’s success, but Ahmed insists that he’s in discussions with food wholesalers and big box retailers on the development of vehicles for the road.

When they’re rolled out, Ahmed claims that they’ll be fully autonomous. The company aims to license the technology to grocery store — providing them with the Robomart vehicle, a wireless charging device( courtesy of Hevo Power) and an autonomous fleet management and on-demand ordering system designed by Robomart’s team of three technologists( all of whom have been with Ahmed since LuteBox ).

Ex-Uber data chief Kevin Novak joins LA-based startup Tala in big win for LA ecosystem

In a huge win for the early-stage financial services startup Tala( and for the Los Angeles tech ecosystem ), Uber‘s former data chief, Kevin Novak, has agreed to join the company as its chief data officer.

Novak’s achievements at Uber can’t be overstated. He was the inventor of dynamic pricing, made the UberFreight business and constructed the foundation of the company’s current data organization.

Now, Novak will be working with new situates of data that have the potential to radically transform yet another industry — financial services.

Tala, which has originated and delivered 4 million loans for more than $190 million, has had a banner year already. The company raised $30 million in financing to start off 2017, and has launched in two new geographies — Tanzania and the Philippines — after beginning in 2014 as a smartphone-based lending app in Kenya.

The company also scored another key hire in September when former Capital One and Barclay Card executive, Gaurav Bhargava, joined the team.

Tala uses data from Android devices and online behavioral data( guess Facebook activity, etc .) to underwrite would-be borrowers who have no formal credit history. It’s among a number of companies looking to serve the under-banked with new scoring models to facilitate loans.

The potential market for these services is huge. Tala, and other companies like it, face its own population of two billion people who have no formal credit score and three billion who are considered to be underserved by current financial services companies.

For Shivani Siroya, Tala’s chief executive, the attraction for Novak was the company’s mission as much as any possible compensation. “He was actually debating joining other companies. He was unbelievably being sought, ” she said. “Helping, alongside me, resulting this global vision was an important part of selling him.”

That global vision expands far beyond the credit business that’s been the company’s foundation. “We don’t deem ourselves a credit company, ” said Siroya. “We are using data and applying that data … This is all about how you are familiar with the customer. I couldn’t think of someone better, in terms of both the vision that we have and the capabilities that we need than Kevin.”

Ultimately, the scheme is to expand into insurance products and savings account for the underbanked in addition to the credit products.

While Novak’s talents are indisputable, his background at Uber was not an unqualified benefit, according to people familiar with the employ process. People at the company, well informed their own problems that bedeviled Uber’s management, did due diligence to ensure that their new executive hire would be a good cultural fit.

“We fully vetted the guy, ” says one person familiar with the process. “He did not get any concessions because he was the former head of data science at Uber.”

Novak seems to be nothing but enthusiastic about the opportunity at Tala.

“Tala is working with one of the most exciting data sets imaginable, and with the goal of house financial services that include more of the world’s people, ” said Novak, in a statement. “I’m blown away by the team’s passion and commitment and by the great work already underway. I look forward to working with Tala’s existing data scientists and global teams to guide the company’s next chapter.”

Novak’s hire is significant not just for Tala, but as a signifier of the strength of the broader technology ecosystem in Los Angeles, according to investors in the community.

“What’s meaningful is you’re get these high-profile recruiting wins to LA … and it’s not only from Snap or some other media business, but from a startup that’s solving larger-scale, real-world social and technical problems, ” says Arteen Arabshahi, a principal at Fika Ventures.

Indeed, Los Angeles is home to a number of compelling startups that are tackling problems beyond e-commerce and amusement. Novak’s presence can only help — not just as an operator, but as an advisor to this growing community of entrepreneurs.

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ROSS Intelligence lands $8.7M Series A to speed up legal research with AI

Armed with an understanding of machine learning, ROSS Intelligence is going after LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters for ownership of legal research. The startup, founded in 2015 by Andrew Arruda, Jimoh Ovbiagele and Pargles Dall’Oglio at the University of Toronto, is announcing an $8.7 million Series A today led by iNovia Capitalwith participation from Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, Real Ventures, Dentons’ NextLaw Labs and angels.

At its core, ROSS is a platform that helps legal squads sort through case law to discover details relevant to new cases. This process takes days and even weeks with standard keyword search, so ROSS is augmenting keyword search with machine learning to simultaneously speed up the research process and improve relevancy of items found.

“Bluehill benchmarks Lexis’s tech and they are finding 30 percentage more relevant info with ROSS in less time, ” Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of ROSS, explained to me in an interview.

ROSS is using a combination of off the shelf and proprietary deep learn algorithms for its AI stack. The startup is use IBM Watson for at least some of its natural language processing abilities, but the team shied away from elaborating.

Building a complete machine learning stack is expensive, so it makes sense for startups to lean on off the shelf tech early on so long as decisions are being attained that ensure the scalability of the business. Much of the value wrapped up in ROSS is related to its corpus of training data. The startup is working with 20 statute firms to simulate workflow examples and test results with human feedback.

“We actually spent period looking at the value ROSS was delivering back to statute firms, ” noted Kai Bond, an investor in ROSS through Comcast Ventures. “What took a week now takes two to four hours.”

TalkIQ raises $14 million Series A to give enterprises AI insights into voice communication

There’s no deficit of startups constructing their brands around AI for enterprise. And within the enterprise, few spaces are as competitive as AI-powered voice analytics. TalkIQ is the latest company in the space to carry home a large round of financing with promise. With $14 million in Series A fund, the TalkIQ team is hoping its proprietary tech stack and engineering-heavy team will give it a meaningful advantage selling to marketings teams.

TalkIQ is bringing automatic speech recognition and natural language processing to previously unsearchable sales calls. With a focus on voice communication, the company offer near real-time insights into conversations as they happen. The platform can transcribe and flag key events in a conversation while retrieving battle cards on challengers when they get mentioned. TalkIQ also captures higher-level analytics that administrators can use to get a view of what is working( or not) for sales teams.

Today’s round is being led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from Aspect
Ventures, Danhua Capital, Felicis Ventures, LINE Corp and Salesforce Ventures. That last one, Salesforce Ventures, is perhaps the most interesting because the investment is coming from Salesforce’s new $50 million AI fund .

Though TalkIQ wouldn’t get into too much detail about the role Salesforce will be playing in its go to marketplace, it did admit that the company is a major client were supposed to drive marketings via deeper integrations in the future. Gven the shared customer profile between Salesforce and TalkIQ, the friendship makes a lot of logical sense.

And as far as I’m concerned it’s going to matter…or at the least it’s going to have to matter. VoiceOps, Choras.ai, Deepgram, Gong and others have had products in this space for some time now. But in the enterprise space, everything comes down marketings relationships — so winning the affection of Salesforce may prove meaningful for TalkIQ.

Dan O’Connell, CEO of TalkIQ, remains confident that the accuracy and near real-time capabilities of his platform will define it apart in the long run. He says that performance starts with rejecting off the shelf solutions to machine learning problems and taking things in-house for more control. With a$ 7 million seed round and three and a half years of runway, TalkIQ has certainly had luxuries unavailable to others.

TalkIQ was previously backed by Atomic, Felicis Ventures, SV Angel, Polaris Partner and Cherubic Ventures.

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Alibaba is leading a $27M investment in open source database startup MariaDB

Alibaba has spent 2017 pushing its cloud computing business and now it is preparing to make its first major investment in a Western startup in the space.

The Chinese e-commerce giant has agreed to lead a EUR2 2.9 million ($ 27 million) investment in MariaDB, the European company behind one of the web’s most popular open source database servers, according to information sources with knowledge of negotiations. The bargain has not closed yet, but it is imminent after MariaDB’s stockholders devoted their approval this week.

Neither Alibaba nor MariaDB responded to requests for comment.

TechCrunch understands that Alibaba is contributing around EUR2 0 million with the remaining capital coming from existing backers. The deal values MariaDB at around the EUR3 00 million ($ 354 million) mark and it will see Alibaba’s Feng Yu, a principal engineer within its cloud business, join the startup’s board.

That represents a significant appreciation on the $200 million- $250 million valuation that it got back in May when it raised EUR2 5 million( then worth $27 million ) from the European Investment Bank. Our source indicated that Alibaba’s willingness to do business essentially enabled MariaDB to pick a valuation of its choosing.

MariaDB is best known for operating the most popular alternative to MySQL, a database management system. Both are open source products but there is caution from some around MySQL from some because it is owned by Oracle — a huge firm — courtesy of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

Alibaba’s cloud calculating business is one of its fastest growing divisions, consistently charting triple-digit revenue growth over the past year.

We wrote earlier this year that it is pushing hard to rival the industry’s biggest players, like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. While it still has some way to run, the signs are promising. The cloud business reached$ 1 billion in annualized revenue this year and it surpassed one million clients during the most recent quarter. The unit is likely to reach break-even in coming quarters, though it still accounts for less than five percentage of Alibaba’s overall revenue.

Cloud is just one area Alibaba is focused on developing as it lookings to make new sources of revenue to mitigate the dependence on its core China commerce business, even though that continues to be hugely lucrative.

The firm has constructed big investments in those other areas — backing unicorns Paytm in India, and Lazada and Tokopedia in Southeast Asia — so why not look at the wider cloud/ infrastructure industry for bargains to advance its strategy?

Having invested in Chinese players like cloud storage provider Qiniu and big data firm Dt Dream, joined Microsoft’s open source community and even worked with MariaDB directly in China, this would be Alibaba’s most notable cloud deal on overseas turf.

Formerly known as SkySQL, MariaDB is attractive to Alibaba due to its presence in the industry. It has offices in Sweden and the U.S. and asserts around 12 million global users of its databases, with some of the larger names including Booking.com, HP, Virgin Mobile and Wikipedia. Its solutions are used in private, public and hybrid cloud deployments and it is the default in a number of Linux distributions like Red Hat, Ubuntu and SUSE, which adds a further reach of 60 million users.

SkySQL was originally founded in 2009 and integrated within Monty Program Ab in 2013. Monty Program was founded by Michael’ Monty’ Widenius after he sold his previous company MySQL to Sun Microsystems( now owned by Oracle) in 2008 for$ 1 billion. MariaDB later forked MySQL due to concerns about the route Oracle might use it.

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