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Fylamynt raises $6.5M for its cloud workflow automation platform

Fylamynt, a new service that helps businesses automate their cloud workflows, today announced both the official launch of its platform as well as a $6.5 million seed round. The funding round was led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures also participated.
At first glance, the idea behind Fylamynt may sound familiar. Workflow automation has become a pretty competitive space, after all, and the service helps developers connect their various cloud tools to create repeatable workflows. We’re not talking about your standard IFTTT- or Zapier -like integrations between SaaS products, though. The focus of Fylamynt …

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The Supreme Court will hear its first big CFAA case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday in a case that could lead to sweeping changes to America’s controversial computer hacking laws — and affecting how millions use their computers and access online services.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was signed into federal law in 1986 and predates the modern internet as we know it, but governs to this day what constitutes hacking — or “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. The controversial law was designed to prosecute hackers, but has been dubbed as the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who say it’s outdated …

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Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

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Relativity Space raises $500 million as its sets sights on the industrialization of Mars

3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has closed $500 million in Series D funding (making official the earlier reported raise), the company announced today. This funding was led by Tiger Global Management, and included participation by a host of new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baillie Gifford, Iconiq Capital, General Catalist and more. This brings the company’s total raised so far to nearly $700 million, as the startup is poised to launch its first ever fully 3D-printed orbital rocket next year.

LA-based Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Its rocket construction technology, which is grounded in its development and use of the largest metal 3D printers in existence, suffered relatively few setbacks due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and work stoppages since it involves relatively few actual people on the factory floor managing the 3D printing process, which is handled in large part by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company.

Relativity also locked in a first official contract from the U.S. government this year, to launch a new experimental cryogenic fluid management system on behalf of client Lockheed Martin, as part of NASA’s suite of Tipping Point contracts to fund the development of new technologies for space exploration. It also put into service its third-generation Stargate 3D metal printers – the largest on Earth, as mentioned.

The company’s ambitions are big, so this new large funding round should provide it with fuel to grow even more aggressively in 2021. It’s got new planned initiatives underway, both terrestrial and space-related, but CEO and founder Tim Ellis specifically referred to Mars and sustainable operations on the red planet as one possible application of Relativity’s tech down the road.

In prior conversations, Ellis has alluded to the potential for Relativity’s printers when applied to other large-scale metal manufacturing – noting that the cost curve as it stands makes most sense for rocketry, but could apply to other industries easily as the technology matures. Whether on Mars or on Earth, large-scale 3D printing definitely has a promising future, and it looks like Relativity is well-positioned to take advantage.

We’ll be talking to Ellis at our forthcoming TC Sessions: Space event, so we’ll ask him more about this round and his company’s aspirations live there, too.

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Weather forecasts get an AI update with Atmo as businesses grapple with climate-related catastrophes

“Almost every business on earth is affected by weather,” says Alexander Levy, an investor serial entrepreneur whose latest company is the new weather prediction startup Atmo.

The company, which graduated from Y Combinator earlier this year, has recently raised $2 million from Signia Ventures and Sound Ventures for its predictive software, because sometimes businesses do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Atmo was founded by Johan Mathe, a former Google X employee who worked on Project Loon, the business unit focused on providing internet connectivity via floating balloons that would create a network of wireless coverage in emerging markets.

“I spent a lot of time working on weather,” said Mathe. It was his job to find ways for the balloons to navigate different areas and much of that navigation was complicated by weather patterns, he said.

“As I needed to build that there was so much complexity from the sheer amount of data with the weather,” Mathe said. “I thought I have to build something to make the intersection of weather and AI much more available for everyone.”

That was the beginning of a four year journey, which culminated in Atmo (formerly known as Froglabs.ai), the Berkeley, Calif.-based startup that’s providing predictive weather analysis for businesses ranging from renewable energy to ice cream shops.

Levy, who had co-founded the drug discovery company Atomwise, knew Mathe socially and initially invested in his company when it was just an idea. But  as he saw the value in weather data and made the jump from investor and advisor to co-founder.

Now Mathe, Levy, and chief technology officer Jeremy Lequeux all work from Levy’s Berkeley house as they develop their software and take their company to the next level.

And recent events make the need for the company’s services abundantly transparent. Since 2019, climate-related events have cost the US roughly $89 billion, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Every business is on this weather spectrum,” said Levy. “Let’s say you just are an ice cream location. Degree to which it’s hot or cold will affect your sales 10%. We’ve worked towards creating a general purpose predictive system and takes weather data on one hand and all the historical weather collected around the world. It compares the two and analyzes how are all of your key business metrics affected by the weather.”

The company already has a half dozen customers including two billion-dollar businesses in the renewable energy and eCommerce and logistics industries, Levy said.

“One of the areas that we work on is risk and extreme weather, like how do you predict these fluke events that you have very little intervention around,” said Levy. “We make that kind of prediction separate and apart from how you can best optimize when things are in a relatively normal state.”

Demand is only going to increase as these extreme events become more common, because governments and businesses will be looking at ways to improve their ability to withstand or adapt to these catastrophic conditions. “There’s a need because everybody is talking about resilience these days,” said Levy. “I see Atmo as the company that’s going to provide these insights for the big companies that are concerned about this problem now.”

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Sequoia-backed recycling robot maker AMP Robotics gets its largest purchase order

AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.

The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.

The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.

The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.

Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs  would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.

For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.

Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital,  BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures  and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.

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Animal Jam was hacked, and data stolen. Here’s what parents need to know

WildWorks, the gaming company that makes the popular kids game Animal Jam, has confirmed a data breach.

Animal Jam is one of the most popular games for kids, ranking in the top five games in the 9-11 age category in Apple’s App Store in the U.S., according to data provided by App Annie. But while no data breach is ever good news, WildWorks has been more forthcoming about the incident than most companies would be, making it easier for parents to protect both their information and their kids’ data.

Here’s what we know.

WildWorks said in a detailed statement that a hacker stole 46 million Animal Jam records in early October but that it only learned of the breach in November.

The company said someone broke into one of its systems that the company uses for employees to communicate with each other, and accessed a secret key that allowed the hacker to break into the company’s user database. The bad news is that the stolen data is known to be circulating on at least one cybercrime forum, WildWorks said, meaning that malicious hackers may use (or be using) the stolen information.

The stolen data dates back to over the past 10 years, the company said, so former users may still be affected.

Much of the stolen data wasn’t highly sensitive, but the company warned that 32 million of those stolen records had the player’s username, 23.9 million records had the player’s gender, 14.8 million records contained the player’s birth year, and 5.7 million records had the player’s full date of birth.

But, the company did say that the hacker also took 7 million parent email addresses used to manage their kids’ accounts. It also said that 12,653 parent accounts had a parent’s full name and billing address, and 16,131 parent accounts had a parent’s name but no billing address.

Besides the billing address, the company said no other billing data — such as financial information — was stolen.

WildWorks also said that the hacker also stole player’s passwords, prompting the company to reset every player’s password. (If you can’t log in, that’s probably why. Check your email for a link to reset your password.) WildWorks didn’t say how it scrambled passwords, which leaves open the possibility that they could be unscrambled and potentially used to break into other accounts that have the same password as used on Animal Jam. That’s why it’s so important to use unique passwords for each site or service you use, and use a password manager to store your passwords safely.

The company said it was sharing information about the breach with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

So what can parents do?

  • Thankfully the data associated with kids accounts is limited. But parents, if you have used your Animal Jam password on any other website, make sure you change those passwords to strong and unique passwords so that nobody can break into those other accounts.
  • Keep an eye out for scams related to the breach. Malicious hackers like to jump on recent news and events to try to trick victims into turning over more information or money in response to a breach.

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Funded by Connect Ventures, Purple Dot plans to take on Klarna-style purchase debt

In recent times startups have appeared offering credit at an e-commerce basket checkout so that a customer can buy a product without needing to pay right away. Klarna or Clearpay are the two most notable in this field. But what if you flipped the model around so that consumers could buy the item at a lower price later on, and the retailer could reduce waste? This is the model of Purple Dot, which bills itself as a ‘worth-the-wait’ payment option for fashion brands.

It’s now raised a seed round of £1.35 million, led by Connect Ventures, with support from AI Seed, Moxxie Ventures, Andy Chung and Philipp Moehring from AngelList, Alex Roetter former SVP of Engineering at Twitter and the family office of Paul Forster, co-founder of Indeed.com.

Founded in August 2019 by senior Skyscanner employees Madeline Parra (CEO) and John Talbott (CTO), Purple Dot allows consumers to request a ‘worth-the-wait’ lower price. The advantage for retailers is that they can then decide whether or not to release a fashion product mid-season at a slightly reduced rate in order to secure the sale.

“Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

The customers still pays upfront and then waits to have the item confirmed, receiving a full refund if not. The Purple Dot payment method sits alongside ‘buy now, pay later’ finance options.

This ‘worth-the-wait’ price does not usually fall below a 10-20% reduction from the recommended retail price, thus reducing losses from end-of-season discounting, where discounts are much deeper. The advantage for the consumer is that they don’t then rack up debt on their purchases.

The startup says it’s already in talks with a number of major UK and US high street brands but has already secured menswear retailer Spoke, which will also use the tech for ‘pre-ordering’. This means they can test out new styles, designs and fabrics in a limited manner, thus reducing waste (and therefore carbon emissions) when they commit to a new line of clothing.

Madeline Parra, CEO of Purple Dot, commented: “When shopping online today, customers can either pay the retail price or walk away. When they do walk away, the item goes through the discounting process, becomes unprofitable for the merchant and is resigned to landfill. This binary system isn’t working for anyone – the customer loses out on the item, because it may go out of stock in their size before they attempt to purchase it again, and the merchant loses the sale. Purple Dot tackles this problem head-on by providing a new way to shop, taking on unsustainable, unrelenting consumerism, poor pricing tactics and profit-crunching sales at the same time.”

Speaking to TechCrunch she also added that “Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

Pietro Bezza, General Partner at Connect Ventures, commented:  “Purple Dot’s innovative proposition benefits retailers by creating a solution to their inventory problems. End of season ‘panic sales’ have long caused financial uncertainty for retailers and a negative impact on the environment in equal measure.”

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WeWork employees used an alarmingly insecure printer password

A shared user account used by WeWork employees to access printer settings and print jobs had an incredibly simple password — so simple that a customer guessed it.

Jake Elsley, who works at a WeWork in London, said he found the user account after a WeWork employee at his location mistakenly left the account logged in.

WeWork customers like Elsley normally have an assigned seven-digit username and a four-digit passcode used for printing documents at WeWork locations. But the username for the account used by WeWork employees was just four-digits: “9999”. Elsley told TechCrunch that he guessed the password because it was the same as the username. (“9999” is ranked as one of the most common passwords in use today, making it highly insecure.)

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The “9999” account is used by and shared among WeWork community managers, who oversee day-to-day operations at each location, to print documents for visitors who don’t have accounts to print on their own. The account cannot be used to access print jobs sent to other customer accounts.

Elsley said that the “9999” account could not see the contents of documents beyond file names, but that logging in to the WeWork printing web portal could allow him to release other people’s pending print jobs sent to the “9999” account to any other WeWork printer on the network.

The printing web portal can only be accessed on WeWork’s Wi-Fi networks, said Elsley, but that includes the free guest Wi-Fi network which doesn’t have a password, and WeWork’s main Wi-Fi network, which still uses a password that has been widely circulated on the internet.

Elsley reached out to TechCrunch to ask us to alert the company to the insecure password.

“WeWork is committed to protecting the privacy and security of our members and employees,” said WeWork spokesperson Colin Hart. “We immediately initiated an investigation into this potential issue and took steps to address any concerns. We are also nearing the end of a multi-month process of upgrading all of our printing capabilities to a best in class security and experience solution. We expect this process to be completed in the coming weeks.”

WeWork confirmed that it had since changed the password on the “9999” user account.

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US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack

Six Russian intelligence officers accused of launching some of the “world’s most destructive malware” — including an attack that took down the Ukraine power grid in December 2015 and the NotPetya global ransomware attack in 2017 — have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department.

Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John Demers, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. “Today the department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group, including unleashing the NotPetya malware. No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

The six accused Russian intelligence officers. Image Credits: FBI/supplied

In charges laid out Monday, the hackers are accused of developing and launching attacks using the KillDisk and Industroyer (also known as Crash Override) to target and disrupt the power supply in Ukraine, which left hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity two days before Christmas. The prosecutors also said the hackers were behind the NotPetya attack, a ransomware attack that spread across the world in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages.

The hackers are also said to have used Olympic Destroyer, designed to knock out internet connections during the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Prosecutors also blamed the six hackers for trying to disrupt the 2017 French elections by launching a “hack and leak” operation to discredit the then-presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, as well as launching targeted spearphishing attacks against the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.K.’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, tasked with investigating the use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, U.K. in 2018, and attacks against targets in Georgia, the former Soviet state.

The alleged hackers — Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, 32; Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, 35; Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, 28; Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, 29; Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, 27; and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin, 32 — are all charged with seven counts of conspiracy to hack, commit wire fraud and causing computer damage.

The accused are believed to be in Russia. But the indictment serves as a “name and shame” effort, frequently employed by Justice Department prosecutors in recent years where arrests or extraditions are not likely or possible.

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