After tens of thousands of pre-orders, high-end 3D headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds.

The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website, the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team.

“This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.”

We have reached out to the company for additional details.

Through January 2017, the San Diego company had received more than 22,000 pre-orders for their Ossic X headphones. This past January, Ossic announced that they had shipped out the first units to the 80 backers in their $999 developer tier headphones. In that same update, the company said they would enter “mass production” by late spring 2018.

In the end, after tens of thousands of pre-orders, Ossic only built 250 pairs of headphones and only shipped a few dozen to Kickstarter backers.

Crowdfunding campaign failures for hardware products are rarely shocking, but often the collapse comes from the company not being able to acquire additional funding from outside investors. Here, Ossic appears to have been misguided from the start and even with nearly $6 million in crowdfunding and seed funding, which they said nearly matched that number, they were left unable to begin large-scale manufacturing. The company said in their letter, that it would likely take more than $2 million in additional funding to deliver the existing backlog of pre-orders.

Backers are understandably quite upset about not receiving their headphones. A group of over 1,200 Facebook users have joined a recently-created page threatening a class action lawsuit against the team.

Elon Musk details his plan to rid LA of traffic with $1 rides on the Boring Co. ‘Loop’

This evening, Boring Company executives Elon Musk and Steve Davis offered a few more details about their plans to revolutionize LA urban transit, introducing the “Loop” which would eventually be composed of all-electric pods that transport up to 16 passengers at a time. Musk theorizes that the Loop could take Los Angeles residents from downtown LA to any terminal at the LAX airport within 8 minutes for about $1.

Much of the focus of the presentation was to assure the public that the Boring Company’s efforts would not be disruptive to the public or heavily stress the city’s existing highway systems. While the company has been best known for its hat and flamethrower sales, its most daunting challenge is courting public opinion for its plans to upgrade LA’s transport infrastructure.

The odd little presentation held at an LA synagogue started about 25 minutes behind schedule after a late arrival from Elon Musk who ironically said he got stuck in traffic. Musk offered a few minutes of eccentric discussion about why flying cars couldn’t solve the problem of “soul-destroying traffic.” Tunnels, on the other hand, Musk detailed were “way less nerve-racking than flying cars” and still “so fun.”

Alongside the execs onstage was Boring Company “mascot” Gary the snail.

Musk said that Boring Company Loop’s vision of the future would be much more congruous with city life than subways, and that while it was very difficult to weave large stations into a city, building many more parking spot-sized stations could theoretically be much more effective. Musk also noted that he hoped the Loop would supplement existing transport systems and connect public transport lines.

To get moving towards this “Loop” vision, the company will begin with a 2.7 mile test tunnel on private property with private funds. Just last month, SEC documents were filed detailing that Musk’s Boring Company had raised just shy of $113 million.

Once the test site has been completed, Musk suggested that they would begin offering free rides which he hoped the company could make as fun as a Disney theme park, joking that guests could “bring [their] flamethrowers.”

As Musk has previously noted, the Boring Company’s focus will prioritize pedestrian traffic rather than pods that house vehicles. While the executives were sure to distinguish the difference between the “Loop” and the Hyperloop, Musk also theorized that the two systems could eventually be seamlessly connected so riders could travel within the city and between cities with minimal friction.

Musk was notably asked during a Q&A about whether the Boring Company would do a full environmental impact report. He noted that they would but given the length of the process would do so once moving towards a larger-scale project rather than on one of the test tunnels.

It’s clear from the presentation that things are very much in their early stages, but Musk and Davis seemed to do a good job assuring the public that they would be moving with the bureaucracy on this project rather than trying to push their vision forward quickly and recklessly.

Augmented reality display maker DigiLens nabs $25 million

Though content creators in the augmented reality space are still struggling to find engaging use cases for early mobile augmented reality platforms, there is still a feverish amount of excitement inside the space from big tech companies and makers of key components that are plugging along in developing technologies that will enable consumer AR headsets.

One such startup, augmented reality display manufacturer DigiLens, announced today that they have raised $25 million of a Series C round from automotive parts manufacturing giant Continental.

DigiLens manufactures “waveguide displays,” which have been in use for a while but are pretty much the best technology available for making AR headset displays. While VR headset manufacturers are able to use conventional LCD or OLED displays to render an entirely new world while perhaps relying on passthrough feeds from cameras to simulate “mixed reality” environments, hardware manufacturers interested in making glasses-like AR headsets that aren’t incredibly ugly have had to rely on waveguides, which reflect light that is shined into the edge of a sheet of glass and bounced around inside by reflective elements before being shined directly into a user’s eyes. It’s all a bit more complicated than that, but importantly it allows for a mostly transparent screen that users can gaze through to see what’s going on in the real world.

What distinguishes DigiLens is that their manufacturing process relies on them “printing” these reflective elements directly onto the sheets of glass, a feature the company says helps them keep costs lower than its competitors.

Though Sunnyvale-based DigiLens has perhaps gotten the most press for its work on miniature waveguide displays perfect for the first generation of augmented reality headsets, like many other display makers in that space they’ve found more immediate opportunity in making heads-up displays for cars and motorcycle helmets. This significant investment from Continental now pins the company’s equity stake in DigiLens at 18 percent, the company tells me.

DigiLens has raised $60 million in funding to date from investors, including Sony and Foxconn according to Crunchbase.

Amazon’s cashier-less Go stores are coming to Chicago and San Francisco

Amazon is looking to open more of its cashier-less Go stores across the United States and it looks like San Francisco and Chicago will be among the next cities to get them, according to new job postings in those cities.

In response to the postings, discovered by The Seattle Times, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that stores were being planned for both of the cities, though they didn’t specify what timing looked like.

There aren’t many details beyond the general job listings, but they do list a couple of management positions around these two sites.

Earlier this week, the SF Chronicle reported that an Amazon Go store could be coming to SF’s heavily trafficked Union Square downtown area. Meanwhile, the company has a permit for what would be a much smaller 635-square-foot “Amazon store” inside Chicago’s Loop area.

Amazon’s Go store is designed with the idea of getting consumers in and out of a convenient store-like grocery without ever having to go through the check-out process. The store relies heavily on cameras tracking customers and seeing what they select while charging them directly through an Amazon Go app. The company’s “store of the future” is currently only in Seattle and appears to be a wholly separate initiative from Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired last year.

Twitter algorithm changes will hide more bad tweets and trolls

Twitter’s latest effort to curb trolling and abuse on the site takes some of the burden off users and places it on the company’s algorithms.

If you tap on a Twitter or real-world celebrity’s tweet, more often than not there’s a bot as one of the first replies. This has been an issue for so long it’s a bit ridiculous, but it all has to do with the fact that Twitter really only arranges tweets by quality inside search results and in back-and-forth conversations.

Twitter is making some new changes that calls on how the collective Twitterverse is responding to tweets to influence how often people see them. With these upcoming changes, tweets in conversations and search will be ranked based on a greater variety of data that takes into account things like the number of accounts registered to that user, whether that tweet prompted people to block the accounts and the IP address.

Tweets that are determined to most likely be bad aren’t just automatically deleted, but they’ll get cast down into the “Show more replies” section where fewer eyes will encounter them. The welcome change is likely to cut down on tweets that you don’t want to see in your timeline. Twitter says that abuse reports were down 8 percent in conversations where this feature was being tested.

Much like your average unfiltered commenting platform, Twitter abuse problems have seemed to slowly devolve. On one hand it’s been upsetting to users who have been personally targeted, on the other hand it’s just taken away the utility of poring through the conversations that Twitter enables in the first place.

It’s certainly been a tough problem to solve, but they’ve understandably seemed reluctant to build out changes that take down tweets without a user report and a human review. This is, however, a very 2014 way to look at content moderation and I think it’s grown pretty apparent as of late that Twitter needs to lean on its algorithmic intelligence to solve this rather than putting the burden entirely on users hitting the report button.

Facebook launches Youth Portal to educate teens on the platform, how their data is being used

There’s probably an important gap in attention being paid at internet companies to young kids that are good targets for parental controls and older ones who are having to learn to use the internet in a responsible way on their own.

Today, Facebook is releasing a new Youth Portal that offers some guidance to teens on how to navigate the service, how to stay secure, while also helping them understand how their data is used. Facebook says that that they began showing tips for teens in the newsfeed earlier this month related to some of these topics.

While many of the sections in the portal are devoted to basic topics like how to unfriend or block someone, a bit of the information is structured in more of a journalistic format focused on helping Gen Z users start their internet usage off on the right foot in a way that older generations haven’t.

In a “Guiding Principles” section, the tips are structured after oft-quoted real world advice:

Think (for 5 seconds) before you speak

Before you post publicly, pause and ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable reading this out loud to my parents and grandparents?” There will always be people at your school who are social media oversharers (and adults in your life who are, too). Resist the urge, ignore their noise and save the juicy details for your close friends only.

One of the more useful things it does is organize information related to Facebook’s data policy in a more accessible way that admittedly may not answer every single question but also doesn’t overwhelm young users who may just be looking for the basics. It generally aims to address stuff like what data Facebook collects and how they use that information.

At the end of the day, it’s just an information page. The Youth Portal won’t directly curb how Facebook approach cyber-bullying or abuse, but the hub does organize a lot of information that pops up on the site while you’re using it into a single place where someone can just blaze through it in a single go.

More importantly it’s just a nice resource for Facebook to refer younger users to when there’s an issue that’s more likely to get looked at then the Terms of Service-style help pages that generally hold this information.

The Youth Portal goes live today in 60 languages.

Review: $749 Boosted Mini S electric skateboard nails it

Boosted Boards (now, just Boosted) is back with a skateboard that really seems to get it right. The company’s latest product is their first shortboard. It lops off 8.5 inches in length from the deck, but the differences go far beyond a big reduction in a single dimension.

The company is probably the most recognizable name in electric longboards, but the Boosted detractors would likely point to their products’ priciness as their central downfall. The $749 Boosted Mini S does a lot to increase accessibility on the price front, and while zooming around at 18mph on the shortboard might feel a bit more nerve-racking as your island of control shrinks, this board is incredibly fun.

Specs (via Boosted)

  • Price: $749
  • Range: Up to 7 miles
  • Top Speed: Up to 18 mph
  • Hill Climbing: Up to 20% grade
  • Modes: 3 Ride Modes
  • Wheels: Boosted Lunar 80mm
  • Deck Length: 29.5 inches
  • Weight: 15.0 lbs

First, the shortening of the board does do a good deal for portability. My preferred way of holding the board by its front truck just hanging down alongside my leg, with past Boosted boards if you did this you’d either be dragging the board along the ground or you’d be hoisting it up in a way that gave you a little side abs workout. Holding this while walking around indoors feels a lot less like you’re cruising through the aisles with a surfboard under your arm, it’s just way more low-key and less of a hassle to travel with. It’s also got a nice new look with its sort-of-signature orange wheels now custom-made by Boosted.

Nevertheless, the Mini S is a dense little guy. If you were hoping for an electric skateboard you could pop an ollie on, the Boosted Mini S will throw you some challenges. At 15 pounds, it’s not exactly a beast, but a big weight reduction was not part of this shortboard transformation. The board is still certainly manageable but everyone who has picked mine up has been pretty surprised at how hefty it is.

That heft feels a lot more rigid on the Boosted Mini S if you’re familiar with the Boosted boards of the past. There is very minimal flex on this shortboard which is unsurprising if you ride regular skateboards but offers a pretty major alteration to how the ride feels. Whereas hopping up and down on a Boosted longboard involves the middle bowing in and out quite a bit, the undercarriage of the Mini S is basically one big battery so there’s not much room for flexibility which means that you definitely feel bumps along the way more.

This is both good and bad. I personally think it makes the board a lot of fun to ride. The rigidity teamed with the little kicktail on the back of the board can make for some added maneuverability that means hairpin turns are well within reach. This is pretty big because the turning radius was already tighter just by virtue of the wheels being closer together so the kicktail can free you up to do most tight maneuvering as long as you aren’t maxing out throttle while doing so.

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The Mini S is fairly frightening to ride at times, there’s something a bit more comforting about the extra length and flex of the longboards. The shortboard takes away the security of a suspension system and swaps it with the freedom of being able to easily hop up onto a small curb or turn out.

With a max speed of 18mph, it’s become clear that fast feels faster on the Mini S. You get the speed modes of past iterations which should help you adjust your training wheels while you get moving gradually towards expert speeds. Your guide to this speed and mode-switching is still the little Boosted controller which gets the job done and offers a nice degree of precision for accelerating and breaking with the satisfying wheel control.

The 7 mile range isn’t that great and you won’t even hit that if you’re maxing out the speed, but if you’re buying this for a couple-mile commute or just for some short little jaunts around town, it’s a great ride though you still might be in for an easier ride on one of the company’s lengthier boards.

With $250 separating the Mini S from the Mini X, a gray-wheeled version of the product that adds less than a couple pounds but doubles the total range from 7 to 14 miles and increases max speed by a couple of miles, there might be enough there to offer a full endorsement of making an upgrade if you want to try out the electric shortboard life.

Boosted has managed to fit an awful lot into a $749 package that has inherited most of its predecessors’ better qualities without gaining any fatal flaws. It’s a different beast and there are still plenty of people who should still be opting for a longboard, but the Mini S offers a degree of freedom and tightness that you won’t get from many of the other electric powered things with wheels out there.

Android co-creator isn’t sure whether robots will adopt a single platform

Android co-creator Andy Rubin isn’t so sure whether there will be one software platform to rule all robots. The former Google exec and Playground Global CEO talked in length about the role of platforms for automation at TechCrunch’s TC Sessions: Robotics event at UC Berkeley.

“The business model of platformization is something that is near and dear to my heart,” Rubin said. “For robotics and automatization, the idea of there being one cohesive platform that everyone ends up adopting? I’m not sure.”

Rubin did speak at length about the eventual need for companies to create systems for sharing machine learning data so that these machines will be able to communicate with each other and communicate their learnings so that obstacles only have to be overcome once across different devices.

You can watch the entire talk with Rubin below, which also includes a demonstration of the latest iteration of Cassie, a bipedal robot from Agility Robotics.

Boston Dynamics will start selling its dog-like SpotMini robot in 2019

After 26 years, Boston Dynamics is finally getting ready to start selling some robots. Founder Marc Raibert says that the company’s dog-like SpotMini robot is in pre-production and preparing for commercial availability in 2019. The announcement came onstage at TechCrunch’s TC Sessions: Robotics event today at UC Berkeley.

“The SpotMini robot is one that was motivated by thinking about what could go in an office — in a space more accessible for business applications — and then, the home eventually,” Raibert said onstage.

Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini was introduced late last year and took the design of the company’s “bigger brother” quadruped Spot. While the company has often showcased advanced demos of its emerging projects, SpotMini has seemed uniquely productized from the start.

On its website, Boston Dynamics highlights that SpotMini is the “quietest robot [they] have built.” The device weighs around 66 pounds and can operate for about 90 minutes on a charge.

The company says it has plans with contract manufacturers to build the first 100 SpotMinis later this year for commercial purposes, with them starting to scale production with the goal of selling SpotMini in 2019. They’re not ready to talk about a price tag yet, but they detailed that the latest SpotMini prototype cost 10 times less to build than the iteration before it.

Just yesterday, Boston Dynamics posted a video of SpotMini in autonomous mode navigating with the curiosity of a flesh-and-blood animal.

The company, perhaps best known for gravely frightening conspiracy theorists and AI doomsdayers with advanced robotics demos, has had quite the interesting history.

It was founded in 1992 after being spun out of MIT. After a stint inside Alphabet Corp., the company was purchased by SoftBank last year. SoftBank has staked significant investments in the robotics space through its Vision Fund, and, in 2015, the company began selling Pepper, a humanoid robot far less sophisticated than what Boston Dynamics has been working on.

You can watch the entire presentation below, which includes a demonstration of the latest iteration of the SpotMini.

Researchers show Siri and Alexa can be exploited with ‘silent’ commands hidden in songs

Researchers at UC Berkeley have shown they can embed stealthy commands for popular voice assistants inside songs that can prompt platforms like Siri or Alexa to carry out actions without humans getting wise.

The research, reported earlier by The New York Times, is a more actionable evolution of something security researchers have been showing great interest in: fooling Siri.

Last year, researchers at Princeton University and China’s Zhejiang University demonstrated that voice-recognition systems could be activated by using frequencies inaudible to the human ear. The attack first muted the phone so the owner wouldn’t hear the system’s responses, either.

The technique, which the Chinese researchers called DolphinAttack, can instruct smart devices to visit malicious websites, initiate phone calls, take a picture or send text messages. While DolphinAttack has its limitations — the transmitter must be close to the receiving device — experts warned that more powerful ultrasonic systems were possible.

That warning was borne out in April, when researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated ultrasound attacks from 25 feet away. While the commands couldn’t penetrate walls, they could control smart devices through open windows from outside a building.

The specific research emerging from Berkeley can hide commands to make calls or visit specific websites without human listeners being able to discern them. The alterations add some digital noise onto the image but nothing that sounds like English.

These exploits are still in their infancy, as are the security capabilities of the voice assistants. As capabilities widen for smart assistants that make it easier for users to send emails, messages and money with their voice, things like this are a bit worrisome.

One takeaway is that digital assistant makers may have to get more serious about voice authentication so that they can determine with greater accuracy whether the owner of a device is the one voicing commands, and if not, lock down the digital assistant’s capabilities. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant both offer optional features that lock down personal information to a specific user based on their voice pattern, meanwhile most sensitive info on iOS devices requires the device to be unlocked before it’s accessed.

The potential here is nevertheless frightening and something that should be addressed early-on publicly. As we saw from some of Google’s demonstrations with their Duplex software at I/O this week, the company’s ambitions for their voice assistant are building rapidly and as the company begins to release Smart Display devices with its partners that integrate cameras, the potentials for abuse are widening.