Apple’s autonomous vehicle fleet has nearly doubled in the last two months

Apple seems to be ramping up its autonomous vehicle efforts, nearing doubling the number of vehicles in its fleet since January.

The company now has 45 autonomous vehicles in California registered with the DMV, according to the Financial Times. This makes Apple’s AV fleet the second largest in the state of California, outsized only by General Motors.

In April 2017, Apple received its first permit to test three autonomous vehicles. By January of this year, the company was testing 27 autonomous vehicles, and in just two months the company has nearly doubled its efforts, with plans to start testing vehicles in Arizona.

That said, regulatory hurdles may be rising. On Sunday night, one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles was involved in an accident, fatally colliding with a pedestrian in Tempe Arizona.

This is the first time an AV accident has resulted in a human death, and Uber has suspended testing of its fleet in all the cities where it operates.

In the wake of this incident, regulators may take a more measured approach to deployment.

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Amazon adds fingerprint authentication to Key app for Android

Building technology is all about learning as you go. Amazon knows this, and has today added fingerprint ID to the new Amazon Key app, which enables in-home delivery of goods.

The Key app was announced in October, alongside the Cloud Cam, which lets users watch goings on in their homes as delivery professionals come in and out of their space.

Given that the app essentially controls who gets in and out of your home, it would be problematic if your phone got into the hands of someone malicious. So Amazon has added an additional layer of security, your fingerprint, to the Android version of the app.

An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that fingerprint authentication is coming soon to iOS.

Amazon recently acquired smart doorbell maker Ring in a deal reportedly valued at $1.1 billion, which presumably furthers the mission of truly last mile deliveries. Late last year, Amazon also acquired security startup Blink for a reported $90 million.

But Amazon isn’t the only one dabbling in in-home deliveries. WalMart partnered with August Lock last year to allow delivery people to bring groceries and other goods all the way into the home and put them away.

Amazon CloudCam is available starting at $199, but the door lock used with the Key app is sold separately.

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Google’s simple new app lets you draw white lines

Today, a bunch of app developers showed off their latest AR apps for Google’s augmented reality platform, but Google didn’t stay too still either.

The team at Google released what could be one of its simplest apps ever. It’s called an “experiment,” and with good reason — it’s literally just an app for drawing white lines. “Just a line,” takes the baton from the company’s Tilt Brush virtual reality painting app and strips away every custom tool and setting, leaving you with the ability to annotate the world with digital white lines suspended in space and anchored to reality.

The big difference is a lot more people have ARCore-compatible phones than have VR headsets, so this is going to be a cool first experience with “3D painting” for a lot of people.

Users hold up their phones and use their fingers to draw lines; the interface relies on a ton of physical movement, using the phone itself as the main controller. Users can record videos of their creations and download them after if they want to look at all the pretty lines they made.

You’ll need an ARCore-compatible phone to try out the app; you’ll also probably need to manage your expectations for what you’re getting. You can just make lines! That is it.

Download it here.

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IBM’s smart assistant is called…Watson Assistant

You saw this one coming, right? This week at its Think 2018 Conference in Las Vegas, IBM showed off its own take on the growing smart assistant category, aimed firmly at enterprise applications. Naturally, the company’s using the Watson name for the offering, and tacking on “Assistant” for good measure.

Unlike Alexa, Siri and Google’s own offering of the same name, however, Watson Assistant won’t be a chipper, consumer-facing offering loaded up on IBM-branded smart speakers. Rather, the company’s plan here is to operate mostly behind the scenes, white labeling the technology for use by companies.

In fact, the offering is so behind-the-scenes that IBM’s already rolled it out in a bunch of spots, including the Munich Airport and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The big Think unveiling also finds the company adding IFTTT as a partner along with Harman — a bit of an odd choice, given that its parent company has its own smart assistant. But then, Bixby is, well, Bixby. 

The plan is to make Watson Assistant the foundation of voice-based offerings in places like hotel rooms, stores and cars, so company can leverage IBM’s technology to build their own custom solutions. It’s precisely what IBM’s been gunning for with Watson — a way to make its sophisticated underlying technology more readily available to the consumer.

“The contextual element is important,” the company said in a release announcing the offering. “Watson Assistant isn’t just designed for a single location such as your home. And, it doesn’t just respond to a person’s commands and provide generic information that’s publicly available. It can be accessed via voice or text interaction and gets to know a person more through each and every interaction, gaining greater insight into who they are, what makes them happy and more.”

Andy Rubin and Robert Full will be speaking at TC Sessions Robotics May 11 at UC Berkeley

We’re gearing up to bring you the second TC Sessions: Robotics on May 11 at the UC Berkeley campus. We’ve got a great show on-tap, with some of the premier names in the robotics/AI/automation world, from research to startups to big companies. As we noted last week, we’ll be joined by Berkley professor Pieter Abbeel and big names from the VC world, including Meyer, Renata Quintini and Rob Coneybeer.

Today, we’ve got a pair of new names we’re excited to share with you.

Funding Robotics Startups

Andy Rubin’s love of robotics earned him the nickname “Android” while working for Apple in the late-80s. Rubin leant the name to the software startup he founded in 2003, which was later acquired by Google and formed the basis for the world’s largest mobile operating system. While at Google, Rubin also headed the company’s robotics division. These days, he supports robotics startups as the head of Playground Global.

The Bay Area-based venture fund and incubator maintains Rubin’s passion for the category by funding a number of key robotics companies that run the gamut, from artificial intelligence to agriculture, delivery and warehouse fulfillment. Playground’s key robotics investments including Canvas Technology, Commonsense Robotics, Farmwise, Righthand Robotics, Skydio and Zippy.

We’ll speak to Rubin about Playground’s numerous investments in the space and the ways in which automation will transform the future.

Biologically-Inspired Robots

A biologist by training, UC Berkeley professor Robert Full’s scientific background gives him a unique approach to the world of robotics. His research has inspired a wide range of different robots taking their cues from nature, specifically animal locomotion. Cockroaches have served as an unlikely source of inspiration for robots with jointed exoskeletons that can fit into tight spaces. The sticky substances found on gecko feet, meanwhile, have given rise to synthetic dry adhesives.

Professor Full’s work has led to the creation of two UC Berkeley Labs,  CiBER, the Center for interdisciplinary Bio-inspiration in Education and Research, and the Poly-PEDAL Laboratory, which studies the motion of many-footed animals. Full’s work has also made its way into surprising spaces, including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which used his expansive knowledge of animal movement as

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