Everledger’s Kemp and Omise’s Hasegawa join TC Blockchain

Blockchain technology and the decentralizing effects of distributed ledgers have enormous amounts of potential and may mean the Internet will never be the same again. The fact that one could eventually run vast applications without any servers is equally transformational. But it’s still very much a wild west out there in terms of ascertaining who is working on ‘the real deal’.

The blockchain world is currently weighed down with the expectations of dubious crypto-currency speculators and sky-high ICOs and hacks that are interfering with a frank conversation about the future.

Which is why TechCrunch has decided to throw its hat into the ring and try to bring together the leading players in the space for a frank discussion and inquiry into this next phase in Zug, Switzerland, this July.

At TC Sessions: Blockchain 2018, TechCrunch’s editors will bring together top figures in the blockchain technology world to discuss how and where blockchain technology is going to disrupt the status quo.

We’re delighted to announce that Jun Hasegawa, CEO / Founder of Omise, a multinational payments company currently present in Thailand (HQ), Japan, Singapore and Indonesia that has raised over $50M in funding.

In 2015, his desire to push the boundaries led Omise to become the very first financial services company to join the Ethereum community. In 2017, after over a year of research and development, this culminated in the launch of OmiseGO, the crowd-funded blockchain division tasked with creating the OMG network. This is an Ethereum-based public blockchain with the ambitious vision of enabling financial service equity by radically decentralizing value transfer and exchange.

Prior to founding payments Omise, Jun was involved in founding a series of tech companies in Japan mainly in the fields of e-commerce, lifelog and mobile payments and is currently based in Bangkok.

We’ll also be joined by one of the leading proponents of blockchain tech to track the provenance of real-world objects.

Leanne Kemp, is Founder & CEO of Everledger – a digital, global ledger that tracks and protects items of value.

Using her knowledge of emerging technologies, business, jewelry and insurance, Everledger is aiming at a new kind of global transparency for luxury, constructing a digital verification system that assists in the reduction of fraud, black markets, and trafficking.


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Kyklo is bringing the billion-dollar electromechanical industry into digital sales

The electromechanical industry may not be the kind of sexy tech that you’ll regularly read about in TechCrunch, but we like solutions to problems, and that is why I am about to write about a company in the aforementioned industry. Add in that the startup is based in Asia — Thailand, to be precise — and we have the recipe for a young company to keep an eye on.

Kyklo is the company and it is aimed at bringing the electromechanical space, which is worth over $1 trillion per year across 100,000s of distributors and retailers worldwide, into the digital era. The company operates a service that brings sales channels, inventory and networks online to replace the existing system, which is largely offline.

As of now, for example, if an OEM is selling air conditioning units for a new building development — the industry touches 5-20 percent of every new building via electrical equipment — the process will typically be handled by a reseller who presents a paper-based inventory to the buyer. Kyklo is proposing to take things online by allowing OEMs to lay out their inventory in a web-based shop — like Shopify — which can then be used by the reseller to solicit sales.

The idea may seem elementary, but the benefits go beyond ease of use — a website obviously has plenty of benefits over a physical sales catalog — including increased visibility to the OEM, who previously relied on the reseller for sales data. Resellers themselves also have a more dynamic catalog of products to share with prospective sales leads, which is also designed to feature highly in search engine rankings to help bring in inbound sales leads.

Kyklo began as a Shopify-like solution when it was founded in 2015 by two former employees of Sneider Electric, the $50-billion electric and energy company that is listed in Paris, France. Over the past year, however, the startup refocused into a sales lead and management tool for both OEMs and resellers.

CEO Remi Ducrocq — who started Kyklo with fellow co-founder and CTO Fabien Legouic — told TechCrunch that there was an expectation that simply by launching a store sales leads would land. While Kyklo does optimize search ranking, it works best as an aid for teams by helping coordinate sales leads, giving greater transparency on data — for future sales predictions — making it easy to add new products quickly,

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CryptoKitties raises 12M from Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures

CryptoKitties, the virtual collectible kitten game that turned into a viral sensation has raised $12M in funding and will be spun out from Axiom Zen, the Vancouver and San Francisco-based design studio that originally built the game.

The round is being led by Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures, both of which have quickly developed a reputation for backing fast-growing cryptocurrency startups like Coinbase. A bunch of notable angels also participated, including Naval Ravikant (CEO and founder of AngelList), Mark Pincus (founder of Zynga) and Fred Ehrsam (founder of Coinbase) among others.

So what are CryptoKitties? They’re essentially digital collectibles built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. Each one is unique and has certain attributes that make them rare and desirable, almost like a digital beanie baby. And users are spending tons of real money on them, with some of the rarest kitties fetching over $100,000 when the game first launched.

While the startup is being pretty mum on what the future looks like and what they’re planning on using this funding for, it’s almost certain that the long term goal is to expand beyond CryptoKitties and use the same Ethereum ERC-721 collectible standard to create other game experiences, especially ones that can be played by regular people who are unfamiliar with cryptocurrency.

To this note, Fred Wilson of USV quickly outlined the firm’s thesis behind investing in CryptoKitties, saying “we think digital collectibles is one of many amazing things that blockchains enable that literally could not be done before this technology emerged. We also think digital collectibles and all of the games they enable will be one of the first, if not the first, big consumer use cases for blockchain technologies.” 

If you want to find out more about how CryptoKitties works check out our original story here.

Sources Google is buying Lytro for about 40M

Last week, Google showed off a new app to display immersive photography in virtual reality, and a multi-camera technique for capturing it, and now it looks like there may be plans to enhance that with some bolted-on technology created by a third party.

Multiple sources tell us that Google is acquiring Lytro, the imaging startup that began as a ground-breaking camera company for consumers before pivoting to use its depth-data, light-field technology in VR.

One source described the deal as an “asset sale” with Lytro going for no more than $40 million. Another source tells us that not all employees are coming over with the company’s technology: some have already received severance and parted ways with the company, and others have simply left. Assets would presumably also include Lytro’s 59 patents related to light-field and other digital imaging technology.

The sale would be far from a big win for Lytro and its backers. The startup has raised just over $200 million in funding and was valued at around $360 million after its last round in 2017, according to data from PitchBook. Its long list of investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Foxconn, GV, Greylock, NEA, Qualcomm Ventures and many more.

The stage of the deal also is not clear. Emails to several investors have received either no response, or no comment. Multiple emails to Google and Lytro also have had no response.

A pricetag of $40 million is not quite the exit that was envisioned for the company when it first launched its camera concept, and in the words of investor Ben Horowitz, “blew my brains to bits.”

The company’s trajectory since being founded in 2006 (originally as Refocus Imaging) by Ren Ng underscores a few of the ongoing challenges in the startup world: hardware remains hard; VR has not grown as fast as some had thought that it would; and more generally, large platforms will loom as persuasive consolidators especially when conditions for the the first two of those issues become tight.

In the case of Lytro, that translated to captivating but expensive cameras; a weaker business funnel for its pivot to VR; and, it appears, a persuasive offer from a company that has plenty of cash and time to wait out the right market conditions for new platforms, and in the meantime to consider the multiple uses of the tech in a variety of different scenarios, be it in its automotive

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Researchers find the best way to press a button

When all you have is a finger everything looks like a button . But what happens if you’re unable to press buttons or, more likely, we begin using robots and other tools to interact with the real world? That’s what researchers at Aalto University, Finland, and KAIST, South Korea wanted to find out when they started examining how humans tap buttons.

“This research was triggered by admiration of our remarkable capability to adapt button-pressing”, said Professor Antti Oulasvirta at Aalto University. “We push a button on a remote controller differently than a piano key. The press of a skilled user is surprisingly elegant when looked at terms of timing, reliability, and energy use. We successfully press buttons without ever knowing the inner workings of a button. It is essentially a black box to our motor system. On the other hand, we also fail to activate buttons, and some buttons are known to be worse than others.”

During their study, they assessed the push buttons – buttons with actual travel – were more usable than touch buttons and that the best buttons were the ones that reacted at time of maximum impact. The researchers created something called “Impact Activation.” These buttons activate only when they are fully pressed, thereby ensuring that users will know exactly when they are and are not tapping a key on a keyboard or even a musical instrument.

From their release:

The simulations shed new light on what happens during a button press. One problem the brain must overcome is that muscles do not activate as perfectly as we will, but every press is slightly different. Moreover, a button press is very fast, occurring within 100 milliseconds, and is too fast for correcting movement. The key to understanding button-pressing is therefore to understand how the brain adapts based on the limited sensations that are the residue of the brief press event.

The researchers argue that the key capability of the brain is a probabilistic model: The brain learns a model that allows it to predict a suitable motor command for a button. If a press fails, it can pick a very good alternative and try it out. “Without this ability, we would have to learn to use every button like it was new,” tells Professor Byungjoo Lee from KAIST. After successfully activating the button, the brain can tune the motor command to be more precise, use less energy and to avoid stress or pain

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