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Mozilla finds that most dating apps are not great guardians of user data | TechCrunch

Dating apps are not following great privacy practices and are collecting more data than ever in order to woo GenZ users, a new study by Mozilla pointed out. Researchers reviewed dating apps in terms of privacy in 2021. In the latest report, they noted that dating apps have become more data-hungry and intrusive.

The organization studied 25 apps and labeled 22 of them ” Privacy Not Included” — the lowest grade in Mozilla’s parlance. Mozilla only gave Queer-owned and operated Lex a positive review, with Harmony and Happn getting a passable rating.

Mozilla said 80% of the apps may share or sell your personal data for advertising purposes. The report noted that apps like Bumble have murky privacy clauses that might sell your data to advertisers.

“We use services that help improve marketing campaigns . . . Under certain privacy laws, this may be considered selling or sharing your personal information with our marketing partners,” an in-app popup says, as noted by Mozilla.

The report noted that the majority of apps, including Hinge, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, Plenty of Fish, BLK, and BlackPeopleMeet, had precise geolocation from users. Apps like Hinge collect location data in the background when the app is not in use.

“The collection of your geolocation may occur in the background even when you aren’t using the services if the permission you gave us expressly permits such collection. If you decline permission for us to collect your precise geolocation, we will not collect it, and our services that rely on precise geolocation may not be available to you,” Hinge’s policy states.

The insidious role of data brokers

Dating apps claim that they collect a significant amount of data to find better matches for users. However, if that data ends up with data brokers, there are grave consequences. Last year, the Washington Post reported that a U.S.-based Catholic group bought data from Grindr to monitor some members.

Notably, Grindr — which got one of the lowest ratings under Mozilla’s review — has had a record of lapses in privacy and security practices.

“If dating apps think people are going to keep handing over their most intimate data – basically, everything but their mother’s maiden name – without finding love, they’re underestimating their users. Their predatory privacy practices are a dealbreaker,” Zoë MacDonald, researcher and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement.

As per data from analytics firm, dating app downloads are slowing down. Separately, data from Pew Research published last year suggests that only three in 10 adults have ever used a dating site or an app — a figure that has stayed the same since 2019. Last month, The New York Times published a report noting that dating app giants Match Group and Bumble have lost more than $40 billion in market value since 2021.

Companies are now looking towards new ways to engage potential daters, including experimenting with AI-powered features. Match Group already said during its Q3 2024 earnings this year that it plans to leverage AI. In March, Platformer reported that Grindr plans to introduce an AI chatbot that could engage in sexually explicit language.

Mozilla said that apps already use AI to match algorithms. With the onset of generative AI, researchers are not confident that dating apps will have enough protections for user privacy.

Mozilla privacy researcher Misha Rykov said that, as dating apps collect more data, they have a duty to protect that data from being exploited.

“To forge stronger matches users have to write compelling profiles, fill out numerous interest and personality surveys, asses and charm matches, share pictures and videos — the whole experience is heavily dependent on how much information people share. By this virtue, dating apps must protect this data from exploitation,” he noted.

Earlier this year, Mozilla also evaluated a bunch of AI bots that could act as a romantic partner and found some serious concerns about security and data sharing practices of these bots.

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Adobe claims its new image generation model is its best yet | TechCrunch

Firefly, Adobe’s family of generative AI models, doesn’t have the best reputation among creatives.

The Firefly image generation model in particular has been derided as underwhelming and flawed compared to Midjourney, OpenAI’s DALL-E 3, and other rivals, with a tendency to distort limbs and landscapes and miss the nuances in prompts. But Adobe is trying to right the ship with its third-generation model, Firefly Image 3, releasing this week during the company’s Max London conference.

The model, now available in Photoshop (beta) and Adobe’s Firefly web app, produces more “realistic” imagery than its predecessor (Image 2) and its predecessor’s predecessor (Image 1) thanks to an ability to understand longer, more complex prompts and scenes as well as improved lighting and text generation capabilities. It should more accurately render things like typography, iconography, raster images and line art, says Adobe, and is “significantly” more adept at depicting dense crowds and people with “detailed features” and “a variety of moods and expressions.”

For what it’s worth, in my brief unscientific testing, Image 3 does appear to be a step up from Image 2.

I wasn’t able to try Image 3 myself. But Adobe PR sent a few outputs and prompts from the model, and I managed to run those same prompts through Image 2 on the web to get samples to compare the Image 3 outputs with. (Keep in mind that the Image 3 outputs could’ve been cherry-picked.)

Notice the lighting in this headshot from Image 3 compared to the one below it, from Image 2:

From Image 3. Prompt: “Studio portrait of young woman.”

Same prompt as above, from Image 2.

The Image 3 output looks more detailed and lifelike to my eyes, with shadowing and contrast that’s largely absent from the Image 2 sample.

Here’s a set of images showing Image 3’s scene understanding at play:

From Image 3. Prompt: “An artist in her studio sitting at desk looking pensive with tons of paintings and ethereal.”

Same prompt as above. From Image 2.

Note the Image 2 sample is fairly basic compared to the output from Image 3 in terms of the level of detail — and overall expressiveness. There’s wonkiness going on with the subject in the Image 3 sample’s shirt (around the waist area), but the pose is more complex than the subject’s from Image 2. (And Image 2’s clothes are also a bit off.)

Some of Image 3’s improvements can no doubt be traced to a larger and more diverse training data set.

Like Image 2 and Image 1, Image 3 is trained on uploads to Adobe Stock, Adobe’s royalty-free media library, along with licensed and public domain content for which the copyright has expired. Adobe Stock grows all the time, and consequently so too does the available training data set.

In an effort to ward off lawsuits and position itself as a more “ethical” alternative to generative AI vendors who train on images indiscriminately (e.g. OpenAI, Midjourney), Adobe has a program to pay Adobe Stock contributors to the training data set. (We’ll note that the terms of the program are rather opaque, though.) Controversially, Adobe also trains Firefly models on AI-generated images, which some consider a form of data laundering.

Recent Bloomberg reporting revealed AI-generated images in Adobe Stock aren’t excluded from Firefly image-generating models’ training data, a troubling prospect considering those images might contain regurgitated copyrighted material. Adobe has defended the practice, claiming that AI-generated images make up only a small portion of its training data and go through a moderation process to ensure they don’t depict trademarks or recognizable characters or reference artists’ names.

Of course, neither diverse, more “ethically” sourced training data nor content filters and other safeguards guarantee a perfectly flaw-free experience — see users generating people flipping the bird with Image 2. The real test of Image 3 will come once the community gets its hands on it.

New AI-powered features

Image 3 powers several new features in Photoshop beyond enhanced text-to-image.

A new “style engine” in Image 3, along with a new auto-stylization toggle, allows the model to generate a wider array of colors, backgrounds and subject poses. They feed into Reference Image, an option that lets users condition the model on an image whose colors or tone they want their future generated content to align with.

Three new generative tools — Generate Background, Generate Similar and Enhance Detail — leverage Image 3 to perform precision edits on images. The (self-descriptive) Generate Background replaces a background with a generated one that blends into the existing image, while Generate Similar offers variations on a selected portion of a photo (a person or an object, for example). As for Enhance Detail, it “fine-tunes” images to improve sharpness and clarity.

If these features sound familiar, that’s because they’ve been in beta in the Firefly web app for at least a month (and Midjourney for much longer than that). This marks their Photoshop debut — in beta.

Speaking of the web app, Adobe isn’t neglecting this alternate route to its AI tools.

To coincide with the release of Image 3, the Firefly web app is getting Structure Reference and Style Reference, which Adobe’s pitching as new ways to “advance creative control.” (Both were announced in March, but they’re now becoming widely available.) With Structure Reference, users can generate new images that match the “structure” of a reference image — say, a head-on view of a race car. Style Reference is essentially style transfer by another name, preserving the content of an image (e.g. elephants in the African Safari) while mimicking the style (e.g. pencil sketch) of a target image.

Here’s Structure Reference in action:

Original image.

Transformed with Structure Reference.

And Style Reference:

Original image.

Transformed with Style Reference.

I asked Adobe if, with all the upgrades, Firefly image generation pricing would change. Currently, the cheapest Firefly premium plan is $4.99 per month — undercutting competition like Midjourney ($10 per month) and OpenAI (which gates DALL-E 3 behind a $20-per-month ChatGPT Plus subscription).

Adobe said that its current tiers will remain in place for now, along with its generative credit system. It also said that its indemnity policy, which states Adobe will pay copyright claims related to works generated in Firefly, won’t be changing either, nor will its approach to watermarking AI-generated content. Content Credentials — metadata to identify AI-generated media — will continue to be automatically attached to all Firefly image generations on the web and in Photoshop, whether generated from scratch or partially edited using generative features.

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Rivian targets gas-powered Ford and Toyota trucks and SUVs with $5,000 'electric upgrade' discount | TechCrunch

Rivian is offering discounts up to $5,000 on its EVs — and a year of free charging — to customers willing to trade in their gas-powered trucks and SUVs.

The deal, which kicked off April 22, is aimed directly at some of the best-selling and most ubiquitous gas-powered trucks and SUVs on the market today, including the Ford F-150, Toyota Tacoma and Jeep Wrangler. Rivian is even going after German automakers Audi and BMW. The price cut varies between $1,000 and $5,000 depending on the model. Rivian is offering discounts on three R1T pickup truck trims and one R1S SUV model.

The company promoted Monday the “electric upgrade offer” in an email to prospective customers as well as posts on social media. The discounts come as demand for premium and luxury EVs has softened across the industry, prompting automakers such as Ford, Lucid and Tesla to reduce prices. Faced with uncertain demand, many legacy automakers have also pared down plans to shift their portfolios to only battery-electric vehicles. Gas-powered vehicles and hybrids are back en vogue, thanks to the steady sales and profit margins they provide.

Rivian, which is only expected to produce about 57,000 EVs in 2024, won’t unseat the best-selling trucks on the market. But the approach could help it win over a new batch of customers.

Only owners of specific gas-powered vehicles will be eligible for the trade in. Those include 2018 or newer Ford F-150 trucks, Ford Explorer, Ford Expedition and Bronco, with the exception of the Bronco Sport. Other eligible trade-ins are 2018 or newer Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator. The Audi Q5, Q7 and Q8 as well as the BMW X3, X5 and X7 also qualify.

The deals applies to customers who want to lease or buy a vehicle, although they must take delivery by June 30. Rivian is also throwing in a year of free charging at any Rivian-owned charger in the United States as an added sweetener. Rivian fast-chargers, which are branded the Rivian Adventure Network, are not nearly as plentiful as the Tesla Supercharging network. The company has installed 433 fast-chargers at 71 stations, including in Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and along the East Coast. Rivian has also installed 482 Level 2 chargers (called Waypoints) at 180 lives sites throughout the United States.

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EU opens probe of TikTok Lite, citing concerns about addictive design | TechCrunch

The European Union has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok, announcing Monday that it suspects the video sharing platform of breaking the bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA), an online governance and content moderation framework.

The Commission also said it’s minded to impose interim measures that could force the company to suspend access to the TikTok Lite app in the EU while it investigates concerns the app poses mental health risks to users. Although the EU has given TikTok until April 24 to argue against the measure — meaning the app remains accessible for now.

The development shows the EU cracking down on a product launch it deems risky where it can show a platform has not followed expected procedure.

Penalties for confirmed violations of the DSA can reach up to 6% of global annual turnover. So ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, could face hefty fines if EU enforcers do end up deciding it has broken the law.

While the Commission hasn’t yet confirmed any breaches of the DSA this is the second probe it’s opened on TikTok after announcing an (ongoing) investigation into multiple aspects of its DSA compliance back in February. Since December X has also been under investigation over a range of DSA compliance concerns.

The EU’s first TikTok probe covers multiple issues including the protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers and the risk management of addictive design and harmful content. Hence it said the latest investigation will specifically focus on TikTok Lite, a version of the video sharing platform which launched earlier this month in France and Spain and includes a mechanism that allows users to earn points for doing things like watching or liking videos.

Points earned through TikTok Lite can be exchanged for things like Amazon gift vouchers or TikTok’s own digital currency for gifting to creators. The Commission is worried this so-called “task and reward” feature could negatively impact the mental health of young users by “stimulating addictive behavior”.

The EU wrote that the second probe will focus on TikTok’s compliance with the DSA obligation to conduct and submit a risk assessment report prior to the launch of the “Task and Reward Lite” program, with a particular focus on negative effects on mental health, including minors’ mental health. It also said it will look into measures taken by TikTok to mitigate those risks.

In a press release announcing the action, the EU said ByteDance failed to produce a risk assessment about the feature which it had asked to see last week — when it gave the company 24 hours to produce the document.

TikTok is regulated under the strictest regime of the DSA, which applies to around half a dozen larger platforms. This extra layer of risk mitigation requirements obliges them to proactively identify and mitigate systemic risks — such as addictive design that could harm users’ mental health.

The EU’s suspicion is ByteDance failed to do this before going ahead and launching TikTok Lite in the two EU markets: Since it failed to submit the risk assessment paperwork on April 18 the Commission wrote that it suspects a “prima facie infringement of the DSA”.

The regulation bakes in a regime of smaller fines for failures to produce requested information on time, as appears to have happened here. ByteDance could therefore face a penalty of up to 1% of its total annual income or worldwide turnover and periodic penalties up to 5% of average daily income or worldwide annual turnover specifically for this type of DSA compliance failure.

Although the Commission has not confirmed whether it plans to fine TikTok for failing to produce the risk assessment document on time as yet.

ByteDance was contacted for a response to the EU’s latest DSA enforcement. But as of press time it had not responded. Update: A TikTok spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this decision — the TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available to under 18s, and there is a daily limit on video watch tasks. We will continue discussions with the Commission.”

It’s worth noting the EU’s press release raises specific concerns about “the suspected absence of effective age verification mechanisms on TikTok”, which is an area the Commission’s first TikTok investigation is looking into.

Commenting on the Commission’s enforcement action in a statement, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU Internal Market, wrote: “Endless streams of short and fast-paced videos could be seen as fun, but also expose our children to risks of addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low attention spans… With our first DSA non-compliance case against TikTok still ongoing, the company has launched TikTok Lite which financially rewards extra screen time. We suspect TikTok ‘Lite’ could be as toxic and addictive as cigarettes ‘light’. Unless TikTok provides compelling proof of its safety, which it has failed to do until now, we stand ready to trigger DSA interim measures including the suspension of TikTok Lite feature which we suspect could generate addiction. We will spare no effort to protect our children.”

This report was updated with comment from TikTok; and to confirm the platform’s approach to age verification is being investigated by the EU.

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UnitedHealth says Change hackers stole health data on 'substantial proportion of people in America' | TechCrunch

Health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group has confirmed that a ransomware attack on its health tech subsidiary Change Healthcare earlier this year resulted in a huge theft of Americans’ private healthcare data.

UnitedHealth said in a statement on Monday that a ransomware gang took files containing personal data and protected health information that it says may “cover a substantial proportion of people in America.”

The health insurance giant did not say how many Americans are affected but said the data review was “likely to take several months” before the company would begin notifying individuals that their information was stolen in the cyberattack.

Change Healthcare processes insurance and billing for hundreds of thousands of hospitals, pharmacies and medical practices across the U.S. healthcare sector; it has access to massive amounts of health information on about half of all Americans.

UnitedHealth said it had not yet seen evidence that doctors’ charts or full medical histories were exfiltrated from its systems.

The admission that hackers stole Americans’ health data comes a week after a new hacking group began publishing portions of the stolen data in an effort to extort a second ransom demand from the company.

The gang, which calls itself RansomHub, published several files on its dark web leak site containing personal information about patients across an array of documents, some of which included internal files related to Change Healthcare. RansomHub said it would sell the stolen data unless Change Healthcare pays a ransom.

RansomHub is the second gang to demand a ransom from Change Healthcare. The health tech giant reportedly paid $22 million to a Russia-based criminal gang called ALPHV in March, which then disappeared, stiffing the affiliate that carried out the data theft out of their portion of the ransom.

RansomHub claimed in its post alongside the published stolen data that “we have the data and not ALPHV.”

In its statement Monday, UnitedHealth acknowledged the publication of some of the files but stopped short of claiming ownership of the documents. “This is not an official breach notification,” UnitedHealth said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the criminal hacking affiliate of ALPHV broke into Change Healthcare’s network using stolen credentials for a system that allows remote access to its network. The hackers were in Change Healthcare’s network for more than a week before deploying ransomware, allowing the hackers to steal significant amounts of data from the company’s systems.

The cyberattack at Change Healthcare began on February 21 and resulted in ongoing widespread outages at pharmacies and hospitals across the United States. For weeks, physicians, pharmacies and hospitals could not verify patient benefits for dispensing medications, organizing inpatient care, or processing prior authorizations necessary for surgeries.

Much of the U.S. healthcare system ground to a halt, with healthcare providers facing financial pressure as backlogs grow and outages linger.

UnitedHealth reported last week that the ransomware attack has cost it more than $870 million in losses. The company reported it made $99.8 billion in revenue during the first three months of the year, faring better than what Wall Street analysts had expected.

UnitedHealth CEO Andrew Witty, who received close to $21 million in total compensation the full year of 2022, is set to testify to House lawmakers on May 1.

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TechCrunch Space: Engineering the future | TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. Don’t worry — we’ll be diving into the Mars Sample Return news shortly.

Want to reach out with a tip? Email Aria at [email protected] or send me a message on Signal at 512-937-3988. You also can send a note to the whole TechCrunch crew at [email protected]For more secure communicationsclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop instructions and links to encrypted messaging apps.

Story of the week

This week’s SOTW segment is dedicated to Mars Sample Return, NASA’s troubled and ambitious plan to bring Martian rock and dust back to Earth.

From my colleague Devin Coldewey:

NASA administrator Bill Nelson has pronounced the agency’s $11 billion, 15-year plan to collect and return samples from Mars insufficient. But the strategy shift could be a huge boon to space startups, to which much of that planned funding will almost certainly be redirected.

“The bottom line is, an $11 billion budget is too expensive, and a 2040 return date is too far away,” Nelson said at a press conference. “We need to look outside the box to find a way ahead that is both affordable and returns samples in a reasonable timeframe.”

In other words, clear the decks and start over — with commercial providers on board from the get-go.

Concept image of a Mars sample return helicopter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scoop of the week

Former senior SpaceX executive Tom Ochinero is teaming up with SpaceX alum-turned-VC Achal Upadhyaya and one of Sequoia’s top finance leaders, Spencer Hemphill, on a new venture called Interlagos Capital, TechCrunch has learned.

There is little public information available about Interlagos, and the trio did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment. The company was formally incorporated in the state of Delaware on March 7, and it was registered as an out-of-state company with California only days ago, on April 11. Ochinero, Upadhyaya and Hemphill are all listed on the documents. The principal address is in El Segundo, California.

Image Credits: SpaceX

What we’re reading

Jake Robins has some really good takes on the Mars Sample Return, which you can find on the link above. I read his work after appearing on his podcast with Anthony Colangelo, Off-Nominal (check out the link here).

Illustration of Mars. Image Credits: Getty Images

This week in space history 

On April 23, 1972, Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke departed the lunar surface and rejoined Thomas Mattingly in lunar orbit. Young and Duke were returning after spending three days exploring the lunar surface. Then, the trio started heading home.

Young, Commander of the Apollo 16 mission, with the Lunar Roving Vehicle at the Descartes landing site. The photo was captured by Duke. Image Credits: NASA

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Here are the 30+ startups showcasing at HAX's May 1 Demo Day | TechCrunch

A few weeks back, TechCrunch ventured out to New Jersey to pay an early visit to HAX’s Newark offices. As much as I complained about the 90-minute commute in from Queens, it’s nothing compared to the last time I paid a visit to the SOSV-run hardware accelerator’s Shenzhen space.

HAX’s China operations have shrunk considerably since then, courtesy of a global pandemic and all of the ensuing lockdowns. That space had remarkable proximity to the global supply chain. One simply had to walk downstairs into mall-like spaces, filled wall to wall with component vendors.

In some ways, the Newark space is a reflection of the Shenzhen offices. There’s a faint sense of déjà vu, entering through the doors and spotting the familiar stadium seating where company and startup meetings are held. The China offices were far more lived-in by the time I visited. As the first news organization to visit the HAX space, we were greeted with walls of boxes awaiting the recycling truck — a familiar sight to anyone who’s ever moved office or house.

One key thing the new office has is plenty of space. The Newark “flagship” is 35,000 square feet, funded — in part — by $25 million from the state of New Jersey. While the city of Newark does maintain some manufacturing facilities, startups here can’t simply skip down to the massive Shenzhen markets to get a new part or have an old one machined. Instead, HAX has invested a lot into on-site equipment, including metal fab, 3D printing, CNC machines and laser and water jet cutters. There’s even a chemistry lab on-site for deep tech projects.

HAX will host its first demo day in four years here. The list includes more than 30 companies, across climate, manufacturing, computing, health and energy. We’ve got the exclusive list of all those companies showcasing (below).

Here are a few notable ones TechCrunch has chatted with over the years:

CocoonCarbon: U.K.-based CocoonCarbon has built a small factory inside a shipping container that is capable of turning steel runoff (turns out it’s called “slag”) into sustainable cement.

PureLi: Founded nearby, this Princeton University startup has designed a simple system it promises can dramatically speed up lithium extraction in brine lakes. Located primarily in South American countries like Chile, these “lakes” are produced when drilling for oil and gas. The startup is currently working on a rev share model, using a technology it says can double or triple the evaporation rate.

Renovate Robotics: We first covered this robotic roofing firm last March, when it announced a $2.5 million seed round. The news also found HAX associate/analyst Dylan Crow jumping to the startup side of the fence as CEO. Renovate produced a winch-based robot that installs roof shingles in a gantry-like X,Y axis pattern. Roofing is an extremely dangerous business that’s prime for automation.

Silana: This Vienna firm is working on a robotic system that can completely automate the sewing process. Once completed, the startup says its technology (pictured at the top of the post) will be able to increase production speeds by 4x, while lowering costs and CO2 by 82% and 38%, respectively.

Swap Robotics: Swap has been around for a minute already. The firm actually competed in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2022. Founded in 2019, the company has built a robotic system designed to landscape solar farms — that means both grass cutting and snow removal. Early last year, the Battlefield finalist scored $7 million in seed funding. The round was fittingly led by California-based solar provider, SOLV Energy.

HAX’s Demo Day kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on May 1.

Here’s the full list, courtesy of HAX:

Altiro Energy provides carbon-free high-temperature industrial heat where on-grid sources are unavailable. The technology uses iron as a rechargeable CO2-free fuel to provide the most flexible, clean energy carrier. Existing fossil fuel-based power generation assets can easily be retrofitted to use Altiro’s fuel.

Amatec developed a fast-curing, sustainable alternative to concrete. It allows for the world’s most rapid, low-cost and low-carbon production of ready-to-install, prefabricated panels for residential construction.

Arculus uses robots to upgrade gas pipelines to carry hydrogen with a unique coating process that breathes new life into stranded gas assets.

AtoMe has developed a unique approach to additive manufacturing that enables advanced materials with significant improvements in physical properties over traditional alloys. These materials can be applied in a variety of industries, including aviation, aerospace, nuclear, and oil and gas.

Aurasense quantifies neurological conditions by creating point-of-care devices to capture and analyze motor function and provide data-enabled treatment feedback.

CarbonBridge converts waste greenhouse gas into methanol using microbes. Their biological process enables the lowest energy and greenest process for methanol production, while achieving cost-parity with fossil fuels by 2027.

CocoonCarbon is decarbonizing the steel and cement industries through production of low-carbon cement additives produced from steel waste and industrial CO2 emissions.

Cool Amps has developed a novel, low energy, low capex, distributed process for battery recycling that does not require collection of black mass. Their process allows for recovery of all the battery components, including directly yielding usable cathode-active material.

DIA is on a mission to improve human health by measuring chemical threats daily, in real time, and at the point-of-need using groundbreaking electrochemical sensing technology integrated into wearable devices. Their first product measures cortisol — “the stress hormone” — with two drops of saliva in three minutes.

3DK Tech enables local advanced manufacturing by bringing forging-level durability and reliability to metal additive manufacturing.

Hyperlume AI is already creating a huge electricity burden, with data centers that today consume more electricity than Western countries like the U.K., and this is set to grow exponentially. Hyperlume builds high-speed, ultra-low-power, low-cost optical interconnects for data centers and high-performance computing systems that can save up to 10% energy.

LightHearted has developed a novel medical device that can diagnose heart diseases cheaply, quickly and accurately, to enable preventative care, without the need of a clinician.

Lura Health creates sensors that monitor health through saliva. They enable a continual stream of critical data that can help prevent health emergencies, manage chronic diseases and help users achieve their health goals.

Material enables 3D-printed batteries for custom shapes and chemistries. This technology enables better design-engineering, improved cooling and performance and flexible production for infinite customization.

Mazlite saves automotive customers by preventing errors in coating processes. Their advanced spray monitoring and optimization technology makes industrial spraying processes sustainable and more profitable.

MesaQuantum creates grain-sized chip-scale atomic clocks. Their technology is a quantum-accurate timing standard for applications in defense, underwater, GPS replacement and secure wireless communications.

Metal Light is building a replacement for industrial diesel generators using metal and air to produce cost competitive, clean electricity with no emissions. They are applying this technology across a range of industries including construction, entertainment, mining and maritime shipping.

MIMiC has pioneered a refrigerant-free HVAC system that requires no moving parts, making it maintenance-free and reducing operating costs. This solid-state heat pump technology is a game-changer in the industry, as refrigerants are incredibly harmful GHG contributors.

Mitico has developed a point-source carbon capture system that can capture and purify CO2 at prices below $50/ton. Their amine-free system is modular and mass manufacturable and easily integrates into existing infrastructure, and utilizes non-toxic sorbents.

OLI is building intuitive, portable hemodialysis devices. It’s positioned to be the world’s most convenient form of kidney care, accessible from virtually anywhere.

PDS has developed a “toxicology-lab-in-a-box” which enables clinicians and investigators to streamline analytical testing with a seamless on-site solution, delivering laboratory-quality data while saving time and money.

PureLi dramatically expedites the extraction of lithium using environmentally safe methods within existing facilities and enables profitable lithium production from previously un-economic reserves.

Qnetic is building the world’s largest flywheel energy storage device that is both less expensive and more reliable than lithium ion storage for grid-scale storage.

Q5D combines robotics and AI to add wiring and printed electronics directly into products, automating what is currently a manual process. This reduces cost, simplifies supply chains, enables nearshore production and improves quality in the manufacturing of automotive, aerospace and consumer products.

Renovate Robotics automates roofing and solar installation with robotics. They increase the productivity, safety, quality and speed of roof installation.

Silana manufactures modular cut-and-sew robotically powered micro-factories that enable ultra-responsive supply chains for apparel manufacturing. This technological innovation enables sustainable, cost-effective production in high-wage countries.

SWAP Robotics addresses two significant cost challenges to the CapEx and OpEx of solar farms. Their robots for solar panel laying and vegetation management at large solar farms drastically reduce install costs and continuing O&M.

Still Bright has discovered transformative reaction chemistry to enable the local, rapid, clean and complete recovery of copper. This enables domestic production of copper, a critical mineral for electrification.

Terran Robotics makes automated home construction a mass-market reality. Their robots take one of the world’s most expensive, well-understood and labor-intensive forms of construction and automates its biggest cost component: labor. The result is extraordinary homes at an affordable price aimed at solving the housing crisis.

TrelliSense has built a methane intelligence platform that detects, localizes and quantifies emissions. Their advanced spectroscopic sensors are flexible and affordable, providing unparalleled continuous monitoring for oil and gas, waste management and agriculture companies.

Unicorn Bio builds machines to industrialize biomanufacturing processes by combining cutting-edge hardware, analytics and AI-driven control systems. This enables scalable manufacturing for industries including cell & gene therapies, pharmaceuticals and cultured meat at affordable cost and reliable quality.

Vandrax Technologies is on a mission to solve the housing crisis with the first fully automated building construction system that can build homes, office buildings, multi-family housing and infrastructure in a safer, faster, cheaper and more sustainable way. Their proprietary technology combines Building Information Modeling (BIM), standardization and AI-enabled robotics.

Verdex has developed a highly scalable and eco-friendly nanofiber manufacturing process to produce advanced filtration materials. These materials can be used for energy efficient HVAC, CO2 capture and green battery components.

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Robotic Automations

Here's a lab-grown diamond startup that’s attracted a16z's attention | TechCrunch

Throughout hip-hop’s long history, jewelry has served as an important vehicle for artists to convey their ideas and affluence, or simply to dazzle onlookers. Diamonds, in particular, serve as an important motif, famously exemplified by Drake’s $400,000 diamond-encrusted iPhone case.

But not everyone is a millionaire rapper, and most people can’t exactly afford to wear bust down watches flooded with ice. Still, there’s certainly a market for such jewelry at a lower price point, and venture capitalists appear to have noticed it: A direct-to-consumer diamond jewelry startup called Pascal has raised nearly $10 million in VC funding to date, of which $2.5 million came from Andreessen Horowitz in early 2023, TechCrunch has learned.

What’s more, the company expects to generate $20-$30 million in revenue this year, and has a three-month customer repurchase rate of roughly 20%, according to its founder and CEO, Adam Hua.

Pascal’s pitch is that it can make diamond jewelry accessible by using lab-grown diamonds that are chemically and physically akin to natural diamonds but cost one-twentieth of the price. The company’s gem-studded jewelry starts at as little as $70, and it is hoping using cultivated diamonds will help it gain a foothold in the more affordable segment of the wider jewelry market.

“Diamond is unique to hip-hop; it’s a status symbol. But most people cannot afford diamonds,” Hua said. “Cultivated diamonds fundamentally transform the supply side of the industry.”

Synthetic diamonds have been around since the 1950s, and they’ve been often used to make high-carat jewelry. These diamonds are usually “grown” in labs, where extreme forces and heat are applied to graphite, similar to the process that gives rise to naturally-occuring diamonds. Manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds often also like to tout their more environmentally friendly process, and some even take their missions a step further by making diamonds from captured carbon.

For Pascal, the focus is “culture,” and it isn’t trying to disrupt the natural diamond sector. “The demand for luxury diamonds [for jewelry like] engagement rings will remain,” Hua said. “We are just creating a new, affordable diamond category.”

Pascal’s diamonds decorate everything from watches to lipsticks and come in a wide range of colors, which is rare in natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds, Hua stressed, are also shinier, “making them good for TikTok videos.”

To find supply, Pascal turned to Henan, a central Chinese province that has become a major production hub for synthetic diamonds in the world, and China’s emerging manufacturing neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand.

“It’s a naturally cross-border business,” Hua said of his company. The U.S. is currently Pascal’s largest market, followed by Europe, he added.

Hua appears to have a knack for running fashion businesses. While studying physics at UC Berkeley, he sourced sneakers from the U.S. and supplied them to resellers in China, which helped him earn his first million dollars. He then founded a peer-to-peer streetwear marketplace in China, which raised over $10 million in equity funding and generated $1 billion worth of gross merchandise value in its third year of operation. His experience running that company eventually inspired the idea for Pascal.

“I realized that most of my customers were Gen Z and their purchasing power was growing over time,” he told TechCrunch. “Around 2022-2023, the average ticket size had shot up to $500, but there wasn’t a good product category for the $500+ price range.”

As he scoured the consumer landscape, Hua picked out hip-hop fashion. He looked at how fans of rock bands often purchase clothing and goods that can range from $30 t-shirts and $200 sneakers to $500 leather jackets and $1,000 jewelry to make a statement about their cultural identity.

“What if there were a $500-$1,000 category of diamond products for hip-hop fans and other diamond lovers?” he said, speaking about his thought process. “People want to get their money’s worth when they buy something for quality and cultural needs.

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Robotic Automations

Oura’s smart ring hits Target stores | TechCrunch

Oura on Monday announced that its smart ring will be available in select Target stores in the U.S. The deal, which also brings the wearable to the retailer’s site, follows similar announcements with Amazon in March and Best Buy last April.

It’s a good bit of validation for a company that almost singlehandedly legitimatized the smart ring as an alternative form factor to ubiquitous wrist-worn smartwatches and trackers. The retail push has been central to CEO Tom Hale, who took over the role in 2022, as interest in health trackers was on the rise amid the pandemic.

The period also saw high-profile adoptions from sports leagues like the NBA, as the company touted health tracking that could potentially catch COVID-19 infections early. In March 2022, the nine-year-old company announced that it had sold its one-millionth ring.

Target end caps will feature a “unique in-store sizing experience,” with dummy units on display. For those who purchase a $10 sizing kit through Target’s site, the retailer will send along a $10 gift certificate to offset the price.

The Gen 3 rings start at $300, but Oura’s subscription service is where the real revenue comes from. The company faced pushback when it announced that it would require the monthly fee to access certain features, though such criticism doesn’t appear to have had any major negative impact on Oura’s growth.

More validation for the form factor arrived earlier this year, when Samsung announced that it is launching its own fitness ring. The Galaxy Ring is set to hit the market later this year.

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Informatica makes a point to say it's not for sale — to Salesforce or anyone else | TechCrunch

Nothing gets us going like a big M&A rumor, and history has shown where there’s smoke there has often been fire — but that’s not always the case. Last week the big rumor involved Salesforce acquiring Informatica in a deal amounting to somewhere between the $6.5 billion 2018 MuleSoft deal and the $15.7 billion Tableau acquisition the following year.

It would have been a big deal, except it reportedly fizzled over the weekend — if it ever was a thing at all. Informatica went so far as to publicly announce on Monday that it wasn’t for sale.

“In addition, on April 12, 2024, The Wall Street Journal published a story that the Company was in advanced talks to be acquired, according to sources familiar with the matter. Although Informatica’s policy is not to comment on market rumors or media speculation, the Company announced that it is not currently engaged in any discussions to be acquired,” the company wrote in a press release on Monday.

You don’t usually see a company respond to rumors in this fashion, but Informatica felt compelled to publicly state it wasn’t in talks — with anyone.

As Constellation’s Ray Wang told TechCrunch on Friday, the deal never really made sense. “The potential acquisition of Informatica is quite curious as the client base and tech is not cutting-edge. Although it could potentially solve a data integration challenge that Salesforce has had, Data Cloud is already a strong offering, so I’m not sure if this deal makes sense.”

Salesforce, for its part, stuck to the tried and true policy of not commenting on rumors or speculation.

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