Aveine’s Smart Wine Aerator is a huge upgrade for wine lovers — and could create some new ones, too

You might have very good reason to be on a wine kick right now — along with plenty of the rest of the country — so it’s perhaps timely to take a look at the Aveine Smart Aerator, a gadget from a French startup that offers variable, instant aeration and a connected app platform for determining just the right amount of aeration that any particular wine you happen to be drinking requires. The Aveine Smart Wine Aerator is premium-priced, but you might be surprised at just how much of a difference it can make.

The basics

The Aveine Smart Wine Aerator began life as did many other startup devices — as a crowdfunding project. The France-based team ended their campaign in 2018, having surpassed their funding goal, and spent the next couple of years working on finalizing, producing and shipping their design. The Aveine Smart Wine Aerator is now available to order, in both the original, full-performance version at $449, and an “Essential” edition introduced this year that offers half the maximum aeration time (12 hours versus 24) for $299 (reviewed here).

Both work the same way: You place them on top of the bottle you want to aerate once it’s opened, and they connect via Bluetooth to your phone and the Aveine app, which is available for iOS and Android. Through the app, you can take a photo of your wine’s label and it will try to match it from its growing database to automatically set the Aveine to the optimal aeration time.

Image Credits: Aveine

In practice, I found that most of the wines I was testing weren’t in the database — which Aveine expects, and that’s why it provides a simple survey you can fill out to get an approximate best aeration time, by supplying information like vintage, grapes used, region and whether the wine is organic or biodynamic. You also can manually set the aeration, and taste test small amounts to find your preferred amount.

Aveine includes a soft carrying case for the Smart Aerator, as well as a charging base that connects to any standard USB wall plug or via micro USB. The built-in battery is rated for around 12 hours of standby, with occasional aeration use while pouring, when it’s actively injecting air into the flow using a built-in motor.

Design and performance

The Aveine feels quite heavy, and it’s clear that a lot of care went into ensuring that all of its smart internals fit comfortably inside the relatively small device. It fits easily over the vast majority of wine bottle tops, and grips while pouring without any special attachment process required. The touchscreen activates when you swipe it, showing you the adjustable aeration screen in simple black and white.

Getting started with the Aveine is simple, and doesn’t require the app at all, in fact. Just adjust the scale to your desired aeration level and pour. The aeration automatically begins when you tip the bottle, and you can hear it working as the motor works to inject air while the wine flows through. If you do use the app, it’ll ask you to connect the Aerator (if you’ve woken up the device by activating the display, it should instantly show up in the app’s device list when it’s within Bluetooth range of your phone).

If you have a wine that’s in Aveine’s database, taking a picture of the label will return a recommended aeration time, and if you’re connected to the aerator, it’ll also automatically set the aerator’s aeration time to that level. As mentioned, you also can answer a few questions about the wine if it’s not in the database to return an estimated aeration time, which will also be automatically set if you’re connected to the device.

Image Credits: Aveine

Now let’s talk performance: Let me say that I understand sticker shock when you see the asking price of the Aveine — I had the same thing. But actually using the Smart Aerator goes a long way to proving its worth. The effect is immediate and non-ambiguous: It makes just about any bottle of wine taste a whole lot better, without you having to decant it and let it sit for hours in advance.

My testing is admittedly non-scientific, but I did poll a wide swath of friends and families who enjoyed bottles aerated via the Aveine during socially distanced visits, and to a one they all noted a vast improvement between before and after aeration tastings. At least one even went out and immediately purchased an Aveine of their own based on the experience.

Sometimes you have to do a bit of experimentation to get the aeration right, adjusting the levels and doing contrasting taste tests — but that’s actually also part of the fun.

Bottom line

Aerator gadgets are plentiful, and often cheaply acquired in the checkout line at the local wine shop for well under $100. But the Aveine is the first one I’ve tried that makes such a clear and demonstrable difference it can convince novices and pros alike about its efficacy. It’s a high price to pay, yes, but what you get in return is a device that consistently makes life better for wine lovers — and makes some new wine lovers out of skeptics, too.

Gaming rules the entertainment industry, so why aren’t investors showing up?

As gaming’s popularity reaches epic heights, venture investors’ activity in the industry doesn’t seem to equate with the overall size of the games market. Spurred by an unreal year where traditional entertainment has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and consumers find unity in virtual worlds like Animal Crossing and Fortnite, gaming has never been more popular.

Late-stage investors have shown that they have a tremendous appetite for businesses in the gaming industry. They’ve been pouring capital into established gaming companies like Scopely, which on Wednesday announced a $340 million investment round at a $3.3 billion valuation. But venture capital simply hasn’t given the gaming industry and the broader synthetic market the attention it deserves given its place in the entertainment and cultural firmament.

Just ask LeBron “Bronny” James Jr., the son of the NBA’s biggest star, who became a professional athlete this week — as a gamer with one of the most popular teams in online gaming, FaZe Clan. Or look at Unity, the creator of a popular game development engine, whose stock price has nearly doubled since its public offering in mid-September. Since opening trading at $56 per share, the stock has nearly doubled in value and is now trading at $100 per share.

In the first half of the year gamers spent $36.8 billion on games through both the Android and iOS app stores, according to data from SensorTower. New game installs are also up for the year. The app analytics company said that new game installs were up to 28.4 billion over the first half of the year. Annually the 15 billion new game downloads in the second quarter represented a 45.2% year-on-year growth in gaming.

Then there’s Bitkraft, one of the only venture firms to focus on the totality of the gaming industry, which announced the close of its most recent fund, a $165 million investment vehicle. The firm, which added a former Goldman Sachs managing director earlier in the year to capitalize on the opportunity in what the firm calls “synthetic reality” investments, raised $25 million more than its $140 million target. One of these things is not like the others.

“I’ve been in the games industry for 23 years now [and] I’ve always had this huge fundamental conviction of video games not only dominating the entertainment industry but sort of taking up a big part of what society is — where video games create the digital identities that define evermore of what we understand of ourselves,” said Jens Hilgers, Bitkraft’s founding general partner. “We feel that these are times of acceleration … it’s great to see how we’re leapfrogging one or two or three years of the games industry in this crisis and it makes it more exciting to invest in these times.”

The Unity public offering, and its emphasis on markets outside of gaming, seems to prove Hilgers point and show just how much opportunity remains around the notion of synthetic reality in business and entertainment.

“Their thesis around democratizing access to gaming tools by letting hobbyists use the tools for free is smart, if you want to win the market,” said Alice Lloyd George, founder of Rogue Ventures, a new investment firm focused on frontier technologies and gaming investments.

Lloyd George compared Unity’s business to its biggest competitor, Epic Games, and noted that both have broad aspirations. “Both of them want to use their game engines beyond pure gaming,” Lloyd George said of the two big new gaming platform developers. “Unity is really well-positioned because they’re so strong on mobile. That positions them well for AR and VR. And you need onramps for the developers for AR and VR.”

Engagement and the future of entertainment

When Scopely’s co-chief executive Walter Driver talks about the attraction of gaming properties for players — and the reason investors have been willing to value his Los Angeles-based company in the billions of dollars — he talks about the connections between players. “People have found — and investors looking at the space have found also — that people value the connection they’re getting from interactive experiences. It’s not just our relationship with the players, but their relationships with each other,” Driver said. “Inside of most passively consumed media experiences, you don’t have an identity. You don’t have friends.“

Rocket Lab’s next launch will deliver 30 satellites to orbit — and a 3D-printed gnome from Gabe Newell

Rocket Lab’s next mission will put dozens of satellites into orbit using the launch company’s Kick Stage “space tug,” as well as a 3D-printed garden gnome from Valve Software’s Gabe Newell. The latter is a test of a new manufacturing technique, but also a philanthropic endeavor from the gaming industry legend.

Scheduled for no earlier than November 15 (or 16 at the New Zealand launch site), the as-yet-unnamed launch — Rocket Lab gives all of their missions cheeky names — will be the company’s “most diverse ever,” it said in a press release.

A total of 30 satellites will be deployed using Rocket Lab’s own Kick Stage deployment platform, which like other “space tugs” detaches from the second stage once a certain preliminary orbit is reached and then delivers its payloads each at their own unique trajectory. That’s the most individual satellites every taken up at once by Rocket Lab.

Twenty-four of them are Swarm Technologies’ tiny SpaceBEEs, the sandwich-sized communications satellites it will be using to power a low-cost, low-bandwidth global network for Internet of Things devices.

The most unusual payload, however, is certainly “Gnome Chompski,” whose passage was paid by Valve president Newell: a 3D-printed figure that will remain attached to the Kick Stage until it burns up on reentry. The figure, a replica of an item from the popular Half-Life series of PC games, was made by Weta Workshop, the effects studio behind Lord of the Rings and many other films. It’s both a test of a potentially useful new component printing technique and “an homage to the innovation and creativity of gamers worldwide.”

More importantly, Newell will donate a dollar to Starship Children’s Hospital for every viewer of the launch, so you’ll definitely want to tune in for this one. (I’m waiting to find out more from Newell, if possible.)

The launch will also deliver satellites for TriSept, Unseenlabs and the Auckland Space Institute — the last will be New Zealand’s first student-built spacecraft.

Rocket Lab has worked hard to make its launch platform all-in-one, so prospective customers don’t have to shop around for various services or components. Ideally, the company’s CEO has said, anyone should be able to come to the company with the bare-bones payload and the rest is taken care of.

Image Credits: Rocket Lab

“Small satellite operators shouldn’t have to compromise on orbits when flying on a rideshare mission, and we’re excited to provide tailored access to space for 30 satellites on this mission. It’s why we created the Kick Stage to enable custom orbits on every mission, and eliminate the added complexity, time, and cost of having to develop your own spacecraft propulsion or using a third-party space tug,” Beck said in the press release.

Rocket Lab recently launched its own home-grown satellite, First Light, to show that getting to orbit doesn’t have be such a “pain in the butt,” as Beck put it then.

Raspberry Pi Foundation announces the cute little Raspberry Pi 400

This is the Atari 400 Raspberry Pi 400. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is launching a new product today — and it’s a brand new device. As you can see on the photo, the Raspberry Pi 400 is a computer integrated in a compact keyboard that costs $70.

And it is the easiest way to get started with a Raspberry Pi. If you’re not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, it’s a single-board computer with a lot of connectors that is the size of a deck of cards.

You can give it to a kid so that they can play around with a terminal, you can use it for your weekend projects as the computing brain or you can give it to your grandparents to replace their slow Windows XP computer that they use to receive emails.

Last year, when the Raspberry Pi Foundation introduced the Raspberry Pi 4, the foundation also used this opportunity to release a cute mouse and a keyboard. Of course, you could use these accessories with a Raspberry Pi. And your basic setup would look something like this:

Image Credits: Romain Dillet / TechCrunch

Those are great goodies for Raspberry Pi fans. And yet, there are many, many keyboard and mouse manufacturers out there. Building their own mouse and keyboard didn’t really make sense.

It turns out that the Raspberry Pi Foundation had another idea in mind. The Raspberry Pi 400 is essentially the exact same keyboard — but with an integrated Raspberry Pi. Their next project has been sitting there right in front of us for the past year.

Raspberry Pi 400 (top) and Raspberry Pi keyboard (bottom). Image Credits: Romain Dillet / TechCrunch

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has already sent me a Raspberry Pi 400 to try it out. While many of my colleagues are excited about the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, I was also really excited about receiving this new device.

Because, yes, the Raspberry Pi 400 (or, as TechCrunch’s Brian Heater called it, the PiStation) looks really cute. You plug a couple of cables and you’re ready to go. As far as I can see, it’s a fanless device so it doesn’t make any sound when it’s on.

Image Credits: Romain Dillet / TechCrunch

Putting a computer inside a keyboard is nothing new. You could even say that personal computers started this way. Back in the 1980s, you could plug your computer-in-a-keyboard to your TV and get started right away.

At some point, computers became more complicated. You had to buy a computer tower, a display, a mouse, a keyboard, etc. Laptops reversed this trend by packing everything you need in one device. But laptops aren’t perfect either.

The Raspberry Pi 400 is a great device for kids. In many ways, it’s much more powerful than a Chromebook. You can learn a lot more about computers and you feel less restricted in what you can do.

I could see it in schools, at home in the play room or on a shelf waiting to be plugged to a display. This is a great way to get started playing around with computers.

Image Credits: Romain Dillet / TechCrunch

It gets more interesting when you think about older kids. Many people have said that closed schools have been particularly challenging this year, especially because you don’t necessarily have enough computers for everyone in your home.

If your kid is old enough to get a smartphone, that doesn’t mean they have a comfortable setup for remote classes. The Raspberry Pi 400 is a cheap device that could fill that gap. Moreover, the Raspberry Pi 400 could be a good way to separate school from leisure activities (and social networks).

Now let’s talk about specifications. The Raspberry Pi 400 is pretty similar to a Raspberry Pi 4, but not exactly. It has an ARM-based system on a chip (64-bit quad-core ARM Core-A72 at 1.8GHz for those who are curious). It comes with 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, Bluetooth Low Energy and Gigabit Ethernet.

When it comes to ports, you get two micro-HDMI ports, which means that you can plug two 4K displays in case you really need a lot of screen real estate. There are two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port and a USB-C port for the power brick.

Like other Raspberry Pi devices, it uses microSD cards for the operating system and to store your data. You can use Raspberry Pi Desktop, a Debian-based Linux operating system, or a third-party operating system, such as Ubuntu.

There are different models with UK, US, French, Italian, German and Spanish keyboard layouts. In addition to the $70 device, you can buy the Raspberry Pi 400 kit with a mouse, a power supply, a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, a pre-formatted microSD card and the official beginner’s guide for $100. It should be available in the coming days.

Image Credits: Romain Dillet / TechCrunch