Samsung’s upcycling program is designed to give new life to old tech

In the world of annual refresh cycles, there’s always been a big question mark around what to do with all of the old tech we too readily abandon. There are a number of options for disposing and recycling these objects that often contain rare earth and sometimes harmful material. The concept of upcycling has also become an increasingly popular option — offering a new lease on life for old technology. After all, your three-year-old smartphone may not be the latest and greatest, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worthless.

During this morning’s CES kickoff press conference, Samsung outlined its new Galaxy Upcycling at Home program. For now, we got some pretty broad strokes about the program — and we’ll likely get more information at this Friday’s Galaxy Unpacked event. Here’s what the company had to say: “The new program reimagines the lifecycle of an older Galaxy phone and offers consumers options on how they might be able to repurpose their device to create a variety of convenient IoT tools.”

Examples from the presser include a baby monitor, pet-care sensor for turning on lights remotely and a more abstract “digitally safe home” using Samsung Knox. It will be interesting to see what else the company’s got in store on that front — and certainly there’s something to be said for keeping old tech relevant even after its planned obsolescence.

The other piece of the puzzle is one of the more fun initiatives the company has introduced in recent years, with boxes that can be converted into household objects. The company announced this morning that all of its QLED, UHD TV and audio projects will feature the packaging.

Per Samsung:

As part of an ongoing commitment to eco-consciousness, Samsung is creating products and solutions with sustainability at the core. For example, Samsung’s new Solar Cell Remote Control—made in part with recycled plastic—can be charged via solar or indoor lighting, reducing battery waste.

Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG TVs

LG spent a good chunk of its CES press conference talking about its lineup of TVs for 2021. You can expect bigger, slimmer and brighter TVs. I’m not going to list the specifications of new models. But there are a few new features that are worth mentioning.

LG doesn’t use Android TV for the operating system. Instead, the company has its own operating system called webOS. App developers have to release specific versions of their apps for LG’s smart TVs. And the company announced that Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG 2021 TVs.

Google’s cloud gaming service will arrive first in the coming months. It won’t be available everywhere, as Stadia is only available in a handful of countries. But if you live in a country where Stadia is available, you will be able to unplug your Chromecast to access Stadia.

Stadia works a bit like a console that runs in the cloud. You can buy games and run them in a data center near you. The video feed is streamed directly to your screen and your gamepad controls are relayed to the server.

As for Nvidia’s cloud gaming service, it is coming later this year. This service is a bit different as you can take advantage of your Steam, Epic Games, GOG or Ubisoft Connect libraries.

Nvidia has favored its own set-top box in the past with a GeForce Now app on the Nvidia Shield TV. Recently, the Android app has been updated with support for more devices, and it looks like it’s expanding beyond Android TV with webOS support.

LG also announced that it is updating webOS with a brand new interface this year. The overlay menu at the bottom of the screen has been replaced with a full-screen menu. You’ll be able to find your favorite apps, access live TV and get some content recommendations — and, yes, there will be ads.

If you’re playing games, there will be a new game menu to access the most relevant settings. For instance, you’ll be able to switch from one TV profile to another from that menu depending on the type of games that you’re playing (FPS, racing games, etc.). It sounds pretty useless to me, as you mostly want to reduce latency as much as possible with any genre. You’ll also be able to turn on G-Sync and FreeSync if you’re using a compatible device.

When it comes to new OLED TVs, there are the entry-line A1 models with old processors, and the C1 models with support for modern game consoles thanks to variable refresh rate, low latency, etc. At the top of the lineup, the G1 models come in three different sizes (77 inches, 65 inches and 55 inches).

Image Credits: LG

SilviaTerra wants to bring the benefits of carbon offsets to every landowner everywhere

Zack Parisa and Max Nova, the co-founders of the carbon offset company SilviaTerra, have spent the last decade working on a way to democratize access to revenue-generating carbon offsets.

As forestry credits become a big, booming business on the back of multibillion-dollar commitments from some of the world’s biggest companies to decarbonize their businesses, the kinds of technologies that the two founders have dedicated 10 years of their lives to building are only going to become more valuable.

That’s why their company, already a profitable business, has raised $4.4 million in outside funding led by Union Square Ventures and Version One Ventures, along with Salesforce founder and the driving force between the One Trillion Trees Initiative, Marc Benioff .

“Key to addressing the climate crisis is changing the balance in the so-called carbon cycle. At present, every year we are adding roughly 5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere. Since atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas this increases the energy that’s retained rather than radiated back into space which causes the earth to heat up,” writes Union Square Ventures managing partner Albert Wenger in a blog post. “There will be many ways such drawdown occurs and we will write about different approaches in the coming weeks (such as direct air capture and growing kelp in the oceans). One way that we understand well today and can act upon immediately are forests. The world’s forests today absorb a bit more than one gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere and turn it into biomass. We need to stop cutting and burning down existing forests (including preventing large scale forest fires) and we have to start planting more new trees. If we do that, the total potential for forests is around 4 to 5 gigatons per year (with some estimates as high as 9 gigatons).”

For the two founders, the new funding is the latest step in a long journey that began in the woods of Northern Alabama, where Parisa grew up.

After attending Mississippi State for forestry, Parisa went to graduate school at Yale, where he met Louisville, Kentucky native Max Nova, a computer science student who joined with Parisa to set up the company that would become SilviaTerra.

SilviaTerra co-founders Max Nova and Zack Parisa. Image Credit: SilviaTerra

The two men developed a way to combine satellite imagery with field measurements to determine the size and species of trees in every acre of forest.

While the first step was to create a map of every forest in the U.S., the ultimate goal for both men was to find a way to put a carbon market on equal footing with the timber industry. Instead of cutting trees for cash, potentially landowners could find out how much it would be worth to maintain their forestland. As the company notes, forest management had previously been driven by the economics of timber harvesting, with over $10 billion spent in the U.S. each year.

The founders at SilviaTerra thought that the carbon market could be equally as large, but it’s hard for most landowners to access. Carbon offset projects can cost as much as $200,000 to put together, which is more than the value of the smaller offset projects for landowners like Parisa’s own family and the 40 acres they own in the Alabama forests.

There had to be a better way for smaller landowners to benefit from carbon markets too, Parisa and Nova thought.

To create this carbon economy, there needed to be a single source of record for every tree in the U.S. and while SilviaTerra had the technology to make that map, they lacked the compute power, machine learning capabilities and resources to build the map.

That’s where Microsoft’s AI for Earth program came in.

Working with AI for Earth, SilviaTierra created their first product, Basemap, to process terabytes of satellite imagery to determine the sizes and species of trees on every acre of America’s forestland. The company also worked with the U.S. Forestry Service to access their data, which was used in creating this holistic view of the forest assets in the U.S.

With the data from Basemap in hand, the company has created what it calls the Natural Capital Exchange. This program uses SilviaTerra’s unparalleled access to information about local forests, and the knowledge of how those forests are currently used to supply projects that actually represent land that would have been forested were it not for the offset money coming in.

Currently, many forestry projects are being passed off to offset buyers as legitimate offsets on land that would never have been forested in the first place — rendering the project meaningless and useless in any real way as an offset for carbon dioxide emissions. 

“It’s a bloodbath out there,” said Nova of the scale of the problem with fraudulent offsets in the industry. “We’re not repackaging existing forest carbon projects and trying to connect the demand side with projects that already exist. Use technology to unlock a new supply of forest carbon offset.”

The first Natural Capital Exchange project was actually launched and funded by Microsoft back in 2019. In it, 20 Western Pennsylvania land owners originated forest carbon credits through the program, showing that the offsets could work for landowners with 40 acres, or, as the company said, 40,000.

Landowners involved in SilviaTerra’s pilot carbon offset program paid for by Microsoft. Image Credit: SilviaTerra

“We’re just trying to get inside every landowners annual economic planning cycle,” said Nova. “There’s a whole field of timber economics… and we’re helping answer the question of given the price of timber, given the price of carbon does it make sense to reduce your planned timber harvests?”

Ultimately, the two founders believe that they’ve found a way to pay for the total land value through the creation of data around the potential carbon offset value of these forests.

It’s more than just carbon markets, as well. The tools that SilviaTerra have created can be used for wildfire mitigation as well. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right data and the right tools,” said Nova. “It’s about connecting that data to the decision and the economics of all this.”

The launch of the SilviaTerra exchange gives large buyers a vetted source to offset carbon. In some ways it’s an enterprise corollary to the work being done by startups like Wren, another Union Square Ventures investment, that focuses on offsetting the carbon footprint of everyday consumers. It’s also a competitor to companies like Pachama, which are trying to provide similar forest offsets at scale, or 3Degrees Inc. or South Pole.

Under a Biden administration there’s even more of an opportunity for these offset companies, the founders said, given discussions underway to establish a Carbon Bank. Established through the existing Commodity Credit Corp. run by the Department of Agriculture, the Carbon Bank would pay farmers and landowners across the U.S. for forestry and agricultural carbon offset projects.

“Everybody knows that there’s more value in these systems than just the product that we harvest off of it,” said Parisa. “Until we put those benefits in the same footing as the things we cut off and send to market…. As the value of these things goes up… absolutely it is going to influence these decisions and it is a cash crop… It’s a money pump from coastal America into middle America to create these things that they need.” 

Meet the 7 winners of the Taiwan Excellence awards, presented by ShowStoppers and TAITRA

Taiwan is known for being a tech powerhouse, the headquarter of companies like Foxconn, Pegatron, TSMC, Acer and Asus. But while Taiwan’s tech industry is defined by well-established players, it is also home to a growing startup scene. Ahead of the official start of CES, the Taiwan Excellence awards were announced by nonprofit trade promotion group Taiwan External Trade Development Council (known as TAITRA) and ShowStoppers, giving a preview of what its startups offer. Awards went to seven startups, while 11 other companies also presented. They cover a wide range of sectors, ranging from fitness and health to industrial monitoring.

More startups will showcase their tech next week at CES’ Taiwan Pavilion, organized by Taiwan Tech Arena.

The seven Taiwan Excellence Award winners are:

Advantech’s WISE-2410 vibration sensor. Image Credits: Advantech

Advantech‘s LoRaWAN solutions are designed to control applications across wide distances and have been used for diverse array of scenarios, including monitoring floods, critical care patients in hospitals and transportation infrastructure. Two of its latest devices include the WISE-6610, a gateway for connecting up to 500 sensors and sending their data to cloud platforms using 3G/LTE or wired Ethernet connections. The other one is the WISE-2410, a vibration sensor for monitoring motor-powered mechanical equipment and identifying potential issues so manufacturers can schedule maintenance before machines malfunction, resulting in expensive downtime.


 Image Credits: CyberLink

CyberLink is the developer of the machine learning-based FaceMe Facial Recognition Engine, which is used in AIoT applications, including security, smart retail and surveillance. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, CyberLink’s new product FaceMe Health can identify faces even without masks on, and send alerts if someone isn’t wearing a mask or has a high temperature. It is meant to assist in pandemic control measures at places like hospitals, airports, retail stores and factories.


Image Credits: Dyaco

Dyaco‘s workout equipment line, called SOLE Fitness, includes its new SOLE CC81 Cardio Climber, which combines features from steppers and climbers into one machine. The SOLE CC81 is designed to be ergonomic, so users can get high-intensity cardio workouts while reducing wear on their joints.


Image Credits: Green Jacket Sports

Green Jacket Sports is showcasing its Golface smart system, which helps golf courses monitor and collect data on their operations in real-time, while allowing golfers to track their performance. The smart system’s other features include includes aerial videos and real-time scoring functions.


Image Credits: Maktar

Maktar is the maker of a smartphone backup device called Qubii. Shaped like a small cube, Qubii automatically backs up phones while they are charging and doesn’t need internet or WiFi connections. Instead, users insert a microSD card into Qubii and connect it to their smartphones with their usual power adapters or chargers. Every time the smartphone is charged, Qubii backs up their photos, videos and contacts. The device also has a patented SD card lock feature to protect data.

Image Credits: Mio

MiTAC Digital Technology’s Mio dashcam range produces clear videos even in dark spaces like parking lots. The latest Mio dashcam, called the MiVue 798, uses Sony’s lowlight STARVISTM sensor and an all-glass lens, and produces wide-angle videos with quality of up to 2.8K. The MiVue 798 also has embedded WiFi connectivity for video backups and online sharing through the MiVue Pro App. Other features include GPS tracking, a patented smart alert system with fixed-distance warnings and speed limit alerts, and a driver assistance system that warns of lane departures, driver fatigue and forward collisions.


Image Credits: Winmate

Winmate will present its M133WK Ultra Rugged Tablet PC, created for vehicle diagnostics. Powered by 8th-gen Intel Core i5-8265U Whiskey Lake processor, for high performance with low power consumption, the M133WK features a 1920 X 1080 PCAP touchscreen that is viewable even in heavy sunlight.

Here are the other 11 startups that TAITRA and ShowStoppers are presenting:

ATrack‘s AK11 Fleet Hub is a 4G LTE device for the real-time management of fleets across different verticals.

ELECLEAN 360 uses what it describes as the “world’s first nano-catalysis electrochemical technology” to turn water into hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals, for cleaning and disinfection.

In Win Development is introducing the SR Pro CPU Cooler, which uses patented twin-turbine pumps running in parallel to optimize water flow and ensure thermal performance. It comes with high-airflow AJF120 fans to cool PCs more quickly.

Innolux makes full range of LCD panels for televisions, monitors, notebooks, industrial, medical, mobile and other applications.

Planet Technology is building a secure network called PLANET Powerful Enterprise VPN Cybersecurity and Firewall Solutions for the “post-COVID-19 era.”

Rice Air makes LUFT Cube, a small filterless nanotech personal air purifier.

Systems & Technology Corp. (Systech)‘s fleet management platform uses intelligent telematics so organizations can track where vehicles are and more efficiently manage their fleets.

Tokuyu Biotech creates smart massage chairs and health care-related products that are connected to apps and sensor technologies.

Winnoz is the maker of Haiim, a portable vacuum-assisted device for collecting blood samples from fingertips.

WiseChip develops transparent OLEDs with touch functions for use in home appliance control panels, automotive, transportation applications (like passenger information display systems) and wearable devices.

Yztek‘s E+ Autoff is an IoT device created to stop people from forgetting to turn off their stoves. In addition to auto turn-off, it also has cooking time adjustment and energy saving features.

Coral Vita cultivates $2M seed to take its reef restoration mission global

Coral reefs all over the world are struggling to survive, with millions of people and billions of dollars in business that rely on them at risk — on top of the fundamental tragedy of losing such a crucial ecosystem. Coral Vita aims to modernize both coral restoration techniques and the economy surrounding them, and has raised a $2 million seed round to kick things off in earnest.

I wrote about Coral Vita late in 2019 when I encountered co-founder Gator Halpern on the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Accelerator at Sea. At the time, the operation was both smaller and under siege by Hurricane Dorian, which wiped out the team’s coral farm in the Bahamas — and then, of course, the pandemic arrived just in time to spoil the team’s 2020 plans along with everyone else’s.

But despite the general chaos of the last year, Coral Vita managed to start and at last close a $2 million round, with the intention to come back bigger and better and demonstrate a new global model for the field.

“We decided rather than just rebuilding our pilot farm to that pilot level, we’d just take the next step forward in our journey. We really believe this is an opportunity to jump start a restoration economy,” said Sam Teicher, co-founder and chief reef officer.

To picture how reef restoration looks today, imagine (as Teicher invited me to) an underwater garden near the shore, with floating ropes and structures on which grow coral fragments that are occasionally harvested and transported to the area in need of young, healthy corals.

Corals grow in a tank at Coral Vita in the Bahamas.

Image Credits: Coral Vita

“But when you think about the scale of the problem — half the world’s reefs are dead and 90 percent of the other half are predicted to die in the next 30 years — relying on underwater facilities alone isn’t possible,” he said.

The plan Coral Vita has is to transition away from ocean-based farms to land facilities that allow for much improved yield and survivability, and employ advanced techniques to speed up coral’s growth and increase its survival rate. One such technique is coral microfragmenting, developed by the restoration community at large, in which corals are broken up into tiny pieces, which can grow as much as 50 times faster in aggregate. And by doing so on land they can exert much more control over the coral’s attributes.

“We’ve got tanks on land with clean sea water pumping through and the ability, among other things, to control conditions,” he explained. “So if you think of what it’ll be like off the coast of Grand Bahama in 40-50 years, we can essentially simulate that to harden the corals against those conditions. Up front, an ocean-based nursery is much cheaper, but when you start thinking about the need to grow millions or billions of corals around the world, land-based facilities start to look a lot more realistic. The cost goes down with scale, too — ocean-based nurseries go to about $30-$40 per coral; we can get it down to $10 as we get up to a hundred or a thousand tanks.”

Onlookers view the coral growing tanks at Coral Vita

On the left, a Bahamanian tourism official (far left) listens to Sam Teicher. On the right, Gator Halpern (center) talks with others before the pandemic. Image Credits: Coral Vita

Not only is the physical scale limited at present, but the income sources are as well: Often it’s government money instead of the inexhaustible well of private cash. Coral Vita hopes to be able to change that by increasing and diversifying supply and income, and going directly to those affected.

As the world starts to open back up, Coral Vita hopes to be able to rely again on eco-tourism, with people coming by the coral farm as they might go to a hatchery or wildlife reserve. That helps balance far-flung income and projects with more local ones (and connects the company to smaller communities like those where it’s based).

While things were still locked down, the company took the opportunity to allow distant support for its local operations, however, by expanding its . Anyone who’s contributed to one of these for an endangered animal or ravaged forest will be familiar with how it works, but until earlier this year Coral Vita hadn’t actively pursued the concept.

“We’re trying to transform the space away from grants and aid — we’re selling to customers that depend on the ecosystems of reefs,” Teicher said. “If you’re a hotel that relies on scuba or snorkel tourists, if you’re a coastal property owner or insurer, a government, a development bank, a cruise line, you can hire Coral Vita to restore the reefs that you depend on.”

This superficially mercenary business model where commercially important reefs get priority wouldn’t be necessary, of course, if governments and industry hadn’t systematically neglected these reefs to begin with. Not that privately funded projects are somehow fundamentally tainted, but this type of restoration work tends to be seen as the milieu of nonprofits and government agencies. One might consider this approach a direct, if late, tax that cuts out the government middle man.

The fact is this is globally crucial work that needs to start now, not in five or 10 years when the correct conservation funds are organized by concerned parties. Every month counts when reefs are actively deteriorating, and private money is the only realistic option to scale up fast and do what needs to be done. Plus, as the process becomes cheaper, it becomes easier to fund projects without commercial backing.

Corals grow in a tank at Coral Vita in the Bahamas.

Image Credits: Coral Vita

“On top of that is the ability to innovate,” added Teicher. “What we’re trying to do with this round is to make advances to the science and engineering, including 3D printing and robotics in the process. We’re launching R&D projects not just for restoration but protection.”

He cited Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X and an early advisor and investor, as someone who has pushed on the automation side, comparing the industry to agriculture, where robotics is currently having a transformative effect.

Proving out the scalable land-based farms opens up the possibility of a global presence, as well — lowering costs and lead times for corals to be brought to where they’re needed.

“We’re at a point where we need to rethink adaptation and how to fund it,” said Teicher. “The two-year plan is to launch more farms in other countries — ultimately we want them in every nation with reefs and for this to be the biggest coral farm that ever existed.”

Of course he, like most, would rather that restoration never had to happen in the first place. If people would stop the practices that kill reefs, it would certainly help — though as with most of these global-scale problems, stopping the behavior doesn’t mean the problem disappears. Coral farming will still be crucial for recovery, just as other mitigations and contributions will be needed to help nature reestablish balance, or at least something approaching balance.

Leading the $2 million round was the environment-focused Builders Collective, with participation from Apollo Projects’ Max Altman and baseball’s Max and Erica Scherzer. Earlier investors (in a pre-seed or “seed one” round) include the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Tom Chi as mentioned, Adam Draper, Yale University, and Sven and Kristin Lindblad.