Google’s Pixel 6 camera smartens up snapshots with AI tools

Google’s latest flagship phones have an impressive set of automated, AI-powered tools to help make your photos look better, with smart blurs, object removal, and skin tone exposure. While we’ll have to test them out to see if they work as advertised, they could be useful for everyone from pixel peepers to casual snapshot takers.

The new cameras themselves are pretty impressive to start with. The main rear camera, shared by the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, is a 50-megapixel beast with decent-sized pixel wells and an F/1.85 equivalent aperture (no, it doesn’t capture as much light as an F/1.8 on a DSLR, but it’s still good). The ultrawide one, also shared, is 12 megapixels and f/2.2 on a smaller sensor, so don’t expect mind-blowing image quality. The 6 Pro gets a 48-megapixel telephoto with less low light capability but a 4x equivalent zoom. They’re all stabilized and have laser-assisted autofocus.

Basically if you want the best quality in any situation, stick to the main camera, but if you’re sure about your light go ahead and fire up the wide or zoom. It sounds like all the new camera features work on all the cameras, but generally speaking the better the shot to start with, the better the final result.

The simplest tool to use is probably “face deblur.” How many times have you gotten the perfect shot but it’s not quite sharp? The Pixel Camera will automatically always capture multiple exposures (it’s part of the ordinary process of taking a picture now), and combines the main shot from one camera with a clear shot of the face captured with another. To do it, you just tap on a shot in your gallery that isn’t quite sharp and if there’s a “face deblur” option: boom.

Comparison of two images, a blurry one and one where the face is sharpened.

Image Credits: Google

OK, it’s definitely kind of weird to have only the face sharp in a blurry photo, as you can see in the sample, but look: do you want the picture or not? Thought so.

Also in the blur department are two new “motion modes.” One is an “action pan” that assists in capturing a moving subject like a passing car clearly, while blurring the background “creatively.” That means it applies a directed zoom blur instead of the handheld blur it would normally have, so it looks a little ‘shoppy, if you will, but it’s a fun option. The other one is a long exposure helper that adds blur to moving subjects while keeping the background clear. Helpful for doing something like headlight streaks without a tripod. These will be found in their own motion mode area in the camera app.

An image on the beach before using 'magic eraser' and after, with background people removed.

Image Credits: Google

“Magic Eraser” is the most obviously “AI” thing here. If you take a picture and it’s great except someone just walked into the background or there’s a car parked in the scenic vista, it’ll help you zap those pesky real-world objects so you can forget they ever existed. Tap the tool and it’ll automatically highlight things you might want to remove, like distant people, cars, and according to the example they provided, even unsightly logs and other random features. Driftwood, though, on the beach…really? Fortunately you can pick which to throw in the memory hole, no pressure, or circle unrecognized objects and it will do its best to dispose of them.

“Speech Enhancement” isn’t for images, obviously, but when you’re in front camera mode you can opt to have the device tone down the ambient noise and focus on your voice. Basically Krisp by Google. If it works anywhere near as well you will probably want to use it all the time.

“Real Tone” is an interesting but potentially fraught feature that we’ll be looking into in more detail soon. Here’s how Google describes it: “We worked with a diverse set of expert image makers and photographers to tune our AWB [auto white balance], AE [auto exposure], and stray light algorithms to ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for everyone, of every skin tone.”

Photo of a family with dark skin sitting on the beach.

They look great, sure… but they’re models.

Basically they wanted to make sure that their “smart” camera’s core features don’t work better or look better on certain skin tones than others. This has happened many, many times before and it’s an insult and embarrassment when billion-dollar companies blow it over and over. Hopefully Real Tone works, but even if it does there is the fundamental question of whether it amounts to lightening or darkening someone’s skin in the photo — a sensitive matter for many people. “This feature cannot be turned off nor disabled,” Google says, so they must be confident. We’ll be testing this and talking with developers and photographers about the feature, so look for a deeper dive into this interesting but complex corner of the field.

It’s not entirely clear how many of these features will be available beyond the Pixel line of phones or when, but we’ll let you know what we find out.

Frozen coffee startup Cometeer raises $35M Series B and launches its product in earnest

Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Cometeer has been around for nine years. In that time, the company has built up a mad scientist’s lair worth of coffee scientists, equipment and processes to jolt some fresh life into the industry. Based out of a former frozen seafood facility, the company has created a multimillion-dollar proprietary production line to turn beans into flash-frozen little “pucks”, sealed in capsules to keep their flavor intact. The 10x strength brew is then ready to use.

Pick beans. Roast them. Grind them. Add water. Drink. Coffee really doesn’t have to be complicated, but every year a dozen new startups come jittering along to try to find new and innovative ways to inject some flavor and caffeine into the drab, meaningless existence of a technology journalist. Most of those startups are safely ignored, because the vast majority of them will be gone by the time you think of writing a “where are they now” round-up at the end of the year. Still, when a fistful of investors pump a total of $100 million into an upstart, you’d best believe that even the most under-caffeinated reporter begrudgingly shoves some toothpicks to prop open their eyelids, and pays attention.

The previous round was $50 million, closing in April of 2020. In the current round of financing, the company harvested $35 million from D1 Capital, Elephant, Tao Capital, Addition Ventures, Avenir, Greycroft Partners and TQ Ventures, along with a number of coffee-expert angel investors. The company declined to disclose the valuation of the funding round.

To brew the pods, you “melt” the puck by dropping it in a cup of hot or cold water, wait a bit, and you’ve got a fresh cup of joe on the go. The only thing you need is some water, and a way of heating the water, if it’s hot coffee your little heart desires. The capsules stay fresh for up to three years if you keep them in the freezer, and will survive for about three days in the refrigerator.

Frozen Cometeer Capsule

The Cometeer capsules are flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen to preserve the flavor. In your freezer, they stay fresh for about three months. Image Credits: Cometeer

As for the coffee itself, the magic starts with the beans:

“Our roasting partners are the backbone of Cometeer. Equally as important as superior tasting roasts, considerations amongst our roasters is their support of coffee farmers, and commitment to direct trade purchasing at equitable prices multiple times the fair trade minimum,” explains Cometeer’s co-founder and CEO Matt Roberts. “We are focused on building out a diverse group of roasting partners with unique backgrounds, sourcing techniques and roasting styles. Alongside these partners, we look to support the de-commoditization of the coffee industry.”

Cometeer has seen extreme growth over the past couple of years, growing from 12 to 120 employees since its previous round of funding. For now, the company is focusing on its direct-to-consumer play.

“While we are focused on direct to consumer right now, we are trialing on-premise with George Howell’s café in Boston and are piloting B2B coffee solutions with focus on corporate gifting,” explains Roberts.

The company shut down its wait-list today, making the coffee available for anyone who has a credit card and a hankering for a new frontier in Java technology. The capsules are two-buck-pucks, with a price tag of around $2.00 each — the base shipment is 32 capsules for $64.

Watch Google unveil the new Pixel live right here

Google is set to announce new Pixel phones today. The company is holding an event at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Google already said that it plans to unveil its own Tensor chip for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The company has also shared a ton of details about the new phones.

The Pixel 6 will have a matte aluminum finish and a 6.4-inch display. The Pro models will have a bigger, 6.7-inch display and a polished aluminum finish.

As for cameras, the regular Pixel 6 will have two camera sensors while the 6 Pro will feature three different camera sensors. And if you’ve seen a photo of those devices already, you already know that they feature a camera bump like you’ve never seen before.

But specifications only tell you one part of the story. It’s going to be important to listen to what Google has to say about chipset performances and camera features. We’ll discover all that during Google’s event.

Saildrone catches a $100M C breeze to build more robo-boats

The ocean economy is growing in importance, and with it grows the need to map, understand, and track the ocean itself. Saildrone has been doing just that with its fleet of autonomous science vessels, and the company has now raised a massive $100M round C to pursue its ro-boat aspirations further.

Saildrone’s boats have been in continuous use for years now, making all kinds of interesting voyages that would be too dangerous or too tedious for a human crew to attempt. For instance earlier this month one of the vessels sailed straight into a hurricane for a NOAA project to better understand these increasingly frequent and violent storms. Good luck getting someone to brave 50-foot waves and 120 MPH winds to collect some data when there’s a robotic option.

Having traveled half a million miles collectively, Saildrone’s fleet is the most seasoned set of autonomous boats out there, and that makes for an attractive market position as marine intelligence becomes more important. Not only is knowing the condition of the ocean in a given location helpful for scientific and expected purposes like steering ships around storms, but the vast quantities of systematically collected data will help build a new fundamental understanding of the complex aquatic ecosystem during climate change and a shift towards sustainable aquaculture.

Saildrone is the go-to name in autonomous science boats, others are approaching the new blue economy from other directions: autonomous tugs and commercial boats from Sea Machines (which recently demonstrated a thousand-mile sailing), while EcoDrone and Sea Proven are looking to compete with smaller or more customizable ships. And there’s a whole separate world of underwater drones that will be zooming around mapping the sea bed, like Bedrock’s.

But Saildrone isn’t standing still, or rather sitting at anchor. Its newest vessel, the Surveyor, can spend a year at sea and map the ocean floor past two miles of depth. They aren’t cheap, though, and if the company wants to capture as much of the “ocean domain intelligence” sector as possible it will need to scale fast. That’s what the hundred mil is for, presumably.

The C round was led by BOND and with participation from XN, Standard Investments, Emerson Collective, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Lux Capital, Social Capital, and Tribe Capital. The “data insight teams” will be hired up and they’ll put the money to good use on “go-to-market functions,” which I suppose is VC jargon for building boats.

“The combination of the most tried and tested autonomous ocean technology with the partnership of some of the most experienced venture capitalists in the world consolidates our industry leadership and enables our rapid growth path to meet the needs of our customers,” said Saildrone CEO and Founder Richard Jenkins in the press release. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about their missions in years to come as their star rises.

Apple wows tech crowd with new chips, Wall Street yawns

Hello again, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s running series of posts discussing how the public markets rarely give even half of a spare fuck concerning what Apple announces at its events.

Indeed, Apple’s stock seems to be far more labile to external events than from internally sourced announcements; rare is the case in which Apple’s stock actually picks up ground in contrast to the Nasdaq Composite during its press-friendly announce-a-thons.

Which never ceases to astound us somewhat. Perhaps Apple’s events are so well-leaked these days that new products are baked into its value?

That argument is perhaps necessary but not sufficient in market terms — participatory but not complete? — as Apple did break some news today regarding its line of PC chips. Yes, Apple did detail the new M1 Pro, but it also blew more than a few minds with its M1 Max chip. Sure, the name is a bucket of boomer cringe, but the chip itself appears to be an incredibly impressive feat. And Apple is baking the new chips into a range of computers that have price points above expectations.

Sitting here, I’m thinking: Killer new hardware, and potentially higher per-computer revenue? Sounds good, right? And yet, Apple’s stock pretty much tracked the Nasdaq during its event, which took place between the hours of 1 pm and 2 pm in the following chart:

The only notable element of that chart is that Apple’s initial declines after 1 pm struck were sharper than what the larger Nasdaq tech collection managed. But then Apple recovered more sharply, leaving the entire trading period essentially a wash — Apple gained ground just as tech shares did. Wee.

If I was an Apple engineer, I’d be livid. Look, world, behold chips that are actually really good. All those years, Intel was screwing over the market by putting out bilge when this was possible! And yet Wall Street is precisely and exactly not impressed.


Apple October Event 2021