Ember is in the baby bottle business now

Ember has been a fascinating company to watch. The Los Angeles-based startup entered the scene with a self-heating mug, only to leverage its temperature tech learnings to enter the cold chain space, where it has developed containers for medical supply shipping.

I suppose you could say that the firm has returned to its roots with the launch of its latest product. And frankly, baby bottles actually make sense here. I might even go so far as arguing that keeping milk at body temperature is a bigger need than making sure your coffee doesn’t go lukewarm when you forget to drink it.

The Baby Bottle works similarly to Ember’s various mugs. Place the bottle on the “Smart Warming Puck” and it will raise the temperature to a balmy 98.6. There’s a connected app, as well, because it’s 2023 and you gotta. That allows for remote warming, and also tracks feedings over time.

Ember Baby app. Image Credits: Ember

CEO Clay Alexander cites his own parenthood as the product’s genesis, noting, “I knew there had to be a better solution to this, so I began to draw up ideas which eventually led to the Ember Baby Bottle System. It was designed to give back time to parents, so they can spend less time worrying and more time being present to enjoy those precious moments with their baby.”

The bottle is bundled as a “system” that includes two bottles/nipples, the warming puck and a “thermal dome” for taking it on the go. It’s currently shipping and predictably doesn’t come cheap, running $400 when you buy it through Ember’s site.

Ember is in the baby bottle business now by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Verity raises $32M as IKEA stores deploy its inventory drones

There’s no shortage of startups attempting to put drones to work. There is, however, a longstanding question around the efficacy of such plans. Drones — especially the smaller variety — are impressive pieces of technology, but their functionality is relatively limited. A small quadcopter probably isn’t going to prune your trees or walk your dog anytime soon.

One thing they can do exceptionally well, however, is imaging. Industries have been cropping up around this functionality in recent years, deploying drones for land management, forestry and industrial inspection, among others. There are also a number of firms, including names like Gather AI, IFM and Corvus, putting these devices to work as a method of tracking warehouse inventory.

It’s a business Verity has been in for a long time. The Zurich-based firm was founded way back in 2014, with the promise of an automated solution that can work around the clock tracking products — one of the most time- and resource-intensive tasks in a warehouse. This morning, the company announced a $32 million Series B. Led by A.P. Moller Holding and featuring Exor Ventures (among others), the round follows an $18 Series A raised back in 2018.

“The completion of our Series B funding round is an important nod to the value our system provides to clients, and it demonstrates investor confidence in our industry-leading solution and team,” said founder and CEO Raffaello D’Andrea. “We are especially pleased to welcome A.P. Moller Holding as a key investor in Verity, a global influencer committed to supporting companies that are delivering supply chain excellence and a positive impact on the environment.”

Prior to founding Verity, D’Andrea was notably a co-founder of Kiva Systems. That company was acquired back in 2012 and has since become the foundation of Amazon Robotics, with its mobile shelf-moving systems serving as the foundation of the retail giant’s automated arsenal.

Verity appears to have been cruising along just fine for the past five years. The company lists Samsung’s SDS unit and logistics firm DSV as clients. IKEA’s Swiss wing has also been implementing the technology since 2021. The furniture brand says it has 100 of Verity’s drones operating across 16 locations located in Belgium, Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

“We are investing in technology across the board so that our stores can better support customer fulfillment and become true centers for omnichannel retailing,” says Tolga Öncu of Dutch IKEA holding company INGKA. “Introducing drones and other advanced tools — such as, for example, robots for picking up goods — is a genuine win-win for everybody. It improves our co-workers’ well-being, lowers operational costs and allows us to become more affordable and convenient for our customers.”

Verity raises $32M as IKEA stores deploy its inventory drones by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Torch is building solar-powered outdoor sensors to spot wildfires early

The Nest Protect is the single best piece of smart home hardware I’ve ever purchased. Not everything in your home would benefit from being connected, but smoke detectors really do. They go a long way toward providing peace of mind when you’re away from home. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do, it could potentially save lives.

Founded in 2020, Torch is bringing some of these ideas to an entirely different setting. The $299 device is mounted onto a spike screwed into a tree, providing early outdoor detection for up to 10 acres. It’s a huge addressable market, and one that — unfortunately — is poised to only grow in the coming years as wildfire threats increase.

Climate change is the obvious culprit here, leading to droughts and higher temperatures that provide a perfect environment for devastating fires, especially in the western United States. As NASA recently noted:

One study by scientists funded through NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems program, known as NASA EarthData, found near exponential growth in fire frequency and size in the western U.S. from 1950 to 2019. The average wildland fires of the 1950s were 1,200 acres (485 hectares), but by the 2010s the average had doubled to over 3,400 acres (1,376 hectares).

The idea behind Torch dates back a few years before the company’s creation, when co-founder and COO Vasily Tremsin was still in high school.

“I developed the idea back in high school in 2017, as part of a science fair. In my senior year, there were these huge Napa Valley fires that took out half of the city of Napa,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch. “My school closed down for a week, because there was so much smoke. It was a horrible situation, people lost billions of dollars in damage. I always did science projects solving some kind of issue, and there wasn’t any detector like this for the outdoors.”

Michael Buckwald, who helped start the innovative peripheral startup Leap Motion, teamed up with Tremsin as co-founder and CEO. Speaking with TechCrunch, he cites his own time living in San Francisco as a major driver in his decision to come on board.

“When Vasya [Vasily] approached me with all of the progress and the very unique idea of a distributed approach to a low-cost sensor that could be placed frequently, it seemed obvious,” said Buckwald. “I guess I’m attracted to things that can be great businesses — because there’s a lot of land to cover, and it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better — and can also have an impact on the world. So many of the deaths and so much of the damage from fires is from secondary and tertiary sources. The deaths are at least 100 times greater from pollution, the economic impact from pollution and the carbon impact. The statistics are really extraordinary.”

The on-board sensors are on the lookout for heat, light and smoke. When the data hits a specific threshold, an alert will be wirelessly sent to the owner’s connected device. Currently the on-board thermal camera is reserved for detection, but a future version could bring a live feed, either on device or through a connected camera (or, perhaps, drone). The limitations are due in part to power demands. The product is solar powered, and implementing too many features would be a drain on the battery.

The devices communicate using radio signals, forming a kind of mesh network that allows you to add dozens or even hundreds of them to a single Wi-Fi gateway.

Torch says it’s been validating the technology for some time, courtesy of controlled burns by third parties. The company notes, “This patented approach has been tested on prescribed fire burns across California: in Sonoma, Lake, and Butte counties. Verifying results through multiple variables minimizes false positives and ensures accuracy.”

Preorder for the product opens today. Torch is expecting to ship in the first quarter of next year.

Torch is building solar-powered outdoor sensors to spot wildfires early by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Apple’s AR/VR headset reportedly being pushed out due to ‘huge pressure to ship’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Apple is building a mixed reality headset that’s set to ship this year. The company’s MR (AR+VR) hardware ranks among its longest-lasting rumor cycles. Some (Apple Watch) have borne fruit. Others (that pesky Apple TV set) not so much.

The category doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion for Apple. The road to a successful XR play is littered with the bodies of big corporations and well-funded startups. The underwhelming state of things is certainly not for a lack of trying. It’s also a wholly new product category — something that doesn’t come along every day.

There’s an interesting conversation to be had regarding how such a product would play into Tim Cook’s legacy, more than a decade after he took over the chief executive gig. While Steve Jobs’ role at the helm of the company during the development of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, et al. cemented his position as one of the 20th/21st century’s leading technologists, it seems entirely possible suggestions of his leadership around the product that would become the Apple Watch are somewhat overstated.

Regardless of whatever knowledge he might have had in the project’s infancy, Cook likely deserves the lion’s share of credit for ushering the product into the world. Ditto for AirPods, though one can also make the argument that those products were an evolution of Apple’s (and, perhaps, Beats’) existing work in the category.  Smart home speakers arrived under Cook as well, though, one would be hard pressed to frame those as a success on the level of the aforementioned products.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times published a piece citing an anonymous former Apple engineer, who notes, “They have huge pressure to ship. They have been postponing the launch each year for the past [few] years.”

All told, Apple has apparently been working on this product for seven years. At the very least, the above comment gives one pause. It doesn’t sound especially confident about a company looking to the next piece of consumer hardware in the wake of an overall slowing smartphone market. There’s a correction happening in the smart home space at the moment, as well. Apple has utterly dominated the smartwatch category, with reportedly around 200 million sold. Still, nothing appears poised to match the billions of iPhones sold.

Apple appears to have anticipated a smartphone market slowdown, and has comfortably shifted major revenue figures into its content play. As such, it’s fair to wonder whether hardware will simply take a backseat for the company, going forward. According to the FT piece, however, “some inside the company believe [the headset] might one day rival the iPhone.” Plenty have been burned betting against Apple in the past, but the scattered state of the market provides plenty of reason to be skeptical.

Photo taken in Gent, Belgium. Image Credits: Getty Images / Bram Van Oost / EyeEm

I met with the major players in VR at CES back in January, and two things stood out. First is the push into enterprise. Of the four headsets I spent time with, only one (PSVR) is primarily consumer focused. Magic Leap has fully pivoted to business, while Meta and HTC are leaning in heavily as well. Makes sense. The consumer space is unproven, and there’s a ton of money to be made selling this stuff to businesses.

“We really saw that there was a value to be derived from AR much sooner from enterprise,” Magic Leap CTO Daniel Diez told me at the show. “The feedback we were getting from them was that. It also gave us insight into how the product needed to evolve to be truly purpose-built for enterprise, and that’s what you see in the Magic Leap 2.”

The other bit is that practically everyone I spoke with told me they’re looking forward to Apple entering the space. It’s kind of a rising tide raises all ships deal. Apple’s entry would — theoretically — create new market share, rather than cutting into what already exists. In spite of having been around for decades, it’s a nascent category to say the least.

Technology has been the major longstanding issue there. Having played around with the existing generation of products, however, I can say with certainly that the big players are already doing some really impressive things here. If you haven’t tried the technology since the days of Google Cardboard, do yourself a favor and find a headset to play around with. The other bottleneck is software. Apple entering the field would help tremendously on that front.

Image Credits: HTC

Many of the major hardware pieces are in place for Apple, as well. In-house silicon is a big potential driver here, especially as the company has made major advances on the GPU side of things. Seeing as how this will likely be a major ecosystem play (because Apple), this could well be the AirPods’ spatial audio’s time to shine.

Naturally, the company isn’t commenting on any of this. With the exception of some key hardware misfires (MacBook keyboards, Studio Display webcam), the company waits until things are fully baked before releasing them to the public. Apple is well known for taking its time — not being the first to market and still managing to release category-defining products. In the case of things like the AirPower wireless charger, Apple opted to scrap the project instead of delivering something half-baked.

The company told us at the time, “After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project.”

But an MR headset isn’t a wireless charger. To Apple, it’s a huge piece of the company’s future. While that only drives home how important it is the get the product right the first time, it also brings into sharp focus why shareholders are likely increasingly impatient after seven years of planning.

Regardless of whether Apple needs a mixed reality hit, however, mixed reality increasingly seems to need an Apple hit.

Apple’s AR/VR headset reportedly being pushed out due to ‘huge pressure to ship’ by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Apple could reportedly release a HomePod with a display

According to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple could be working on a new HomePod device that would feature a built-in display for 2024. The rumor seems to be based on third-party supply chain companies, such as Tianma, a Chinese display manufacturer.

This new product in the HomePod lineup would look completely different from existing HomePods as it would feature a 7-inch display. In other words, it would look like a speaker with a small tablet (or a small tablet with a speaker) like the Amazon Echo Show or Google’s Nest Hub.

Kuo believes that Apple is in the middle of revamping its smart home strategy with new devices and features. In addition to the HomePod Mini, Apple recently released a new premium HomePod with a familiar look. It looks like the model that debuted in 2018 but with brand new internal components.

There’s a reason why Apple is focusing more on the smart home. Matter, a new smart home standard, is supposed to unify smart home devices — and Apple is one of the launch partners. The new HomePod supports Thread, the Matter-backed wireless protocol specifically designed for IoT devices.

“The new Matter smart home connectivity standard gives users more choice and interoperability to connect a wide variety of smart home accessories across different ecosystems,” Apple’s vice president, Hardware Engineering and Operations Matthew Costello told TechCrunch’s Brian Heater last month. “With support for Thread, the new HomePod can serve as a border router and securely enable communications to Thread-based accessories located throughout the home.”

Apple is also the company behind the iPad. Adding a touchscreen display to a smart speaker would make sense for the company as many people already use and like their iPad. It would be a familiar interface and could also potentially run some popular iPad apps out of the box.

In January, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said that Apple has also been working on a smart display that could be used to control your smart home. Essentially, it would be a low-end iPad that you could mount on a wall to control your lights, thermostat and more.

It’s unclear whether Ming-Chi Kuo are talking about the same device or not. This smart home tablet could carry the HomePod brand, or Apple could be working on two separate devices — a wall-mounted tablet and a countertop HomePod with a tablet.

Apple could reportedly release a HomePod with a display by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch