Unearth the future of agriculture at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI with the CEOs of Traptic, Farmwise and Pyka

Farming is one of the oldest professions, but today those amber waves of grain (and soy) are a test bed for sophisticated robotic solutions to problems farmers have had for millennia. Learn about the cutting edge (sometimes literally) of agricultural robots at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI on March 3 with the founders of Traptic, Pyka, and Farmwise.

Traptic, and its co-founder and CEO Lewis Anderson, you may remember from Disrupt SF 2019, where it was a finalist in the Startup Battlefield. The company has developed a robotic berry picker that identifies ripe strawberries and plucks them off the plants with a gentle grip. It could be the beginning of a new automated era for the fruit industry, which is decades behind grains and other crops when it comes to machine-based harvesting.

Farmwise has a job that’s equally delicate yet involves rough treatment of the plants — weeding. Its towering machine trundles along rows of crops, using computer vision to locate and remove invasive plants, working 24/7, 365 days a year. CEO Sebastian Boyer will speak to the difficulty of this task and how he plans to evolve the machines to become “doctors” for crops, monitoring health and spontaneously removing pests like aphids.

Pyka’s robot is considerably less earthbound than those: an autonomous, all-electric crop-spraying aircraft — with wings! This is a much different challenge from the more stable farming and spraying drones like those of DroneSeed and SkyX, but the choice gives the craft more power and range, hugely important for today’s vast fields. Co-founder Michael Norcia can speak to that scale and his company’s methods of meeting it.

These three companies and founders are at the very frontier of what’s possible at the intersection of agriculture and technology, so expect a fruitful conversation.

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Gadgets – TechCrunch

Intel and Google plot out closer collaboration around Chromebooks and the future of computing

Intel, the chip-making giant, has been on the road of refocusing its strategy in recent months. While it has sold its mobile chip operation to Apple and is reportedly looking for a buyer for its connected home division, it’s also been going through the difficult task of rethinking how best to tackle the longtime bread and butter of its business, the PC.

Part of that latter strategy is getting a big boost this week at CES 2020. Here, Intel is today announcing a deeper partnership with Google to design chips and specifications for Chromebooks built on Project Athena. Project Athena is framework first announced last year that covers both design and technical specs, with the aim of building the high-performance laptops of tomorrow that can be used not just for work, but media streaming, gaming, enterprise applications and more, all on the go — powered by Intel, naturally.

(The specs include things like requiring ‘fast wake’ using fingerprints or push-buttons or lift lids; using Intel Core i5 or i7 processors; “Ice Lake” processor designs; better battery life and charging; WiFi 6; touch displays; 2-in-1 designs; narrow bezels and more.)

Earlier today, the first two Chromebooks built on those Athena specifications — from Samsung and Asus — were announced by the respective companies, and Intel says that there will be more to come. And on stage, Google joined Intel during its keynote to also cement the two companies’ commitment to the mission.

“We’re going a step further and deepening our partnership with Google to bring Athena to Chromebooks,” Gregory Bryant, the EVP and GM of Intel’s client computing group, said in an interview with TechCrunch ahead of today. “We’ve collaborated very closely with Google [so that device makers] can take advantage of these specs.”

For Intel, having a Chromebook roster using Athena is important because these have been very popular, and it brings its processors into machines used by people who are buying Chromebooks to get access to Google services around security and more, and its apps ecosystem.

But stepping up the specifications for Chromebooks is as important for Google as it is for Intel in terms of the bottom line and growing business.

“This is a significant change for Google,” said John Solomon, Google’s VP of ChromeOS, in an interview ahead of today. “Chromebooks were successful in the education sector initially, but in the next 18 months to two years, our plan is to go broader, expanding to consumer and enterprise users. Those users have greater expectations and a broader idea of how to use these devices. That puts the onus on us to deliver more performance.”

The renewed effort comes at an interesting time. The laptop market is in a generally tight spot these days. Overall, the personal computing market is in a state of decline, and forecast to continue that way for the next several years.

But there is a slightly brighter picture for the kinds of machines that are coming out of collaborations like the one between Intel, Google, and their hardware partners: IDC forecasts that 2-in-1 devices — by which it means convertible PCs and detachable tablets — and ultra-slim notebook PCs “are expected to grow 5% collectively over the same period,” versus a compound annual growth rate of -2.4% between 2019 and 2023. So there is growth, but not a huge amount.

Up against that is the strength of the smartphone market. Granted, it, too, is facing some issues as multiple markets reach smartphone saturation and consumers are slower to upgrade.

All that is to say that there are challenges. And that is why Intel, whose fortunes are so closely linked to those of personal computing devices since it makes the processors for them, has to make a big push around projects like Athena.

Up to this month, all of the laptops built to Athena specs have been Windows PCs — 25 to date — but Intel had always said from the start Chromebooks would be part of the mix, to help bring the total number of Athena-based devices up to 75 by the end of this year (adding 50 in 2020).

Chromebooks are a good area for Intel to be focusing on, as they seem to be outpacing growth for the wider market, despite some notable drawbacks about how Chrome OS has been conceived as a “light” operating system with few native tools and integrations in favor of apps. IDC said that in Q4 of 2019, growth was 19% year-on-year,  and from what I understand the holiday period saw an even stronger rise. In the US, Chromebooks had a market share of around 27% last November, according to NPD/Gfk.

What’s interesting is the collaborative approach that Intel — and Google — are taking to grow. The Apple -style model is to build vertical integration into its hardware business to ensure a disciplined and unified approach to form and function: the specifications of the hardware are there specifically to handle the kinds of services that Apple itself envisions to work on its devices, and in turn, it hands down very specific requirements to third parties to work on those devices when they are not services and apps native to Apple itself.

While Google is not in the business of building laptops or processors (yet?), and Intel is also far from building more than just processors, what the two have created here is an attempt at bringing a kind of disciplined specification that mimics what you might get in a vertically integrated business.

“It’s all about building the best products and delivering the best experience,” Bryant said.

“We can’t do what we do without Intel’s help and this close engineering collaboration over the last 18 months,” Solomon added. “This is the beginning of more to come in this space, with innovation that hasn’t previously been seen.”

Indeed, going forward, interestingly Bryant and Solomon wouldn’t rule out that Athena and their collaboration might extend beyond laptops.

“Our job is to make the PC great. If we give consumers value and a reason to buy a PC we can keep the PC alive,” said Bryant, but he added that Intel is continuing to evolve the specification, too.

“From a form factor you’ll see an expansion of devices that have dual displays or have diff kinds of technology and form factors,” he said. “Our intention is to expand and do variations on what we have shown today.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Motorola throws back to the future with a foldable Razr reboot

The rebirth of the Razr has been rumored for several months now. And honestly, such a product is a bit of a no-brainer. The Lenovo-owned company is embracing the burgeoning (if sputtering) world of foldables with the return of one of its most iconic models.

While it’s true that Motorola’s kept the Razr name alive in some form or another well into the Android era, everything that’s come since has failed to recapture the magic of the once mighty brand.

From the looks of things, however, the newly announced Razr is a lovely bit of symmetry. The product, which was announced earlier today in Los Angeles, leans into the lackluster criticism that foldables are simply a return of the once-ubiquitous clamshell design.

Motorola Razr

Motorola Razr

According to Motorola, the company has been toying around with flexible technology for some time now. Per a press release: “In 2015, a cross functional team, comprised of engineers and designers from both Motorola and Lenovo, was assembled to start thinking about how we could utilize flexible display technology.”

The device swaps the horizontal design of its best known competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold. The vertical form factor looks to be a match made in foldable heaven. Certainly it loses some of the uber-thin design that made the original Razr such a hit so many years back, but makes the ultra-wide (21:9) 6.2-inch screen compact enough to fit in a pocket.

As with the Galaxy Fold, there’s another a small display on the front for getting a glimpse of notifications and the like. It’s another design feature that mirrors the O.G. Razr. Predictably, the device runs Android — Android 9 (for now), to be precise.

For full throwback appeal, there’s also a “Retro Razr” mode, that mimics the original metallic button design for the bottom half of the screen. It’s a skin that does, indeed, double as a number pad, usable with Android messaging app. Motorola clearly put a lot of love into the design and it shows. If nothing else, the new Razr could go a ways toward proving that retro handsets can be more than just nostalgic novelty for bygone tech.

After the whole Samsung kerfuffle, you’d be right to question the device’s durability, though Motorola says it’s less concerned, citing an “average” smartphone timespan for the product. Only one way, to find out, I guess. Also like the Fold, price is a pretty big obstacle to any sort of mainstream adoption for this first-gen product. The Razr will run $ 1,499 when it launches in January of next year.

Gadgets – TechCrunch