This electric 1959 Mini Cooper is everything that’s right in the world – TechCrunch


Take a break from the dumpster fire that is 2018. This electric Mini will make you smile.

Built as a show piece, the car features an electric powertrain in a restored 1959 Mini Cooper. Of course it’s red with a white stripe, and, of course, there are rally lights across the grill. This is how a Mini should look, and an electric powertrain should make it feel the part, too.

Minis are supposed to be oversized go-karts that go like mad with near-instant acceleration. And that’s the best part of electric vehicles: instant torque that produces insane acceleration.

Mini hasn’t revealed the range or capabilities of this show car. Its purpose is mostly to draw attention to Mini’s other electric vehicles and concepts. Mini has been producing electric vehicles since 2008 when it created a limited run of Mini E, which was used to make the BMW i3. More recently Mini announced the Mini Electric Concept and intends to put it on the market by 2019.

But forget about that new car that’s sure to be overloaded with screens, LEDs and silly things like airbags. None of that stuff will make people smile as much as a classic Mini Cooper.



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What Tesla knows about the fatal Model X crash – TechCrunch


Tesla has shed some more light on the fatal crash and fire involving a Model X car last week. In a blog post tonight, Tesla said it’s not yet clear what happened in the time leading up to the accident. Tesla also said it does not yet know what caused it.

Tesla did note that, according to its data, Tesla owners have driven that same stretch of Highway 101 with Autopilot engaged about 85,000 times since Tesla first rolled out the automated control system in 2015. Since the beginning of this year, Tesla drivers have successfully handled that stretch of the highway 20,000 times, according to Tesla.

“The reason this crash was so severe is that the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced,” the company wrote.

Below, you can see what the barrier was supposed to look like versus what it looked like the day before the accident.

Tesla says it obtained the image of the more recent photo from the dash cam of a witness who regularly makes the commute. The company went on to say it has “never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.”

As previously reported, the accident also caused a fire. In the event there is a fire, Tesla says its battery packs are designed so that people have enough time to get out of the car.

“According to witnesses, that appears to be what happened here as we understand there were no occupants still in the Model X by the time the fire could have presented a risk,” Tesla wrote. “Serious crashes like this can result in fire regardless of the type of car, and Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle.”

The promise of Tesla’s Autopilot system is to reduce car accidents. In the company’s blog post, Tesla notes Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, according to an independent review by the U.S. government. Of course, that does not mean the technology is perfect in preventing all accidents.

Earlier today, the National Transportation Safety Board announced it is conducting an investigation into the accident, which killed the driver and resulted in a fire.

“Out of respect for the privacy of our customer and his family, we do not plan to share any additional details until we conclude the investigation,” Tesla’s blog post stated. “We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of our customer.”



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Comparing Apple, Google and Microsoft’s education plays – TechCrunch


Today’s Apple event in Chicago was about more than just showing off new hardware and software in the classroom — the company was reasserting itself as a major player in education. The category has long been a lynchpin in Apple’s strategy — something that Steve Jobs held near and dear.

Any ’80s kid will tell you that Apple was a force to be reckoned with — Apple computers were mainstays in computer labs across the country. It’s always been a good fit for a company focused on serving creators, bringing that extra bit of pizzazz to the classroom. In recent years, however, there’s been a major shift. The Chromebook has become the king of the classroom, thanks in no small part to the inexpensive hardware and limited spec requirements.

Based on Google’s early positioning of the category, it appears that the Chromebook’s classroom success even managed to catch its creators off-guard. The company has since happily embraced that success — while Microsoft appears to have shifted its own approach in response to Chrome OS’s success.

Apple’s own responses have been less direct, and today’s event was a reconfirmation of the company’s commitment to the iPad as the centerpiece of its educational play. If Apple can be seen as reacting, it’s in the price of the product. Gone are the days that schools’ entire digital strategy revolved around a bunch of stationary desktops in a dusty old computer lab.

But while education has been a piece of the iPad strategy since the product launched eight years ago next month, the tablet was long price-prohibitive. The company has addressed that through school discounts and lowering the overall cost of the line, as the tablet market has started to stagnate, but the last couple of upgrades have dropped pricing down to a far more approachable $299.

A one-iPad-per-child approach is still out of the realm of plenty of public schools, but it’s easy to see how the product could be appealing for school IT managers looking to roll out the iPad cart to classrooms. And additions like Managed Apple IDs have made it easier for multiple kids to share the same device, as a cost-cutting measure.

Along with devoted educational software, the company demonstrated how existing apps like Clips and Garage Band can be repurposed within the educational context to help bring a level of multimedia interactivity to the learning process. The company even sat us down in classrooms today to walk us through some of those projects.

Of course, right now, the market is Google’s to lose. The company reportedly controls around 60 percent of the market. Much like Android, the heart of Chrome OS’s approach is an embrace of third-party manufacturers, which have helped keep the cost down.

Schools with tight budgets can pick up a dirt-cheap Chromebook for $100-$150 less than an iPad. It’s easy to see how that’s an appealing proposition, especially when broken units are just par for the course in the hands of students.

In spite of its success, Google’s certainly not an island. Yesterday’s announcement of the first Chromebook tablet was both a response to Apple’s involvement in the space and a preemptive strike against today’s event, though the new Acer device is actually $30 more expensive than Apple’s educational discount. The company sort of shot itself in the foot on that one, but expect to see more competitively priced slates from other hardware partners.

Microsoft held its own education event in May of last year, showing off its solution to Chrome OS. Thus far, however, Windows 10 S has been kind of a mess, thanks in no small part to some pretty convoluted messaging on the company’s part. The company plans to streamline things a bit by making 10 S a mode inside of Windows 10.

The idea is basically the same, either way, offering a stripped-down version of the operating system that can be locked down from outside apps, so teachers can make sure nothing unseemly makes its way onto the device. It takes less of a toll on the hardware, with the company introducing a new line of PCs starting at $189 — a clear swipe at the Google’s dominance.

In fact, the company came out and said as much in the accompanying press material, saying the products were “the same price as Chromebooks, with none of the compromises.” And while Google’s online office applications have grown in popularity, Microsoft software is still nearly ubiquitous in offices, so there’s something to be said for prepping kids for the real world through use of such applications.



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Family networking app Life360 acqui-hires PathSense team to boost location-based services – TechCrunch


Life360, the app for networking families together via mobile devices, has acquired the developer team behind PathSense, responsible for the creation of a location-based mobile application toolkit, to build out its location-based offerings.

The San Francisco-based Life360 will see all of PathSense’s employees joining its staff, while the tech that PathSense developed will be licensed by the family networking and security monitoring service.

PathSense uses location software and sensing technologies that use less battery power than other GPS apps, according to the company.

“For Life 360 it is very critical to have accurate geofencing to locate assets especially family members and if they leave specific geofenced areas,” wrote Neil Shahe, an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

Specifically, Life360 is applying the technology to crash detection services for families in the event of an accident.

“The PathSense technology, and the team’s expertise in utilizing all of the sensors available on smartphones in a unique way, provides our users with a world-class car crash detection and response system,” said Alex Haro, co-founder and CTO of Life360. “This ensures we fulfill our vision to make every family member a safer driver and be there for them when accidents happen.”

That service will detect when an accident occurs and initiates a call to the phone of whichever subscriber was in the accident. If the user needs assistance, Life360 says it will notify emergency contacts and dispatch emergency services to a location.

The feature is part of the company’s Driver Protect subscription service — which also includes monitoring of phone usage in cars.

PathSense’s team, now a part of Life360 was behind the development of Trapster — a Waze -like app using crowd-sourced data to provide traffic and accident alerts.

As part of the talent acquisition, Life360 gets a new technology development hub in San Diego — which the company intends to continue to staff up as it develops new location-based applications.

PathSense will also remain a going concern and will look to bring on new clients in its Southern California office.

 



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Oracle wins appeal against Google in copyright case – TechCrunch


If you thought the Oracle v. Google saga was over at last, we have some bad news for you. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit breathed new life into the case, ruling that Google violated copyright law when it used Oracle’s Java APIs to create the Android mobile operating system. You can read the full ruling here.

The case revolves around a central question: Is a programming language like Java covered by copyright protection? The advent of a third Oracle v. Google trial demonstrates that the far-reaching copyright debate is far from over.

Google has maintained that its use of Java fell under fair use, an argument that a jury agreed with in 2016. Google also won the first round, when Oracle sued the company in 2010. Oracle was previously seeking $9 billion in damages, making the financial stakes just as massive as the implications for the broader software development world.



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Oscar Health raises $165 million at reported $3B valuation – TechCrunch


Oscar Health, the startup run by Josh Kushner (yes, brother of Jared), has raised $165 million at a reported valuation of $3.2 billion, CNBC’s Christina Farr reports. The funding comes from Alphabet’s Capital G investment company and Verily life sciences corporation, Founders Fund and others.

Oscar’s goal is to outpace existing industry-leading insurers, including UnitedHealth and Aetna, with an emphasis on mobile technology, including an appointment booking app and other tools for encouraging engaged consumers across its platform.

The startup seemed to be in some potential trouble because of its focus providing an insurance marketplace for Affordable Care Act beneficiaries, but the company has changed its model to one in which customers are charged higher premiums, and with closer relationships with a select group of care providers to help them work out more competitive pricing.

Per CNBC, Oscar Health also left the door open for potential partnerships with one of its newest investors, Verily. The Alphabet-owned healthtech company has a number of potential ventures it’s working on, and insurance could feature in a few of those plans, so this could turn out to be a very strategic investor partner.



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Build your own PC inside the PC you built with PC Building Simulator – TechCrunch


Considering we’ve got simulators for everything from driving a junker (x2) to moving into a neighborhood with a bunch of hot dads in it, I suppose it was only a matter of time until someone made a game where you assemble your own PC. It’s called PC Building Simulator, as you might guess, and it looks fabulous.

I’ve built all my PCs over the years, including my current one, which I really should have waited on, since the early Skylake mobos were apparently trash. I’m sure we can line up the screw holes better than that, MSI!

What was I talking about? Oh yes, the simulator. This is no joke game: it uses real, licensed parts from major manufacturers, which are (or will be) simulated down to their power draws, pins, draw counts and so on. So if you pick a power supply without enough molex connectors to handle your SLI rig and PCIe solid state system drive (or whatever), it won’t start. Or if you try to close the ultra-slim case with an 8-inch-tall heatsink on your overclocked CPU, it’ll just clank. (Some of these features are still in development.)

Add LEDs inside the case, replace the side panel with acrylic (no!), try out a few cooling solutions… the possibilities are endless. Especially since manufacturers like Corsair, AMD, and so on seem hot to add perfectly modeled virtual versions of their components to the selection.

There’s even a “game” aspect where you can start your own PC repair business — someone sends you a machine that won’t boot, or shuts down randomly, and you get to figure out why that is. Run a virus scan, reseat the RAM, all that. Damn, this sounds just like my actual life.

Seriously though, this is great — it might help more people get over the idea that building a PC is difficult. I mean, it is, but at least here you can go through the motions so it isn’t a total mystery when you give it a shot.

The best part is that this game is made by a teenager who put together the original as a lark (it’s free on itch.io) and attracted so much attention that it’s been blown up into a full-blown game. Well, an Early Access title, anyway.



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‘Late Show’ will have fewer commercials tonight, thanks to Google sponsorship – TechCrunch


Stephen Colbert will get an extra segment on his show tonight, funded by a sponsorship from Google.

Variety reports that CBS and Google have struck a deal that will reduce commercial time on Colbert’s Late Show. He’ll fill that extra time with a new segment (it’s not clear where it will fall during the show, or what the content will be), which he’ll introduce with a plug for Google’s new smart doorbell: “More Show Presented by: Google’s Nest Hello video doorbell.”

In some ways, this might just feel like the latest twist on the old-school TV sponsorship, but it also helps advertisers reach audiences who might otherwise skip through the commercials, or who watch the show through digital platforms like Google-owned YouTube (where the Late Show has been surging).

And again, it should mean more Colbert and less advertising for viewers.

Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising officer at CBS, told Variety that this is “just the beginning: We will continue to work with the show, and across all of our dayparts, to innovate and expand on what we offer our advertisers.”



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VW Atlas Cross Sport concept shows hybrids have an exciting future – TechCrunch


If this is the future of hybrids, I’m all in. Volkswagen just took the cover off its Atlas Cross Sport SUV, which features a plug-in hybrid drive powertrain that features two electric motors and a V6 engine. Together, they produce 355 horsepower. And it looks great, too.

The inside and out of this concept is loaded with future-leaning technology including a massive screen, digital cockpit and a seemingly endless amount of LEDs. The center infotainment system can be controlled by touch or gesture though since this example is just a concept, it’s unclear if gesture controls will make it into production.

The powertrain is the most exciting part. The Atlas Cross Sport is equipped with the same 3.6L V6 engine found in the standard Atlas. But the Cross Sport features dual electric motors with a 54 hp motor in the front and a rear motor that outputs 114 hp. An 18.0 kWh lithium-ion battery housed in the vehicle’s central tunnel powers the battery. Volkswagen says its configuration allows the output to be 355 HP, up from 310 hp if a conventional hybrid system was used.

The company expects the SUV to hit 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, thus proving it’s worthy of the Sport badging as the regular Atlas runs 60 mph at 7.9 seconds.

The concept features several drive modes though it’s not clear at this time if the production vehicle will have similar abilities. In E-Mode, the vehicle drives on just the rear motor and has a range of around 26 miles. Like the Chevy Volt

Volkswagen says this is headed to production, too, with a 2019 release. The company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee facility will build the vehicle.

This concept is built off the MQB platform that’s responsible for the seven-seat Atlas. In this variation, the vehicle is 7.5 inches shorter than the Atlas though the wheelbase is the same. It shows the flexibility of the platform, which can result in a traditional 7-seat people hauler or a 5-passenger sports SUV with different powertrains and dimensions.

Volkswagen is not alone in adding hybrid powertrains to SUVs. Ford announced two weeks ago it intends to offer five hybrid SUV models in the coming years.

Hybrid systems could see a resurgence in popularity as models such as the Cross Sport show they can be used for more than just increasing fuel economy.



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Bird expands to San Francisco, San Jose and Washington – TechCrunch


The smash dockless scooter rental startup, Bird, is expanding beyond its Southern California nest with a new rollout in San Francisco, San Jose, Calif. and Washington, DC, the company said today.

And as his company makes its migration across the country, Bird chief executive Travis VanderZanden is determined not to make the same mistakes that bedeviled his former bosses at Uber .

As part of the rollout, Bird is offering to remit $1 daily for each of its scooters deployed in every city it’s operating in. That’s all part of an outreach effort that Bird is framing as a commitment to “Save Our Sidewalks.”

The initiative, which Bird is encouraging other scooter sharing services like LimeBike, Mobike, Ofo, and Spin to join, includes a commitment to collect vehicles every night; reposition them to meet demand in the mornings; provide regular maintenance; and only add capacity when every vehicle in a fleet is used three times per day.

The dollar per day commitment is a nice attempt by Bird to get in front of tariffs or fees that may be imposed by local jurisdictions which could be far higher. For instance, cities would make far more money charging bird a smaller fee per ride rather than per day.

Bird prices its rides at $1 to rent the scooter and then 15 cents per minute traveled.

The company’s services are already available in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Monica, Calif.



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