Bold Business Logo

Uber Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh

Self-driving vehicles are just one of the many new bold ideas already in action today. However, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, people are starting to view the technology as something creating more economic anxiety rather than what it was originally billed as – the central pillar of the city’s tech-centric future.

Due to the improved technologies, Uber is confident that these self-driving cars may need only one operator now instead of the original two – a step closer to the road-worthiness the company is striving for.

The technology from Uber, originally welcomed into the Steel City earlier this year, might face more scrutiny. The San Francisco-based ride hailing company released its first generation of self-driving cars in 2016, but was met with mixed reactions. Pittsburgh is famous for unpredictable weather resulting to rain, snow, and even hail, as well as the way the city was built with a lack of grid system and numerous bridges. As such, the experimental release of Uber’s autonomous public vehicles encountered a few bumps, so to speak.

Room for Development

“So much has happened,” said Eric Meyhofer, Uber’s head of Advanced Technologies Group.

Uber’s initial offerings in Pittsburg involved passenger rides in the company’s black Ford Fusions, with the service starting in September 2016. By early 2017, however, these rides were discontinued. Instead, gray Volvo XC90s were used, with a light detection and ranging (lidar) system on top of the vehicles.

Today, after one million self-driven miles in a combination of over 30,000 passenger rides from a 200-car fleet in three cities (San Francisco, CA; Tempe, AZ; and Pittsburgh, PA), Uber is phasing out the gray Volvo XC90s within the next few months.

In lieu of these, a new set of Volvo XC90s with codename Xenon is coming out. The prototype, while physically similar to the grey XC90s, is still different. Other than its test color of white (the company insisted they have not selected the color for Xenon cars just yet), there are various improvements under the hood.

Better Technologies

Brian Zajac, Uber’s director of hardware engineering, explained that within the trunk, there is a much smaller computer that in his opinion can help improve manufacturing scalability in the future.

The new cars’ cameras have higher quality and better resolution, in addition to better vision despite difficult weather involving rain, snow, sleet, and hail. While people suspect that it involves improved lens coating, Zajac did not specify what new technology was involved. The number of sensors did not increase, but the quality has.

The improved self-driving Volvos also have better interiors, including an improved iPad. In the former model, the backseat iPad was usually used for its selfie camera. However, it now highlights objects that may obstruct the car’s path, including stop signs and pedestrians (highlighted in the iPad as orange). Other objects in its line of sight that do not obstruct the path are highlighted as blue. This color-coded imagery helps passengers understand how the car’s computer “sees” the road.

The iPad located in the front of the vehicles also improved. Previously, majority of the car’s communication in autonomous mode is found on a laptop operated by a second technician on the front passenger seat. Now, this information resides on the iPad as well, so a vehicle operator seated on the driver’s seat can do both jobs.

By state law, autonomous cars require at least one technician present in the car, as they are there to take over in case emergencies arise. Due to the improved technologies, Uber is confident that these self-driving cars may need only one operator now instead of the original two – a step closer to the road-worthiness the company is striving for. These single-operator “Xenon” vehicles have expected releases in the rest of 2017 and into 2018.

Nokia to Focus on Health and Fitness Devices and Apps, Drops VR Segment

Nokia Technologies decided to no longer continue the development of the OZO virtual reality (VR) camera; instead its new efforts concentrate on their digital health and fitness segment. This bold move was made based on the slow adoption of VR, as well as the increased interest in health wearables.

Picking Up Where Withings Left Off

According to Nokia president Gregory Lee, they are “at a point where, with the right focus and investments” they can achieve growth and market share in the digital health market. He added, “We must seize the opportunity.”

At the core of this development are the Nokia Body scale, Body+, Body Cardio scale, and the BPM+. These were formerly Withings-branded products, until Nokia bought the company. After the Nokia acquisition, they also announced the rebranding during the World Mobile Congress early this year.

Withings Body became the Nokia Body+, paving the way for the rebranded Nokia Body scale. The Body Cardio scale was a rebranded offering originally from Withings. The BPM+ is a premium product featuring a soft cuff; it is an upgrade from the original Withings blood pressure monitor. Nokia also rebranded other Withings products, including the Go activity and sleep tracker, the Home video and air quality monitor, and the Thermo connected temporal thermometer. The Nokia Steel HR smartwatch is also set to return to the market after some improvements and a rebranding. This was also upgraded from the Withings Steel smartwatch.

Product Integration

Part of the Withings acquisition is the Health Mate app. It collects data from the various devices to give insights on a person’s weight, activity, sleep and blood pressure. After the rebranding and further improvements, the app featured enhanced navigation, 8-week wellness programs with custom content, and 5 new programs: Sleep Smarter, Better Body, Pregnancy Tracker, Healthier Heart and Leaderboard.

Health devices are no longer stand alone products. Most wearables manufacturers present an ecosystem that’s complete with health monitoring, data collection, integration, and analysis. This is the value-added proposition to the customer, and also locks in the user into the ecosystem, often compelling him to buy other related products. Unlike competitors Apple, Amazon, and Google, Nokia does not have an AI assistant.

Also in the same vein, the existing ecosystem and multiple products help explain why VR development is let go for the moment. With a bigger investment in the acquisition of Withings, more products and an integrated ecosystem, Nokia’s health and fitness wearables are in a better position in the market. In contrast, compared to the health and fitness segment, the OZO VR model has a limited ecosystem.

Internal Effects

The decision affects about 310 workers out of the company’s 1,090 total employees. Although VR research and development has stopped, Nokia maintains its support commitments to existing customers.

According to Nokia president Gregory Lee, they are “at a point where, with the right focus and investments” they can achieve growth and market share in the digital health market. “We must seize the opportunity,” he said.

This is a clear directive that Nokia continues to grow its fitness segment, aiming to have a larger impact with the medical community and its customers.

New Skin Cancer Detection Machine is a Handheld DermaSensor

Experts consider skin cancer as the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States. However, things are looking up thanks to a bold idea: detecting skin cancer and removing suspicious spots before they cause any health threats. The new skin cancer detection machine even uses artificial intelligence AI), proof that the machine is highly innovative.

The company aims to distribute the device to as wide a range of users as possible. The aim is to sell the device to health practitioners, with a smaller version for sale to consumers.

Statistics reveal that there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed every year compared to lung, breast, prostate, as well as colon cancers combined. About 20% of all Americans will therefore likely develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

Melanoma makes up under 1% of all skin cancer. However, it causes the most number of skin cancer deaths. An estimated 9,730 people will unfortunately succumb to melanoma in 2017, at a rate of one death every 54 minutes.

In the past, dermatologists would make a thorough check on patients suspected to have skin cancer with a head to toe examination of every mole or skin discoloration. Pink and brown spots that look suspicious can be removed surgically before they cause any further damage. The new cancer detection machine is about to change all that.

New Skin Cancer Detection Machine is Highly Innovative

The skin cancer growth rate make it imperative to have a tool for detecting skin cancer. DermaSensor, Inc. has been working on such a new cancer detection machine since 2009. Dr. Maurice Ferre co-founded the Miami-based health tech startup.

Skin cancer illustration

Dr. Ferre has an impressive background in medical entrepreneurship. Prior to DermaSensor, he was the CEO of MAKO Surgical, a company that Styker bought for $1.65 billion. In addition, he is also the chairman and CEO of Israel-based Insightec Ltd.; a co-founder of Miami-based Fastrack Institute; and was on the board of directors of Endeavor, a Miami-based company that supports high-impact entrepreneurship.

Making use of prior technologies from Boston University and University College London, DermaSensor has been under development since 2011. The company has collaborated with dermatologists in Florida, and the device is undergoing development and clinical studies. What started out as a desktop system now looks like a large pen that can detect if a mole or skin lesion is cancerous or not.

Using elastic scattering spectroscopy and a healthy dose of artificial intelligence (AI), DermaSensor can differentiate between different skin cancer cells. Using the AI more improves the accuracy as it learns from the prior readings.

It records the skin lesion, and uses the AI to sort through spectroscopy data on different kinds of lesions. It gives results in seconds, evaluating the risks and provides a recommendation for further evaluation from a dermatologist. The prototype is currently undergoing clinical testing in Florida clinics. However, the European testing is further along than in the United States; they are expecting approval sooner while the US is yet to receive clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Marketing and Distribution of the New Cancer Detection Machine

The company aims to distribute the device to as wide a range of users as possible. Additionally, the aim is to sell the new cancer detection machine to health practitioners, with a smaller version for sale to consumers.

Skin cancer is a real threat to regular citizens. With the DermaSensor, skin cancer detection is easier, and helps make diagnosis simpler.

The company recently completed a pre-Series A funding worth $2 million which from angel investors in South Florida and New York. With a current total funding of $4.45 million, expectedly, the next step is to have a Series A financing round to support growing the team and for the continued product research and development (R&D).

Crowdfunding For Startups: MIT’s The Engine Sparks Innovation

During the late 1970s to the 1980s, the Boston area was a hotbed of information (IT) companies, both for hardware and software for a wide range of computer science and communications fields. A lot of these companies had founders who were alumni of either Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT). Now, MIT is trying to put the same innovative spark into startups in Boston with a bold move courtesy of The Engine.

Startup Incubator and Venture Capitalist

Massachusetts was where a lot of companies had their headquarters during the early days of computer revolution. These included minicomputer companies like Data General and Digital Equipment.

The Engine, a venture capital (VC) fund and startup incubator of sorts, funds companies from Boston and beyond. However, even if they fund startups from outside the city limits, one stipulation of The Engine is that they relocate to Boston, mainly because their facilities are there.

The Engine has a war chest of $200 million. Of this, $25 million came from MIT, and the rest came from other VC funds and small funding sources. The first batch has seven companies, and plans are for up to 50 or 60 companies funded for the particular round.

Starting in Boston

One of the reasons for the insistence on relocating to Boston is for the companies to make use of the facilities and the network of smart people who are already in Boston. A lot of startups start from an idea in a university lab. However, when the startup goes out of the lab, they are also cut off from the lab’s facilities. These facilities are the key for some of these startups – with equipment costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, a startup cannot afford to buy them on their own.

Another problem startups have is that technically-inclined people started them – while brilliant, these are often people without any experience or knowledge in running a company. The Engine hopes to help with mentoring founders and helping them overcome this shortcoming. They also need support for prototyping their ideas, which is crucial in moving an idea from concept to reality.

A Network of Smart People

Another reason is the easy access to a network of smart people for assistance and for picking brains. Universities have a lot of these people who can help in giving input to specific problems. The MIT environment is a prime example of this network of brains. A startup in Boston will be able to harness the expertise of MIT alumni and staff.

The pockets of startups have typically come from enclaves around universities. One example is Stanford University in California, where founders of both Google and Stanford University Network (SUN) came from. In the same manner, MIT and a number of other big name companies have similar roots.

Massachusetts was where a lot of companies had their headquarters during the early days of computer revolution. These included minicomputer companies like Data General and Digital Equipment. These companies have since gone defunct, and bigger computer companies have filled up their niche.

The aim of The Engine is to support and fund companies with out of this world ideas often deemed impossible even by other startups. These include startups which aim to innovate in manufacturing, space, energy, robotics, biotech, and life sciences. They are also looking towards startups which focus on multidisciplinary ideas and approaches.