YC-backed Observant uses the iPhone’s infrared depth sensors to analyze user emotions

Observant has found a new way to use the fancy infrared depth sensors included on the iPhone X, XS and XR: analyzing people’s facial expression in order to understand how they’re responding to a product or a piece of content.

Observant was part of the winter batch of startups at accelerator Y Combinator, but was still in stealth mode on Demo Day. It was created by the same company behind bug-reporting product Buglife, and CEO Dave Schukin said his team created it because they wanted to find better ways to capture user reactions.

We’ve written about other startups that try to do something similar using webcams and eye tracking, but Schukin (who co-founded the company with CTO Daniel DeCovnick) argued that those approaches are less accurate than Observant’s — in particular, he argued that they don’t capture subtler “microexpressions,” and they don’t do as well in low-light settings.

In contrast, he said the infrared depth sensors can map your face in high levels of detail regardless of lighting, and Observant has also created deep learning technology to translate the facial data into emotions in real time.

Observant has created an SDK that can be installed in any iOS app, and it can provide either a full, real-time stream of emotional analysis, or individual snapshots of user responses tied to specific in-app events. The product is currently invite-only, but Schukin said it’s already live in some retail and e-commerce apps, and it’s also being used in focus group testing.

Observant

Of course, the idea of your iPhone capturing all your facial expressions might sound a little creepy, so he emphasized that as Observant brings on new customers, it’s working with them to ensure that when the data is collected, “users are crystal clear how it’s being used.” Plus, all the analysis actually happens on the users’ device, so no facial footage or biometric data gets uploaded.

Eventually, Schukin suggested that the technology could be applied more broadly, whether that’s by helping companies provide better recommendations, introduce more “emotional intelligence” to their chatbots or even detect sleepy driving.

As for whether Observant can achieve those goals when it’s only working on three phones, Schukin said, “When we started working on this almost a year go, the iPhone X was the only iPhone [with these depth sensors]. Our thinking at the time was, we know how Apple works, we know how this technology propagates over time, so we’re going to place a bet that eventually these depth sensors will be on every iPhone and every iPad, and they’ll be emulated and replicated on Android.”

So while it’s too early to say whether Observant’s bet will pay off, Schukin pointed to the fact that these sensors have expanded from one to three iPhone models as a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

The corpse of Kodak coughs up another odd partnership

Kodak isn’t feeling very well. The company, which sold off most of its legacy assets in the last decade, is licensing its name to partners who build products like digital cameras and, most comically, a cryptocurrency. In that deal, Wenn Digital bought the rights to the Kodak name for an estimated $1.5 million, a move that they hoped would immediately lend gravitas to the crypto offering.

Reader, it didn’t. After multiple stories regarding the future of the coin it still has not hit the ICO stage. Now Kodak is talking about another partnership, this time with a Tennessee-based video and film digitization company.

The new product is essentially a rebranding of LegacyBox, a photo digitization company that has gone through multiple iterations after a raft of bad press.

“The Kodak Digitizing Box is a brand licensed product from AMB Media, the creators of Legacy Box. So yes, we’ve licensed the brand to them for this offering,” said Kodak spokesperson Nicholas Rangel. Not much has changed between Kodak’s offering and LegacyBox. The LegacyBox site is almost identical to the Kodak site and very similar to another AMB media product, Southtree.

The product itself is a fairly standard photo digitization service, although Southtree does have a number of complaints, including a very troubling case of missing mementos. The entry-level product is a box into which you can stuff hundreds of photos and videos and have them digitized for a fee.

Ultimately it’s been interesting to see Kodak sell itself off in this way. Like Polaroid before it, the company is now a shell of its former self and this is encouraging parasitical partners to cash in on its brand. Given that Kodak is still a household name for many, it’s no wonder a smaller company like AMB wants hitch itself to that star.

Hammond delivers budget of tax cuts and spending to shore up May

Chancellor declares austerity is coming to an end with budget making little reference to risks of a no-deal Brexit

Philip Hammond declared “austerity is coming to an end,” on Monday, as he sought to reassure voters, and shore up the morale of fractious Tory MPs Theresa May needs to back her Brexit deal by peppering his budget speech with spending pledges and a surprise income tax cut.

As negotiations with the EU27 enter their frantic final weeks, the chancellor cast off his cautious reputation and opted to spend almost all of a £68bn windfall handed to him over the next five years by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Related: Is austerity in the UK really over after 2018’s budget?

Working people cannot be fobbed off again with promises of a better tomorrow that never comes.

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Europe’s most popular ride-hailing service is launching e-scooters

Mytaxi, the Daimler-owned Uber competitor, announced today it would launch an electric scooter pilot in Southern Europe later this year, with a full international roll-out planned for 2019.

Daimler initially took a 15 percent stake in Hamburg-based mytaxi in 2012, adding the company to its portfolio of ridesharing businesses that also includes Chauffeur PrivéCareem, Flinc, car2go and Hailo, which merged with mytaxi in 2016.

The company has yet to unveil its scooters’ brand name, but says it will use the Segway ES4 Sharing Scooter.

“The E-scooter market is highly dynamic and the interest from users is booming in a lot of international cities,” mytaxi chief executive officer Eckart Diepenhorst said in a statement. “We see a significant growth potential for mytaxi here and a perfect complement to our existing taxi business as E-scooters are mostly used for short tours of around one to two kilometers. Although ride lengths strongly vary between taxi and scooter business, we think about potential combinations of both areas.”

Mytaxi was founded in 2009 and says it has since transported 10 million passengers via 100,000 registered drivers. Before Daimler acquired the remaining stake in the startup in 2014, mytaxi had raised some $13 million from Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, T-Venture, Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, car2go and others.

Lime and Bird, a pair of well-funded e-scooter startups, have emerged as the front-runners of the already over-crowded e-scooter market. Still, it seems all ride-hailing and bike-sharing businesses are going to try their hand at scooters.

Taxify, another European Uber competitor, is one of the most recent companies to announce plans to release scooters in Europe.