Helium launches $51M-funded ‘LongFi’ IoT alternative to cellular

With 200X the range of Wi-Fi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem, Helium’s “LongFi” wireless network debuts today. Its transmitters can help track stolen scooters, find missing dogs via IoT collars and collect data from infrastructure sensors. The catch is that Helium’s tiny, extremely low-power, low-data transmission chips rely on connecting to P2P Helium Hotspots people can now buy for $495. Operating those hotspots earns owners a cryptocurrency token Helium promises will be valuable in the future…

The potential of a new wireless standard has allowed Helium to raise $51 million over the past few years from GV, Khosla Ventures and Marc Benioff, including a new $15 million Series C round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. That’s in part because one of Helium’s co-founders is Napster inventor Shawn Fanning. Investors are betting that he can change the tech world again, this time with a wireless protocol that like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth before it could unlock unique business opportunities.

Helium already has some big partners lined up, including Lime, which will test it for tracking its lost and stolen scooters and bikes when they’re brought indoors, obscuring other connectivity, or their battery is pulled, out deactivating GPS. “It’s an ultra low-cost version of a LoJack” Helium CEO Amir Haleem says.

InvisiLeash will partner with it to build more trackable pet collars. Agulus will pull data from irrigation valves and pumps for its agriculture tech business. Nestle will track when it’s time to refill water in its ReadyRefresh coolers at offices, and Stay Alfred will use it to track occupancy status and air quality in buildings. Haleem also imagines the tech being useful for tracking wildfires or radiation.

Haleem met Fanning playing video games in the 2000s. They teamed up with Fanning and Sproutling … Read the rest

Weighing Peloton’s opportunity and risks ahead of IPO

Exercise tech company Peloton filed confidentially for IPO this week, and already the big question is whether their last private valuation at $4 billion might be too rich for the appetites of public market investors. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons leading up to the as-yet revealed market debut date.

Risk factors

The biggest thing to pay attention to when it comes time for Peloton to actually pull back the curtains and provide some more detailed info about its customers in its S-1. To date, all we really know is that Peloton has “more than 1 million users,” and that’s including both users of its hardware and subscribers to its software.

The mix is important – how many of these are actually generating recurring revenue (vs. one-time hardware sales) will be a key gauge. MRR is probably going to be more important to prospective investors when compared with single-purchases of Peloton’s hardware, even with its premium pricing of around $2,000 for the bike and about $4,000 for the treadmill. Peloton CEO John Foley even said last year that bike sales went up when the startup increased prices.

Hardware numbers are not entirely distinct from subscriber revenue, however: Per month pricing is actually higher with Peloton’s hardware than without, at $39 per month with either the treadmill or the bike, and $19.49 per month for just the digital subscription for iOS, Android and web on its own.

That makes sense when you consider that its classes are mostly tailored to this, and that it can create new content from its live classes which occur in person in New York, and then are recast on-demand to its users (which is a low-cost production and distribution model for content that always feels fresh to users).

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Roland’s tiny R-07 recorder is better than your phone’s recorder app

In an era when the smartphone can do everything, why do you need a standalone audio recorder? Roland, makers of music gear, might have an answer.

Their R-07 voice recorder is about as big as an original iPod and is designed for music recording, practice and playback. It features two microphones on top as well as an auxiliary microphone input. It also includes a headphone jack and supports Bluetooth.

As a recorder, the R-07 is a single-touch marvel. You record by turning it on and pressing the center button. It records to MicroSD card and can create up to 96 kHz 24-bit WAVs and 320 kbps MP3s. It runs on USB power or two AA batteries.

A Scene mode makes the R-07 a bit more interesting. It has built-in limiters and low cut, essentially features that will make voices crisper. Further, you can set it to “Music Long” to record longer performances while using less drive space.

Rehearsal mode lets you hear live audio through audio playback, a great feature for budding musicians.

Finally, you can control up to four devices at once via Bluetooth, allowing you to mic various members of a band, for example.

The R-07 costs an acceptable $199 and is shipping now. While it doesn’t beat a massive recorder with dual mics and XLR inputs like the Zoom H6 in terms of versatility, in terms of portability and sound quality — not to mention music-friendly features — the R-07 is a great alternative to the Voice Memos app on your phone.

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Google discloses security bug in its Bluetooth Titan Security Keys, offers free replacement

Google today disclosed a security bug in its Bluetooth Titan Security Key that could allow an attacker in close physical proximity to circumvent the security the key is supposed to provide. The company says the bug is due to a “misconfiguration in the Titan Security Keys’ Bluetooth pairing protocols” and that even the faulty keys still protect against phishing attacks. Still, the company is providing a free replacement key to all existing users.

The bug affects all Titan Bluetooth keys, which sell for $50 in a package that also includes a standard USB/NFC key, that have a “T1” or “T2” on the back.

To exploit the bug, an attacker would have to be within Bluetooth range (about 30 feet) and act swiftly as you press the button on the key to activate it. The attacker can then use the misconfigured protocol to connect their own device to the key before your own device connects. With that — and assuming that they already have your username and password — they could sign into your account.

Google also notes that before you can use your key, it has to be paired to your device. An attacker could also potentially exploit this bug by using their own device and masquerading it as your security key to connect to your device when you press the button on the key. By doing this, the attacker can then change their device to look like a keyboard or mouse and remote control your laptop, for example.

All of this has to happen at the exact right time, though, and the attacker must already know your credentials. A persistent attacker could make that work, though.

Google argues that this issue doesn’t affect the Titan key’s main mission, which is to guard against phishing attacks, and argues that … Read the rest

Google and Qualcomm launch a dev kit for building Assistant-enabled headphones

Qualcomm today announced that it has partnered with Google to create a reference design and development kit for building Assistant-enabled Bluetooth headphones. Traditionally, building these headphones wasn’t exactly straightforward and involved building a lot of the hardware and software stack, something top-tier manufacturers could afford to do, but that kept second- or third-tier headphone developers from adding voice assistant capabilities to their devices.

“As wireless Bluetooth devices like headphones and earbuds become more popular, we need to make it easier to have the same great Assistant experience across many headsets,” Google’s Tomer Amarilio writes in today’s announcement.

The aptly named “Qualcomm Smart Headset Development Kit” is powered by a Qualcomm QCC5100-series Bluetooth audio chip and provides a full reference board for developing new headsets and interacting with the Assistant. What’s interesting — and somewhat unusual for Qualcomm — is that the company also built its own Bluetooth earbuds as a full reference design. These feature the ability to hold down a button to start an Assistant session, for example, as well as volume buttons. They are definitely not stylish headphones you’d want to use on your commute, given that they are bulky enough to feature a USB port. But they are meant to provide manufacturers with a design they can then use to build their own devices.

In addition to making it easier for developers to integrate the Assistant, the reference design also supports Google’s Fast Pair technology that makes connecting a new headset to an Android Phone without the usual hassle that comes with connecting a headset for the first time.

“Demand for voice control and assistance on-the-go is rapidly gaining traction across the consumer landscape,” said Chris Havell, senior director, product marketing, voice and music at Qualcomm. “Combined with our Smart Headset Platform, this reference design offers flexibility
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