Meet TezLab, the Fitbit for Tesla vehicles

Some of the best real-time insights into Tesla and its global fleet of electric vehicles — outside the confines of its Silicon Valley headquarters — might be through the lens of TezLab, a tiny upstart in Brooklyn.

Now, a little more than two years after its founding, TezLab is on the verge of hitting what its founders believe is a tipping point of users, a milestone that could finally trigger a path to monetization. And it’s adding lots of new features to help accelerate that plan.

For the non-Tesla owner, the name TezLab is likely a foreign one. In certain circles though, namely Tesla owners obsessed with understanding how their electric vehicle performs, TezLab is a familiar friend.

Tezlab is a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle. Tesla owners who download the app can track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. There’s even a gamification piece that lets users earn badges for hitting milestones or completing tasks.

The company has started to add new features as part of a longer term plan aimed at monetization.

One of these features, which crowdsources data like Waze to give insights and ratings on Tesla Supercharger stations, is rolling out now. The video below shows how this supercharger feature will function.

The Waze for supercharger feature is considered “phase one” of the company’s plans to broaden its crowdsourcing and social community.

Origin story

The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Ben Read the rest

Facebook is creating photorealistic homes for AIs to work and learn in

If AI-powered robots are ever going to help us out around the house, they’re going to need a lot of experience navigating human environments. Simulators, virtual worlds that look and behave just like real life, are the best place for them to learn, and Facebook has created one of the most advanced such systems yet.

Called Habitat, Facebook’s new, open-source simulator was briefly mentioned some months ago but today received the full expository treatment, to accompany a paper on the system being presented at CVPR.

Teaching a robot to navigate a realistic world and accomplish simple tasks is a process that takes a considerable amount of time, so doing it in a physical space with an actual robot is impractical. It might take hundreds of hours, even years of real time, to learn over many repetitions how best to get from one place to another, or how to grip and pull a drawer.

Instead, the robot’s AI can be placed in a virtual environment that approximates the real one, and the basics can be hashed out as fast as the computer can run the calculations that govern that 3D world. That means you can achieve hundreds or thousands of hours of training in just a few minutes of intense computing time.

Habitat is not itself a virtual world, but rather a platform on which such simulated environments can run. It is compatible with several existing systems and environments (SUNCG, MatterPort3D, Gibson and others), and is optimized for efficiency so researchers can run it at hundreds of times real-world speeds.

But Facebook also wanted to advance the state of the art in virtual worlds, and so created Replica, a database for Habitat that includes a number of photorealistic rooms organized into a whole house: a … Read the rest

Facebook collected device data on 187,000 users using banned snooping app

Facebook obtained personal and sensitive device data on about 187,000 users of its now-defunct Research app, which Apple banned earlier this year after the app violated its rules.

The social media giant said in a letter to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office — which TechCrunch obtained — that it collected data on 31,000 users in the U.S., including 4,300 teenagers. The rest of the collected data came from users in India.

Earlier this year, a TechCrunch investigation found both Facebook and Google were abusing their Apple-issued enterprise developer certificates, designed to only allow employees to run iPhone and iPad apps used only inside the company. The investigation found the companies were building and providing apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store, in violation of Apple’s rules. The apps paid users in return for collecting data on how participants used their devices and to understand app habits by gaining access to all of the network data in and out of their device.

Apple banned the apps by revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate — and later Google’s enterprise certificate. In doing so, the revocation knocked offline both companies’ fleet of internal iPhone or iPad apps that relied on the same certificates.

But in response to lawmakers’ questions, Apple said it didn’t know how many devices installed Facebook’s rule-violating app.

“We know that the provisioning profile for the Facebook Research app was created on April 19, 2017, but this does not necessarily correlate to the date that Facebook distributed the provisioning profile to end users,” said Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal affairs, in his letter.

Facebook said the app dated back to 2016.

A portion of Apple’s letter to lawmakers. (Image: TechCrunch)

TechCrunch also obtained the letters sent by Apple and Google to lawmakers in early March, but were never made public.… Read the rest

Apollo raises $22M for its GraphQL platform

Apollo, a San Francisco-based startup that provides a number of developer and operator tools and services around the GraphQL query language, today announced that it has raised a $22 million growth funding round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and Matrix Partners. Existing investors Trinity Ventures and Webb Investment Network also participated in this round.

Today, Apollo is probably the biggest player in the GraphQL ecosystem. At its core, the company’s services allow businesses to use the Facebook -incubated GraphQL technology to shield their developers from the patchwork of legacy APIs and databases as they look to modernize their technology stacks. The team argues that while REST APIs that talked directly to other services and databases still made sense a few years ago, it doesn’t anymore now that the number of API endpoints keeps increasing rapidly.

Apollo replaces this with what it calls the Data Graph. “There is basically a missing piece where we think about how people build apps today, which is the piece that connects the billions of devices out there,” Apollo co-founder and CEO Geoff Schmidt told me. “You probably don’t just have one app anymore, you probably have three, for the web, iOS and Android . Or maybe six. And if you’re a two-sided marketplace you’ve got one for buyers, one for sellers and another for your ops team.”

Managing the interfaces between all of these apps quickly becomes complicated and means you have to write a lot of custom code for every new feature. The promise of the Data Graph is that developers can use GraphQL to query the data in the graph and move on, all without having to write the boilerplate code that typically slows them down. At the same time, the ops teams can use the Graph to enforce access policies and … Read the rest

WhatsApp is finally going after outside firms that are abusing its platform

WhatsApp has so far relied on past dealings with bad players within its platform to ramp up its efforts to curtail spam and other automated behavior. The Facebook -owned giant has now announced an additional step it plans to take beginning later this year to improve the health of its messaging service: going after those whose mischievous activities can’t be traced within its platform.

The messaging platform, used by more than 1.5 billion users, confirmed on Tuesday that starting December 7 it will start considering signals off its platform to pursue legal actions against those who are abusing its system. The company will also go after individuals who — or firms that — falsely claim to have found ways to cause havoc on the service.

The move comes as WhatsApp grapples with challenges such as spam behavior to push agendas or spread false information on its messaging service in some markets. “This serves as notice that we will take legal action against companies for which we only have off-platform evidence of abuse if that abuse continues beyond December 7, 2019, or if those companies are linked to on-platform evidence of abuse before that date,” it said in an FAQ post on its site.

A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed the change to TechCrunch, adding, “WhatsApp was designed for private messaging, so we’ve taken action globally to prevent bulk messaging and enforce limits on how WhatsApp accounts that misuse WhatsApp can be used. We’ve also stepped up our ability to identify abuse, which helps us ban 2 million accounts globally per month.”

Earlier this year, WhatsApp said (PDF) it had built a machine learning system to detect and weed out users who engage in inappropriate behavior, such as sending bulk messages or creating multiple accounts with intention to harm the service. The platform … Read the rest