Duolingo Earns $100M in Annual Bookings, Raises $30M from Alphabet

Duolingo’s Premium subscription offering, which launched in 2017, has contributed to a meteoric increase in annual bookings. It continues to invest more and more R&D into AI and machine learning to power its tutoring software and growth. Duolingo raised some serious money from Alphabet bringing the total valuation of the charming Pittsburgh startup, to roughly $9 billion:

Popular language learning app Duolingo has raised $30 million in a series F round of funding from Alphabet’s investment arm CapitalG. […]

Duolingo claims 30 million users are actively learning languages on its platform, and it has emerged as one of the most downloaded educational apps globally. Since its last funding round more than two years ago, it has more than doubled its employees from 95 to 200 and has opened additional offices in Seattle, New York, and Beijing. It also now claims annual bookings of $100 million after it launched its premium plan in 2017, a significant increase from the $33 million it drew in last year.

(via VentureBeat)

The Motorola RAZR is Back

Chaim Gartenberg for The Verge reports:

The hinge is also a bit stiff so you won’t be able to just whip it open with a flick of a wrist — closing it with one hand also involves some more finger contortions to start the closing action. It’s just more practical to close it with your other hand.

Even with these caveats, the whole opening and closing mechanism is supremely satisfying to do, with crisp snaps in both directions. Snapping the phone shut to hang up on a call is a particular delight; there really is no better way to end a call than the classic flip phone snap, and it’s excellent to see that Motorola has kept it alive here. The hardware feels great, too, with solid-feeling stainless steel and glass on the outside and a wonderfully textured back that’s nice and grippy, which is essential for not dropping it while flipping it open and shut. (It is a fingerprint magnet, though.)

A freaking… hinge! Did you hear that?!

Photo: The Verge

Pretty wild right? What year is this? Check out The Verge’s review video below. At the 1:20 mark, Chaim makes a fantastic point. All the other foldables seem to have run into the same problem. They all have terrible hinge designs, among other unmemorable product design issues. For other unknown reasons, most of the other devices fold hamburger style instead of hotdog. Perplexing really. Remember the Samsung Galaxy Fold? It was atrocious, and If you recall, it failed spectacularly.

Sure, the new RAZR isn’t exactly the most beautiful smart device either. It does after all run on Android and will likely employ Google RCS. Nonetheless, it does raise some eyebrows. It brings Motorola back into the fray, and it brings the flip back to smart phones in such a memorable way. One major upside for this design? No more glass screens, which means no more cracked screens for those that fumble (myself included). I think that’s a bright future we can all hope for.

Overall, I’m not sure if I would love it owning a RAZR (I never owned the original RAZR in the first place, but I did own a Sidekick 3 once upon a time), but it has certainly piqued my interest. I think it’s entirely possible that this foldable mobile-device paradigm just might make a comeback. What do ya’ll think?

100 Drone Light Show

Firefly is a company focused on delivering highly choreographed drone shows for venues, performances and entertainment. It takes a lot of time and money to get FAA certified these days for piloting a single drone. Programming a fleet of these is really remarkable, and takes some serious planning and skill. If you ask me, this much much cooler than a fireworks show.

FarmWise, and the Rise of the Agribots

From TechCrunch:

Automating agriculture is a complex proposition given the number and variety of tasks involved, but a number of robotics and autonomy companies are giving it their best shot. FarmWise  seems to have impressed someone — it just raised $14.5 million to continue development of its autonomous weeding vehicle.

Currently in the prototype stage, these vehicles look like giant lumbering personnel carriers or the like, but are in fact precision instruments which scan the ground for invasive weeds among the crop and carefully pluck them out.

A pretty impressive, lumbering, weed-pulling, beast-of-a-prototype. It looks like an absolute unit too:

Image: FarmWise

These sorts of bots have became very well known in the auto industry, the textiles industry, and now they’re coming to agriculture. Simply put, they’re designed to replace mundane awful tasks previously occupied by human hands. In the long-scheme of things, this is a good thing. Not-so-fun jobs should be automated. Improving the quality of life for mankind is a good thing.

But, if you think your job can’t be automated, think again. We have robots writing headlines and blog posts, self-writing their own programs, nailing roof tiles, and just about everything else (questionable or otherwise) in-between. That may sound really scary (and it is a little bit). The long-arc of these sorts of innovations will make create abundance with little effort, and will ultimately lead to a world where a majority the human-race are unemployable. I won’t claim to know the solution to that problem, but is an unavoidable outcome (see below) we should debate and talk about more freely, because it’s happening faster than you think.

I’m serious about the nail-gun wielding roofing-robot. It’s really something to behold:

Further Watching:

If you have 15 minutes and you’re convinced your job can’t be occupied by automation, I urge you to watch CGP Grey’s film, Humans Need Not Apply. It’s a gripping must-watch short.

Microsoft Hires Apple’s Former Siri Chief, Bill Stasior

Stasior has an incredible resumé. A small selection of the giants he’s been stationed at include: Amazon, A9, Alta Vista, (and now Apple joins the A-list) Oracle and various positions at MIT before that.

According to CNBC’s reporting, he led the growth of Apple’s machine learning initiative which wasn’t siloed to the Siri product alone:

He said that he expanded the team from 70 engineers to more than 1,100 people and that he “played the leading role in bringing modern machine learning to Siri and Apple.” Apple said in 2018 that Siri was being actively used on more than 500 million devices, and earlier this year the company said that Siri would sound more natural in the forthcoming iOS 13 release. Apple previously made gains in this area through AI work.

Microsoft has always been a company who grows throw acquisition, but recently they’ve been on a hiring spree. Which isn’t normally their modus operandi for acquiring talent. Something tells me they’re laying the pipework for an aggressive regime of ML and Voice growth in the coming years.

I find this to be curious timing. Given Apple’s vestigial connection to its Jobsian past. Jony Ive has essentially severed that connection with his departure and newly launched design firm LoveFrom. Apple hasn’t engaged in this sort of assault from software and hardware competitors in decades.

Cobalt Jackets

Written by the late Paul Krassner, he wrote in 2003:

Ethan suited up and walked into a triple- door sally-port, where he progressed through each airlock via ten-inch-thick lead-lined doors. Past the last door, he stepped into a massive room/warehouse, about 60 feet wide by 100 feet in length, with a 20-foot ceiling–huge for battleship storage-room standards. From the floor to the ceiling, thousands upon thousands of what looked like missiles were stored. It was weird, because he’d never seen missiles stored in such a way where they were on top of one another.

The officer came around a row of missiles, and Ethan asked him the question he had for him about his TAD request, and then asked him, “What the hell kind of missiles are these?”

“Those aren’t missiles; they’re cobalt jackets.”

“What are they for?”

“Well, this is ‘need to know,’ so keep your mouth shut, but they are designed to slide on over most of our conventional ordinance. They’re made out of radioactive cobalt, and when the bomb they’re wrapped around detonates, they contaminate everything in the blast zone and quite a bit beyond.”

“So they turn regular ordinance into nukes?”

“No, not exactly. The cobalt doesn’t detonate itself. It just scatters everywhere.”

“Well, what? Does the radiation kill people?”

“Not immediately. Cobalt jackets will not likely ever be used. They’re for a situation where the U.S. government is crumbling during a time of war, and foreign takeover is imminent. We won’t capitulate. We basically have a scorched earth policy. If we are going to lose, we arm everything with cobalt–and I mean everything; we have jackets at nearly every missile magazine in the world, on land or at sea–and contaminate the world. If we can’t have it, nobody can.

“Just another example,” Ethan told me, “of what treacherous creatures our leadership is made of.”

Terrifying shit. I can only imagine that not much has changed.

Paul’s entire piece on the US Military’s use of radiated cobalt casings are no longer online at its original publication source, New York Press. But, it available for reading on the Wayback Machine. You can also peruse an interesting collection of writings about nuclear disarmament and policy, on this mirror and read the original piece here.

Square, Inc. Sells Caviar to DoorDash

In a letter to Square, Inc. shareholders:

Today we issued a press release with DoorDash announcing that we have entered into a definitive agreement in which DoorDash has agreed to acquire Caviar, our food ordering platform, for $410 million in a mix of cash and DoorDash preferred stock. This transaction allows us to increase our focus on and investment in our two large, growing ecosystems—one for businesses and one for individuals. It creates clarity in how we operate and a clearer purpose and alignment for our planning, investment, and work moving forward. Furthermore, DoorDash is already integrated with Square for Restaurants, which streamlines the acceptance of online and in-person orders for merchants, and in the second
quarter Cash Boost partnered with DoorDash to provide instant rewards when customers use their Cash Card at DoorDash. We believe continuing this partnership provides valuable and strategic opportunities for Square.

Well. That was unexpected. What a great deal for Square — they walked away with a $370M profit (Square, Inc originally purchased Caviar for $41M). Amidst past sales attempts, this one stuck. Even better, the payments company can now move forward on their own growth goals without having the overhead of Caviar. I’m concerned that Caviar got the short-end of the stick. Mainly because DoorDash has been problematic in the past. The Times discovered the company’s strange tipping scandal. The good news is, DoorDash’s CEO is at least receptive to changing the model:

Now that DoorDash is a very serious player in the food delivery netherworld, it’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve loved Caviar since before it joined forces with Square. So, I’m happy to see it join a company that shares the same goals. I’m also pleased to see that it will operate independently (at least for now). From Caviar’s support portal:

Caviar is excited to be joining the DoorDash team! Caviar will continue to operate as a separate, standalone company in the immediate future, and nothing changes about your experience ordering from Caviar in the meantime – you can continue to find your favorite restaurants and place orders on the Caviar app.

Very curious to see this all play out as the food delivery wars rage on.

The Chandrayaan-2 Lunar Mission Successfully Launches

Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar for The New York Times writes:

The mission was relatively inexpensive in space terms, costing less than $150 million — less than it cost to make the 2014 film “Interstellar.”

But Chandrayaan-2 will take much longer to reach the moon than the relatively straight shot made by the Apollo missions, which cost billions (the presence of humans added to the price tag).

The Indian orbiter will conserve fuel by making ever-widening orbits around Earth before being captured by the moon’s gravity and pulled into lunar orbit.

This launch was a historic leap for India and the ISRO (India Space Research Organisation). This was the second attempt, two weeks ago, the launch was scrubbed at the last minute. The last Lunar mission the ISRO spearheaded, was the Chandrayaan-1, and if you need reminding — it was a colossal success and the entire science community of Earth benefitted from their findings. Generally speaking, the Chandrayaan-1 discovered water on the Moon. It used infrared spectrometry to detect water on the side of the Moon that faces away from us here on the third rock from the sun.

Photo from The New York Times

Chandrayaan-2 includes a rover, a lander, and an orbiter. The rover will collect samples for analysis. Given the fact that rovers sent to planetary realms typically outlive their lifespan, the possibility of sending a rover to the Moon is truly thrilling.