Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Inokyo wants to be the indie Amazon Go. It’s just launched its prototype cashierless autonomous retail store. Cameras track what you grab from shelves, and with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store, you’re charged for what you got.

Inokyo‘s first store is now open on Mountain View’s Castro Street selling an array of bougie kombuchas, snacks, protein powders and bath products. It’s sparse and a bit confusing, but offers a glimpse of what might be a commonplace shopping experience five years from now. You can get a glimpse yourself in our demo video below:

“Cashierless stores will have the same level of impact on retail as self-driving cars will have on transportation,” Inokyo co-founder Tony Francis tells me. “This is the future of retail. It’s inevitable that stores will become increasingly autonomous.”

Inokyo (rhymes with Tokyo) is now accepting signups for beta customers who want early access to its Mountain View store. The goal is to collect enough data to dictate the future product array and business model. Inokyo is deciding whether it wants to sell its technology as a service to other retail stores, run its own stores or work with brands to improve their product’s positioning based on in-store sensor data on custom behavior.

We knew that building this technology in a lab somewhere wouldn’t yield a successful product,” says Francis. “Our hypothesis here is that whoever ships first, learns in the real world and iterates the fastest on this technology will be the ones to make these stores ubiquitous.” Inokyo might never rise into a retail giant ready to compete with Amazon and Whole Foods. But its tech could even the playing field, equipping smaller businesses with the tools to keep tech giants from having a monopoly on autonomous shopping experiences.

It’s about what cashiers do instead

Amazon isn’t as ahead as we assumed,” Francis remarks. He and his co-founder Rameez Remsudeen took a trip to Seattle to see the Amazon Go store that first traded cashiers for cameras in the U.S. Still, they realized, “This experience can be magical.” The two met at Carnegie Mellon through machine learning classes before they went on to apply that knowledge at Instagram and Uber. The two decided that if they jumped into autonomous retail soon enough, they could still have a say in shaping its direction.

Next week, Inokyo will graduate from Y Combinator’s accelerator that provided its initial seed funding. In six weeks during the program, they found a retail space on Mountain View’s main drag, studied customer behaviors in traditional stores, built an initial product line and developed the technology to track what users are taking off the shelves.

Here’s how the Inokyo store works. You download its app and connect a payment method, and you get a QR code that you wave in front of a little sensor as you stroll into the shop. Overhead cameras will scan your body shape and clothing without facial recognition in order to track you as you move around the store. Meanwhile, on-shelf cameras track when products are picked up or put back. Combined, knowing who’s where and what’s grabbed lets it assign the items to your cart. You scan again on your way out, and later you get a receipt detailing the charges.

Originally, Inokyo actually didn’t make you scan on the way out, but it got the feedback that customers were scared they were actually stealing. The scan-out is more about peace of mind than engineering necessity. There is a subversive pleasure to feeling like, “well, if Inokyo didn’t catch all the stuff I chose, that’s not my problem.” And if you’re overcharged, there’s an in-app support button for getting a refund.

Inokyo co-founders (from left): Tony Francis and Rameez Remsudeen

Inokyo was accurate in what it charged me despite me doing a few switcharoos with products I nabbed. But there were only about three people in the room at the time. The real test for these kinds of systems are when a rush of customers floods in and cameras have to differentiate between multiple similar-looking people. Inokyo will likely need to be more than 99 percent accurate to be more of a help than a headache. An autonomous store that constantly over- or undercharges would be more trouble than it’s worth, and patrons would just go to the nearest classic shop.

Just because autonomous retail stores will be cashier-less doesn’t mean they’ll have no staff. To maximize cost-cutting, they could just trust that people won’t loot it. However, Inokyo plans to have someone minding the shop to make sure people scan in the first place and to answer questions about the process. But there’s also an opportunity in reassigning labor from being cashiers to concierges that can recommend the best products or find what’s the right fit for the customer. These stores will be judged by the convenience of the holistic experience, not just the tech. At the very least, a single employee might be able to handle restocking, customer support and store maintenance once freed from cashier duties.

The Amazon Go autonomous retail store in Seattle is equipped with tons of overhead cameras

While Amazon Go uses cameras in a similar way to Inokyo, it also relies on weight sensors to track items. There are plenty of other companies chasing the cashierless dream. China’s BingoBox has nearly $100 million in funding and has more than 300 stores, though they use less sophisticated RFID tags. Fellow Y Combinator startup Standard Cognition has raised $5 million to equip old-school stores with autonomous camera-tech. AiFi does the same, but touts that its cameras can detect abnormal behavior that might signal someone is a shoplifter.

The store of the future seems like more and more of a sure thing. The race’s winner will be determined by who builds the most accurate tracking software, easy-to-install hardware and pleasant overall shopping flow. If this modular technology can cut costs and lines without alienating customers, we could see our local brick-and-mortars adapt quickly. The bigger question than if or even when this future arrives is what it will mean for the millions of workers who make their living running the checkout lane.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Fabric offers an alternative to Facebook sharing with a private timeline of personal moments

Fabric offers an alternative to Facebook sharing with a private timeline of personal moments

Fabric, a personal journaling app that emerged from Y Combinator’s 2016 batch of startups, is relaunching itself as a Facebook alternative. The app is giving itself a makeover in the wake of Facebook’s closure of the Moves location tracker, by offering its own tool to record your activities, photos, memories and other moments shared with friends and family. But unlike on Facebook, everything in Fabric is private by default and data isn’t shared with marketers.

Instead, the startup hopes to build something users will eventually pay for, via premium features or subscriptions.

The idea for the startup came from two people who helped create Facebook’s core features.

Co-founders Arun Vijayvergiya and Nikolay Valtchanov worked for several years at the social network, where Vijayvergiya built the product that would later become Facebook Timeline at an internal hackathon. He also worked on products like Friendship Pages, Year in Review and On This Day, while Valtchanov developed integrations between Facebook and fitness applications.

After leaving Facebook, both were inspired to work on Fabric because of their interest in personal journaling – and that became the key focus for the original version of the Fabric app. But while other journaling apps may offer a blank space for recording thoughts, Fabric automates the process by pulling in photos, posts from elsewhere on social media, places you visited, and more, and put those on its map interface.

The longer-term goal is that Fabric users will be able to look back across their personal history to answer any kind of question about where they had been, what they did, and who they were with – but in a more private environment than what’s available on Facebook.

Facebook could have built something similar, but its focus has been more on how personal profile data could be useful to advertisers.

Despite numerous check-ins, posts where you tagged friends, shared photos and more, there’s still not an easy way to ask Facebook about that great Indian restaurant you tried last March, or who was on that group beach trip with you a few years ago, for example. At best, Facebook offers memory flashbacks through its On This Day feature (now available at any time via the Memories tab), or round-ups and collages that appear at various times throughout the year.

As a search engine for your own memories, it’s not that great.

What’s New 

This is where Fabric comes in. It will automatically record your activities, checking you in to places you visit, to which you can then choose to add friends.

While the idea of automatic location gathering may turn off a good number of users, the difference is that Fabric’s data collection is meant for your eyes only, unless you explicitly choose to share something with friends.

Fabric doesn’t use third-party software for its location system – it’s written in-house, so the data is never touched by a third-party. It also uses industry standard encryption for data transfer and storage, and login information is stored in a separate system from the rest of your data as an added precaution.

Notably, Fabric doesn’t plan to generate revenue by selling data or offering it to advertisers for targeting purposes. Instead, the company hopes users will eventually pay for its product – perhaps as a subscription or through premium upgrades. (It’s not doing this yet, however.)

“The whole motivation behind Fabric is that many meaningful parts of your life do not belong in the public sphere,” explains Vijayvergiya. “In order to be able to capture these moments, user trust is essential and is something we have baked into our company culture. Internally, we refer to ourselves as a ‘private-first’ company. Everything on Fabric is private by default. You have to choose to include friends in your moments. We don’t share any data with marketers, and we don’t intend to share personally identifiable information with advertisers,” he says.

Since its 2016 release, Fabric has been downloaded 70,000 times by users across 117 countries, and has seen 112 million automatic check-ins.

The new version of the app has been redesigned to be something users engage with more often, as opposed to the more passive journaling app it was before.

The app now offers an outline of your activities, which it also calls Timeline. Here, you can add people, photos and memorable anecdotes to those automated entries. You can jump back to any day to see your history with any person or place that appears on the Timeline.

You can also turn any moment into one you collaborate on with friends, by allowing others to add photos and comments. That is, instead of broad post to a group of so-called “friends” on Facebook, you share the moment with those who really matter. This isn’t all that different from how people use private messaging apps and group chats today – in order to share things with people that aren’t necessarily meant for everyone to see.

In addition, Fabric allows you to add your friends to the app, so you can be automatically tagged when you both spend time together in the real world. This also simplifies sharing because you won’t have to think about which posts should be shared with which audience.

For instance, Vijayvergiya says, “this means you can add your mom as a friend, and only share with her the moments you spend together in the same place.”

The most compelling feature in the updated app may not be check-ins or sharing, but search.

In Fabric, you can now search for past events in your life similar to how you search the web. That is, you could type in “restaurant rome 2017” or “camila los angeles birthday” and find the matching posts, Vijayvergiya suggests. And because you can import your Facebook, Instagram, and Camera Roll to Fabric, it’s now offering the search engine that Facebook itself forgot to build. (You can import your Facebook Moves history, too, ahead of its shutdown.)

Fabric’s search will also be available on the desktop web, where it’s currently in beta.

Fabric’s real challenger, as it turns out, may not be Facebook, though. It’s Google Photos.

Because of advances in image recognition technology, Google Photos (and some other photo apps) have built advanced search capabilities that let you pull up not places, things, people, and more, using data recognized in the image itself. Users can also share those photos with others, collaborate on albums, and leave notes as comments.

The difference is that Fabric offers import from a variety of sources and encourages journaling. But that may not be enough to attract a large user base, especially when automatic check-ins rely on the app’s use of background location which has some impact on battery life.

Fabric is a free download on iOS.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Necto looks to help individuals get their own local ISP businesses off the ground

Necto looks to help individuals get their own local ISP businesses off the ground

If you live in a city, you’re probably deciding between a handful of major broadband or wireless carriers — maybe something like Comcast or AT&T. But there’s a good chance that there are a bunch of local carriers that are looking to get off the ground, and Benjamin Huang wants to help make sure there are even more options/.

That’s the idea behind Necto, a startup looking to create a sort of ISP school to help people get started with their own internet service provider founded by Huang and Adam Montgomery. Typically that’s a pretty tall order, but Necto works with individuals to learn how to build a network, get the right equipment, and deploy it in order to get consumers access to a new internet service provider that’s an alternative to the larger carriers. There are already emerging providers like Sonic in San Francisco, which aims to offer quick internet for a cheaper price, but there’s a whole group of individuals waiting in the wings that are trying to build their own ISP and the associated business behind it, Huang said. Necto is launching out of Y Combinator’s winter 2018 class.

“Ultimately, we want to see so many ISPs that net neutrality isn’t an issue,” Montgomery said. “It’s cheaper than ever and easier to start an internet service provider. People didn’t know they could do this, and networking engineering is the highest cost. You have to have a lot of stuff to build out. We remove that and bundle it as an ISP starter kit service. We give guidance to the operators, these are the customers you have, this is the equipment you need buy, here’s how to construct them. It’s more like constructing Ikea furniture. The hard part we remove which is automatically configuring these routers.”

Necto started off as its own attempt at an internet service provider, but Huang and Montgomery found that trying to get wholesale fiber was a high barrier to entry. The pair started looking into wholesale wireless, and Huang said that technology is getting to the point where it’s just as fast as typical broadband and an option for resale. The challenge then is getting the equipment into the hands of individuals that want to ramp up their own ISP and showing them how to get started. Then, they’re off to the races and work to build a business around that, including customer service and other facets of it.

Necto essentially charges for the guidance of how to start an ISP, including a class that individuals go through in order to get one off the ground. Then the company continues to ship software to ensure that it’s not as difficult to keep the equipment up and running, as well as provide ongoing support for those individuals. The equipment is all off the shelf, Huang said, in order to lower the barrier to entry for these providers.

The challenge here, however, will be ensuring that not only individuals know they can get an ISP off the ground, but getting their — and consumers’ — attention in the first place. Necto hopes to take a hyper-local strategy, Montgomery said, like traveling to farmers’ markets and working with local operators to ensure they can track down the right people that are looking to build a business around ISPs. There are still going to be plenty of challenges as it continues to work with wholesale wireless providers in order to get these businesses off the ground.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Microbiome pills, gambling for one-on-one video games and potential cancer cures were the highlights from legendary startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 Demo Day 2. You can read about all 64 startups that launched on Day 1 in verticals like biotech and robotics, our picks for the top 7 companies from Day 1 and our full coverage of another 64 startups from Day 2. TechCrunch’s writers huddled and took feedback from investors to create this list, so click (web) or scroll (mobile) to see our 8 picks for the top startups from Day 2.

Additional reporting by Greg Kumparak, Lucas Matney and Katie Roof

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Shogun wants to help businesses easily build a better online storefront

Shogun wants to help businesses easily build a better online storefront
 Finbarr Taylor and Nick Raushenbush had started a little side project that was making just about enough money to keep the site’s lights on while they were working on their next plans. Then, a few months later, Shogun — a tool to help small businesses build shopfronts for sites like Shopify — started making a bit more. After a few months, it went from a nice dinner to a… Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

EnvKey wants to create a smarter place to store a company’s API keys and credentials

EnvKey wants to create a smarter place to store a company’s API keys and credentials
 If an engineer ends up leaving a company, on their own, or for any other reason, the company work is going to have to quickly work to change all of their keys for their credentials and keys application components. That’s a huge hassle, because often times it’s hard to know where they are stored, who can access what, and how to change everything at a massive scale — especially… Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Hunter2 wants to teach engineers to handle web app security with a hands-on approach

Hunter2 wants to teach engineers to handle web app security with a hands-on approach
 When Equifax was broken into late last year — one of the biggest security breaches in recent history — Fletcher Heisler wanted to make sure engineers got to know exactly what happened right away, and how to fix it. That’s part of the goal of Hunter2, a new online learning platform for engineers that’s designed to teach them how to handle these kinds of breaches in a… Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch