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Long term room-rental platform Badi launches its service in NYC

As things stand in many countries, renting houses and whole apartments is relatively straightforward, if you can afford it. But trying to find rooms in those apartments and houses to rent has been chaotic for many years and relies on hugely informal networks. Some startups have launched in recent years to address this problem of finding roommates and rooms for rent as the market becomes more competitive.

Roomi (NYC, raised $17M), Roomster is in NYC, and then there’s SpareRoom. All have appeared to try and capture this growing market. And of course, they have Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace as competitors. 

Then there are other co-living companies include Common, Ollie, Quarters, Startcity, X Social Communities, and WeLive.

Backed by $45 million from U.S. and international investors like Spark Capital and Mangrove Capital, including $30 million from Goodwater Capital as their first investment in a Spanish startup, Badi is a Spanish-born startup (founded in Barcelona by Carlos Pierre) which is a long-term room rental platform, operating in cities like London, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin.

It’s now launching in New York City, after claiming to have surpassed more than two million users in Europe. Badi says its web and mobile app now features over 300,000 listings. After soft-launching in November of last year, it claims to be growing booking requests by 370%. 

Pierre says: “Every major city around the world is suffering from overcrowdedness and increasing rent prices. The strong interest from the participants in our beta group alongside the findings from our 2020 survey on NYC indicates that city dwellers are warming up to the idea of sharing and co-living arrangements.”

During its beta in NYC, Badi found that the majority think co-living is a growing trend and shared living spaces with shared resources are viewed favorably.

Badi’s main pitch is that it provides a safe and secure communications channel for users to get to know potential roommates without an intermediary, using a visual verification tool for ensuring renters profiles and photos of the rooms and amenities.

It’s serving a need. The United Nations projects that 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050. This will cause rents to skyrocket, of course.

Intuition Robotics raises $36M for its empathetic digital companion

Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.

As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with Toyota to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. This assistant, dubbed “Yui,” is powered by Intuition Robotics’ Q platform.

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.

On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.

“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”

While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.

In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.

“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.

The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.

Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.

“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.

Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.

“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”

Small rocket launch startup Firefly teams up with Aerojet Rocketdyne

In a perfect example of a small, new space startup teaming up with a legacy industry heavyweight with plenty of experience, Firefly is teaming up with Aerojet Rocketdyne. Firefly Aerospace was founded in 2013, and has raised $21.6 million so far to bring its first product, the Alpha small satellite launch vehicle, to market.

Firefly is on track to make its crucial first launch in time for the February to March timeframe next year, according to Firefly founder and CEO Dr. Tom Markusic, who spoke at the International Astronautical Congress this year in Washington, D.C., to provide an update on his company’s progress and talk about the newly formed partnership between Firefly and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Firefly Space Systems CEO Tom Markusic

Firefly founder and CEO Tom Markusic

Markusic was joined by Aerojet Rocketdyne SVP of Space Business Jim Maser, and the two executives explained how Aerojet will provide engines for Firefly to use on its next-generation launch vehicle, aptly named ‘Beta,’ the full development of which will follow once Alpha has launched and enters into regular commercial service.

Beta will be a medium launch vehicle, with greater cargo capacity compared to Alpha and a maxim load of around 8.5 metric tons. Alpha, the startup’s first rocket, will be able to take 1 metric ton to orbit, which Markusic said his company has identified as the “sweet spot” for current unaddressed demand.

That medium band is also underserved, Markusic said, and since it’ll need a bigger booster to transport that larger cargo capacity to orbit, they looked around for solutions and found that Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 Engine, which can produce 500,000 lbs of thrust, was the perfect solution.

In general Markusic and Maser both expressed the opinion that startup and younger companies just getting into the industry are prime partners for older companies like Aerojet, which was founded in 1942 and has been serving the rocket and missile industry ever since.

firefly alpha

Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle

“It’s okay to move fast and it’s okay to make mistakes, but let’s not make other peoples’ mistakes and let’s not make our own mistakes twice,” Markusic said, characterizing the benefits of teaming up with someone with lots more experience. This partnership goes beyond just the engine supply arrangement, Markusic said, and will provide more far ranging benefits for the startup.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has a whole corral of amazing in space propulsion options for example the XR-5,” Markusic said. “Which is a five kilowatt hull thruster that can be utilized on our OTV (orbital transfer vehicle), and advanced OTV, we could do some heavier missions in cis-lunar space, and they also have a large corral of flight proven by proposed chemical thrusters that can be used on these other stages as well.”

AR1 Successful Engine Preburner Test min

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine undergoing a preburner test

Firefly plans to do an orbital transfer vehicle to provide more advanced launch capabilities, and its ambitions extend even beyond launchers and to in-space manufacturing, which Markusic said is attractive to the company since the ultimate way to reduce launch costs is to obviate the need for launch costs altogether, and the company’s ultimate goal is to get more commercial satellites into orbit, regardless of method. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity bu Markusic says ultimate, the company’s biggest challenge right now is remaining focused on their most immediate, and most important goal.

“Their are at least 100 companies like Firefly talking about going to space,” he said. “We’re in that crowd of talkers right now, and it is my focus with this company to get us out of that crowd of people talking about it as soon as possible, and into the elite crowd of people that are actually flying a spacecraft to space.”