In the age of coronavirus, we all have to resist the urge to touch our faces. It’s how the virus can travel from doorknobs or other objects to your mucus membranes and get you sick. Luckily, a startup called Slightly Robot had already developed a wristband to stop another type of harmful touching — trichotillomania, a disorder that compels people to pull out their hair. So over the last week, Slightly Robot redesigned their wearable as the Immutouch, a wristband that vibrates if you touch your face. Its accelerometer senses your hand movement 10 times per second. Based on calibrations the Immutouch takes when you set it up, it then buzzes when you touch or come close to touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. A companion app helps you track your progress as you try to keep your dirty mitts down.
The goal is to develop a Pavlovian response whereby when you get the urge to touch your face, you don’t in order to avoid the buzzing sensation. Your brain internalizes the negative feedback of the vibration, training you with aversive conditioning to ignore the desire to scratch yourself. “A problem the size of COVID-19 requires everyone to do their part, large or small,” says Slightly Robot co-founder Matthew Toles. “The three of us happened to be uniquely well equipped to tackle this one task and felt it was our duty to at least try.” The Immutouch wristbands go on sale today for $50 each and they’re ready for immediate shipping. You can wear it on your dominant hand that you’re more likely to touch your face with, or get one for each arm to maximize the deterrent. “We’re not looking to make money on this. We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly, and handling” co-founder Justin Ith insists. Unlike a venture-backed startup beholden to generating returns for investors, Slightly Robot was funded through a small grant from the University of Washington in 2016 and bootstrapped since. Slightly Robot and Immutouch co-founders (from left): Joseph Toles, Justin Ith, and Matthew Toles “We built Immutouch because we knew we could do it quickly, therefore we had the obligation to. We all live in Seattle and we see our communities reacting to this outbreak with deep concern and fear” Slightly Robot co-founder Justin Ith tells me. “My father has an autoimmune disease that requires him to take immunosuppressant medication. Being in his late 60’s with a compromised immune system, I’m trying my best to keep the communities around him and my family clean and safe.” How to calibrate the Immutouch wristband Based on a study using wearable warning devices to deter sufferers of trichotillomania from ripping out their hair, Immutouch could potentially be effective. University Of Michigan researchers found the vibrations reduced long and short-term hair pulling. Ith admits you have to actually heed the warnings and not itch to instill the right habit, and it doesn’t work while you’re lying down. The Immutouch stops short of electrically shocking you like the older gadget called Pavlok that’s designed to help people quit smoking or opening Facebook. Perhaps smartwatch makers like Apple could develop cheap or free apps to let users train themselves using hardware they already own. But until then, Ith hopes that Immutouch can gain some initial traction so “we can order larger quantities, reduce the price, and make it more accessible.” Modern technologies like Twitter for rapidly sharing information could encourage people to take the right cautionary measures like 20-second handwashing to slow the spread of coronavirus. But having phones we constantly touch — before, during, and after we use the restroom — and then press against our faces could create a vector for infection absent from pandemics of past centuries. That’s why everyone needs to do their part to smooth out the spike of sickness so our health systems aren’t overrun. Ith concludes, “Outbreaks like this remind us how we each individually affect the broader community and have a responsibility to not be carriers.”
The FCC is finally going to require wireless carriers to implement an anti-robocalling technology, after asking them nicely for more than a year to do so at their convenience. Of course, the FCC itself is now required to do this after Congress got tired of waiting on them and took action itself. The technology is called Secure Telephony Identity Revisited / Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs, mercifully abbreviated to STIR/SHAKEN, and amounts to a sort of certificate authority for calls that prevents phone numbers from being spoofed. (This is a good technical breakdown if you’re curious.) STIR/SHAKEN has been talked about for quite some time as a major part of the fight against robocalls, and in 2018 FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that carriers would have until the end of 2019 to implement it. 2019 came and went, and while the FCC (and indeed carriers) took other actions against robocallers, STIR/SHAKEN went largely undeployed. Meanwhile, Congress, perhaps tired of receiving scam calls themselves, managed to collectively reach across the aisle and pass the TRACED Act, which essentially empowers the FCC and other departments to take action against robocallers — and prevents carriers from charging for anti-robocall services.
Robocall-crushing TRACED act passes Senate and heads to Oval Office
It also ordered the FCC to set a timeline for STIR/SHAKEN implementation, which is what Pai is doing now. “It’s clear that FCC action is needed to spur across-the-board deployment of this important technology. There is no silver bullet when it comes to eradicating robocalls, but this is a critical shot at the target,” he said in a statement issued today. There does not, however, appear to be any great hurry. The proposal, which will be voted on at the FCC’s meeting later this month, would require voice service providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN by June 30… of 2021. And one-year extensions will be available to smaller providers who claim difficulty getting the system up and running. In other words, you can expect to keep receiving strange calls offering discounts on cruises and warning you of IRS penalties for some time to come. Of course, there are some things you can do to stem the flow of scammers — check out our 101 on preventing robocalls for some simple tips to save yourself some aggravation.
Samsung, which once led India’s smartphone market, is investing $500 million in its India operations to set up a manufacturing plant at the outskirts of New Delhi to produce displays. The company disclosed the investment and its plan in a filing to the local regulator earlier this month. The South Korean giant said the plant would produce displays for smartphones as well as a wide-range of other electronics devices. In the filing, the company disclosed that it has allocated some land area from its existing factory in Noida for the new plant. In 2018, Samsung opened a factory in Noida that it claimed was the world’s largest mobile manufacturing plant. For that factory, the company had committed to spend about $700 million. The new plant should help Samsung further increase its capacity to produce smartphone components locally and access a range of tax benefits that New Delhi offers. Those benefits would come in handy to the company as it faces off Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone vendor that put an end to Samsung’s lead in India. Samsung is now the second largest smartphone player in India, which is the world’s second largest market with nearly 500 million smartphone users. The company in recent months has also lost market share to Chinese brand Realme, which is poised to take over the South Korean giant in the quarter that ended in December last year, according to some analysts. TechCrunch has reached out to Samsung for comment.
Xnor.ai, spun off in 2017 from the nonprofit Allen Institute for AI (AI2), has been acquired by Apple for about $200 million. A source close to the company corroborated a report this morning from GeekWire to that effect. Apple confirmed the reports with its standard statement for this sort of quiet acquisition: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” (I’ve asked for clarification just in case.) Xnor.ai began as a process for making machine learning algorithms highly efficient — so efficient that they could run on even the lowest tier of hardware out there, things like embedded electronics in security cameras that use only a modicum of power. Yet using Xnor’s algorithms they could accomplish tasks like object recognition, which in other circumstances might require a powerful processor or connection to the cloud.
Xnor’s saltine-sized, solar-powered AI hardware redefines the edge
CEO Ali Farhadi and his founding team put the company together at AI2 and spun it out just before the organization formally launched its incubator program. It raised $2.7M in early 2017 and $12M in 2018, both rounds led by Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, and has steadily grown its local operations and areas of business. The $200M acquisition price is only approximate, the source indicated, but even if the final number were less by half that would be a big return for Madrona and other investors. The company will likely move to Apple’s Seattle offices; GeekWire, visiting the Xnor.ai offices (in inclement weather, no less), reported that a move was clearly underway. AI2 confirmed that Farhadi is no longer working there, but he will retain his faculty position at the University of Washington. An acquisition by Apple makes perfect sense when one thinks of how that company has been directing its efforts towards edge computing. With a chip dedicated to executing machine learning workflows in a variety of situations, Apple clearly intends for its devices to operate independent of the cloud for such tasks as facial recognition, natural language processing, and augmented reality. It’s as much for performance as privacy purposes. Its camera software especially makes extensive use of machine learning algorithms for both capturing and processing images, a compute-heavy task that could potentially be made much lighter with the inclusion of Xnor’s economizing techniques. The future of photography is code, after all — so the more of it you can execute, and the less time and power it takes to do so, the better.
The future of photography is code
It could also indicate new forays in the smart home, toward which with HomePod Apple has made some tentative steps. But Xnor’s technology is highly adaptable and as such rather difficult to predict as far as what it enables for such a vast company as Apple.
The smartwatch era has done nothing so much as renew my interest in real watches, which have their own type of special intelligence, albeit laid out in intricate arrays of gears and springs rather than written in silicon. Few watchmakers express this intelligence site so wonderfully as Nomos Glashütte, the German manufactory that produces exquisite timepieces with house made movements in… Read More