And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF 2018 is… Forethought

At the very beginning, there were 21 startups. After three days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.

Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: CB Therapeutics, Forethought, Mira, Origami Labs and Unbound.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital), Jeff Clavier (Uncork Capital), Kirsten Green (Forerunner Ventures), Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018.

Winner: Forethought

Forethought has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

Read more about Forethought in our separate post.

Runner-Up: Unbound

Unbound makes fashion-forward vibrators, and their latest is the Palma. The new device masquerades as a ring, offers multiple speeds, and is completely waterproof. And the team plans to add accelerometer features.

Read more about Unbound in our separate post.

Vtrus launches drones to inspect and protect your warehouses and factories

Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? Vtrus uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time.

Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company.

There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale.

As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger.

The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings.

It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it.

The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible to do it faster and in greater detail than before. Not to mention on a drone that’s flying around an indoor space full of people and valuable inventory.

On a full charge, ABI can fly for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but the important thing isn’t staying aloft for a long time — few drones can do that to begin with — but how quickly it can get back up there. That’s where the special docking and charging mechanism comes in.

The Vtrus drone lives on and returns to a little box, which when a tapped-out craft touches down, sets off a patented high-speed charging process. It’s contact-based, not wireless, and happens automatically. The drone can then get back in the air perhaps half an hour or so later, meaning the craft can actually be in the air for as much as six hours a day total.

Probably anyone who has had to inspect or maintain any kind of building or space bigger than a studio apartment can see the value in getting frequent, high-precision updates on everything in that space, from storage shelving to heavy machinery. You’d put in an ABI for every X square feet depending on what you need it to do; they can access each other’s data and combine it as well.

This frequency and the detail which which the drone can inspect and navigate means maintenance can become proactive rather than reactive — you see rust on a pipe or a hot spot on a machine during the drone’s hourly pass rather than days later when the part fails. And if you don’t have an expert on site, the full 3D map and even manual drone control can be handed over to your HVAC guy or union rep.

You can see lots more examples of ABI in action at the Vtrus website. Way too many to embed here.

Lenoff, Moreno, and third co-founder Carlos Sanchez, who brings the industrial expertise to the mix, explained that their secret sauce is really the software — the drone itself is pretty much off the shelf stuff right now, tweaked to their requirements. (The base is an original creation, of course.)

But the software is all custom built to handle not just high-resolution 3D mapping in real time but the means to stream and record it as well. They’ve hired experts to build those systems as well — the 6-person team already sounds like a powerhouse.

The whole operation is self-funded right now, and the team is seeking investment. But that doesn’t mean they’re idle: they’re working with major companies already and operating a “pilotless” program (get it?). The team has been traveling the country visiting facilities, showing how the system works, and collecting feedback and requests. It’s hard to imagine they won’t have big clients soon.

N26 updates its web app

Fintech startup N26 wants to compete with traditional banks on all fronts. And it means providing a useful web interface to view your past transactions, transfer money and more. Most users likely interact with N26 through the mobile app. But it doesn’t mean web apps are useless.

Contrary to Revolut, N26 has had a web interface since day one. It lets you control most things in your account. For instance, you can add a new recipient and send money. You can configure notifications, get a PDF with your IBAN number and download banking statements.

You can also lock your card, reset the card pin, reorder one or block some features from the web. This way, if somebody steals your phone with a wallet case, you can still go to the website and disable your card.

With today’s update, N26 is mostly refining the design of the interface. The left column is gone, and you now get a feed of transactions front and center. When you press the download button, you can download bank statements, a CSV with all your past transactions in case you want to put them in Excel and the PDF with your IBAN number.

But the company seems to be really excited about one new feature in particular — dark mode. You can now switch the entire interface to black. This will be particularly useful when Apple introduces macOS Mojave with dark mode across the operating system.

You can now also tick a box when you log in to enable discreet mode. This feature hides your balance and transactions in case you don’t want your coffee shop neighbor to look at your bank account.

The new web app is responsive, which means that it works on computers with big screens as well as mobile phones. The information on your screen changes depending on the width of your browser window. The new N26 for web should be available now.

Meet TechCrunch in Africa Next Week

Last October, TechCrunch launched Startup Battlefield Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, where Lori Systems, SynCommerce & AgroCenta, were among the judges top picks. This week, TechCrunch is headed back to Africa to checkout the amazing startups taking root for our global Startup Battlefield competitions. Startup Battlefield at Disrupt in San Francisco September 5-7th is now open, and founders can apply here.

Startup Battlefield Director, Samantha Stein will be in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana to meet with founders, investors, angels, and established entrepreneurs across the ecosystem. Startups and investors can learn more about TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield program at one of the upcoming meet and greets listed below.
Founders will learn how to apply for Battlefield with a solid application, and investors will learn how to refer companies in their portfolio.

Meet and greats are already filling up, so make sure to RSVP ASAP.

Startup Battlefield is TechCrunch’s renowned startup launch competition. The Startup Battlefield alumni community comprises almost 750 companies that have raised over $8 billion USD, and produced over 105 successful exits and IPOs.

2018 TechCrunch Africa Meet and Greets

Lagos, Nigeria

April 17th, Tuesday
Host: CC Hub
Time: 1:30pm – 3:00pm
RSVP

April 18th, Wednesday
Host: MEST
Time: 3:30pm
**This is an invite only event

Accra, Ghana

April 20th, Friday
Host: MEST
Time: 3:00pm – 5:30pm
RSVP

April 20th, Friday
Host: Impact Hub
Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm
RSVP
*For questions, please email battlefield@techcrunch.com

 

Robo Wunderkind wants to build the Lego Mindstorms for everyone

Lego Mindstorms have paved the way for many programmable toys. And Austrian startup Robo Wunderkind is building a new kind of Lego-like programmable kit. The startup first launched on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage and just raised $1.2 million (€1 million) from SOSV, Austrian Federal Promotional Bank and multiple business angels.

Compared to many programmable toys out there, Robo Wunderkind is still a Lego-like building kit. This is key as too many toys forget that it’s fun to build something with a few bricks.

Robo Wunderkind also has special blocks to turn your dumb robot into a connected one. In addition to the usual sensors, such as proximity sensors, motion detectors and light sensors, the company also has some more sophisticated ones. You can put a tiny camera in your construction, use an IR blaster and receiver and program a tiny LED screen.

But the best part is that Robo Wunderkind also sells Lego adapters so that you can put together a sophisticated robot that uses both Lego bricks and Robo Wunderkind modules.

The company has two different apps in the store. The first one called Robo Live lets you control your robot in real time. The other one Robo Code has a brand new user interface and now detects the blocks you’re currently using.

Robo Code is where Robo Wunderkind shines because you can put together simple algorithms by arranging virtual blocks in the iPad app. It’s a good way to introduce a kid to conditional statements and loops.

You won’t build a robot as sophisticated as a robot built using Lego Mindstorms. But Robo Wunderkind seems more accessible and good way to try robotics before switching to Arduino and Raspberry Pi when your kid grows up.

The company successfully raised a little less than $250,000 on Kickstarter back in 2015. You can now buy a starter kit for $250. Advanced and professional kits will also be available soon.

Sqreen wants to become the IFTTT of web app security

 French startup Sqreen recently launched a Security Hub with dozens of plugins to put you in control of the security of your web app. In many ways, it feels like enabling tasks on popular automation service IFTTT. Sqreen participated in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield and Y Combinator’s current batch. The vision of the product hasn’t changed. Sqreen lets you protect your… Read More