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Fantasmo pivots to scooter cameras that keep them off sidewalks

GPS is too inaccurate to tell if a scooter is being driven or parked in off-limits area. But as scooter startups compete for permits from city governments, they need a way to prove their riders play by the rules. That’s where Fantasmo’s new scooter positioning camera comes in. The augmented reality mapping startup had been building the Camera Positioning Standard to give self-driving cars, robots, and AR games a dynamically updated understanding of the real world around them. But now Fantasmo is focusing on the urgent use case of scooter accountability. Its camera attaches to personal electric vehicles, captures video, and matches that against Fantasmo’s map to reliably identify if a scooter is being illegally ridden on the sidewalk or parked in the middle of the walkway. Scooter companies...

SoftBank’s debt obsession

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new. Provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here. Today, we are focused on SoftBank . The Wall Street Journal and others reported that Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, will take into account the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi when considering whether to receive additional investment from Saudi Arabia in future Vision Funds. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in the current Vision Fund, having pledged $45 billion of the $98 billion fund. The political risk surrounding the Kingdom made us curious: why the obsession with Saudi money, beyond the obvious t...

Lydia launches mobile phone insurance

French startup Lydia is launching an insurance product for your mobile phone. For €4.29 per month ($4.89), you can insure your phone from the Lydia app. Lydia is one of the most popular peer-to-peer payment apps in Europe with 1.5 million users. Think about it as a sort of Venmo or Square Cash for Europe. More recently, the company started offering more options to manage your money with a premium subscription and additional features. While Lydia doesn’t want to replace your bank and insurance company, the company is offering an insurance product for the first time. Lydia is partnering with its investor CNP Assurances — having an insurance company as an investor has a few advantages. So here’s what you get. You’re instantly covered against cracked screens, liquid damage and accidental damag...

Precision farming startup Taranis gets $20M Series B for its crop monitoring tech

Taranis, an ag-tech startup that uses aerial scouting and deep learning to identify potential crop issues, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series B led by Viola Ventures. Existing investors Nutrien (one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers), Wilbur-Ellis venture capital arm Cavallo Ventures, and Sumitomo Corporation Europe also participated. Tel Aviv-based Taranis says its aerial imaging technology, carried on high-speed drones or manned aircraft, is currently used by farms in Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. It plans to expand into more countries with this round of funding, including Australia. Founded in 2015 by Ofir Schlam, Asaf Horvitz, Eli Bukchin, and Ayal Karmi to increase food production, Taranis’ software targets commodity crops li...

Lizzie Chapman to talk about building a fintech startup in India at Disrupt Berlin

Fintech startups are growing rapidly in Europe. But it doesn’t mean that the fintech revolution is limited to Europe. That’s why I’m glad to announce that Lizzie Chapman from ZestMoney is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to talk about her unique Indian startup. ZestMoney wants to make it easier to lend money to buy goods online. In the U.S., the vast majority of people have a credit card and a credit score. But India is a different market, and ZestMoney is trying to replace the credit card altogether. When you shop on an e-commerce website in India, such as Amazon or Flipkart, you can get a voucher on ZestMoney’s website to check out on those websites. You’ll then pay back this voucher with monthly installments. In some cases, interests are refunded as cashback. You don’t need to get a ...

Venture capital and the blockchain will be the talk at Startup Battlefield Africa

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield returns to Africa next month, and we have an agenda chock-full of interesting panels and our premier startup competition. Joining us in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11 for a couple of those aforementioned panels will be Chris Folayan, the founder and CEO of Mall for Africa; Nichole Yembra, chief financial, risk and investment officer for Venture Garden Group (VGG) and a managing partner at GreenHouse Capital; and Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, partner at Hacked Capital. Chris Folayan, who is originally from Nigeria, graduated from California State University, San Jose, and founded and sold several companies globally. He also established new companies in Africa, the U.S., the Middle East and Asia. Mall for Africa is a global economy e-commerce infrastructure company enab...

Automakers invest in Transit, the app that helps people get around without a car

Transit, a company that built a mobile app designed to help people in cities live without cars, has raised $17.5 million from two automakers in a Series B round. The round was led by RenaultNissan-Mitsubishi’s joint investment arm Alliance Ventures. InMotion Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s venture capital fund, also joined the round, as well as two past investors, Accel and Real Ventures. RenaultNissan-Mitsubishi and Jaguar Land Rover’s investment would have seemed counterintuitive five years ago. But this is 2018. It’s the year of the scooter wars and micro-mobility; it’s also a time of transition for automakers that are looking to diversify their traditional business of building and selling cars. Founded in 2012, Transit started as an app to help people check ...

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously. Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most inte...

Reverso launches synonyms app and service

Language learning company Reverso is launching a new product on the web and mobile. Reverso Synonyms is a thesaurus service that lets you learn new words and improve your vocabulary. You may have found this feature in the main Reverso translation app already. If you translate a word or a group of words, there’s a tiny “S” button in the corner. It lets you access related words directly from the translation app. But this was just a soft rollout as the company is now expanding this feature into a full-fledged service. Reverso Synonyms works with a dozen languages, including English, French, Spanish… It’s a pretty straightforward product. You can type a word and get a bunch of synonyms. You get examples and you can load the word definition for more details. You can also tap on any word to doub...

Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped, or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices, and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate, and with its added markup you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle. One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The ...

The Minte raises $2.25 million in seed funding to bring hotel-style housekeeping to luxury residences

As an MBA student at the University of Chicago’s Booth school, Kathleen Wilson was struck with an idea while looking at businesses that provided daily housekeeping in one of her classes. Given the density and physical structure of many apartment buildings, she wondered why a housekeeper couldn’t similarly push a cart down the hall and spend an hour or less in each unit. To test out her theory, Wilson and a classmate started cleaning the apartments of friends, spending 30 minutes to an hour at a time and trying to establish a reasonable price point for the work. Armed with enough data, Wilson then landed at a local real estate tech accelerator, formed her company, and locked down her first property management company client, Waterton — and her efforts have been gaining mom...

Dynamic Yield, which builds Amazon-like personalisation for the rest of us, raises $38M

Amazon, one of the world’s largest companies, has transformed the face of commerce in part because it has managed at once to be “The Everything Store” but still with a route into its sea of products that, for most users, surfaces what they might most want to see (and importantly buy or consume). That kind of personalisation has become a goal not just for e-commerce companies, but for any organization running a digital business: users are constantly distracted, and when their attention is caught, they do not want to spend time figuring out what they most want. Not every business is Amazon, though, so we are seeing a crop of startups emerging that are working on ways to help the rest of the digital world be just as optimised and personalised as Amazon. Now one of them, an I...

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