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Amazon buys the company that makes Roombas for $1.7b • The Register

Megacorp Amazon wants to buy iRobot, a company that is best known for its autonomous vacuum cleaner, Roomba.

In a statement published alongside its calendar second quarter financial results, iRobot confirmed Amazon had bid $61 per share in an all-cash transaction totalling around $1.7 billion.

Current iRobot CEO Colin Angle will stay on board after the sale, which is still pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

“Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I cannot think of a better place for our team to continue our mission,” Angle said. 

Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million, in 2012, and demoed an “autonomous mobile robot, which resembles a Roomba, earlier this year.

iRobot introduced the Roomba in 2002. Most recently, the company released iRobot OS, which expanded on its existing Genius Home Intelligence platform with new automations and other features. New home automation capabilities are right up Amazon’s lane, and the purchase of iRobot will mean Alexa also gets more smart home data to draw from. 

Roomba gets relief

The sale is likely to relieve iRobot, whose second-quarter financial results point to massive losses.

Among the bad news in iRobot’s financial report was that revenue for the quarter plunged to $255.4 million versus $365.6 million in Q2 2021.

The company said that its Q2 revenue generated via ecommerce declined 35 percent compared to the same quarter last year, and direct-to-consumer sales showed a 12 percent decline in the same timeframe.

iRobot’s GAAP operating losses for the first six months of 2022 were $87.2 million; in the same period last year it posted a GAAP operating income of $3.3 million.

The company is also hemorrhaging cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: At the end of 2021 iRobot had $234.5 million on hand, and by April 2nd of this year was down to $113.5 million. As of July 2, the Roomba maker is down to $63.4 million.

To make matters worse, the company’s inventory balance was also more than $100 million higher than the same time last year. iRobot said its weaker performance “was primarily impacted by unanticipated order reductions, delays and cancellations from retailers in North America and EMEA, and, to a much lesser extent, lower-than-anticipated direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales.”

iRobot said it plans to restructure operations to save money, which will involve not only rebalancing resources, but also shifting “certain non-core engineering functions to lower-cost regions.” iRobot said its moves will reduce headcount by 140 employees, or approximately 10 percent of its workforce.

In light of the sale, iRobot said it wouldn’t hold a Q2 earnings call, it had withdrawn its 2022 financial expectations and long-term targets and was suspending its practice of providing financial guidance.

iRobot told The Register it couldn’t comment on details of the sale, so we were unable to determine whether Roomba vacuums will continue to offer support for Siri and Google Assistant, how iRobot’s data collection policies may change under Amazon, when the deal will close, or how iRobot’s restructuring will proceed after the sale. iRobot referred us to Amazon, who has yet to respond. ®

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Amidst the Technological Conflict with the US, China Intensifies Efforts in AI and Microchip Development

China is actively pursuing the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductors to secure its position in the global race for technological superiority, which has become a significant source of geopolitical tension with the United States.

Recognizing the critical importance of these two fields for China’s economic and military future, Beijing is intensifying its efforts to find domestic solutions. This comes at a time when the U.S. is aiming to restrict Chinese access to cutting-edge technology necessary for high-tech microchip production. Through substantial investments and President Xi Jinping’s call for “self-sufficiency” in science and technology, China’s strategy focuses on fostering a collaborative environment that accelerates development and narrows the gap between China and the West.

During a speech at the ZGC Forum, Mei Jianping of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology acknowledged the existing gap in various areas crucial to AI progress compared to developed countries. The technology fair, held in Beijing’s Zhongguancun district, a prominent tech hub, prominently features AI as one of its hot topics. Mei emphasized the need for an exchange of ideas and collective contributions to position China’s next generation of AI and its scientific and technological industry on par with the rest of the world.

The ZGC Forum encompasses various events related to sustainable development, financial technology, smart cities, identifying transformative young entrepreneurs, and the significance of innovation in state-run companies.

Dr. Yu Yue, from the Strategic Alliance for Technological Innovation in the Chinese Artificial Intelligence Industry, outlined China’s plan to boost technological growth through the establishment of a nationwide network of AI developers. The objective is to ensure high-quality development at every computing center and promote extensive collaboration, constructing a comprehensive network that facilitates the new model of AI technology development.

To inaugurate the ZGC Forum, President Xi sent a letter emphasizing the need for greater global collaboration without explicitly mentioning U.S. restrictions. Xi highlighted the importance of international cooperation, openness, and knowledge sharing to address common development challenges amid the ongoing scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation.

Renowned figures such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates also participated in the forum, expressing their belief that China has the potential to contribute uniquely by sharing its technologies and experiences.

The forum takes place against the backdrop of strained U.S.-China relations due to repeated disputes over Taiwan and the U.S. shooting down an alleged Chinese spy balloon that violated American airspace without permission. However, recent weeks have shown some signs of thawing, as mentioned by U.S. President Joe Biden during the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

Another positive development occurred with a meeting between China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, and his U.S. counterpart, Gina Raimondo. Described as “candid” by the American government, the talks addressed the impacts each country’s actions have had on the microchip sector. Wang expressed concerns regarding the U.S.’s China policies related to the economy, trade, semiconductors, export control, and outbound investments review. Raimondo, in turn, voiced her concerns about China’s increasing restrictions on U.S. interests, such as the recent ban on the use of Micron’s semiconductors in critical infrastructure projects.

China’s actions can be partially seen as a response to Washington’s decision in October to limit exports of microchip-manufacturing technologies to China, aiming to prevent China from developing cutting-edge weapons. These microprocessors are essential for AI and the advancement of other state-of-the-art technologies like smart electric vehicles. Taiwan plays a significant role in this standoff as it produces 60% of global microchips and 90% of the most advanced variants. The country’s capability to produce three-nanometer chips surpasses China’s, making it a crucial factor in this landscape. In March, Xi directly accused the U.S. of leading a Western strategy of “containment, encirclement, and suppression” against China to hinder its development.

Despite the geopolitical tensions, the atmosphere at the ZGC Forum was marked by confidence in the future. Huo Jiaqi, a 23-year-old postgraduate student from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, expressed optimism, stating that China has overcome similar challenges in its history. The forum showcased a wide range of technological advancements, including smart humanoid robots, police robots, drones, and metaverse avatars parading on LED screens.

In summary, China is determined not to be left behind in the global race for technological superiority in AI and semiconductors. The country recognizes the significance of these fields for its economic and military progress. With substantial investments and a focus on fostering collaboration and development, China aims to bridge the gap with developed countries. The ZGC Forum serves as a platform for discussing and showcasing advancements in various technological areas. Despite the ongoing tensions with the U.S., there are indications of a potential thaw in relations, as recent meetings between Chinese and U.S. officials demonstrate. The forum reflects China’s commitment to achieving self-sufficiency and becoming a key player in the global technology landscape.

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Mars Helicopter went silent for six Sols, risked rover too • The Register

NASA has detailed a six-day stretch during which it could not contact its Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

In a lengthy post chief engineer Travis Brown explained that after the copter’s 49th flight, radio contact was lost for six sols – just short of six hours and six days of terrestrial time.

Initially, NASA’s Mars boffins weren’t unduly concerned because the Perseverance Rover had moved behind a rocky outcrop that created a “communication shadow”. Brown wrote that since Sol 685 the helicopter “had unfortunately been drifting in and out of night-time survival mode” which made daily contact with the craft difficult.” So a day or two without contact wasn’t worrying.

But once Perseverance moved to another location and Ingenuity still could not be found, Brown wrote “the situation began to generate some unease.”

“Poor telecom performance was seen as a plausible explanation, but there were reasons to doubt it,” he wrote. “In more than 700 sols operating the helicopter on Mars, not once had we ever experienced a total radio blackout. Even in the worst communications environments, we had always seen some indication of activity.”

But the signal received on that day, sol 761, was just a simple ACK. The next day, the copter again acknowledged a command, but did little else.

Mission staff determined that the ridge separating Ingenuity and Perseverance was a challenge for the ‘copter’s radio. It didn’t help that Perseverance’s helicopter base station (HBS) antenna is mounted low on the vehicle’s right and is subject to occlusion effects.

While NASA folk figured that out, Perseverance moved towards its next goal – but that created new problems.

“It is extremely important for Ingenuity to stay ahead of Perseverance while moving through the narrow channels of the Jezero delta,” Brown wrote, as the rotorcraft’s job is to scout ahead for the wheeled rover. And NASA operates a meter no-fly zone around Perseverance.

With the rover on the move, and the helicopter stopped, it became imperative to get Ingenuity moving.

“Relying on the helicopter’s onboard pre-flight checks to ensure vehicle safety and banking on solid communications from the rover’s imminent proximity, the team uplinked the flight plan,” Brown wrote.

Ingenuity did more than just ACK that upload. It ingested and executed it, resulting in its 50th and set an altitude record of 18 meters.

“It would be an understatement to say that the helicopter team was relieved to see the successful flight telemetry in the Sol 763 downlink the following morning,” Brown wrote.

But he added that anxious days lie ahead.

“It now appears that the dust covering our solar panel will ensure that Ingenuity will likely remain in this transitional power state for some time,” he wrote. “This means that, much to the chagrin of her team, we are not yet done playing this high-stakes game of hide and seek with the playful little helicopter.”

Ingenuity last flew on April 22nd, when it made a 188-meter hop at an altitude of 12 meters. The craft was designed to fly just five times, so has vastly exceeded expectations. ®


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Medtech start-ups Medwrite and Epicapture bag DkIT accelerator prize

The winners of the accelerator received AWS credits as well as hot-desking space from Dundalk IT to develop their businesses.

Two Irish promising start-ups, Medwrite and Epicapture, have been named overall winners of this year’s eHealth Embark programme run by Dundalk IT.

The two companies competed in the programme alongside eight other businesses operating in the digital health sector.

This is the second year Dundalk IT has run the eHealth Embark scheme, which focuses on providing a springboard for med-tech start-ups to secure investment and boost their profiles.

This year, 10 start-ups took part in the 10-week programme. They had the opportunity to participate in masterclasses led by Dundalk IT’s dConnect Digital Health Innovation Hub on topics such as validation, customer discovery and making product roadmaps.

The founders were also given one-on-one mentoring by AWS so they could learn to use the latest cloud technologies such as data analytics, AI and machine learning for tasks relevant to their businesses.

AWS is offering a combined total of up to $100,000 worth of credits to the two winning companies.

The winners were selected for their products’ promise in tackling global health problems. Medwrite develops software to reduce healthcare workers’ workloads, while Epicapture makes liquid tests to help medical staff to detect and monitor cancer in a non-invasive manner.

Edward Simons, co-founder of Epicapture said that the mentorship and support provided throughout the programme allowed his team to “develop an initial architecture” for their software tool, as well as identify AWS services that meet its business needs.

He added that the credits prize allows the company to implement the tool supported by AWS and to benefit from the mentors’ “experience across healthcare and cybersecurity”.

Epicapture is a former University College Dublin start-up of the year.

Sean Kirwan, co-founder of the runner-up company, Medwrite, described eHealth Embark as a “game-changer for health start-ups”, adding that it offered a “comprehensive and invaluable resource for navigating the complex landscape of the healthcare industry.”

“With a tailored focus on crucial aspects like business idea validation, funding, presenting and practical technical advice from industry-leading experts at Amazon, this programme equips entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed. It addressed key sticking points such as data privacy, MDR compliance, and cloud architecture for healthcare companies and it provided insights from prominent venture capitalists and Enterprise Ireland,” he said.

As well as the credits from AWS, the two winning companies will be given hot-desking access at Dundalk IT.

Carl Power, director of the Digital Health Innovation Hub at Dundalk IT encouraged founders to apply to the next cohort of the programme.

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