Technology

How eastern European tech entrepreneurs are drawing global interest

(Reuters) — Tech entrepreneurs in central and southeastern European, many of whom already have experience of launching their own businesses, are now having more success at enticing global investors the second time around.

Until recently, the region’s tech start-up scene was stagnant, failing to rank among Europe’s top dozen countries for investment and lagging western and northern European countries, as well as decades-old tech hub Israel.

But that’s changing fast. By last year, investment in central Europe, while still modest, had jumped more than tenfold since 2012, buoyed by a growing number of deals. And 2017 is on track for even stronger growth.

While an early wave of companies often lacked the international know-how and market savvy to develop into global businesses, their founders have absorbed lessons and are now able to generate more heavyweight investment.

“A lot of the bigger guys are now starting to take a look at the region,” said Credo Venture’s Andrej Kiska, whose Prague-based fund started in 2010 and has since co-invested with global venture capital firms Index Ventures, Accel and Baseline Ventures.

“It’s still a small market but it’s growing fast. First time founders have gained experience and are now starting their second and third companies with higher ambitions.”

Take Warsaw-based medical appointment booking platform DocPlanner, founded by serial Polish entrepreneur Mariusz Gralewski.

On Wednesday, the company said it had closed a new round of €15 million to help fund international expansion in Latin America following its merger a year ago with Spanish rival Doctoralia.

Previously, Gralewski turned a dorm-room idea into Poland’s leading business social network, GoldenLine.pl, which he sold before setting up DocPlanner.

The medical booking company now employs 300 and says it is making 340,000 appointments per month in its six core markets of Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Portugal and Mexico.

The new funding underlines how entrepreneurs such as Gralewski are attracting global investment.

DocPlanner has raised $46 million to date with international investor Target Global, Germany’s ENERN Investments and London-based One Peak Partners…

The GNU GPL Is An Enforceable Contract At Last

It would be difficult to imagine the technological enhancements to the world we live in today without open-source software. You will find it somewhere in most of your consumer electronics, in the unseen data centres of the cloud, in machines, gadgets, and tools, in fact almost anywhere a microcomputer is used in a product. The willingness of software developers to share their work freely under licences that guarantee its continued free propagation has been as large a contributor to the success of our tech economy as any hardware innovation.

Though open-source licences have been with us for decades now, there have been relatively few moments in which they have been truly tested in a court. There have been frequent licence violations in which closed-source products have been found to contain open-source software, but they have more often resulted in out-of-court settlement than lengthy public legal fights. Sometimes the open-source community has gained previously closed-source projects, as their licence violations have involved software whose licence terms included a requirement for a whole project in which it is included to have the same licence. These terms are sometimes referred to as viral clauses by open-source detractors, and the most famous such licence is the GNU GPL, or General Public…

Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Caring About Tech News

Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Mike: Bonjour, Farhad! I am particularly happy this morning because this weekend I am seeing “Alien: Covenant.” It’s a film that combines nearly all of my passions: The vast expanse of space, the terror of murderous xenomorphs and the boyish good looks of Michael Fassbender.

Farhad: Fun fact about me: Never seen an “Alien” movie.

Mike: Wow, crazy. Well, they do say in Silicon Valley, no one can hear you scream.

O.K., let’s talk tech news. Earlier this week in transportation drama, I wrote a piece on how Waymo and Lyft — two of Uber’s largest competitors — are collaborating in some sort of future self-driving car initiative. It will no doubt stoke all sorts of speculation that Waymo, the self-driving car arm spun out of Google, may one day decide to buy Lyft. Who knows if they actually produce anything from the partnership — which is still light on detail — but at the very least it’s a big ding to Uber at a time the company is vulnerable to attack.

Farhad: I know it’s hard to love Uber, and also it’s quite possible that Uber stole Google’s self-driving tech (we’ll find out as the big lawsuit proceeds). But to me, Google’s actions here also deserve scrutiny.

Look at all the sides Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are playing in self-driving. Through Waymo, Alphabet is building its own self-driving tech. But through its venture capital firm, Alphabet is also a huge investor in Uber. And it is also suing Uber. Also, through Waze, its mapping app, Google is running a car-pooling service that could compete with Uber. And now Waymo is partnering with Uber’s biggest competitor.

Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing people complain about when they say Google is getting too big and powerful? In every way imaginable, Google is trying to use its huge power to completely dominate the future of driving tech.

Mike: It reminds me of how you act around the office.

Anyway, in non-Uber news, Wired dropped a huge story on Apple’s new campus, Apple Park, which basically looks like something out of a Kubrick film. My favorite follow-up story, however, came from The Outline, which had a source send them a pizza box from the company. Apple patented a circular pizza box that keeps pizza crispy and well-ventilated as employees walk from Apple’s cafeterias back to their desks.

This is exactly why Apple is the most valuable public company in the world.

Farhad: I don’t care how much rounded glass Apple’s HQ has, it won’t beat working from home.

Mike: Moving on, Instagram added face filters to its app, continuing its streak of innovatively finding new ways to rip off Snapchat for its product road map. Bravo.

Facebook had a series of embarrassing errors this week….

How Improbable convinced SoftBank to invest $502 million in its platform for massive online game worlds

London-based technology firm Improbable has had a very improbable week. The company raised a whopping $502 million from Japan’s SoftBank for its SpatialOS platform for enabling massive online gaming worlds.

Then Improbable announced that Jagex, maker of the enormously popular RuneScape, will use the SpatialOS platform for future game worlds.

We caught up with Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, for an interview about these events. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

RuneScape

Above: Jagex MMO RuneScape.

Image Credit: Jagex

GamesBeat: Congratulations on the big round there. I wanted to catch up on that, as well as Jagex. You must have had some interesting conversations with SoftBank about the big vision.

Herman Narula: Masayoshi Son’s vision is surprisingly similar to ours: massive worlds in which people can experience the future of gaming, the idea of creating a world in which you and I can live in more than world at once. That’s an exciting, important future. It’s just as important as A.I. and just as important as the work we’ve done in machine learning and other areas.

GamesBeat: That seems to open the door to a lot more than just games.

Narula: Absolutely. But games are still our core focus right now.

GamesBeat: With Jagex, are they interested in this for games or for other things as well?

Narula: Games, games, games. You can guess at what they’re probably working on without our help. I can’t actually say it, but you can guess it.

GamesBeat: For them, what sort of potential world is possible?

Narula: They’re consummate, brilliant storytellers and character creators. I remember seeing the early versions of RuneScape. The quests and the world they put together were just so exciting. We’re hoping that with our technology they can not only tell great stories, but bring worlds to life. That means creating a living world, adding more players into…

Google’s speech recognition technology now has a 4.9% word error rate

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today announced that the company’s speech recognition technology now has achieved a 4.9 percent word error rate. Put another way, Google transcribes every 20th word incorrectly. That’s a big improvement from the 23 percent the company saw in 2013 and the 8 percent it shared two years ago at I/O 2015.

The tidbit was revealed at Google’s I/O 2017 developer conference, where a big emphasis is artificial intelligence. Deep learning, a type of AI, is used to achieve accurate image recognition and speech recognition. The method involves ingesting lots of data to train systems called neural networks, and then feeding new data to those systems in an attempt to make predictions.

“We’ve been using voice as an input across many of our products,” Pichai said onstage. “That’s…

How Uber and Waymo Ended Up Rivals in the Race for Driverless Cars

SAN FRANCISCO — At a technology conference in mid-2014, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin presented the company’s first prototype for a self-driving car. Watching in the audience was Travis Kalanick, chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing start-up.

Mr. Brin’s presentation in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. — including a video of a compact two-seater autonomously doing laps around a parking lot — jolted Mr. Kalanick, according to two people who spoke with him. Google, the search giant — long considered an Uber ally — seemed to be turning on him. And even as Uber was a growing force to be reckoned with, it was lacking in self-driving car technology, an important field of study that might affect the future of transportation.

So Mr. Kalanick spent much of 2015 raiding Google’s engineering corps. To learn about the technology, he struck up a friendship with Anthony Levandowski, a top autonomous vehicle engineer at “G-co,” Mr. Kalanick’s pet name for Google.

The two men often spoke for hours about the future of driving, meeting at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and walking five miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, according to two people familiar with the executives, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The friendship developed into a partnership. Mr. Levandowski left Google last year to form Otto, a self-driving trucking start-up. Uber acquired it months later for nearly $700 million. Mr. Kalanick subsequently appointed Mr. Levandowski to run Uber’s autonomous vehicle research.

That relationship has since set off a legal morass, with Google’s self-driving vehicle business — now called Waymo — accusing Mr. Levandowski of creating Otto as a front to steal trade secrets from Google, then using the findings with Uber’s driverless cars. On Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco barred Mr. Levandowski from working on a crucial component of Uber’s self-driving car technology for the duration of the case.

The implications are set to reverberate far beyond the courtroom. Any setback for Uber will shake up the driverless car industry, which is locked in a bitter race to introduce and commercialize autonomous cars. Silicon Valley tech titans and Detroit automakers are making huge investments — bets that autonomous vehicle technology will usher in a new age of how people get around. For some companies, especially traditional carmakers, their very survival is at stake.

While Google has been developing autonomous vehicle technology for more than a decade, others have raced to catch up. General Motors, Ford, Apple, Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among those that have jumped in. All are competing — and sometimes cooperating — for a slice of a new market expected to top $77 billion over the next two decades, according to a study from Boston Consulting Group.

Uber has been ahead of many others in publicly testing autonomous vehicles. Last year, the company began a pilot program of autonomous cars in Pittsburgh; it has also done testing in San Francisco and Tempe, Ariz.

That aggressiveness has spurred an intense rivalry with Waymo. Waymo’s legal pursuit of Uber and Mr. Levandowski is out of corporate character; Google has tended to refrain from suing former employees who move to competitors. Many at Google and Waymo are incensed at Mr. Levandowski and how he may have betrayed them for a rich payday, according to current and former employees.

That has pushed Waymo to strike back. Beyond suing Uber, Waymo said on Sunday it had teamed up with Lyft, a ride-hailing rival, on driverless car initiatives.

“This is a race where every single minute seems to…

3 reasons we’re not ready for autonomous cars

Many auto manufacturers, tech companies, and legislators predict that by 2021, self-driving cars will take to the roads, further accelerating the future of transportation.

Before that happens, one topic that needs further attention is the evolution and roll-out of self-driving technology. Today, many cars offer some form of self-driving capabilities — all of which require constant driver attention — and in many cases there is a gap between what drivers think the car can do and what the car can actually do.

Here are three things the public needs to consider when it comes to the self-driving conversation.

1. The stages of self-driving are varied

Klashwerks recently conducted a survey that found 74 percent of respondents are familiar with the term “self-driving car.” However, many people don’t realize there are various levels of self-driving cars, ranging from semi-autonomous to a fully autonomous car that won’t require the attention of any driver. For instance, Tesla’s autopilot feature falls into the Level 2 category: It lets the cars accelerate, maintain lane positions, and change lanes without input from the driver — but the human must keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Level 4 cars, on the other hand, are nearly autonomous; many auto manufacturers have their sights set on this, even in the short term.

2. Semi-autonomous isn’t foolproof

While many people want a future that’s autonomous, we need to take a step back and evaluate the progress so far. Early tests of self-driving, driverless, or semi-autonomous vehicles have resulted in some accidents, such as Google’s self-driving crash, Uber’s self-driving cars running red lights or driving in the wrong direction, and Tesla’s autopilot accident that killed its driver. Significant moments…

Maker Pro News: Etsy Reorganizes, Chinese Manufacturers Turn to Local Entrepreneurs, and More

You’re reading our weekly Maker Pro Newsletter, which focuses on the impact of makers in business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, and innovators, along with technology and market trends. Subscribe today and never miss a post.

“If you don’t have competitors…you’re either a crazy genius or you’re just crazy.” – SirenCare CEO Ran Ma

Investors to Etsy: You Can Do Better

Creative marketplace Etsy (@Etsy) is a quiet titan of the maker pro space that harbors a deep, valuable community of artisans and craftspeople — but as unrest among the company’s investors reaches a boiling point, the company may be forced to make fundamental changes in its day-to-day business.

Dissatisfied stakeholders penned a letter to the Etsy board that outlined their grievances. Since the company’s IPO, according to the letter, the company’s stock has fallen some 30 percent. On the bright side, they estimated that with new management and a renewed focus on user experience, the company could double its worth.

Thankfully, the company’s brass seem to be listening. In response to the investor concerns, the company quickly announced that it would oust CEO Chad Dickerson (@chaddickerson) in favor of eBay veteran Josh Silverman (@jgsilverman) and lay off eight percent of its staff. Big changes to the site itself are reportedly afoot — and the question may ultimately become whether the company can find success without compromising its DIY values.

Countdown to Maker Faire Bay Area

It is just two weeks until Maker Faire Bay Area (@makerfaire) on May 19–21. Do not miss our Maker Pro stage in Redwood Hall, where we are assembling an all-star lineup of entrepreneurs from every industry you read about in this newsletter.

One area we want to highlight this year: the dynamic world of maker pros who work with food and kitchenware. On the Make: blog, contributor Goli Mohammadi (@snowgoli) published a roundup of the foodtech founders you will be able to meet at the Faire, from the Future Food initiative to DIY chocolatiers and even a handful of startups selling cricket…

Microsoft commits $5 million to ‘landmark’ United Nations technology partnership

Microsoft and the United Nations (UN) have announced a five-year “landmark” partnership to develop technology to “better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations,” according to a statement issued today.

Additionally, Microsoft will support work being carried out by the UN Human Rights Office by contributing $5 million to a grant in what the UN called an “unprecedented level of support” from a private organization.

An example of the kind of technology the duo have been working on is an information dashboard called Rights View that gives UN employees access to real-time aggregated data on rights violations by country. This, it’s hoped, will “facilitate analysis, ensure early warning of emerging critical…

Nature connection: can technology help?

The team behind a new app hope to help Londoners enjoy nature in the city. Is using technology to encourage nature connection contradictory? Or can we ‘tap in’ to the natural world – and improve health and wellbeing at the same time?

A free community-based app has been launched by a group of Londoners who aim to put users “in closer contact with outdoor adventures on their doorstep”. Go Jauntly includes more than 7,000 minutes of walks in and around the capital, including routes through ancient cemeteries and some of London’s best-known public parks.

The NHS advises that regular walking can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease and stroke. Walking can also help improve work-life balance, particularly for time-pressured Londoners. Go Jauntly maps out well and less-known walks in the city, as well as routes in Kent and Suffolk. Through images and narrative, it guides people along both set and customisable routes.

“Our team is made up of nature-loving city dwellers who spend too much of our time deskbound and want to be a bit more active,” said Hana Sutch, CEO and co-founder of Go Jauntly. She had grown frustrated by the lack of easy-to-find walks in familiar places – from Richmond to Regent’s Park.

We’re creating technology for good that has a positive impact on society from health, wellness and environmental perspectives

Many believe that time in nature is a chance to leave the digital world behind. However, mobile technology is a powerful tool: one study by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that children average more than seven hours a day on electronic devices. So should we use this resource to get everyone – from children to adults – outside, moving and learning about the natural world?

“We’re hoping that with Go Jauntly, we’re creating technology for good that has a positive impact on society from health, wellness and environmental perspectives,” said Sutch. “We wanted to start something that would get people out of the house and being more active.”

May is National Walking Month in the UK, an initiative run by Living Streets, a UK charity that promotes ‘everyday walking’. A NHS campaign is encouraging people to walk 10,000 steps each day – counting towards a recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.

“I reconnected to nature through taking simple walks and noticing nature,” said Dr Miles Richardson from the University…