‘Child’s Play’ trailer gets a smart home makeover, giving a Chucky control over connected devices

Oh golly does the new trailer for “Child’s Play” look good.

Not only does it have appearances by Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill (as the voice of Chucky) and Bryan Tyree Henry (who’s awesome in Atlanta), but it’s giving Chucky a smart home makeover.

The demonically possessed doll now has the power to control networked devices like thermostats, drones, doors and pretty much any gadget in a connected home (from the looks of the trailer).

However horrifying the thought may be of a demon-possessed doll — imagine the damage it could do by taking over your trusty Alexa. Now that’s truly terrifying.

 

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Index Ventures, Stripe back bookkeeping service Pilot with $40M

Five years after Dropbox acquired their startup Zulip, Waseem Daher, Jeff Arnold and Jessica McKellar have gained traction for their third business together: Pilot.

Pilot helps startups and small businesses manage their back office. Chief executive officer Daher admits it may seem a little boring, but the market opportunity is undeniably huge. To tackle the market, Pilot is today announcing a $40 million Series B led by Index Ventures with participation from Stripe, the online payment processing system.

The round values Pilot, which has raised about $60 million to date, at $355 million.

“It’s a massive industry that has sucked in the past,” Daher told TechCrunch. “People want a really high-quality solution to the bookkeeping problem. The market really wants this to exist and we’ve assembled a world-class team that’s capable of knocking this out of the park.”

San Francisco-based Pilot launched in 2017, more than a decade after the three founders met in MIT’s student computing group. It’s not surprising they’ve garnered attention from venture capitalists, given that their first two companies resulted in notable acquisitions.

Pilot has taken on a massively overlooked but strategic segment — bookkeeping,” Index’s Mark Goldberg told TechCrunch via email. “While dry on the surface, the opportunity is enormous given that an estimated $60 billion is spent on bookkeeping and accounting in the U.S. alone. It’s a service industry that can finally be automated with technology and this is the perfect team to take this on — third-time founders with a perfect combo of financial acumen and engineering.”

The trio of founders’ first project, Linux upgrade software called Ksplice, sold to Oracle in 2011. Their next business, Zulip, exited to Dropbox before it even had the chance to publicly launch.

It was actually upon building Ksplice that Daher and team realized their dire need for tech-enabled bookkeeping solutions.

“We built something internally like this as a byproduct of just running [Ksplice],” Daher explained. “When Oracle was acquiring our company, we met with their finance people and we described this system to them and they were blown away.”

It took a few years for the team to refocus their efforts on streamlining back-office processes for startups, opting to build business chat software in Zulip first.

Pilot’s software integrates with other financial services products to bring the bookkeeping process into the 21st century. Its platform, for example, works seamlessly on top of QuickBooks so customers aren’t wasting precious time updating and managing the accounting application.

“It’s better than the slow, painful process of doing it yourself and it’s better than hiring a third-party bookkeeper,” Daher said. “If you care at all about having the work be high-quality, you have to have software do it. People aren’t good at these mechanical, repetitive, formula-driven tasks.”

Currently, Pilot handles bookkeeping for more than $100 million per month in financial transactions but hopes to use the infusion of venture funding to accelerate customer adoption. The company also plans to launch a tax prep offering that they say will make the tax prep experience “easy and seamless.”

“It’s our first foray into Pilot’s larger mission, which is taking care of running your companies entire back office so you can focus on your business,” Daher said.

As for whether the team will sell to another big acquirer, it’s unlikely.

“The opportunity for Pilot is so large and so substantive, I think it would be a mistake for this to be anything other than a large and enduring public company,” Daher said. “This is the company that we’re going to do this with.”

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Industrial robotics giant Fanuc is using AI to make automation even more automated

Industrial automation is already streamlining the manufacturing process, but first those machines must be painstakingly trained by skilled engineers. Industrial robotics giant Fanuc wants to make robots easier to train, therefore making automation more accessible to a wider range of industries, including pharmaceuticals. The company announced a new artificial intelligence-based tool at TechCrunch’s Robotics/AI Sessions event today that teaches robots how to pick the right objects out of a bin with simple annotations and sensor technology, reducing the training process by hours.

Bin-picking is exactly what it sounds like: a robot arm is trained to pick items out of bins and used for tedious, time-consuming tasks like sorting bulk orders of parts. Images of example parts are taken with a camera for the robot to match with vision sensors. Then the conventional process of training bin-picking robots means teaching it many rules so it knows what parts to pick up.

“Making these rules in the past meant having to through a lot of iterations and trial and error. It took time and was very cumbersome,” said Dr. Kiyonori Inaba, the head of Fanuc Corporation’s Robot Business Division, during a conversation ahead of the event.

These rules include details like how to locate the parts on the top of the pile or which ones are the most visible. Then after that, human operators need to tell it when it makes an error in order to refine its training. In industries that are relatively new to automation, finding enough engineers and skilled human operators to train robots can be challenging.

This is where Fanuc’s new AI-based tool comes in. It simplifies the training process so the human operator just needs to look at a photo of parts jumbled in a bin on a screen and tap a few examples of what needs to be picked up, like showing a small child how to sort toys. This is significantly less training than what typical AI-based vision sensors need and can also be used to train several robots at once.

“It is really difficult for the human operator to show the robot how to move in the same way the operator moves things,” said Inaba. “But by utilizing AI technology, the operator can teach the robot more intuitively than conventional methods.” He adds that the technology is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen if it can be used during in assembly as well.

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NHL live stream: how to watch the 2019 playoffs and Stanley Cup online from anywhere

The regular 2019 NHL season has come to an end but for many hockey fans, that means they can finally get excited as no other sport does does playoff season quite like the NHL – and we're here to make sure you don't miss even a moment with TechRadar's guide to getting an NHL live stream for this year's playoffs.

The best 16 teams in the league (eight each from the Western and Eastern Conference) face off in a best-of-seven series. From there the best teams in each conference will go head to head with the winners of the conference finals advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

To get you up to speed on all the action, here are the first round matchups:

In the Eastern Conference the Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Boston Bruins will go up against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Washington Capitals will face off against the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames will take on the Colorado Avalanche, the San Jose Sharks will go up against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Nashville Predators will face off against the Dallas Stars and finally the Winnipeg Jets will go up against the St. Louis Blues.

Whether you’re a die-hard hockey fan who’s been following the NHL all season long or just tuning in to catch all the action at the playoffs, we’ll show you how to watch the 22019 playoffs online with an NHL live stream from anywhere in the world.

How to watch the 2019 NHL Playoffs online from outside your country

If you live in the US, Canada or UK and want to know how to catch a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs live stream, then keep scrolling and we’ll tell you your best viewing options.

But if you can't watch because you're not in your home country and so your coverage is geo-blocked then we can suggest a clever alternative (and no, it doesn’t involve finding some dodgy feed on Reddit). Using a VPN – or Virtual Private Network – you can change the IP address to one in a different state or country which does have the stream so that you can watch the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs from anywhere in the world. The process is very straightforward… 

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Watch the NHL playoffs on TV in the US

If you live in the US and want to watch the NHL playoffs on television, then unfortunately you have your work cut out for you as all of the Stanley Cup games will air on NBC owned networks. That’s right, not just on NBC itself but also on a number of networks owned by the company. This means that you will need some combination of NBC, NBCSN (NBC Sports Net), CNBC, USA Network and NHL Network. To complicate things even further, NBC will also air some games on the Golf Channel when there are scheduling conflicts.

The channels showing the games will also change depending on which round of the playoffs we’re in. The first round will be shown across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA and the NHL Network while the second and third rounds will be on NBC and NBCSN. Finally, the Stanley Cup Finals will be shown on NBC.

For cable subscribers this shouldn’t be too difficult but if you’d prefer to watch the games online or on your mobile devices, NBCSports will have livestreams of the games on its website or on the NBC Sports app. You will need to provide your cable credentials to gain access to these streams but you could always setup a digital antenna to watch NBC over-the-air for free.

If you’d rather not sign up for a premium cable subscription just to watch the Stanley Cup and playoffs, we recommend going with one of the many TV streaming services available as they give you access to the channels you need to watch hockey without the high cost. 

For your convenience, we’ve listed all of the streaming services with the channels you need to watch the NHL playoffs below.

  • Hulu with Live TV $44.99 per month – Hulu with Live TV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. The service supports a wide variety of streaming devices and even includes its own Hulu Originals in case you want a break from watching hockey.
  • Playstation Vue starting at $44.99 per month – Playstation Vue’s Access plan gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but once again not NHL Network. However, there is a 5-day free trial available.
  • DirecTV Now $50 per month – DirecTV Now’s Plus package comes with NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but doesn’t include the NHL Network. You can stream on up to three screens simultaneously and with the DirecTV Now app you can watch live TV on the go. New customers can take advantage of a 7-day trial but you'll have to purchase one of DirecTV Now's packages first.
  • Sling TV starting at $15 per month – Sling TV's Blue package gives you access to NBC, NBCSN and USA though you’ll have to add the $5 News Extra and $5 Sports Extra packages to your subscription to watch games on CNBC and the NHL Network. 
  • fuboTV $44.99 for the first month – fuboTV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. The service also includes Cloud DVR so you can record games to watch them later and if you forget to record a game, the company's 3-day replay allows you to replay nearly any game, show or movie that aired in the last three days. FuboTV even offers a free 7-day trial so you can test out the service.
  • YouTube TV $49.99 per month – YouTube TV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. With YouTube TV you get free unlimited DVR storage space to record games for later and you can stream the service on three devices simultaneously. A free 14-day trial is also available so you can test it out for yourself.

– Discover our pick of all the US's best sports streaming sites

Watch and live stream NHL playoffs in Canada

If you live in Canada and want to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV, then Sportsnet has you covered. The network’s TV coverage will be available on Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet ONE and CBC. However, if you’d prefer to live stream the games on your computer or mobile devices you can do so by logging in using your cable credentials on the CBCSports website or on the CBC Sports app on Android and iOS.

If you’re not a cable subscriber, we recommend choosing one of the streaming services above if you just want to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

However, if you’re also a big Canadian Hockey League fan, Sportsnet has its own streaming service available called SNNow for just $20 a month that shows over 300 NHL games as well as NHL, NBA, MLB, CHL, WWE and more that might be worth checking out. 

Watch the NHL playoffs in the UK

Unfortunately for hockey fans in the UK, Premier Sports is the only way to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on TV. 

To get access to the Premier Sports 1 & 2 you’ll either have to sign up through Sky for £9.99 a month or £99 a year, Virgin Media at £9.99 a month or with the network’s own Premier Player at £9.99 a month. Premier Sports does have an offer where you can get the first month free using the promo code FIRSTMONTHFREE but even then you only get access to 15 NHL games each week.

On the other hand you could try one of the streaming services listed above and if all else fails you can always connect with a VPN and change your IP address to one in the US. 

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Amazon’s one-two punch: How traditional retailers can fight back

If you think physical retail is dead, you couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the explosion in e-commerce, we’re still buying plenty of stuff in offline stores. In 2017, U.S. retail sales totaled $3.49 trillion, of which only 13 percent (about $435 billion) were e-commerce sales. True, e-commerce is growing at a much faster annual pace. But we’re still very far from the tipping point.

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, is playing an even longer game than everyone thinks. The company already dominates online retail — Amazon accounted for almost 50 percent of all U.S. e-commerce dollars spent in 2018. But now Amazon is eyeing the much bigger prize: modernizing and dominating retail sales in physical locations, mainly through the use of sophisticated data analysis. The recent reports of Amazon launching its own chain of grocery stores in several U.S. cities — separate from its recent Whole Foods acquisition — is just one example of how this could play out.

You can think of this as the Amazon one-two punch: The company’s vast power in e-commerce is only the initial, quick jab to an opponent’s face. Data-focused innovations in offline retail will be Amazon’s second, much heavier cross. Traditional retailers too focused on the jab aren’t seeing the cross coming. But we think canny retailers can fight back — and avoid getting KO’d. Here’s how.

The e-commerce jab starts with warehousing

Physical storage of goods has long been crucial to advances in commerce. Innovations here range from Henry Ford’s conveyor belt assembly line in 1910, to IBM’s universal product code (the “barcode”) in the early 1970s, to J.C. Penney’s implementation of the first warehouse management system in 1975. Intelligrated (Honeywell), Dematic (KION), Unitronics, Siemens and others further optimized and modernized the traditional warehouse. But then came Amazon.

After expanding from books to a multi-product offering, Amazon Prime launched in 2005. Then, the company’s operational focus turned to enabling scalable two-day shipping. With hundreds of millions of product SKUs, the challenge was how to get your pocket 3-layer suture pad (to cite a super-specific product Amazon now sells) from the back of the warehouse and into the shippers’ hands as quickly as possible.

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable.

Amazon met this challenge at a time when automated warehouses still had massive physical footprints and capital-intensive costs. Amazon bought Kiva Systems in 2012, which ushered in the era of Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), or robots that quickly ferried products from the warehouse’s depths to static human packers.

Since the Kiva acquisition, retailers have scrambled to adopt technology to match Amazon’s warehouse efficiencies.  These technologies range from warehouse management software (made by LogFire, acquired by Oracle; other companies here include Fishbowl and Temando) to warehouse robotics (Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Magazino). Some of these companies’ technologies even incorporate wearables (e.g. ProGlove, GetVu) for warehouse workers. We’ve also seen more general-purpose projects in this area, such as Google Robotics. The main adopters of these new technologies are those companies that feel Amazon’s burn most harshly, namely operators of fulfillment centers serving e-commerce.

The schematic below gives a broad picture of their operations and a partial list of warehouse/inventory management technologies they can adopt:

It’s impossible to say what optimizations Amazon will bring to warehousing beyond these, but that may be less important to predict than retailers realize.

The cross: Modernizing the physical retail environment

Amazon has made several recent forays into offline shopping. These range from Amazon Books (physical book stores), Amazon Go (fast retail where consumers skip the cashier entirely) and Amazon 4-Star (stores featuring only products ranked four-stars or higher). Amazon Live is even bringing brick-and-mortar-style shopping streaming to your phone with a home-shopping concept à la QVC. Perhaps most prominently, Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods gave the company an entrée into grocery shopping and a nationwide chain of physical stores.

Most retail-watchers have dismissed these projects as dabbling, or — in the case of Whole Foods — focused too narrowly on a particular vertical. But we think they’re missing Bezos’ longer-term strategic aim. Watch that cross: Amazon is mastering how physical retail works today, so it can do offline what it already does incredibly well online, which is harness data to help retailers sell much more intelligently. Amazon recognizes certain products lend themselves better to offline shopping — groceries and children’s clothing are just a few examples.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive.

Those shopping experiences are unlikely to disappear. But traditional retailers (and Amazon offline) can understand much, much more about the data points between shopping and purchase. Which path did shoppers take through the store? Which products did they touch and which did they put into a cart? Which items did they try on, and which products did they abandon? Did they ask for different sizes? How does product location within the store influence consumers’ willingness to buy? What product correlations can inform timely marketing offers — for instance, if women often buy hats and sunglasses together in springtime, can a well-timed coupon prompt an additional purchase? Amazon already knows answers to most of these questions online. They want to bring that same intelligence to offline retail.

Obviously, customer privacy will be a crucial concern in this brave new future. But customers have come to expect online data-tracking and now often welcome the more informed recommendations and the convenience this data can bring. Why couldn’t a similar mindset-shift happen in offline retail?

How can retailers fight back?

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable. But remember how important the element of surprise is. Too many venture capitalists underestimate physical retail’s importance and pooh-pooh startups focused on this sector. That’s extremely short-sighted.

Does the fact that Amazon is developing computer vision for Amazon Go mean that alternative self-checkout companies (e.g. Trigo, AiFi) are at a disadvantage? I’d argue that this validation is actually an accelerant as traditional retail struggles to keep up.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive. Don’t wait for Amazon to show you what the next best-practice in retail should be. There’s plenty of exciting technology you can adopt today to beat Jeff Bezos to the punch. Take Relex, a Finnish startup using AI and machine learning to help brick-and-mortar and e-commerce companies make better forecasts of how products will sell. Or companies like Memomi or Mirow that are creating solutions for a more immersive and interactive offline shopping experience.

Amazon’s one-two punch strategy seems to be working. Traditional retailers are largely blinded by the behemoth’s warehousing innovations, just as they are about to be hit with an in-store innovation blow. New technologies are emerging to help traditional retail rally. The only question is whether they’ll implement the solutions fast enough to stay relevant.

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