This clever transforming robot flies and rolls on its rotating arms

There’s great potential in using both drones and ground-based robots for situations like disaster response, but generally these platforms either fly or creep along the ground. Not the “Flying STAR,” which does both quite well, and through a mechanism so clever and simple you’ll wish you’d thought of it.

Conceived of by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, the “flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot” is based on the elementary observation that both rotors and wheels spin. So why shouldn’t a vehicle have both?

Well, there are lots of good reasons why it’s difficult to create such a hybrid, but the team, led by David Zarrouk, overcame them with the help of today’s high-powered, lightweight drone components. The result is a robot that can easily fly when it needs to, then land softly and, by tilting the rotor arms downwards, direct that same motive force into four wheels.

Of course you could have a drone that simply has a couple wheels on the bottom that let it roll along. But this improves on that idea in several ways. In the first place, it’s mechanically more efficient since the same motor drives the rotors and wheels at the same time — though when rolling the RPMs are of course considerably lower. But the rotating arms also give the robot a flexible stance, large wheelbase, and high clearance that make it much more capable on rough terrain.

You can watch FSTAR fly, roll, transform, flatten, and so on in the following video, prepared for presentation at the IEEE International Convention on Robotics and Automation in Montreal:

The ability to roll along at up to 8 feet per second using comparatively little energy, while also being able to leap over obstacles, scale stairs, or simply ascend and fly to a new location give FSTAR considerable adaptability.

“We plan to develop larger and smaller versions to expand this family of sprawling robots for different applications, as well as algorithms that will help exploit speed and cost of transport for these flying/driving robots,” said Zarrouk in a press release.

Obviously at present this is a mere prototype, and will need further work to bring it to a state where it could be useful for rescue teams, commercial operations, and the military.

Ford CTO Ken Washington at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10

A conference dedicated to transportation and mobility wouldn’t be complete without hearing from Ford, the U.S. automaker with a storied 116-year history.

We’re excited to announce that Ford CTO Ken Washington will participate in TechCrunch’s inaugural TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that’s bringing the best and brightest minds founders, investors and technologists who are determined to invent a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. Or maybe he did.

If there’s a person at Ford who can provide insight into where the company is head, it’s Washington.

As CTO and vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering, Washington leads Ford’s worldwide research organization, oversees the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy and plans, and plays a key role in its expansion into emerging mobility opportunities.

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, where he led a team of scientists and engineers in performing research and development in space science and related R&D.

TC Sessions: Mobility has a jam-packed agenda, overflowing with some of the biggest names and most exciting startups in the transportation industry. With Early-Bird ticket sales ending soon, you’ll want to be sure to grab your tickets after checking out this agenda.

Throughout the day, you can expect to hear from and partake in discussions about the future of transportation, the promise and problems of autonomous vehicles, the potential for bikes and scooters, investing in early-stage startups and more.

We’ll be joined by some of the most esteemed and prescient people in the space, including Dmitri Dolgov  at Waymo Argo AI Chief Safety Officer Summer Craze Fowler, Nuro co-founder Dave FergusonKarl Iagnemma of Aptiv, Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron and Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $45.

Millions of Instagram influencers had their contact data scraped and exposed

A massive database containing contact information of millions of Instagram celebrities and its most valuable users has been found online.

The database, hosted by Amazon Web Services, was left exposed and without a password allowing anyone to look inside. At the time of writing, the database had over 49 million records — but was growing by the hour.

From a brief review of the data, each record contained public data scraped from influencer Instagram accounts, including their bio, profile picture, the number of followers they have, if they’re verified, and their location by city and country, but also contained their private contact information, such as the Instagram account owner’s email address and phone number.

Security researcher Anurag Sen discovered the database and alerted TechCrunch in an effort to find the owner and get the database secured. We traced the database back to Mumbai-based social media marketing firm Chtrbox, which pays influencers to post sponsored content on their accounts. Each record in the database contained a record that calculated the worth of each account, based off the number of followers, engagement, reach, likes and shares they had. This was used as a metric to determine how much the company could pay an Instagram celebrity or influencer to post an ad.

TechCrunch found several high-profile influencers in the exposed database, including prominent food bloggers, celebrities and other social media influencers.

We contacted several people at random whose information was found in the database and provided them their phone numbers. Two of the people responded and confirmed their email address and phone number found in the database was used to set up their Instagram accounts. Neither had any involvement with Chtrbox, they said.

Shortly after we reached out, Chtrbox pulled the database offline. Pranay Swarup, the company’s founder and chief executive, did not respond to a request for comment and several questions, including how the company obtained private Instagram account email addresses and phone numbers.

The scraping effort comes two years after Instagram admitted a security bug in its developer API allowed hackers to scrape the email addresses and phone numbers of six million Instagram accounts. The hackers later sold the data for bitcoin.

Months later, Instagram — now with more than a billion users — choked its API to limit the number of requests apps and developers can make on the platform.

A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said it was looking into the matter. “Scraping data of any kind is prohibited on Instagram,” said the spokesperson. “We’re investigating how and what data was obtained and will share an update soon.”

Daily Crunch: Huawei faces Android ban

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Huawei responds to Android ban with service and security guarantees, but its future is unclear

Google is complying with a federal directive that placed Huawei and 70 of its affiliates on an “entity list,” meaning that any U.S. company needs government approval before doing business with the Chinese tech company.

In response, Huawei said today that it will continue to provide security updates and after-sales support to its existing lineup of Android smartphones. Still, what the company didn’t say will probably spark concerns.

2. TikTok owner ByteDance’s long-awaited chat app is here

The new app is called Feiliao, or Flipchat in English, a hybrid of an instant messenger plus interest-based forums, and it’s currently available for both iOS and Android. It arrived only four months after Bytedance unveiled its video-focused chatting app Duoshan.

3. Identity platform Auth0 raises $103M, pushing its valuation over $1B

Auth0 — pronounced “auth-zero” — provides authentication-as-a-service to its corporate customers. In other words, it offers a secure login system used to properly authenticate the identity of employees.

4. Sam Altman’s leap of faith

Earlier this year, founder-investor Sam Altman left his high-profile role as the president of Y Combinator to become the CEO of AI research outfit OpenAI. Connie Loizos talks to him about YC’s evolution and his current work.

5. Robin picks up $20M Series B to optimize the office

Robin hooks into Google Calendar and Outlook to help employees get a sense of what meeting rooms and activity spaces are available in the office, complete with tablet signage out front.

6. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The team at Equity has thoughts on the latest funding round for luggage startup Away, while we have plenty of opinions about  the latest “Game of Thrones” developments on Original Content.

7. What Uber and Lyft’s investment bankers got right

Danny Crichton argues that Uber and Lyft are proof that investment bankers actually are pretty smart in their advice about the pubic markets, and founders should be cautious about ignoring their words. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Apply for a free Startup Alley Exhibitor spot at Disrupt SF 2019

Do you love the word “free?” Of course, you do — what early-stage startup founder doesn’t? Consider this your personal invitation for a chance to exhibit your pre-Series A startup for free in Startup Alley at Disrupt San Francisco 2019 on October 2-4.

We’re searching for exceptional startups to apply for our TC Top Picks program. Our cadre of Top Picks will receive the VIP treatment and invaluable exposure to potential customers, investors and media. Fill out the application today; it’s quick and easy and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Applying may be easy, but our selection process is competitive. TechCrunch editors vet each application, and they’ll choose up to five startups in these categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS and Social Impact & Education.

If you’re selected, you’ll get a free Startup Alley Exhibition Package good for one full day of exhibiting in Startup Alley. You also receive three Founder passes, use of CrunchMatch — our investor-to-startup matching platform — the complete Disrupt SF 2019 press list and invitations to special events at Disrupt SF.

One of the best Top Pick perks is the live Showcase Stage interview with a TechCrunch editor. We promote the video across our social media platforms, and that awesome exposure lasts long after Disrupt shuts its doors. Talk about a powerful networking tool.

What can a TC Top Pick designation do for your startup? Read on!

3DLOOK’s mobile body-scanning technology — designed to provide personalization in apparel retail and e-commerce — earned it a TC Top Pick designation in the AI category at Disrupt SF 2018. The technology, which combines computer vision, machine learning and 3D-matching, produces accurate measurements of the human body — using only two photos from any mobile device.

Vadim Rogovskiy, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said that simply being chosen carries significant cache.

“We were thrilled to be named one of the best startups. Getting that kind of recognition from TechCrunch is a huge endorsement for our team and our technology.”

All Top Picks receive a prime exhibiting spot in Startup Alley which, Rogovskiy noted, also makes for prime networking opportunities.

“As a Top Pick startup, we received great marketing exposure at Disrupt, and that helped us generate multiple, high-quality enterprise leads. In addition, many leading U.S.-based VCs — like Accel and Bessemer — have contacted us.”

Like other TC Top Pick founders, Rogovskiy has high praise for the Showcase Stage interview and the value it provides long after Disrupt ends.

“The video of my Showcase Stage interview with Ron Miller got more than 150,000 collective views, and it helped to drive significant traffic to our website. We continue to use the video — and our Top Pick status — when speaking to VCs and potential enterprise clients.”

While you’re at it, why not apply to compete in Startup Battlefield, too? Our world-renown startup pitch competition is yet another thrilling way to launch your startup to the world. And the champion walks away with a cool $100,000 equity-free cash prize. That’s a sweet bottom-line bump.

Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place October 2-4. Wring every drop of opportunity out of Disrupt. Apply to be a TC Top Pick today.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt SF? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

China overtakes U.S. in smart speaker market share

The U.S. no longer leads the smart speaker market, according to new data from Canalys out this morning, which found China’s smart speaker shipments grew by 500 percent in Q1 2019 to overtake the U.S. and achieve a 51 percent market share.

The firm said shipments in China reached 10.6 million units which was driven by “festive promotions.”

More specifically, Baidu had a huge quarter thanks to an exclusive sponsorship deal with China’s national TV channel, CCTV, on its New Year’s Gala on Chinese New Year’s Eve — one of the biggest entertainment shows in terms of viewer numbers. This promotion prompted users to download the Baidu app, which distributed over 100 million coupons to an audience of 1.2 billion during the show, and drove awareness around the brand’s smart speakers, Canalys says.

In Q1, Baidu shipped 3.3 million speakers — putting it in third place behind Amazon’s 4.6 million and Google’s 3.5 million. Alibaba and Xiaomi followed, each with 3.2 million shipments, also driven by Chinese New Year promotions.

“The lightning fast development in China is largely driven by vendors pouring in large amount of capital to achieve dominant share quickly,” noted Nicole Peng, VP of Mobility at Canalys, in a statement. “This strategy is favoured by internet service providers like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent who are used to spending billions on traffic acquisition and know how to reach critical installed base fast.”

Other brands, combined, accounted for a further 2.9 million shipments. That includes Apple’s HomePod, whose market share was so small it got wrapped into this “Other” section instead of being broken out on its own.

With 10.6 million units, China topped the U.S. 5 million units shipped and brought its market share up to 51 percent, while the U.S. dropped from 44 percent in Q4 2018 to 24 percent in Q1 2019.

Overall, the global smart speaker market returned to triple digit annual growth of 131 percent in the quarter, reaching 20.7 million total Q1 shipments — up from just 9 million in the first quarter of 2018.

On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.