Facebook picks up retail computer vision outfit GrokStyle

If you’ve ever seen a lamp or chair that you liked and wished you could just take a picture and find it online, well, GrokStyle let you do that — and now the company has been snatched up by Facebook to augment its own growing computer vision department.

If you’ve ever seen a lamp or chair that you liked and wished you could just take a picture and find it online, well, GrokStyle let you do that — and now the company has been snatched up by Facebook to augment its own growing computer vision department.

GrokStyle started as a paper — as AI companies often do these days — at 2015’s SIGGRAPH. A National Science Foundation grant got the ball rolling on the actual company, and in 2017 founders Kavita Bala and Sean Bell raised $2 million to grow it.

The basic idea is simple: matching a piece of furniture (or a light fixture, or any of a variety of product types) in an image to visually similar ones in stock at stores. Of course, sometimes the simplest ideas are the most difficult to execute. But Bala and Bell made it work, and it was impressive enough in action that Ikea on first sight demanded it be in the next release of its app. I saw it in action and it’s pretty impressive.

Facebook’s acquisition of the company (no terms disclosed) makes sense on a couple of fronts: First, the company is investing heavily in computer vision and AI, so GrokStyle and its founders are naturally potential targets. Second, Facebook is also trying to invest in its marketplace, and using the camera as an interface for it fits right into the company’s philosophy.

One can imagine how useful it would be to be able to pull up the Facebook camera app, point it at a lamp you like at a hotel and see who’s selling it or something like it on the site.

Facebook did not answer my questions regarding how GrokStyle’s tech and team would be used, but offered the following statement: “We are excited to welcome GrokStyle to Facebook. Their team and technology will contribute to our AI capabilities.” Well!

There’s an “exciting journey” message on GrokStyle’s webpage, so the old site and service is gone for good. But one assumes that it will reappear in some form in the future. I’ve asked the founders for comment and will update the post if I hear back.

Xiaomi’s five-year plan is a $1.5 billion bet on smart homes

Xiaomi, the Chinese company best known for budget phones, is betting big on a future of connected homes. It plans to plough at least 100 billion yuan, or $1.48 billion, into the so-called “AIoT” sector over the next five years, founder and chief operating office Lei Jun announced on Friday. AIoT, short for “AI + […]

Xiaomi, the Chinese company best known for budget phones, is betting big on a future of connected homes. It plans to plough at least 100 billion yuan, or $1.48 billion, into the so-called “AIoT” sector over the next five years, founder and chief operating office Lei Jun announced on Friday.

AIoT, short for “AI + IoT,” is an upgrade from devices connected to the internet, known as the Internet of Things. AIoTs are intelligent, run on automated systems and can learn from users’ habits, like lights that automatically turn on when you get home.

“We see a future where all home devices will be connected to the internet and controlled by voice. A wave of home appliances will be replaced by smart devices. There will be an AIoT network that infiltrates every second and scenario of people’s lives, collecting mountains of users, traffic and data,” said Lei in his annual address to employees.

The plan is to get all sorts of gadgets, not just handsets, onto Xiaomi’s operating system so the company can hawk services through these devices. The move comes as Xiaomi, the world’s fourth-largest smartphone vendor, copes a weakening market. Smartphone shipments in China were down more than 15 percent year-over-year in 2018, according to a government-backed research institute.

Phones remain strategically important to Xiaomi as it looks to lower-end phones for growth. On Thursday, the company announced it has split up (not spin out) its budget phone brand, Redmi, in hope of launching “red rice” — what Redmi means in Chinese — to Xiaomi’s “little rice” stardom. The strategy is similar to how Huawei operates sub-brand Honor for its line of cheaper phones.

Xiaomi’s new billion-dollar pledge is a continuation of a plan in 2013 to back 100 startups over the course of five years. These portfolio companies, in turn, helped make Xiaomi products, which now count 132 million total devices among which 20 million are active daily. Meanwhile, Xiaomi’s voice assistant Xiao Ai has hit 100 million installs.

These gadgets, along with an assortment of lifestyle products like suitcases and umbrellas, became the largest revenue driver for Xiaomi in the second quarter of last year, the company’s earnings report shows.

Xiaomi is in a land grab with other Chinese tech giants like Baidu to enter people’s homes. It’s becoming something akin to a department store, but it can’t make everything itself. Recently, the giant made a big push in TVs through a partnership with a veteran Chinese home appliance manufacturer. It’s also teamed up with IKEA on a 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) fund for third-party developers, which will enrich Xiaomi’s inventory as consumers in China may soon be able to buy many Xiaomi-powered furniture from the Swedish retailer.

Ikea’s smart window blinds leak, to be compatible with Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant

Meet KADRILJ and FYRTUR. They’re Ikea’s upcoming smart window blinds and they look great. The two product lines are battery-powered shades that can open and close through a dedicate app. They also interact with IKEA’s TRÅDFRI lighting gateway allowing homeowners to control the shades through Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant. Pricing is aggressive: 99 to […]

Meet KADRILJ and FYRTUR. They’re Ikea’s upcoming smart window blinds and they look great. The two product lines are battery-powered shades that can open and close through a dedicate app. They also interact with IKEA’s TRÅDFRI lighting gateway allowing homeowners to control the shades through Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant.

Pricing is aggressive: 99 to 155 euros (about $113 to $181). The shades have yet to be officially announced by Ikea, but according to the company’s site, they will be available in Europe on February 2nd. It’s unclear when they’ll be available in different markets.

These products are joining Ikea’s growing list of smart home devices. Last year, the company launched its smart lighting solutions that competes with Philips Hue and LIFX. Before that, Ikea produced a few tables integrated with wireless charging pads.

The upcoming smart window blinds follow the understated trends set by Ikea’s other smart home products: inexpensive relative to competitors and equipped with just a basic feature set. There’s nothing fancy here with the smart window shades. And that’s the point. With its smart home products, Ikea is seemingly concentrating on including just the necessary functions and not building in extra things, feature-creep style. Ikea’s smart home gadgets are as basic as Ikea’s furniture and that’s great.

Ikea Smart Blinds Prices And More Details Leak Online

Ikea’s upcoming smart blinds prices have just been leaked online, along with more details. Here’s everything we know so far. [ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Ikea's upcoming smart blinds prices have just been leaked online, along with more details. Here's everything we know so far.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Gjemeni puts your couch in a box

Gjemeni, pronounced Gemini, is a new furniture-on-demand service from founder Sean Pathiratne. The company offers decidedly tech-forward furniture that comes in a single box and can be assembled by anyone in a few minutes. Pathiratne sees his company as a fashionable and agile furniture company that brings stylish stuff to your living room in the […]

Gjemeni, pronounced Gemini, is a new furniture-on-demand service from founder Sean Pathiratne. The company offers decidedly tech-forward furniture that comes in a single box and can be assembled by anyone in a few minutes.

Pathiratne sees his company as a fashionable and agile furniture company that brings stylish stuff to your living room in the vein of Zara or H&M.

“We can create and deliver on trends through our technology-led global supply chain with the agility and speed of ‘fast fashion.’ We are ‘fast furniture,'” said Pathiratne.

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“I live and work in Silicon Valley. I spend a lot of time in WeWork and other co-working places, in the offices of start-ups, and with tech friends,” said Pathiratne . “I observed how millennials live and work. They are a restless bunch physically – which mirrors their restlessness overall. They don’t like the status quo in business or with the objects in their lives. They are constantly shifting and fidgeting on their sofas. They just couldn’t find the right positions. After all, today we are checking our smart phones one minute, leaning back and contemplating the world another minute.”

The result? A plugged-in couch for the plugged-in generation.

“So the implications were obvious: create a multi-position couch for our multi-tasking world. A couch that meets people where they are, rather than the other way around. And also make sure that the next- gen couch had connectivity for the generation that is always plugged in,” he said.

The Gjemeni flagship is a convertible couch that turns from stark seating system into a lie-flat futon. Both sides of the couch have power and USB ports and it has three resting positions.

The company also sells a chair and an ottoman. Each product, from the $999 couch to the $299 leg rest, comes in a massive box that opens to reveal the furniture and a set of legs. To build the stuff you simply snap the legs into the holes on the bottom and flip the couch upright.

I tested one of the couches and can report that it would make a great startup-office seat. The styling, the firmness, and the clever charging ports mean that you can easily make your visitors feel powered-up and comfortable. As a home couch, however, I would recommend trying before you buy. First, at 6.5 feet long, there isn’t much room on the couch for more than two people let alone a small family. Further, the two reclining options are not conducive to many traditional couch activities except, perhaps, for the aftermath of Netflix and chill. The two sides of the back of the couch move from upright to reclined. When upright it is set at almost at 90 degrees – a TV lounging nightmare – and when slightly reclined you fall into a napping position. There is no “just right” with this couch for the home user.

That said this is furniture and your experience may differ. The company offers a 60-day money back guarantee as long as you keep the massive box and at $999 it makes perfect sense to take a flyer on this one. In fact, that’s the point. Like other furniture services, Gjemeni plans to disrupt the visit to Ikea or the furniture store. Because setup is so simple there is little harm in giving it a go and sending it back if you don’t like the size, the firmness, or the fit.

After all, said Pathiratne, the company is all about self-awareness.

“We are built to harness technology in pursuit of wellness. Gjemeni meets our ergonomic needs to relieve pressure on the back and spine, and to adjust so that we can take a power nap (we all know how important sleep is to wellness) or simply meditate and ground ourselves,” said Pathiratne.

TaskRabbit kicks off Canadian expansion

TaskRabbit is kicking off its Canadian expansion in the greater Toronto area before rolling out in Vancouver in October and Montreal sometime in 2019.

TaskRabbit officially launched in Canada today.

The on-demand network that connects people with “taskers,” or others willing to do their household chores or errands for a fee, is kicking off its Canadian expansion in the greater Toronto area before rolling out in Vancouver in October and Montreal sometime in 2019.

This is the first major move abroad for the company in some time, as well as its first move under IKEA’s ownership. TaskRabbit first expanded beyond the U.S. in 2014, when it launched its app in the UK.

Otherwise, the service is only available in North America.

IKEA bought TaskRabbit 1 year ago as part of a deal that has allowed the company to operate independently from the Swedish furniture retailer under CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot. TaskRabbit, before its exit, had raised $38 million from investors including Founders Fund, First Round Capital and Floodgate.

Ikea May Be Working On HomeKit-Enabled Smart Blinds

Swedish furniture outlet Ikea already has its own line of smart lighting and now it looks like the same company is getting ready to launch its own line in HomeKit-compatible smart blinds. [ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Swedish furniture outlet Ikea already has its own line of smart lighting and now it looks like the same company is getting ready to launch its own line in HomeKit-compatible smart blinds.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]