Google today announced that it has been taking its Street View Trekker – the compact backpack version of its Street View cars – and its underwater Street View cameras to the Galapagos Islands and that it plans to make these images available on Google Maps later this year. The company worked together with the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos National Parks Directorate and, for the underwater survey, the Catlin Seaview Survey.
The Street View team, Google says, spent 10 days in the Galapagos to capture imagery from 10 locations that were selected by its partners. During these hikes, Google Maps project lead Raleigh Seamster says, the team “walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra.”
Google, of course, has been taking the Trekker across the world already and most recently hiked around the Grand Canyon to take enough images for over 9,500 panoramas there and handed it over to a local hiker to get imagery of Canada’s Arctic territory.
The underwater part of the project, however, is maybe even more impressive. As Google revealed at I/O last week, the Catlin Seaview Survey currently has four underwater Street View cameras and its diver can cover about 2km during a single dive.
The Galapagos expedition, Seamster noted in today’s announcement, marks the first time the team has captured imagery from both land and sea at the same time.
Barely a month or two after launching the Y Combinator-backed photo-sharing service Popset, the team realized they were solving the wrong problem. Users weren’t struggling to share their photos with groups; they needed tools to help them organize and manage their photo libraries across a variety of platforms and services. So the company decided to change its course, and today it’s announcing what it has in store: Loom, a cloud storage and syncing service that’s like a better alternative to iCloud.
“People were requesting features and giving us feedback that caught our attention,” explains Popset and now Loom co-founder Jan Senderek. After interviewing hundreds of users over a month’s time, the founders had a better idea of what its user base wanted. People told the team of their awful routines for managing photos – backing them from iPhones to external hard drives, having to sync them through iTunes, how quickly the photos ate up precious disk space on their portable devices and MacBook SSD drives, and so on.
“There are so many thing that are wrong, and it’s kind of obvious how to solve that – by simply putting everything in the cloud and making it accessible to you on all your devices,” says Senderek.
That, of course, is the promise of Apple’s iCloud. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as it should.
In recent months, Apple users and developers have become increasingly frustrated with iCloud, which has proved to be difficult, buggy, and confusing to end users.
“People don’t really understand iCloud. They don’t understand what Photostream is or how it works,” Senderek explains. “It actually makes the problem worse.” Photostream, which saves the last 1,000 photos on your device, appears like a separate album, which also confuses some users.
The team, which also includes co-founders Philipp Wein and Daniel Wagner, realized they had a choice to make. They could either double-down on Popset or respond to the problems users wanted fixed with a whole new product.
They chose the latter.
Popset users were notified at the beginning of this month that the service would be closing in June, and were offered a downloadable .zip file of the photos they had shared.
The new product, Loom, puts all your photos and videos in the cloud, allowing you to empty your Camera Roll and reclaim lost disk space. Designed to replace the native Photos app, Loom instead uses smart technology to intelligently cache photos and videos based on the size of the device that you’re using. In other words, if you’re snapping high-def photos with your 16 GB iPhone 5, you don’t really need the full resolution version of those photos in order to enjoy them on the small screen, or share them with others.
Loom also works even when it doesn’t have a network connection – like Apple’s own Photos app does. It will just sync everything you do while offline once the device is connected again. And it will support some of Popset’s old feature set around album creation and sharing.
Also like iCloud, media stored in Loom will be available on all your devices. A developer API will be available, too.
Initially, the service will work on iPhone, iPad, Mac and web, but the plan is to bring the technology to Android as well, where it will be able to more deeply integrate with the operating system. In addition, photos and videos are only the beginning – the long-term plan is to support other file types including documents, music, audio, TV and movies.
Though Loom is offering something that solves a problem for many, if it goes the freemium route as it’s now intending to do, it will be up against several services with competitive pricing in terms of photo sync and storage. Facebook, Google, Flickr and even Shutterfly are offering photo upload (even automatic upload) and hosting, either entirely free or with large enough free tiers to make their services the better option for those watching their budget.
But Loom also has another interesting idea for making money – if users ever wanted to download their entire photo archive, Loom could send them either a link to download, or as an additional paid option, send them an external hard drive filled with their media.
Pricing details, however, are not yet available.
Loom is opening up its private beta in about a month. TechCrunch readers who sign up here will be able to get into the first batch which is limited to 1,000 users.
The San Francisco-based startup, now a team of eight, had already raised additional funding for Loom shortly after Popset’s launch. An additional seed round is also closing soon.
LoyalBlocks, a startup that makes a mobile-focused technology platform for brick-and-mortar businesses looking to encourage customer loyalty, has raised $9 million in new funding.
The round, which serves as LoyalBlocks’ Series A, was led by General Catalyst Partners with participation from Founder Collective and existing investor Gemini Israel Ventures. This brings the total investment into LoyalBlocks to $12.2 million. As part of the funding, General Catalyst’s Adam Valkin, who joined General Catalyst from Accel Ventures late last year, will join LoyalBlocks’ board.
LoyalBlocks, which is headquartered in New York City and has its engineering operations in Israel, says it will use the new funds to further scale out its operations throughout the United States — at the moment, it’s got a solid foothold with over 1500 locations using the platform, CEO Ido Gaver tells me. The company has a full-time staff of 18 that could also grow with the new funds.
LoyalBlocks is essentially a platform that lets small brick-and-mortar businesses easily create their own customized app experience to give incentive for customers to spend more money and make return visits — it’s like a modern version of the old fashioned punch-cards and reward cards handed out by small businesses of yore (or, well, 10 years ago.) LoyalBlocks turns a business owner’s venue into an “automated zone” that lets companies interact with customers as soon as it detects that they walk through the door, by sending them offers and promotions automatically.
Of course, there are many other players that have emerged in this space over the past several years, taking hold in certain regions and eyeing expansion to take the larger market. LoyalBlocks is in part differentiated by the fact that there’s an intellectual property play here, too. LoyalBlocks says it has the “only patented technology that enables automated hand-free punch cards and customer rewards.” It will be interesting to see which ones end up dominating as the next-generation customer loyalty space evolves.
The U.S. House of Representatives just released its own version of a high-skilled immigration reform bill and is actively seeking input through the collective IQ of the Internet. House Oversight Chairman and one of our Most Innovative People in Democracy, Darrell Issa, has placed the Supplying Knowledge-Based Immigrants And Lifting Levels of STEM (SKILLS) Visas Act on his very own public markup utility, Project Madison (we partnered with Issa’s nonprofit, the Open Government Foundation and have integrated it into our CrunchGov site).
Details Of The New Bill
A few important details about the bill that took an admirable bit of linguistic gymnastics to come up with a title to fit that obviously pre-determined acronym. (U.S. government 101: in order to become law, both the House and the Senate will have to combine their bills. The details below are the important differences between the House and the Senate).
1). SKILLS is a net neutral green card allotment system; the 120,000 high-skilled visas are reached by cutting out the diversity visa program and the 65,000 green cards for siblings (unlike the Senate version). It also increases 25,000 green card visas for spouses and children.
2). Expands the the foreign worker visa (H1-B) cap from 65,000 to 155,000 (about 30K more than the Senate).
3. Allots up to 10,000 startup-visa cards. Right now, immigrants are tethered to a sponsoring employee, which has prevented brilliant workers from striking out on their own. Immigrants are eligible so long as they can create 5 American jobs and have at least $500,000 in investment.
4. Attempts to get rid of abuse in the H1-B system by allowing the federal government to audit businesses and requires that they give immigrants a prevailing market wage.
How to Contribute
Issa is seeking your brilliant ideas! His staff helped create the historic crowdsourcing platform and will be actively looking at your recommendations. Head over to our version of the public markup utility here.
There are (very simple) instructions about how to get started. On Project Madison, you can amend the SKILLS act line-by-line and vote up the best suggestions.
We at CrunchGov love direct democracy and look forward to your contributions
At Google I/O last week, Google announced that its Google App Engine High Replication Datastore (HRD) – its schemaless object data storage service – currently processes over 4.5 trillion transactions per month, has an uptime of 99.95 percent and stores over a petabyte of data. Today, the company announced that it is dramatically reducing the pricing for some Datastore features. Storing a gigabyte of data previously cost $0.24 per month, but the company has now reduced this price to just $0.18 per month.
In addition, Google is also reducing the prices for read and write operations on the service. Write operations now cost $0.09 per 100,000 operations (previously $0.10) and read operations cost $0.06 per 100,000 operations (previously $0.07).
The High Replication Datastore automatically replicates data across multiple Google data centers to ensure that it’s always available. Before launching its HRD solution in 2011, Google previously offered a more traditional Master/Slave replication topology, but this old system has been deprecated since 2012.
Google’s HRD also forms the basis of its newly announced Cloud Datastore – a NoSQL database that’s currently in preview. Cloud Datastore’s pricing is currently coupled to App Engine’s pricing, so its users will see the same price reductions. Google also offers Cloud SQL for developers who need access to a more traditional relational database.