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Euveka’s shape-shifting robotic mannequin could streamline the fashion and wearable industries

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Some ideas you hear and they immediately make sense. Some take a minute, but the more you think about them, the better they seem. Euveka, a mannequin for clothing designers that can change shape and size in seconds, is the latter — and I think it may eventually be a standard item in any fashion studio and a fair few other industries.

It’s not something I ever really thought about, but designers don’t just create one version of a shirt or jacket and then scale it up and down (well, good ones don’t). They need to design and refit it for different body types, allowing for the many shapes humans take and the ways that shape changes with time or activity.

That means lots and lots of mannequins. Big, small, short, tall, pregnant, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped and everything else. It would be nice to just be able to dial in the exact size and shape you’re designing for, right?

That’s Euveka. Under the standard soft, pin-friendly cover (stretchable, naturally) is a set of mechanisms that can change all kinds of measurements, quickly and (ahem) seamlessly.

Pretty much any combination of measurements can be put in, mirroring the diversity of human morphology.

Shoulders, bust, chest, waist, hips, thighs and height can be independently adjusted, as well as general, shall we say, robustity — allowing for the realistic replication of body types from a 5′ pregnant woman to a 6’3″ basketball player.

The changes happen over a few tens of seconds, and yet so slowly that you may not even be able to tell when it’s growing, shrinking or otherwise reconfiguring. It’s all done with an attached application that also warns of unsafe pressures or chemicals if they’re detected.

I spoke with Audrey-Laure Bergenthal, president and CEO of Euveka, at CES. She and the others on the team helped expand my mind a bit as to what something like this enables.

“There’s fashion, of course,” she said. “But also medical, sports, security — any time there’s a question of morphology.

She gestured to some gentlemen who had just left the booth. They, she said, were from the French Ministry of the Army. “Soldiers have a certain type of morphology,” she said.

Testing with those actual types could make better uniforms, sure. But she also pointed out that women’s upper bodies differ more broadly than men’s in the military, making bulletproof vests significantly less effective. Tailoring those vests to more body types could literally save lives.

In sports, of course different body types are to be found in different sports, but the bodies also change over time and different bodies change in different ways. Why not have uniforms ready for players before and after spring training?

This transition took about 30 seconds.

Again, people in different phases and conditions of life deserve to have well-fitted clothes: older people who have bent forward over time, or people in wheelchairs who have adopted new postures or whose bodies have adapted to a recumbent position.

You could get a different mannequin for each of those bodies and the dozens more you might want over time, or you could get a Euveka.

The most obvious downside is that while a Euveka mannequin can replace dozens, it can only be used for one garment at a time — five traditional mannequins, of course, could wear five, and be worked on by five designers.

Bergenthal said that a Euveka is, realistically, as effective as having 10 mannequins in use by five people. That will differ designer by designer, of course. And there’s no reason you can’t have both.

Well, except the price. This thing ain’t cheap. You can lease one for €3,000 per month, or buy one outright for €96,000. That may explain why their early partners are major fashion houses like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The army, too, may get in on the fun, assuming the French military is anywhere near as deep-pocketed as our own.

Work is just beginning on the Euveka line, however: R&D is ongoing, Bergenthal told me, both to improve the existing model and to add new parts and shapes. A male mannequin with similar capabilities is underway, as well as arms, lower legs, feet and different postures and spine curves.

Designing for more bodies seems like it should result in better clothes and a healthier industry, not to mention happier consumers. The first Euveka mannequins should be shipping in March.
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Germany’s Smava raises $65M to expand its consumer loan portal

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While Google dominates the world when it comes to search, portals for those looking for products and services in specific niches continue to have a place in our online world. In one of the latest developments, Smava, a German startup that has built a marketplace/portal for people to search for and take out loans, has raised $65 million to grow its business across Europe.

The funding comes from Vitruvian, a UK-based private equity firm that had also funded Skyscanner (a vertical search giant in the travel industry, now owned by Ctrip) and last June announced the close of a new, €2.4 billion fund, with participation also from previous backer Runa Capital and others. To date, Smava has raised around $135 million, and while the startup is not disclosing a valuation, according to sources, it is around $300 million with this round. Smava has been profitable for the last year.

Smava started out originally in 2007 as a peer-to-peer loan platform, where those wanting to borrow money could tap those willing to loan it. Smava would provide the big data analytics to assess both sides’ credit-worthiness, bypassing banks and their high fees, long wait times and more conservative credit scoring.

Ironically, the startup later expanded to include banks in the mix of loans it offered, as it started to realise it would be a much larger and ultimately cheaper source of funding than the P2P business could ever be, since the majority of its customers could be termed “prime” borrowers — with high credit scores — so would be eligible for cheaper bank loans.

“Banks and traditional lenders were much cheaper than private lenders could ever be due to the low refinancing costs,” said Alexander Artopé, the company’s founder and CEO. “This was the starting point of our growth.” P2P is still part of the mix, but represents less than five percent of all loans, he added.

It turned out to be a huge boost to the company’s operation. In 2012, Smava transacted €40 million in loans through its platform. This year the figure will be €1.2 billion, with €3 billion over the lifetime of the startup from about 300,000 customers.

(And while Smava does not reveal revenues, the company has a take of around four percent from its loans, which would mean revenues of around €48 million from these products.)

While Smava’s original product drew on big data analytics to analyse your financial history and online profile to create a credit score for you, today the company extends this to the other side of the marketplace as well by matching up your credit score with a sorted list of loans that best fit your profile. 

There are a number of portals aggregating loan and other financial services offerings in the market today, based around the idea of the aggregator making affiliate revenues whenever a user clicks on a product and makes a purchase. The difference with Smava, Artopé said, is that it’s applying more intelligence to the mix rather than simply listing loans based on basic criteria.

Smava typically provides the average customer a selection of about 70 loan offers, drawing from a wider selection of offerings from 25 banks and other private lenders, with multiple different interest rates and other costs added in.

Smava claims that its algorithms translate to more efficiency in the process. On average, its customers’ wait time for getting a loan can be cut from 10 days to 10 minutes, and savings compared to going directly to a bank works out to around €2,000. “We provide a transparent market overview,” he said.

Although it might seem to be against a banks’ interests to allow their loans to be listed alongside those of competitors, the advantage is that Smava helps funnel more people towards their loan products from a new channel, bringing in customers that the banks might have otherwise missed. Indeed, Smava claims that its approval rates increase to around 80-85 percent compared to 50 percent when banks evaluate directly.

Now the idea will be to take this loan model to more use cases.

One area where Smava will work more is in partnering with e-commerce sites to enable loans for purchasing larger items. One such partnership, starting this month, will be with eBay in Germany, where Smava will power financing for its car portal (nabbing the opportunity from one of its competitors, the massive deals aggregator Check24).

It is the combination of the smart algorithms, working with banks and its connection with customers with strong credit histories that attracted the funding.

“We are delighted and excited to partner with Smava and to back a company that is instrumental in transforming the financial services industry in Germany”, said Jussi Wuoristo, a partner at Vitruvian Partners, in a statement. “Smava has proven that its marketplace model combined with continuous technological innovation materially enhances the alternatives available and experience for consumers. Smava brings strong value to the product providers by offering an attractive direct online channel to high quality prime customers. The online penetration for personal loans continues to grow fast in Germany and smava is uniquely positioned to accelerate and benefit from this trend.”

Currently, Smava has limited itself only to providing loans in Germany, and it will continue to expand that as well as evaluate other countries.

“The German consumer loan market is huge,” Artopé said. “Overall, the market we look at is €174 billion in new loans each year, but only 10 percent of that market today is online. That means the best is still to come, especially when you consider that other markets such as e-ticketing and food delivery, the online penetration is more like 45-50 percent.”
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Kano’s latest gadget: a build-it-yourself camera for custom photo filters and GIFs

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After raising $28 million last November to add more firepower to its growth, Kano is unveiling the newest addition to its range of build-it-yourself gadgets that you use to learn to code: a camera.

London-based Kano is using this week’s CES in Las Vegas to show off a full prototype of the new Camera Kit — designed to work with Kano’s existing suite of gadgets, which include a computer kit, a motion sensor and the Pixel animated lightbox.

The camera is launching at an unspecified date later this year, so there’s no official price attached to it yet (although a Kickstarter page giving a sneak peak of it last year said it would cost $129.99). You can register your interest for ordering one here.

As with its previous hardware — which has been used by around 200,000 people globally, who have coded and posted to Kano’s community over more than 380,000 apps, artworks, songs and games that they’ve created using that hardware — the idea behind the Kano’s camera is two-fold.

First, the company aims to make tech and the use of it more accessible by demystifying how it works by giving people the components and instructions to assemble the camera themselves. Second, it then carries on the step-by-step nature by gradually introducing different functions and showing users how to use them to build software for their newly-assembled hardware.

While the lightbox, for example, let you create light-based artwork and games, the camera gives users the ability to “code” it to make different photo filters, GIFs, and to modify the settings for how the image is captured in the first place.

Adding a camera into the mix is an important step for Kano.

With the rise of smartphones and mobile phones in general — and their move into becoming a near-ubiquitous computing and communications device for younger people — the camera has become one of the most significant and used features of these devices. These days, having a device for capturing and manipulating images would feel like something important is missing, not just for users but for Kano itself as part of its mission.

“What we are doing here has not really been attempted for several decades,” CEO and co-founder Alex Klein told me last year. “We are building a computing company end to end.” 

What this also means is that having one as part of the Kano suite gives the whole platform a new profile with a new group of users. There will always be those who are happy tinkering with any gadget and learning how it works, but potentially, those who may be less interested in building games, might be more interested in figuring out how a digital camera works and customising it.

“Our goal is to open up technology, so that anyone can understand and shape it,” said Klein in a statement today. “We are thrilled to bring simple, playful, creative computing to CES for the first time.”

Part of that mission has been also to use different channels to appeal to a wider audience. That’s included revealing new devices and uses in YouTube videos, and sneak-peaks on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. The page where Kano had first unveiled the camera among other new gadgets last year has already picked up more than $643,000 in backing.

Kano also, of course, also uses more traditional routes to sell products. Its devices are sold in Best Buys and Targets in North America, selected Walmart stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Indigo, Microsoft, The Source and Toys R Us — some 4,500 retailers in all.

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Netatmo launches a chatbot to manage all your connected devices

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French company Netatmo is adding one more way to control your smart objects around your house. You can now talk and control with all your connected devices using a chatbot in Messenger. The feature is now live in English, with more languages coming later this year. Search for the Netatmo Smart Home Bot in Messenger to start using it.

Netatmo has always tried to embrace as many ways as possible to control your devices. You can control your Netatmo devices using Siri and Apple’s HomeKit, an Amazon Echo device and anything that comes with Alexa, Google Home and now Messenger.

You’ll be able to type straightforward queries, such as “turn on the lights in the living room” and “adjust the temperature in the bedroom to 72°.” But the chatbot will also handle more complex queries, such as “who’s at home right now” and “what’s the weather like right now.” Netatmo says that the chatbot is going to get better over time once you start using it.

I’m still not sure the connected home is going to happen. But I believe people will need many different ways to control their devices. There won’t be an Amazon Echo in every single room, and it’s also quite convenient to control your home while you’re already texting a friend. I hope Netatmo is going to release its chatbot in more messaging apps though.

The company first started with a sophisticated connected weather station but has since expanded to more product lines. Netatmo now sells indoor and outdoor security cameras, connected thermostats and radiator valves, an air quality monitoring device.

Last year, the company announced a couple of partnerships with existing home appliance brands to connect everything in your home. For instance, home makers can now buy connected switches from Legrand and connected windows from Velux. This program is called “with Netatmo”.

Chances are you won’t change your window just so that it closes automatically when it rains. That’s why Netatmo targets construction companies that want to build and sell connected homes from day one. So far BNP Paribas Real Estate and Vinci Immobilier have built around 140 apartments with Netatmo solutions.

So it’s not a huge market for now, but the company is going to roll out connected radiators with Groupe Muller called Intuiv with Netatmo. It’s a smart heating device that automatically adjust the temperature based on user habits.

Netatmo has developed a connected module that is compatible with many different Groupe Muller radiators that have been sold since 2000. Slowly but surely, Netatmo is expanding its product range to all sorts of appliances and use cases.

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