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iUNU aims to build cameras on rails for growers to keep track of their crop health

You’ve probably spent a lot of time keeping track of your plants and all the minor details, like the coloration of the leaves, in order to make sure they’re healthy — but for professional growers in greenhouses, this means keeping track of thousands of plants all at once.

That can get out of hand really quickly as it could involve just walking through a greenhouse with an iPad and checking off the health of each plant, and it means that a lot of things can fall through the cracks. And that’s not really a judgment on the professional abilities of the grower, but rather just the scale of the system that those growers have to deal with — and the lack of technology to support it, iUNU CEO Adam Greenberg said. So that’s why his startup, iUNU, is introducing a new system to try and help that.

iUNU’s Luna camera network works with a rail system with automated cameras that keep track of plants and how they are changing over time. So rather than having to do a daily crop walk, which could take hours, the growers can quickly have a set of cameras run across the plants and get a visual snapshot of those plants’ health. That information then feeds into a computer vision system on the company’s back-end, which applies machine learning to detect potential problems (like leaf discoloration) and helps those growers zero in on the areas that they actually need to address.

“While we’re doing something that seems really broad or really simple, it’s a derivative of highly granular HD sensors and repurposing facial recognition for plant recognition in a way that there’s a lot of highly millimeter level accuracy detail required to do it,” Greenberg said. “If you don’t have highly granular data sets that are higher quality than pretty much everyone out there, you’re not able to add more value. What’s really important from our internal perspective is that you have to deliver it in a way that’s a simple, easy-to-use decision support tool.”

It’s definitely a complicated computer vision problem, as what a plant looks like may change on a daily basis as they grow or bloom. And growers have to keep track of minute details, like minor discoloration. While it may just seem like a “Shazam for plants,” it’s involved creating a robust data set that’s able to detect those changes without showing up false negatives that could lead to a decrease in potential yield. At the scale of an industrial grower, any loss in yield means a meaningful loss of revenue.

The system is also designed to be modular, with growers over time being able to attach new kinds of tools along the rail beyond just cameras to the system. Greenberg likened it to the train sets you might have had as a kid, where you could end up with one unit for 3D modeling, one for cameras, and so on and so forth. The goal for iUNU is to be a network that any number of services where hardware or software products, like sensors or tracking systems, can just plug in and use to tap the data that it’s collecting. iUNU’s job is just to tell you if there are problems with your crops, and where they are, without requiring you to go out and do a daily crop walk.

“We’re there to be the grower and the owner’s best friend, we’re not gonna tell them how to do their jobs, we’re gonna help them do their jobs better,” Greenberg said. “When you have problems, they know how to fix them. We can tell you where your problems are. A lot of the other companies are trying to replace the grower. I don’t think that’s a good approach for the industry, I don’t think that’s the best way to work with the industry, to tell them you’re gonna replace them. It’s… that’s one fundamental difference. We play with the control systems, the sensor companies, the ERP companies, but we’re not competing with any of them.”

There are certainly other attempts to apply machine learning and computer vision to keeping track of plant health, like Prospera, which has also raised $7 million in venture financing. Greenberg said that by trying to take the platform approach, iUNU is going to be able to offer something more robust to growers in a way that individual products might not be able.


Oracle grabs Zenedge as it continues to beef up its cloud security play

Oracle announced yesterday that it intends to acquire Zenedge, a 4-year old hybrid security startup. They didn’t reveal a purchase price.

With Zenedge, Oracle gets a security service to add it to its growing cloud play. In this case, the company has products to protect customers whether in the cloud, on-prem or across hybrid environments.

The company offers a range of services from web application firewalls to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack mitigation, bot management, API management and malware prevention. In addition, they operate a Security Operations Center (SOC) to help customers monitor their infrastructure against attack. Their software and the SOC help keep watch on over 800,000 websites and networks across the world, according to information supplied by Oracle.

Oracle says it will continue to build out Zenedge’s product offerings. “Oracle plans to continue investing in Zenedge and Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services. We expect this will include more functionality and capabilities at a quicker pace,” Oracle wrote in an FAQ on the deal (.pdf) published on their website.

Oracle’s recent acquisition history. Source: Crunchbase

Just this week Oracle announced that it was expanding its automation capabilities on its Platform as a Service offerings from databases to a range of areas including security. Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says the company is a good match as it also uses automation and artificial intelligence in its solution.

“Oracle is beefing up its security offerings in the cloud. They have one of the strongest cyber security platforms,” Wang told TechCrunch. “They also have a ton of automation that fits Oracle’s theme of autonomous,” he added.

Oracle is far behind cloud rivals as it came late to the game. Just this week, the company announced plans to build a dozen data centers around the world over the next two years. They are combining an aggressive acquisition strategy and rapid data center expansion in an effort to catch up with competitors like AWS, Microsoft and Google.

Zenedge launched in 2014 and has raised $13.7 million, a modest amount for a cloud-based security service. Oracle says customers and partners can continue to deal with Zenedge using their existing contacts.
Featured Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Readmore

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Bynder acquires digital asset management service Webdam from Shutterstock for $49.1M

Bynder, one of the leading companies in the digital asset management space, today announced that it has acquired Shutterstock‘s Webdam. The Amsterdam-based company tells us that it paid $49.1 million for Webdam, which Shutterstock itself acquired back in 2014.

Like Bynder, Webdam’s focus is on helping enterprises and agencies manage their digital assets. Currently Webdam customers include the likes of Starbucks, Zillow, Alaska Airlines, Subway, HTC and Band & Olufsen. In total, Webdam counts over 200,000 professionals and teams as its customers.

Bynder has more than 250,000 customers, which include PUMA and KLM. As the Bynder team notes, Webdam has a strong presence in the healthcare and education fields and is a strong player in the U.S. midsize company market. Bynder, on the other hand, has a strong international focus, so the two companies should be quite complementary. The acquisition also gives Bynder, which was founded in 2013 a physical presence in the Bay Area, where Webdam is headquartered. Bynder also has offices in Boston, London, Barcelona, Rotterdam and Dubai.

“There is a clear synergy in the culture and product vision at Bynder and Webdam. That’s why we see this as a strategic move that will greatly benefit both Bynder and Webdam customers,” said Bob Hickey, CEO of Webdam. “Our customers depend on high quality digital experiences to create marketing materials. We see this as a great opportunity of our customers’ continued success and a natural partner that will help us meet future industry demands.”

For the time being, both companies will operate as usual, but the plan is to roll out a combined product offering over the course of the next year. That means, at least for the time being, Webdam’s integrations with Shutterstock’s stock image service are not going to change either.

This move will also allow Bynder to better compete with the likes of Canto, Northplains, ADAM Software, OpenText Media Management and MediaBeacon. While you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about digital asset management, this is clearly a market that’s heating up. About a year ago, Aprimo, for example, acquired ADAM Software and chances are we’ll see more acquisitions in the area in the next year or so.

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Slack adds Edith Cooper to board of directors

Slack had added Edith Cooper, who most recently served as the global head of human capital management at Goldman Sachs, to its board of directors. As Slack prepares “for accelerated growth at scale,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield wrote in a blog post today, Cooper marks Slack’s second independent board member.

“She has an unrivaled depth of experience in the hardest challenges that modern organizations face, and Edith is going to be a huge asset as we continue to expand our capabilities,” Butterfield wrote. “She is a deep thinker, a good listener, and a wise strategist, and I’m thrilled to have her join us as Slack enters its next phase of growth.”

In March, Slack added its first independent board member, Square CFO Sarah Friar. Just last week, Slack named Allen Shim as its first-ever chief financial officer.

All of these appointments may signal Slack’s preparation to go public at some point. As Butterfield noted in his blog post, which he kicked off with some references to how public company executives operate, Cooper’s appointment is part of a longer-term plan to continue growing Slack.

Equally important, Cooper is a black woman. And it’s not just important from the ethical standpoint of inclusion, but from the perspective of financial bottom lines.

Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to McKinsey’s 2018 report, “Delivering through Diversity.” And essentially the same goes for gender diversity, with companies in the top quartile for gender diversity being 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

This year has marked an increase in the number of black people on tech board of directors. Last month, both Airbnb and Facebook appointed Kenneth I. Chenault, the outgoing CEO of American Express, to their respective board of directors.

But the number of black women on tech company board of directors is very low. Of the major tech companies, Salesforce is the only other company with a black woman of its board of directors. Her name is Robin Washington, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Gilead Sciences.

Slack, which launched about four years ago, said in September it had six million daily active users. In September, Slack raised a $250 million round led by Softbank, which valued the company at $5.1 billion.
Featured Image: Slack Readmore

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