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

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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.
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AWS ramps up in AI with new consultancy services and Rekognition features

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Ahead of Amazon’s AWS division big Re:invent conference next week, the company has announced two developments in the area of artificial intelligence. AWS is opening a machine learning lab, ML Solutions Lab, to pair Amazon machine learning experts with customers looking to build solutions using the AI tech. And it’s releasing news feature within Amazon Rekognition, Amazon’s deep-learning-based image recognition platform: real-time face recognition and the ability to recognise text in images.

The new lab and the enhancements to its image recognition platform underscore the push that Amazon and AWS are giving to AI at the company, both internally and as a potential area to grow its B2B business in this area. They come about a month after AWS announced it would be collaborating with Microsoft on Gluon, a deep learning interface designed for developers to build and run machine learning models for their apps and other services.

The fact that these two announcements were made today, a day before Thanksgiving, makes me wonder if AWS is laying groundwork for more AI news at Re:invent, or if they are indicating that this will not be a focus as it has been in previous years. It was actually last year that Amazon used Re:invent to announce Amazon AI, which is the division that will oversee the solutions lab.

The Solutions Lab — which Amazon said is available to any AWS Business Support customer — is an interesting development because it points to Amazon ramping up not just in AI, but in business consultancy, which is a key cornerstone of providing IT services to corporate customers at companies like IBM.

“We can’t wait for developers to start their journeys into machine learning with the Amazon ML Solutions Lab,” said Swami Sivasubramanian, Vice President of Amazon AI, in a statement. “By combining the expertise of the best machine learning scientist and practitioners at Amazon with the deep business knowledge of our customers, the Amazon ML Solutions Lab will help customers get up to speed on machine learning quickly, and start putting machine learning to work inside their organizations.”

Early customers will include the Washington Post and Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical division Janssen and the World Bank Group.

The new Rekognition features, meanwhile, point not only to how Amazon continues to make major advances in computer vision, but its strong commitment to monetizing them by turning them into products for external customers.

Notably, one of the bigger customers using the new Rekognition features is Pinterest, which is interesting when you consider that image-related functions like search and classification are some of the company’s core features, and so you might have assumed that the tech for them would have been developed in-house.

Pinterest has, however, been an AWS customer for years, with millions of Pins currently stored in an Amazon S3 cloud, so it makes sense that if Amazon has developed a new way to identify text in those images, it’s a logical choice to use it.

“As a visually-driven platform, Pinterest relies heavily on the speed and quality of images, but the text behind those images is just as important, as it provides context and makes Pins actionable for our 200M+ active Pinners,” said Vanja Josifovski, CTO, Pinterest. “In working with Amazon Rekognition Text in Image, we can better extract the rich text captured in images at scale and with low latency for the millions of Pins stored in Amazon S3. We look forward to continuing to develop the partnership with AWS for high quality and fast experiences for Pinners and businesses on Pinterest.”

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Salesforce keeps rolling with another monster quarter, as it sets $20 billion revenue goal

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Ho hum, Salesforce announced its quarterly earnings yesterday and the news was all good once again with revenue up 25 percent to $2.68 billion. The company has blown through its $10 billion yearly revenue goal and has boldly set one for $20 billion by FY2022. I wouldn’t put it passed them.

The company also announced some big executive moves. More on that later

Salesforce is the anti-IBM. While Big Blue has had 22 straight quarters of declining revenue, Salesforce has been on a steady increase over the last several years. The company’s quarterly revenue going back three years to Q32015 has almost doubled from $1.38B to this quarter’s $2.68B.

It has been a steady march upward, making that climb to $10B faster than any software company ever and CEO and chairman Marc Benioff had every right to crow about it in the earnings call.

“In fact as the fastest growing enterprise software company ever to reach $10 billion, we are now targeting to grow the company organically to more than $20 billion by fiscal year 2022 and we plan to do that to be the fastest enterprise software company ever to get to $20 billion,” Benioff said.

One way the company has been able to achieve that kind of growth has been through international expansion. That’s actually one place that at least one analyst, Mark Tepper of Strategic Wealth Partners said he would be watching closely to see how they were doing in that area, according to an article on CNBC.

Well, Tepper had to be pleased with what he saw. Salesforce’s Keith Block, the company’s president, vice chairman and chief operating office, said that 40% of new hires this years were outside the US and the investment seemed to be paying off with bigger growth numbers overseas than in the Americas.

Photo: Salesforce

Benioff also announced that Bret Taylor, who came over in the $750M Quip deal last year got a promotion when he became president and chief product officer. “Bret is going to drive our product vision, design, development and go-to-market strategy,” Benioff explained. Meanwhile Alex Dayon, who had been in the CPO role got promoted to president and Chief Strategy Officer. “Alex is going to lead strategic initiatives working more closely with our customers on product direction and transformation,” he said.

Both moves are designed to bring a new generation of leadership to the company, which should help Salesforce from stagnating or getting too comfortable with its success, but the company does have a lot of presidents with Taylor and Dayon joining Block , CFO Mark Hawkins and Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins all holding that title. President could be the new vice president at Salesforce.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says this isn’t so much about being top heavy as the way the company chooses to distinguish certain executive roles. “I think the way to look at it is they have a lot of CXO’s, ” he said. “The way to distinguish officers from CXO’s is the President title, but the promotions are well deserved and the title puts them on equal standing with the rest of the executive team,” he explained.

Wang also thinks that Taylor earned his way into the title by proving his mettle after the acquisition, and that Dayon was ready to try a different role. “Alex now gets to focus on strategy after years of honing his chops on product and service offerings,” Wang said.

The approach seems to be working. While the stock is down slightly this morning, it’s just under its one year high of 107.49. It’s unclear why Wall Street isn’t reacting more positively to yesterday’s report (at least temporarily), but the company continues its growth trajectory and the future looks bright.


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Meg Whitman out as CEO of HPE early next year

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Six years after taking the helm as head of HP, Meg Whitman will step down from her role as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in February 2018. Whitman’s spot will be filled by the company’s current President, Antonio Neri.

Neri has been with HP since 1995, starting as a customer service engineer at at call center, ultimately rising the ranks to Executive Vice President of HPE in 2015 and then to President in June of this year.

Whitman joined the company in 2011, after serving as the head of eBay. During her tenue at HP, the executive oversaw a rocky time for the electronics giant, ultimately splitting the company in two: a personal computer and printing company headed up by EVP Dion Weisler, and HPE, an information technology company, where she retained her position as CEO.

Late last year, the company thinned out further by selling its OpenStack and Cloud Foundry foundry assets to German company SUSE. Earlier this year, it spun off most of the rest of its remaining enterprise software business, the last lingering piece of a 2011 Autonomy acquisition, which was regarded as the latest in a long line of regrettable moves for the company.

Whitman’s impact on HP has largely been seen as a stabilizing force for a company that moving in the wrong direction at a rapid clip. Her predecessor Leo Apotheker was only in the role for about a year — at the time, the company had a much more difficult time finding something nice to say about its ex-boss, stating, “We very much appreciate Leo’s efforts and his service to HP since his appointment last year. The board believes that the job of the HP CEO now requires additional attributes to successfully execute on the company’s strategy.”

Whitman had previously served as the President and CEO of eBay, growing the online auction site from 30 employees in 1998, to 15,000 by the end of her tenure.

“I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve accomplished since I joined HP in 2011. Today, Hewlett Packard moves forward as four industry-leading companies that are each well positioned to win in their respective markets,” Whitman said in a statement tied to this afternoon’s news. “Now is the right time for Antonio and a new generation of leaders to take the reins of HPE. I have tremendous confidence that they will continue to build a great company that will thrive well into the future.”

Back in July, Whitman was floated as a replacement for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, ultimately batting away such rumors, stating, “We have a lot of work still to do at HPE and I am not going anywhere.” That’s still somewhat true here — Whitman will stay on as a member of HPE’s board of directors. She hasn’t announced any plans beyond that. 

The big news comes the same day HPE reported its quarterly earnings, in which the company performed slightly better than analyst expectations.

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