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The 1033 program takes center stage again, as militarized police make headlines

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The killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that resulted have been a major wake-up call for many with regards to the role of policing in the United States. Yesterday, Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis announced plans to dismantle the city’s police department via a veto-proof majority in the city council.

Among the factors that have left segments of the population increasingly wary about police activity is a seemingly constant stream of images showing a military-style presence in cities across the U.S. MRAPs have become a mainstay in cities like Minneapolis and Seattle during protests.

The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles are lightweight tactical vehicles built to take an IED attack. Designed for the Iraq War, the vehicles resemble armored Humvees, creating quite the memorable image as they cruise down American streets in tandem, ahead of police clashes with protestors.

The MRAPs are just one in a long list of military hand-me-downs that have come into police possession courtesy of the 1033 program. Instituted as part of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act passed under the Clinton administration (it’s listed as Section 1033 of that act), the program has been a key driver in getting tactical military equipment into the hands of civil law enforcement agencies.

It’s been a wildly successful program from that vantage point, ranging from big cities to small towns. In his 2013 book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” Radley Balko says the program was responsible for 3.4 million orders delivered to 11,000 agencies across all 50 states. A year after the publication of Balko’s book, the program would come under increased national scrutiny, as Ferguson, Mo. entered the national spotlight following the shooting of Michael Brown Jr.  by police officer Darren Wilson.

“With all that military gear, plus the federal drug policing grants and asset forfeiture proceeds, just about anyone running a police department who wanted a SWAT team could now afford to start and fund one,” writes Balko. “And so the trend crept into smaller and smaller towns. By the mid-2000s, SWAT had come to Middleburg, Pennsylvania (population: 1,363); Leesburg, Florida (17,000); Mt. Orab, Ohio (2,701); Neenah, Wisconsin (24,507); Harwich, Massachusetts (11,000); and Butler, Missouri (4,201), among others.”

A few months prior, the ACLU produced a massive report on police militarization entitled, “War Comes Home.” Based on public records requests from law enforcement agencies in 26 states and Washington. D.C., 1033 takes a central role in the study. In Arizona alone, the ACLU found a law enforcement cache that included, among others, 32 bomb suits, 1,034 guns, 120 utility trucks, 64 armored vehicles and 17 helicopters.

Since the late-90s, the program has transferred into the hands of civilian law enforcement some $7.4 billion in weapons and other Pentagon equipment. The program has, understandably, come under scrutiny from politicians. In a June 3 letter to minority leader Chuck Schumer, written amid the protests, Senator Bernie Sanders called for a prohibition on “the transfer of offensive military equipment to police departments.”

In fact, criticism of the program has been a bipartisan affair. In a 2014 op-ed, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wrote, “When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties  […] we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.”

Today, House Democrats introduced legislation aimed at increasing transparency into police misconduct. The New York State legislature separately announced its own bills. While neither go as far as Minneapolis, it’s clear that many are interested in make sweeping changes to policing in the U.S. Given the longstanding scrutiny of the nearly quarter-century-old 1033, it seems the program is an ideal target for some of those changes.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Syte, an e-commerce visual search platform, gets $30 million Series C to expand in the U.S. and Asia

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Syte’s cofounders, chief executive Ofer Freyman, chief revenue officer Lihi Pinto-Fryman and chief operating officer Idan Pinto

Syte’s cofounders, chief executive Ofer Freyman, chief revenue officer Lihi Pinto-Fryman and chief operating officer Idan Pinto

Tel Aviv-based visual search and product discovery platform Syte, already used by brands like Farfetch and Fashion Nova, plans to expand in the United States and Asia-Pacific region after its latest funding. The startup announced today it has raised a $30 million Series C, with an additional $10 million in debt.

The round was led by Viola Ventures, with participation from LG Tech Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures, Kreos Capital, and returning investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund. Syte’s last round of funding, a $21.5 million Series B, was announced in September 2019. The startup has now raised a total of $71 million.

Launched in 2015 to focus on visual search for clothing, Syte’s technology now covers other verticals like jewelry and home decor, and is used by brands including Farfetch, Fashion Nova, Castorama and Signet Jewelers. Syte says that its solutions can increase conversion by 177% on average.

The company’s platform includes three main products: Visual Discovery to let brands add camera search, recommendation engines and discovery buttons; “Searchendising,” which automatically generates tags based on visual AI to improve search and recommendation results; and a Discovery Marketplace used by publishers, smart devices manufacturers and social platforms to increase the reach of product advertisements.

Since the beginning of 2020, Syte says its customer base has grown 38%, partly because of the increase in e-commerce traffic caused by COVID-19 movement restrictions.

In the company’s press announcement, chief executive officer and co-founder Ofer Fryman said Syte will focus on developing or acquiring product discovery technology “spanning the full range of our senses—visual, text, voice, and more” to create types of personalized recommendations.

A lot of Syte’s current customers are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so its new funding is also earmarked to increase its presence in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific markets.

More social media platforms and e-commerce platforms, including Amazon, Target, IKEA, Walmart, eBay, Snap, and Pinterest, are using visual search and recognition technology to give users an alternative to keyword searches. By simplifying the search process or automatically generating tags, visual recognition technology can help improve search results and product recommendations, resulting in more conversions.

There is a roster of other companies that are also working on AI-based visual recognition and search technology for e-commerce. Other startups in the same space that have raised venture capital funding include Donde Search, ViSenze and Slyce.

Gal Fontyn, Syte’s vice president of marketing, told TechCrunch that it differentiates with visual AI algorithms developed by co-founder and chief technology officer Helge Voss, who previously worked as a physicist at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research).

Voss’ background in neural networks and machine learning allowed Syte to build a visual search solution that can produce results with over 95% accuracy in object-matching within less than a second, Fontyn said. Its algorithms have also been trained on millions of products from vendors around the world, which Syte claims gives it the “largest vertical-specific lexicon in the industry.” This is what allows it to recognize several objects within an image, and assign them detailed tags.

Brands that use Syte see a 423% increase on average on ROI, Fontyn added.

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June’s third-gen smart oven goes up for pre-order, starting at $599

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2020 is June’s time to shine. With an increasing number of people stuck and home, trying (and often failing) to fend for themselves in their kitchen, the smart oven startup has a solid opportunity to considerably expand its users base.

“The rise in at-home cooking has caused us to reevaluate June’s cook-programs to achieve more culinary possibilities not captured by a standard home oven,” CTO and co-founder Nikhil Bhogal said in a release.

Today it announced the launch of a third-generation oven, two years after its last major update. From the sound of it, the update is a relatively minor one. There are a handful of upgrades to the oven’s hardware, including a new handle, added guard rails on top of heating elements, quieter fans and a new chipset with better wireless connection.

Image Credits: June Oven

The biggest change to its functionality is the ability to control each of its six heating elements individually (whereas the previous model only controlled them as groups) for more even roasts. The software interface has gotten an upgrade, as well, and the on-board AI camera system is capable of recognizing where the food is placed for optimal cooking and can identify hundreds of different food types.

At $599, it’s still a pricy kitchen appliance. The system amounts to a large, smart toaster oven — albeit one with a bunch of different food-cooking options, from air frying to dehydrating and broiling. The price goes up from there. There’s a $799 bundle that adds a year to the warranty and includes a one-year subscription to the June premium service and a $999 version that includes a bunch of additional add-ons, including air baskets, a pizza and grill kit and additional thermometers.

Pre-orders open today. No word on exact launch date.

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Road trippers can rejoice as RVshare raises over $100 million to grow its RV rental business

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As continentally confined Americans look for domestic vacation options that won’t expose them to too much risk of infection from the pandemic that’s still raging across the country, the RV rental company RVshare has raised over $100 million to capitalize on its historic opportunity.

The company’s new cash has come from the private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners and is intended to provide operational support to meet the booming demand for RVs as Americans hit the road in unprecedented numbers.

Growth for the Akron, Ohio-based company can only be described as absurd. The company saw a 650% increase in bookings from April to May of 2020, according to a report in The Drive.

The resurgence of the RV industry isn’t just pandemically driven, but there’s no doubt that the outbreak of Sars-Cov-2 has played a role in the dramatic surge in demand for campers. Vacationers just don’t have many other options given travel restrictions and risk.

And RVshare certainly isn’t alone in reaping the benefits.

There’s Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV rental company that was founded in 2015, bootstrapped by its founders for a couple of years, and has more recently attracted $88 million in venture funding. That funding included a $13 million extension to a $50 million Series B round that it quietly closed early this year, as TechCrunch reported. Cabana, another startup, launched by a former Lime executive, is merging the RV rental market with hotels. Then there’s Kibbo, which is turning RV parks into a photo worthy version of the hashtag vanlife.

Founded in 2013, RVshare connects RV owners with people who want to rent an RV. Since 2013, the company has amassed a network of over 100,000 recreational vehicles or trailers ranging from deluxe motorhomes to camper vans to trailer attachments. Led by chief executive Jon Gray, RVshare has seen bookings for the fall rising 166% year-on-year from 2019.

“As a result of the pandemic, RVshare has seen an acceleration of growth as consumers have sought out RVs as a way to travel during these challenging times. Tritium is excited to continue investing in this team, business, and a category that is just getting started. Adding the KKR team, with their fantastic set of experiences and resources, will help take RVshare to much greater heights.”

KKR made the investment through its Next Generation Technology Growth Fund II, which closed with $2.2 billion in January 2020. The investment in RVshare is actually the 10th commitment from the fund. Earlier investments include Zwift, ReliaQuest, Artlist, Darktrace, o9 Solutions and Slice.

GCA Global served as financial advisor to RVshare on the deal, according to a statement.

“RVs are the preferred accommodation for the more than 40 million US households that go camping each year,” said Ben Pederson, a Principal with KKR’s Technology Growth team. “Younger generations of travelers are discovering and embracing domestic travel and RVshare is providing a seamless marketplace experience where RV owners can share their passion for camping and unlock the value of their assets.”

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