Hey, friends — welcome to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s regular roundup of the week in tech. If life’s gotten in the way of following the major stories on TC, don’t sweat it. You’ve come to the right place.
In this edition, we cover the 19-year-old MIT dropout “replacing gunpowder” for the defense industry, as well as VanMoof, the e-bike darling, which paused sales as execs head for the exits. Elsewhere, robotaxi haters in San Francisco have been disabling AVs with traffic cones, Twitter CEO Elon Musk launched an AI organization and Instagram’s Threads app reached 100 million downloads. Whew.
Read on for more of the top stories from the week — and if you haven’t already, sign up here to get WiR in your inbox every Saturday.
Hydrogen-powered defenses: Aria writes about Mach Industries, a defense startup that has captured the attention of VCs and the DoD. The company’s 19-year-old founder, Ethan Thornton, is spearheading the R&D of hydrogen-powered platforms for the military, including unmanned aerial vehicles, munitions and hydrogen-generation systems.
VanMoof skids off track: Dutch e-bike startup VanMoof sped into the mobility world with more than $200 million in venture backing. But its fortune appears to have taken a turn for the worse. The company stopped taking orders in late June, and sources claim that senior staff, including the CEO and a co-founder, left executive roles as VanMoof attempts to secure a bridge round to stave off bankruptcy.
Pedestrians fight back: A decentralized group of safe streets activists in San Francisco realized they can disable Cruise and Waymo robotaxis by placing a traffic cone on a vehicle’s hood — and they’re encouraging others to do it, too. The protest comes in the lead-up to a hearing that will likely see Waymo and Cruise expand their robotaxi services in San Francisco.
Threads hits another milestone: Despite lacking features such as post search, direct messages and hashtags, Instagram’s text-based app and Twitter competitor Threads achieved the mark of 100 million sign-ups this week. The Twitter rival was launched on June 6 (or June 5 in the Americas), according to a tracker.
Google Calendar gets availability sharing: This week, Google released new scheduling-related features for Gmail with a Google Calendar integration, including quick event creation and easy availability sharing. Gmail will now have a calendar icon at the bottom of the conversation view, which will have two options — “Create an event” and “Offer times you’re free.”
Satellites get dodgy: Starlink satellites are making thousands of avoidance maneuvers as low Earth orbit becomes more crowded — feeding worries that a catastrophic impact is inevitable. SpaceX’s orbital communication satellites performed maneuvers just over 25,000 times in the six-month period between December 1, 2022, and May 21, 2023, double the number of avoidance maneuvers that Starlink satellites made in the previous reporting period.
Making interstellar space travel a reality: Space propulsion company Pulsar Fusion has started construction on a large nuclear fusion chamber in England as it races to become the first firm to fire a nuclear fusion–powered propulsion system in space. Nuclear fusion propulsion tech, should it prove commercially viable, could reduce the travel time to Mars by half and the time to Titan, Saturn’s moon, to two years instead of 10.
Anthropic releases Claude 2: This week, Anthropic, the AI startup co-founded by ex-OpenAI execs, announced the release of a new text-generating AI model called Claude 2. Anthropic claims that Claude 2 is superior to its predecessor, Claude 1.3, in several areas and is especially capable in tasks like searching across documents, summarizing, writing and coding and answering questions about particular topics.
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On Equity, the crew talked about a range of topics, including a new Chinese AI model that had them wondering who’s really going to win the AI war; Founders Fund scooping up a new partner; Connetic Ventures using AI models to create a less-biased landscape for entrepreneurs; and the cooling tech layoffs and inflation.
And over at Chain Reaction, Jacquelyn interviewed Maria Shen, a general partner on the investment team at Electric Capital, an early-stage venture firm focused on crypto, blockchain, fintech and marketplaces. In March 2022, the firm announced that it closed $1 billion for a pair of crypto funds — a $400 million vehicle for making equity investments in startups and a $600 million fund intended to invest directly in crypto tokens.
TC+ subscribers get access to in-depth commentary, analysis and surveys — which you know if you’re already a subscriber. If you’re not, consider signing up. Here are a few highlights from this week:
Light at the end of the tunnel:“There’s good reason to believe that the massive correction in venture capital activity that we’ve seen over the past six quarters has run its course,” Alex writes.
Amazon and the brands it kills: Haje reports on the fate of Digital Photography Review, best known as DPReview, which was regarded as one of the best review and news sites. Amazon acquired it in 2007, slowly replacing the staff with contractors and freelancers until killing it in March.
ESG, safe for now: Corporate executives might be making a lot of noise about ESG (environmental, social and governance) — some of it positive, some not. But Tim writes that when it comes to investors, sustainability concerns appear to be here to stay.
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