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Micro-pyramid lenses triple light hitting solar panels

Stacks of teeny lenses that look like inverted pyramids could juice up solar panels, helping them capture more light from any angle on both sunny and overcast days.

Solar panels perform best in direct sunlight, which is why some solar systems track the big fireball across the sky, turning to face it for maximum light. Unfortunately, such tracking tech is pricey and moving parts can break.

Shortcomings like these motivated researchers at Stanford to develop an alternative. The resulting tech—named Axially Graded Index Lens or AGILE for short—offers a way to boost the efficiency of static solar panels, even in diffuse light, authors Nina Vaidya and Olav Solgaard said in a peer-reviewed paper. Prototype arrays of AGILE lenses successfully concentrated light into a 3x smaller area, while retaining 90% of its power in the best-case scenario, and well ahead of more elementary concentrators when the light was more slanted (sometimes concentrators can sacrifice light intensity but come out ahead of gathering angle). 

Concentrating light to squeeze more energy out of solar panels is nothing new, but the authors point out that concentrators such as fresnel lenses and mirrors provide only “modest acceptance angles.” Incidentally, the pyramidal design also succeeds in looking glamorous in a render video released alongside the paper.

AGILE lens prototype shown in three stages of development

The AGILE lens prototype shown in three stages of development. A: Bonded glass. B: with aluminium sidewalls. C: with a solar cell absorbing light.

The internet is littered with neat ideas that could help us capture more energy from the sun. Many are inspired by things in nature, such as butterfly wings, fly eyes, flower petals and even puffer fish. The design for AGILE “did not come from nature,” per Vaidya, but the paper acknowledges that “there are features of AGILE that can be found in the retina of fish (e.g. Gnathonemus) and compound eyes in insects (e.g. Lepidoptera), where a gradient index is present as anti-reflection to maximize transmission as well as to enable camouflage.”

Though the researches did not announce any plans to commercialize AGILE, the prototypes were designed with the solar industry in mind using readily available materials, according to a Stanford press release.

“Abundant and affordable clean energy is a vital part of addressing the urgent climate and sustainability challenges,” said Vaidya. “We need to catalyze engineering solutions to make that a reality.”


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Daily Crunch: OpenSea, an NFT marketplace, revealed email data breach that may have affected 1.8M users

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Greetings, everyone, on this fine day. If you haven’t had the chance yet, please give a shout to our newest reporter, Andrew Mendez, who wrote today about Twelve capturing carbon and turning it into things like sunglasses. We also have a couple of submission requests: students can submit a video pitch to win a Disrupt prize package, and any robotics companies wanting to pitch at the upcoming TC Sessions: Robotics event on July 21 have until July 7 to do so. If you are not sure what’s in store there, Brian lays it all out for you in his Actuator column. See you tomorrow!  — Christine

The TechCrunch Top 3

Startups and VC

In today’s startup and venture capital news, we start with Mary Ann’s report on Mottu, a Brazilian motorcycle rental startup that raised $40 million to help Latin Americans become couriers. This seems to be a trend to watch in that region.

Over to Wattpad, a storytelling startup, which unveiled some new programs that could get writers paid through measuring how engaged readers are, Ivan writes.

Spend management is big business right now, and Tage reported that Sava is the latest to attract funding, $2 million in pre-seed capital, for its approach to helping businesses control their spending and eliminate the manual labor of keeping track of it all.

More to love:

  • MoMoney for MoHash: The startup, which took in $6 million in seed funding, aims to provide crypto options, Manish writes.
  • Keep your hand out of my pocket: Mary Ann writes about HomeLister’s $10 million Series A round that enables homeowners to sell their homes without the Realtor and keep the commission for themselves.
  • Data dance: Black Swan Data is now flush with $18.5 million in new funding to predict which products will be most successful based on data from social media conversations, Kyle reports.

When it comes to sanctions, PE firms must proceed with great caution

Man walks carefully on a path of small rocks in the middle of the sea; private equity must deal carefully with sanctions

Image Credits: mikkelwilliam (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Banks and other financial institutions must follow know-your-customer (KYC) guidelines, but private equity funds have a loophole: They are not legally bound to tell regulators who their investors are — or if they're behaving suspiciously.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine changed that, however.

The increasingly isolated nation is now facing international sanctions, and “PEs are investing in the close management of compliance programs, policies and procedures at each of their portfolio companies,” writes Snežana Gebauer, a partner with StoneTurn.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Samsung Electronics said it is the first to mass produce 3-nanometer chips globally. As Kate reports, this is good news for an industry that is experiencing a shortage that has affected everyone from car makers to anyone trying to build next-generation products.

Tim unpacks the new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that “the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants,” writing that anything like that will have to come from Congress.

Over in India, Manish writes that a deal for Lenskart to acquire a majority stake in Japan-based eyewear brand Owndays will create “one of Asia’s biggest online retailers of eyewear.”

Now here’s more:


Facebook Marketplace – advise?


So, I'd noticed a couple of people on here saying the FB marketplace was working for them, so I gave it a go today, and was surprised already to have had a few enquiries on the first product I put up

Of the 4 people who've enquired, they all want the item delivered, which is fine. I posted a link to our website so they can pay but also gave them the option to just transfer money via paypal and message me with the address.

After that though, the conversation just seems to stop.

Am I missing something, they're messaging to confirm the size they want is in stock (it is), when I link to our site or send paypal link, they just seem to stop messaging.

Do buyers on FB marketplace not like dealing with companies or something? Do they only want to buy from private sellers?

For anyone using it, what's the best way to transact with buyers on Marketplace? I've checked FB website and apparently FB shipping and checkout isn't available in my area


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Crypto wants its own iPhone

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Apple's relative hostility to the desires of crypto developers hasn't gone unnoticed and as the industry buckles down for a bear market, some of its proponents are pushing forward plans to rebuild the iPhone with their own industry's best interests in heart.

Hello and welcome back to the Chain Reaction podcast, where we unpack and explain the latest crypto news, drama and trends, breaking it down block by block for the crypto curious.

This week, my co-host Anita was off, so I was joined by TC+ Senior Crypto Reporter Jacquie Melinek who discussed some of the wild happening in crypto including FTX's flirtations with Robinhood and the latest drama at Celsius.

We also talked about the big surprise announcement of the week: the Solana-backed Saga smartphone. The new device will operate with crypto capabilities baked into its silicon while serving as a regular Android-based smartphone as well. The device doesn't ship until next year, allegedly, and Jacquie and I had plenty of thoughts so listen along above!

Our guest: Doodles CEO Julian Holguin

This week, I chatted with Julian Holguin who is the CEO of the NFT project Doodles. The collection of 10,000 NFT profile pictures is one of the most popular crypto projects on the web and Holguin just banked funding from Alexis Ohanian to push the startup behind the art even further.

Chain Reaction podcast episodes come out every Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PDT. Subscribe to us on AppleSpotify or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week.


Nikola delays shareholder meeting to drum up support to issue more shares

Troubled electric truck maker Nikola adjourned its annual meeting to July 18, giving the company time to lobby shareholders to pass a money-raising measure to issue more shares of common stock.

Nikola said the proposal is crucial to support the growth of the business. The company has been slowed in bringing its Tre semi truck to market by a string of controversies stemming from its founder Trevor Milton, which resulted in his removal as CEO and a $125 million penalty to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for deceiving investors.

Nikola initially held annual shareholder meeting June 1. It was adjourned after Milton, who was indicted last year on three counts of fraud for deceiving investors with misleading statements, rejected the proposal. Nikola resumed its meeting June 30 and then adjourned again to give shareholders more time to vote for the proposal.

The meeting has been rescheduled for mid-July in order to garner more votes for a proposal that would allow Nikola to increase the authorized number of shares of common stock to 800 million, up from 600 million.

Nikola said that more than 48% of all outstanding shares have been voted in favor, but that more than 112 million shares have not yet been voted.

Approving the increase in common shares would provide “flexibility to support the future growth and development of our business,” said Mark Russell, CEO said in a statement.

The company said that “Nikola stockholders have voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposal 2, with the exception of the vote of a stockholder who appears to represent more than 85% of the votes against Proposal 2.”

“Approving Proposal 2, which requires a majority of all outstanding common stock to pass, is very important,” the statement said.


Instagram tests ditching video posts in favor of Reels

Instagram is testing a change that turns video posts into Reels, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The company says the change, which is currently being tested with select users around the world, is part of Instagram's plan to simplify video on the app.

“We’re testing this feature as part of our efforts to simplify and improve the video experience on Instagram,” a spokesperson from Meta said in an email.

A screenshot posted on Twitter by social media consultant Matt Navarra shows that people who are part of the test will see an in-app message that says “video posts are now shared as Reels.”

The message indicates that if your account is public and you post a video that ends up being turned into a Reel, anyone can discover your Reel and use your original audio to create their own Reel. If your account is set to private, your Reel will only be visible to your followers. The message also notes that once you post a Reel, anyone can create a remix with your Reel if your account is public. However, you can prevent people from remixing your Reels in your account settings.

As with any other test, it's unknown when or if Instagram plans to roll out the change more widely. If the change does become permanent, it may pose some challenges. For example, it could be difficult to post a horizontal video if it gets uploaded in a vertical Reels format. In addition, Instagram did not say how this change will affect current videos on Instagram.

The test comes as Meta has been betting big on Reels. As part of its Q1 2022 earnings, the company revealed that Reels now make up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram. It's not surprising that Instagram is looking to expand Reels even more by replacing video posts altogether. If the company does end up making this change permanent, it could boast about people spending even more time viewing Reels. 

Last year, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said the app was “no longer a photo-sharing app,” noting the company was prioritizing a shift into video amid significant competition from TikTok and YouTube. The company then took a step toward its larger goal of making video a more central part of the Instagram experience by combining IGTV’s long-form video and Instagram Feed videos into a new format simply called “Instagram Video.”

If Instagram decides to turn all video uploads into Reels, it would consolidate the company's video elements even further. Last year, when Mosseri laid out Instagram's priorities for 2022, he said the company would double down on video and focus on Reels. He even hinted that Instagram would consolidate all of its video products around Reels and continue to grow the short-form product, which indicates that this change may have always been the plan.


3 questions for the startup market as we enter Q3

Somehow June is over in just a few hours, meaning that we are trotting toward the third quarter's starting line.

Leaving aside the uncomfortably rapid pace at which time is flying past us, entering a new financial reporting period is an excellent moment to pause, reflect and work out the key questions for the upcoming quarter. After all, we've seen so very much change on a quarterly basis lately that each quarter feels like a year.

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Recall Q3 2021, for example. After a lighter second quarter, the IPO market regained its footing last July, forcing this column to group public offerings into batches to just stay on top of them. And then Q3 set a huge record in terms of total venture capital investment to boot. Robinhood went public. It was busy.

The final quarter of 2021 was different. Seeing both the peak of many technology company valuations and their initial descent, Q4 of last year was a liminal state between the tail end of a long-running bull market and a rearing correction. Q1 2022 continued that trend, but with more bear than bull, and the second quarter — though we have yet to collect all the data — featured a moribund IPO market, rising startup layoffs, a crypto winter and more.

So what will Q3 2022 bring for global startups? Let's talk through what we're tracking, expecting and perhaps even dreading.

As we are on the cusp of a Friday before a long weekend, I know that you mentally have one foot on the beach. I promise that we'll be brief today. Let's talk through the three questions we have for Q3:

Will valuations recover?

For a brief period in the final weeks of Q2, it appeared that software stocks were mounting what could have been called a modest recovery. The Bessemer Cloud Index's ETF closed at 25.93 on June 16, before ticking up to close at 31.21 on June 24. That bump did not last.

Since the little boomlet in software stocks, the same basket of companies is now down to 27.99 points, giving back the bulk of its gains. As the ETF traded as high as 65.51 in the last year, the recovery was modest at best. That it was also transient feels nearly rude.


Fleetzero begins its search for the first giant ship to convert to battery power

Fleetzero has an ambitious goal: to compete with global shipping companies with its own boats, powered entirely by electricity. The company just secured $15.5 million in new funding and is looking for the first ship to convert to run on its shipping container-shaped batteries.

The company's plan, described in detail here, is to convert existing ships to electric propulsion, replacing the diesel engine or generator with enormous batteries of the company's own design. These would be loaded and unloaded like any other cargo, swapped out at ports and charged between journeys. Done right (and it seems likely that's the way they're trying to do it) a ship doing this can handle some of the longest and most popular routes across the Pacific.

But though it all sounds good in theory, obviously at some point you need to put these theories on the water, and that's the next step for the company. Fortunately, co-founders Steven Henderson and Mike Carter have backgrounds in shipping and shipbuilding and are excited to jump in.

While Fleetzero's tech could eventually power ships in the 700-foot range, it makes sense to start with something a little smaller, but that also benefits from battery power.

“Companies across the spectrum have reached out for us across industries — not just container shipping,” said Henderson. “So we've been going through the list of the biggest auxiliary ship companies, like supply vessels for oil and gas companies, and research vessels, and saying: all right, we've got this tech, and our goal is eventually to go do our own cargo, but we want to prove it out with a partner so we don't have to spend millions on the first ship.”

Surprisingly, this “want to give us a boat?” pitch went over quite well. “People are so interested in our batteries that they're willing to pay us to test them,” Henderson added. Ultimately Fleetzero plans to make their own boats, but that's a long-term goal.

It helps to understand that there's a real variety in ocean-going vessels and their operators. Some big companies own and operate, some only own or only operate, some have fleets for short term hire, and so on. The possibility of electrifying their ships has a different charm to all these, though some are more likely to bite first.

One of those better prospects is the “auxiliary” category of ships mentioned earlier: these are things like research vessels, ships that go out and inspect offshore wind farms, and other tasks that take a serious boat and crew but aren't the hyper-specialized bulk movers of container ships. Many of these ships are already partially electrified — they use electric motors powered by diesel generators. It sounds like the worst of both worlds, but I'm sure they have their reasons — and more importantly, they're really easy to convert to Fleetzero's battery tech.

“It's minimum scope; the conversion itself takes a matter of weeks, and it doesn't involve a dry dock,” said Henderson. “In the best case, a PSV [platform supply vessel] about 250 feet long, we put our batteries on the back deck and just wire them in.”

You really just swap out the engine and put the batteries there. Not to scale. Image Credits: Fleetzero

Such a conversion would be an important proof of concept; though the company has plenty of inbound, there are surely doubters out there who would like to see a working vessel before committing any resources.

Carter noted that Fleetzero is one of relatively few companies attempting to really move the needle in shipping. Though logistics and supply chain economics certainly have their share of innovation on the data and services side, the ships and shipping companies themselves have stagnated.

In fact, he pointed out, the White House recently issued a report lamenting that “three global alliances, made up entirely of foreign companies, control almost all of ocean freight shipping.” And when they say almost all, they mean it: we're talking 95 percent of some critical trade lines. The feds will be looking into price fixing (and in fact just passed a law), but supporting a sustainable American alternative is kind of a no-brainer as well.

It's hard to challenge such a dominant set of incumbents (which may well be termed a cartel at this point), and Fleetzero can't make any claims to doing so as a fresh new startup, but their approach neatly avoids the most direct competition.

The electrified ships the company builds with shipping partners will operate in parallel to traditional lines, using smaller ports inaccessible to huge container ships. This saves time (less waiting for a spot at the docks) and money (cities with disused ports are excited to reactivate them), and makes for a robust network of charging and offloading stations across the pacific. Of course, they'll need to make some friends in southeast Asia as well.

The new funding was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates-led venture group that the man himself talked about recently at TC Sessions: Climate. Apparently they were big on due diligence — it shouldn't be a surprise, but there it is.

BEV wasn't alone, though; Founders Fund, McKinley Capital, and previous investors also contributed. Carter said that McKinley, based in Alaska, was an important one to get since of course the state makes up a huge portion of the Pacific U.S. coast.

The money will be crucial for building out and testing the first ship, but Fleetzero is also hiring — they had 1,500 applicants for 10 positions after they came out of stealth. It suggests a lot of people in the shipping world are interested in the company, or perhaps a lot of people at other companies are interested in the shipping world.