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Android Creator Andy Rubin's Playground for Hardware Startups

Thinking about hatching a hardware company? A new incubator might be the place for you

2 min read
Android Creator Andy Rubin's Playground for Hardware Startups
Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Look out Haxlr8r; move over Lemnos Labs, you might have competition for that next batch of baby startups. Android co-founder, Apple nemesis, and former Web TV engineer Andy Rubin left Google last year with plans to launch a hardware incubator. At the time, Rubin was running robotics projects at Google.

This month, Rubin unveiled the basic details, like the namePlayground Global—and the investors, which include Foxconn, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Seagate.

The inclusion of Foxconn makes it clear that Rubin is going to take a page out of Haxlr8r’s book and connect hardware designers at the earliest stages with folks in China that know how to make hardware. This has been part of Haxlr8r’s path to success: It ensures that whatever is designed on its turf doesn’t have to be completely redesigned before it can be manufactured. Haxlr8r does this by bringing its startup founders to Shenzhen, China and connecting them to manufacturers there.

With Foxconn onboard, Playground Global’s incubatees will have an easy path to such connections. Indeed, Rubin told The Wall Street Journal that his incubator will have product experts help its startup founders work with Foxconn. According to the WSJ article, Playground Global’s other investors will have specific roles as well: Google and Seagate will help founders connect products to the cloud, and HP will help with product distribution.

Whenever I visit Andy, he always has the newest thing….Andy bought one of the first Segways and immediately drove it up a half-pipe, just to see how the gyroscopic systems would react.

Rubin raised $48 million for the incubator itself, which is currently based in Los Altos, Calif. He’s also put together a venture fund, Playground Ventures, with at least $242 million to invest in companies that come out of Playground Global. Separately, Rubin just joined Redpoint Ventures, which will likely also make investments in Playground Global companies.

So Rubin is building a place where hardware entrepreneurs can get a lot of help and, potentially, money—but Rubin also appears to be building Playground Global simply as a place where he’s going to want to hang out. That is, the Playground part of the name is no accident. Points out Redpoint Partner Jeff Brody in a recent blog post: “Whenever I visit Andy, he always has the newest thing, the yet-to-be available gadget. Years ago, he smuggled from Japan the smallest flip phone in production. He kept robotic dogs as pets. Andy bought one of the first Segways and immediately drove it up a half-pipe, just to see how the gyroscopic systems would react. At Google, he modified a huge auto manufacturing robotic arm to make a cappuccino and stamp the Android logo on it in chocolate. Later, he had a near life-size humanoid robot that followed you around.”

Leading Playground Global with Rubin are Web TV co-founder Bruce Leak and Peter Barrett, previously CTO of CloudCar and Microsoft TV, who also worked with Rubin at Web TV.

To date, the team also includes Jory Bell, a former Apple engineer who co-founded micro-laptop company OQO; Xiaoyu Miao, who worked on Google Glass; Clinton Lazzari, who helped build autonomous ocean-going vehicles with Liquid Robotics and autonomous airborne vehicles with Dionysus Design; and Brian Swetland, a software engineer who worked with Rubin at Android and Danger.

While Playground Global has yet to announce when it will bring its first class of startups on board, it has started looking for proposals. Says its website: “We invite you to come play.”

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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