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Leveling the playing field – TechCrunch

There is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, around the creation of hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community.

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Williesha Morris Contributor

Williesha Morris has been a journalist and freelancer off-and-on for over a decade. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing video games or chatting about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In 2011, a product developer named Fred Davison read an article about inventor Ken Yankelevitz and his QuadControl video game controller for quadriplegics. At the time, Yankelevitz was on the verge of retirement. Davison wasn’t a gamer, but he said his mother, who had the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, inspired him to pick up where Yankelevitz was about to leave off.

Launched in 2014, Davison’s QuadStick represents the latest iteration of the Yankelevitz controller — one that has garnered interest across a broad range of industries.

“The QuadStick’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Davison told TechCrunch. “And I get a lot of feedback as to what it means for [disabled gamers] to be able to be involved in these games.”

Laying the groundwork

Erin Muston-Firsch, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital in Denver, says adaptive gaming tools like the QuadStick have revolutionized the hospital’s therapy team.

Six years ago, she devised a rehabilitation solution for a college student who came in with a spinal cord injury. She says he liked playing video games, but as a result of his injury could no longer use his hands. So the rehab regimen incorporated Davison’s invention, which enabled the patient to play World of Warcraft and Destiny.

QuadStick

Jackson “Pitbull” Reece is a successful Facebook streamer who uses his mouth to operate the QuadStick, as well as the XAC, (the Xbox Adaptive Controller), a controller designed by Microsoft for use by people with disabilities to make user input for video games more accessible.

Reece lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in 2007 and later, due to an infection, lost the use of his upper body. He says he remembers able-bodied life as one filled with mostly sports video games. He says being a part of the gaming community is an important part of his mental health.

Fortunately there is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, around the creation of hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community.

But while not every major tech company has been proactive about accessibility, after-market devices are available to create customized gaming experiences for disabled gamers.

Enter Microsoft

At its Hackathon in 2015, Microsoft’s Inclusive Lead Bryce Johnson met with disabled veterans’ advocacy group Warfighter Engaged.

“We were at the same time developing our views on inclusive design,” Johnson said. Indeed, eight generations of gaming consoles created barriers for disabled gamers.

“Controllers have been optimized around a primary use case that made assumptions,” Johnson said. Indeed, the buttons and triggers of a traditional controller are for able-bodied people with the endurance to operate them.

Besides Warfighter Engaged, Microsoft worked with AbleGamers (the most recognized charity for gamers with disabilities), Craig Hospital, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Special Effect, a U.K.-based charity for disabled young gamers.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

The finished XAC, released in 2018, is intended for a gamer with limited mobility to seamlessly play with other gamers. One of the details gamers commented on was that the XAC looks like a consumer device, not a medical device.

“We knew that we couldn’t design this product for this community,” Johnson told TechCrunch. “We had to design this product with this community. We believe in ‘nothing about us without us.’ Our principles of inclusive design urge us to include communities from the very beginning.”

Taking on the giants

There were others getting involved. Like many inventions, the creation of the Freedom Wing was a bit of serendipity.

At his booth at an assistive technology (AT) conference, ATMakers‘ Bill Binko showcased a doll named “Ella” using the ATMakers Joystick, a power-chair device. Also in attendance was Steven Spohn, who is part of the brain trust behind AbleGamers.

Spohn saw the Joystick and told Binko he wanted a similar device to work with the XAC. The Freedom Wing was ready within six weeks. It was a matter of manipulating the sensors to control a game controller instead of a chair. This device didn’t require months of R&D and testing because it had already been road tested as a power-chair device.

ATMakers Freedom Wing 2

Binko said mom-and-pop companies are leading the way in changing the face of accessible gaming technology. Companies like Microsoft and Logitech have only recently found their footing.

ATMakers, QuadStick and other smaller creators, meanwhile, have been busy disrupting the industry.

“Everybody gets [gaming] and it opens up the ability for people to engage with their community,” Binko said. “Gaming is something that people can wrap their heads around and they can join in.”

Barriers of entry

As the technology evolves, so do the obstacles to accessibility. These challenges include lack of support teams, security, licensing and VR.

Binko said managing support teams for these devices with the increase in demand is a new hurdle. More people with the technological skills are needed to join the AT industry to assist with the creation, installation and maintenance of devices.

Security and licensing is out of the hands of small creators like Davison because of financial and other resources needed to work with different hardware companies. For example, Sony’s licensing enforcement technology has become increasingly complex with each new console generation.

With Davison’s background in tech, he understands the restrictions to protect proprietary information. “They spend huge amounts of money developing a product and they want to control every aspect of it,” Davison said. “Just makes it tough for the little guy to work with.”

And while PlayStation led the way in button mapping, according to Davison, the security process is stringent. He doesn’t understand how it benefits the console company to prevent people from using whichever controller they want.

“The cryptography for the PS5 and DualSense controller is uncrackable so far, so adapter devices like the ConsoleTuner Titan Two have to find other weaknesses, like the informal ‘man in the middle’ attack,” Davison said.

The technique allows devices to utilize older-gen PlayStation controllers as a go-between from the QuadStick to the latest-gen console, so disabled gamers can play the PS5. TechCrunch reached out to Sony’s accessibility division, whose representative said there are no immediate plans for an adaptable PlayStation or controller. However, they stated their department works with advocates and gaming devs to consider accessibility from day one.

In contrast, Microsoft’s licensing system is more forgiving, especially with the XAC and the ability to use older-generation controllers with newer systems.

“Compare the PC industry to the Mac,” Davison said. “You can put together a PC system from a dozen different manufacturers, but not for the Mac. One is an open standard and the other is closed.”

A more accessible future

In November, Japanese controller company HORI released an officially licensed accessibility controller for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not available for sale in the United States currently, but there are no region restrictions to purchase one online. This latest development points toward a more accessibility-friendly Nintendo, though the company has yet to fully embrace the technology.

Nintendo’s accessibility department declined a full interview but sent a statement to TechCrunch. “Nintendo endeavors to provide products and services that can be enjoyed by everyone. Our products offer a range of accessibility features, such as button-mapping, motion controls, a zoom feature, grayscale and inverted colors, haptic and audio feedback, and other innovative gameplay options. In addition, Nintendo’s software and hardware developers continue to evaluate different technologies to expand this accessibility in current and future products.”

The push for more accessible hardware for disabled gamers hasn’t been smooth. Many of these devices were created by small business owners with little capital. In a few cases corporations with a determination for inclusivity at the earliest stages of development became involved.

Slowly but surely, however, assistive technology is moving forward in ways that can make the experience much more accessible for gamers with disabilities.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/15/leveling-the-playing-field/

leveling-the-playing-field-–-techcrunch

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The DL on CockroachDB – TechCrunch

As college students at Berkeley, Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis created a successful open-source graphics program, GIMP, which got the attention of Google. The duo ultimately joined Google, and even personally got kudos from Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Kimball and Mattis quickly rose to prominence within the company, and then chose to leave it […]

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As college students at Berkeley, Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis created a successful open-source graphics program, GIMP, which got the attention of Google. The duo ultimately joined Google, and even personally got kudos from Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Kimball and Mattis quickly rose to prominence within the company, and then chose to leave it all behind to start what would eventually become CockroachDB. Years later, Cockroach Labs has over 250 employees and has received investments from the likes of Benchmark, GV, Index Ventures and Redpoint totaling more than $350 million, according to Crunchbase. The company is now on route to what some think is an “inevitable IPO.”

The story of CockroachDB, from its origin to its future, was told in a four-part series in our latest EC-1:

I’m biased, but it’s a must-read that gets into tensions that any startup founder can relate to: from navigating heavyweight competitors, to growing past free tiers, to maintaining your users’ attention. It’s the eighth EC-1 we’ve published to date, which my colleague and TC Managing Editor Danny Crichton estimates puts us at 90,000 words all about startup beginnings, product development, marketing and more.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into that WeWork book, bite-sized entrepreneurship and some SPACs. Follow me on Twitter @nmasc_. Or don’t, it’s your choice!

The Cult of We

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017. Image Credits: TechCrunch

This week on Equity, Alex and I interviewed Eliot Brown, who wrote “The Cult of We” along with Maureen Farrell. Our conversation riffed on some of the book’s eyebrow-raising details and anecdotes, but mainly focused on what WeWork’s rise and fall did to the state of startups and tech journalism more broadly.

Here’s what to know: Not much has changed. Jokes aside, Brown shared his notes on how the current boom in startup financings has a worrisome air of frenzy and fluff. He also chatted about how sometimes the most illuminating question can be a simple one: What makes you a tech company?

More money, more problems?

TikTok what again?

tiktok glitch

Image Credits: TechCrunch

TikTok kept popping up throughout the week. Index Ventures, for example, noted how the firm’s TikTok account has amassed an impressive following and is a channel to talk to the younger generations. Nothing like some short-form videos to stay hip and relatable while raising $3 billion in one go.

Here’s what to know: While TikTok has certainly changed the world, I worry when I see the allure of bite-sized content get edtech’d. Bite-sized content can be a nifty way to spread content, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Duolingo, which priced its IPO this week, still struggles to show meaningful learning outcomes and optimizes more for motivation than comprehension. This tension is a key note for companies like Numerade and Sololearn, which both raised this week, to not overly TikTok learning materials.

Other edtech content for your eyes:

So, SPACs

hands signing check 1

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

It’s been awhile since I’ve used that acronym in Startups Weekly. That said, special purpose acquisition vehicles are still very much a thing and are still very much worth paying attention to.

Here’s what to know: Lucid Motors’ SPAC merger was just approved. Reporter Aria Alamalhodaei writes that the move came after executives extended the deadline to vote to merge by one day after not enough investors showed up. “The issue is unusual but could become more common as more companies eschew the traditional IPO path to public markets and instead merge with SPACs,” she writes.

Also special:

Around TC

If you haven’t already, please fill out TC’s ongoing growth marketing survey. We’re using these recommendations of top-tier growth marketers around the world to shape our editorial coverage and to build out TechCrunch Experts.

Across the weekSeen on TechCrunch

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N

  • Technical design “How engineers fought the CAP theorem in the global war on latency” (2,400 words/10 minutes)
  • Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/24/an-inevitable-ipo-full-of-cockroaches-and-developers/

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    Twitter appoints resident grievance officer in India to comply with new internet rules – TechCrunch

    Twitter has appointed a resident grievance officer in India days after the American social media firm said to have lost the liability protection on user-generated content in the South Asian nation over non-compliance with local IT rules. On Sunday, Twitter identified Vinay Prakash as its new resident grievance officer and shared a way to contact […]

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    Twitter has appointed a resident grievance officer in India days after the American social media firm said to have lost the liability protection on user-generated content in the South Asian nation over non-compliance with local IT rules.

    On Sunday, Twitter identified Vinay Prakash as its new resident grievance officer and shared a way to contact him as required by India’s new IT rules, which was unveiled in February this year and went into effect in late May. Twitter has also published a compliance report, another requirement listed in the new rules.

    Earlier this week, the Indian government had told a local court that Twitter had lost the liability protection on user generated content in the country as it had failed to appoint compliance, grievance, and a so-called nodal contact officials to address on-ground concerns.

    Other internet giants including Facebook, Google, and Telegram have already appointed these local compliance officers in India.

    Internet services enjoy what is broadly referred to as “safe harbor” protection that say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users post or share online. If you insult someone on Twitter, for instance, the company may be asked to take down your post (if the person you have insulted has approached the court and a takedown order has been issued) but it likely won’t be held legally responsible for what you said or did.

    Without the protection, Twitter — which according to mobile insight firm App Annie, has over 100 million users in India — is on paper responsible for everything those users say on its platform. Indian police have already filed at least five cases against the company or its officials in the country over a range of issues.

    The new development should help assuage the tension between Twitter and the Indian government. A special squad of Delhi police made a surprise visit to two of Twitter’s offices in late May in what many perceived as an intimidation tactic. Twitter said at the time that it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve” and requested the Indian government to grant it three additional months to comply with the new IT rules.

    Earlier this week, Twitter told an Indian court that it was working to “fully comply” with the new rules.

    More countries are formulating similar requirements for tech giants in their nations. Russia President Vladimir Putin signed a law that mandates foreign social media giants to open offices in Russia. Any social firm with a daily user base of 500,000 people or more is required to comply with the new law.

    Internet services enjoy what is broadly referred to as “safe harbor” protection that say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users post or share online. If you insult someone on Twitter, for instance, the company may be asked to take down your post (if the person you have insulted has approached the court and a takedown order has been issued) but it likely won’t be held legally responsible for what you said or did.

    Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/10/twitter-appoints-resident-grievance-officer-in-india-to-comply-with-new-internet-rules/

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    Don’t miss these highlights today, day one of TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising – TechCrunch

    Rise, shine and get your startup on, early founders. It’s Day One of TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising! Get ready to be schooled — in the best way possible — on essential skills, tips and tactics every founder needs to build a successful startup. And, like the sign says, the emphasis this time […]

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    Rise, shine and get your startup on, early founders. It’s Day One of TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising! Get ready to be schooled — in the best way possible — on essential skills, tips and tactics every founder needs to build a successful startup. And, like the sign says, the emphasis this time around is on marketing and raising funds — with plenty of experienced speakers to guide you.

    Pro (crastination) Tip: It’s not too late to attend. Buy a ticket at the virtual door.

    We’re about to highlight a few of the info-packed presentations on tap today — just to wet your whistle. But first, here’s how Ashley Barrington, founder of MarketPearl, described Early Stage 2020.

    They offered a great variety of sessions and speakers — top investors, founders and credible subject-matter experts — who gave unique insights based on personal experience. You get great mentorship through attending the Early Stage sessions. It’s like a mini masterclass in entrepreneurship.

    Be sure to check the event agenda to scope out what interests you the most. Remember, your pass includes video on demand. If you need to get a bit of work done or find that two sessions you want to attend conflict, relax. You can catch everything you missed later at your leisure.

    Nailing Your Pitch: Companies aren’t started at the moment of fund raising begins but they can often end there. Nailing your pitch is integral to success. Hear from Adina Tecklu, principal at Khosla Ventures, on how to tell your story and leave investors wanting more.

    How to Capitalize on Being Coached: Ted Wang, partner at Cowboy Ventures, comes from the legal world where he was a partner at Fenwick. In short, he’s seen his fair share of startup success and failure. At Early Stage, Wang will explain the value of coaching for startup founders, including the different types of coaches one might utilize, how to choose between them, and how to get the most out of a good coach.

    What’s Your Story? You can have a compelling product, but it’s a compelling story that puts your company into motion. In this session, Doug Landis, former Chief Storyteller and GTM leader from Box, Salesforce and Google, will share the core storytelling mechanics to help you nail your origin, product and customer stories that will get your company in motion.

    Deep Tech — How to Raise Early in a Notoriously Tough Category: The greatest evolutions in our history have not come from small technological steps, but giant leaps. Frontier tech is the future, but it’s not particularly accessible to average folks. Hear from IndieBio partner Pae Wu and HAX partner Garrett Winther on how to fundraise for your deep tech startup.

    School is now in session! It’s not too late to get access to the networking, the community and learning more about the best ways to drive your business forward. Get your ticket for instant access now!

    Be sure to check the event agenda to scope out what interests you the most. Remember, your pass includes video on demand. If you need to get a bit of work done or find that two sessions you want to attend conflict, relax. You can catch everything you missed later at your leisure.

    Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/08/dont-miss-these-highlights-today-day-one-of-tc-early-stage-2021-marketing-and-fundraising/

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