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AI

RISC-V grows open source processor membership 130% in 2021

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RISC-V International said it has grown during the pandemic as its RISC-V open source processor membership popped 130% in 2021.

The nonprofit group’s membership has grown from a ragtag group of feisty academics to some of the biggest tech companies on earth like Google. Over the past decade, the group has groomed RISC-V into a viable alternative to proprietary Arm and Intel-based processors, and it appears that a lot of big companies and engineering geeks like what they see.

RISC-V chip revenues are expected to generate $400 million in 2021 and reach $1 billion in revenue by 2024, according to a prediction made this week by accounting and consulting firm Deloitte. The firm said the ripples of RISC-V could turn into the waves of the future. Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, said in an interview with VentureBeat that there are 2,4278 members in the group now, up 130% since the start of the year, and 292 companies, up 27.5% this year.

“We’ve increased and grown and we have seen a deeper investment coming in from around the world, as you see that the reflection in our board composition, which is both premier members who are coming in at our highest level of membership, as well as elected representatives of various groups,” Redmond said. “That deeper investment is a reflection of them bringing RISC-V across their portfolio of products rather than just isolated to a few projects.”

The RISC-V membership will be gathering in San Francisco both in-person and online at an event anchored at the Moscone convention center. The members are announcing today that they have ratified 15 new specifications — representing more than 40 extensions to the hardware architecture — for the RISC-V instruction set architecture, which anyone can use for free.

Calista Redmond, CEO of the RISC-V Foundation.

Above: Calista Redmond, CEO of the RISC-V Foundation.

Image Credit: RISC-V Foundation

Redmond said one of the benefits of RISC-V is that it is sanction-free. As an open source platform, RISC-V is not affected by export restrictions. This makes it appealing to companies, especially in China, that have been affected or fear being affected by those restrictions, Deloitte said. Redmond said that the nonprofit had to reboot its entire membership base as it transferred its headquarters from the U.S. to Switzerland in order to erase any doubt that it was independent of geographic borders.

Deloitte said that companies are planning on using it for different storage, graphics, and machine-learning applications. Even Intel’s foundry services division is partnering with RISC-V player SiFive. Arm argues that it has more features and has more support options for developers. Since Arm is based in the United Kingdom and Intel in the U.S., Chinese manufacturers worry that they could lose access to the architectures if trade friction heats up. Nvidia is hoping regulators will approve its plan to pay $40 billion to buy Arm.

Redmond said there are a lot of Chinese members, but overall RISC-V’s base is about a third North America, a third European, and a third Asian.

“We’ve always been global. There is nothing that changed at all in the rules, regulations, or global constructs that we participate in,” Redmond said. “Our move was primarily just to address any concerns that the landscape could change.”

Redmond said that designers don’t have to worry about constraints on what they do and that gives them freedom for innovation.

Deloitte also said that startups care about the royalty-free open source architecture. In the three years between 2020 and 2022, venture capitalists (VCs) will invest about $22 billion into startup chip companies of all kinds, Deloitte said. A million-dollar license fee may not matter to one of the world’s largest smartphone companies, but it does matter for a startup that has relatively little cash and a monthly burn rate, Deloitte said.

The served addressable market (SAM) for RISC-V in automotive alone was 4 million cores in 2020, forecast to rise to 150 million cores in 2022, and to 2.9 billion cores by 2025.

New specifications

Above: RISC-V software is expected to grow dramatically.

Image Credit: Tractica

Mark Himelstein, chief technology officer of RISC-V International, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the specifications cover vector, scalar cryptography, and hypervisor features that will keep extending the reach of RISC-V processors into new markets. Developers will find it easier to create RISC-V applications for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT), connected and autonomous cars, data centers, and more, he said.

“The development of these specifications really showcased the incredible benefits of open collaboration across companies and geographies as members worked together to develop novel approaches for the latest computing requirements,” said Krste Asanović, chair of the RISC-V International, in a statement.

Redmond and Himelstein said that RISC-V’s advantages include that designs based on it are easy to modify. As such, they can offer greater flexibility than traditional chip designs.

“All 15 of those specifications have been ratified by the board. They all have passed acceptance criteria. And we’re very excited about that,” Himelstein said. “And we have another bunch on deck.”

The RISC-V Vector specification will help accelerate the computation of data intensive operations like ML inference for audio, vision, and voice processing. With RISC-V Vector, developers can process complex data arrays and scalar operations quickly and with low latency. The simplicity and flexibility of Vector allows companies to easily customize RISC-V solutions for a wide variety of edge computing applications from consumer IoT devices to industrial ML applications.

“The new RISC-V Vector specification will change the way people think about vector designs,” said Dave Ditzel, executive chairman of Esperanto Technologies, in a statement. “With just over 100 instructions, the extension offers a simple and elegant approach to efficiently process the latest machine learning algorithms.”

The RISC-V Hypervisor specification virtualizes supervisor-level architecture to efficiently host guest operating systems atop a type-1 or type-2 hypervisor. Virtual machine implementations require the RISC-V Hypervisor specification. The Hypervisor specification will help drive RISC-V adoption in cloud and embedded applications where virtualization is critical, such as in data centers, automotive applications, and industrial control applications. The RISC-V community has ported KVM and other open source virtual machines on top of simulators using the new specification.

The RISC-V Scalar Cryptography specification enables the acceleration of cryptographic workloads for small footprint deployments. These extensions significantly lower the barrier to entry for secure and efficient accelerated cryptography in IoT and embedded devices.

“The RISC-V Scalar Cryptography extensions allow for implementing standard cryptographic hash and block cipher algorithms that are an order of magnitude faster than using standard instructions in some cases. With RISC-V’s transparent and open approach, anyone can efficiently implement critical cryptographic algorithms in any class of CPU,” said Ben Marshall, cryptographic hardware engineer at PQShield and member of the RISC-V Technical Steering Committee, in a statement. “In addition to the performance benefits, these new extensions are very cheap to implement so companies can integrate popular cryptography algorithms in even the smallest connected devices.”

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Categories
AI

Simpro raises $350M as demand grows for field service automation software

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Field service management, which refers to the management of jobs performed in the field (e.g., telecom equipment repair), faces continued challenges brought on by the pandemic. While the number of customer service inquiries has increased as enterprises have adopted remote work arrangements, worker availability has decreased. Forty-seven percent of field service companies say that they’re having trouble finding enough quality technicians and drivers to meet business goals, according to a Verizon survey. The shortfall in the workforce has increased the burden on existing staff, who’ve been asked to do more with fewer resources.

Against this backdrop, Simpro, a field service management software company based in Brisbane, Australia, today announced that it raised $350 million from K1 Investment Management with participation from existing investor Level Equity. The new funding brings Simpro’s total capital raised to nearly $400 million, which CEO Sean Diljore says will be put toward product development and customer support with a particular focus on global trade and construction industries.

Simpro also revealed today that it acquired ClockShark, a time-sheeting and scheduling platform, as well as AroFlo, a job management software provider. The leadership teams of Simpro, ClockShark, and AroFlo will operate independently, Diljore says, including continued work on existing services.

How to Set Up Maintenance Planner | simPRO

Above: Simpro’s maintenance-planning dashboard.

“This investment marks the next stage of Simpro’s exciting growth journey. Our mission is to build a world where field service businesses can thrive,” Diljore said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to welcome ClockShark and AroFlo to the Simpro family. Both companies are leaders in their spaces and have incredibly valuable product offerings that will benefit our combined customer bases and help our customers increase revenue. We look forward to growing together and building a range of solutions for the field service and construction industries.”

Managing field service workers

Field service workers feel increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of tasks employers are asking them to complete. According to a study by The Service Council, 75% of field technicians report that work has become more complex and that more knowledge — specifically more technical knowledge — is needed to perform their jobs now versus when they started in field service. Moreover, 70% say that both customer and management demands have intensified during the health crisis.

Simpro, which was founded in 2002 by Curtis Thomson, Stephen Bradshaw, and Vaughan McKillop, claims to offer a solution in software that eases the burden on field workers and their managers. The company’s platform provides quoting, job costing, scheduling, and invoicing tools in addition to capabilities for reporting, billing, testing assets, and planning preventative maintenance.

Bradshaw, a former electrical contractor, teamed up with McKillop, an engineering student, in the early 2000s to build the prototype for Simpro in the early 2000s. Working out of Bradshaw’s garage, they started with the development of job list functionality before adding new features, including a scheduling tool for allocating resources.

Today, Simpro supports over 5,500 businesses in the security, plumbing, electrician, HVAC, and solar and data networking industries. It has more than 200,000 users worldwide and more than 400 employees in offices across Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.

An expanding product

With Simpro, which integrates with existing software including accounting and HR analytics software, customers can use digital templates to build estimates and convert quotes into jobs. From a dashboard, they can schedule field service workers based on availability and job status, plus perform inventory tracking, connect materials to jobs, and send outstanding invoices.

Diljore expects the purchases of ClockShark and AroFlo to bolster Simpro’s suite in key, strategic ways. ClockShark, a Chico, California-based company founded by brothers Cliff Mitchell and Joe Mitchell in 2013, delivers an app that lets teams clock in and out while recording the timesheet data needed for payroll and job costing. Ringwood, Australia-based AroFlo, on the other hand, provides job management features including field service automation, work scheduling, geofencing, and GPS tracking.

Reece is now available for Automatic Catalog and Invoice Sync | simPRO

AroFlo and ClockShark claim to have over 2,200 and 8,000 customers, respectively. AroFlo’s business is largely concentrated in Australia and New Zealand, where it says that over 25,000 workers use its platform for asset maintenance, compliance, and inventory across plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and facilities management.

Somewhat concerningly from a privacy standpoint, AroFlo offers what it calls a “driver management” feature that uses RFID technology as a way of logging which field service worker are driving which work vehicles. Beyond this, AroFlo allows companies to track the current and historical location of devices belonging to their field workers throughout the workday.

While no federal U.S. statutes restrict the use of GPS by employers nor force them to disclose whether they’re using it, workers have mixed feelings. A survey by TSheets showed that privacy was the third-most important concern of field service workers who were aware that their company was tracking their GPS location.

In its documentation, AroFlo suggests — but doesn’t require — employers to “speak to [field] users about GPS tracking.”

Aroflo GPS lets you monitor your field technicians across the entire day,” the company writes on its website. “You’ll always know where they are, what they’re working on, and when they finish.”

A spokesperson told VentureBeat via email: “Simpro will continue offering GPS services and also has its own vehicle GPS tracking add-on, SimTrac. Implementation of GPS fleet tracking can help reduce risks, remain compliant with licenses and vehicle upkeep, and reduce costs in the business. It also benefits the technicians by improving their safety, spending less time in traffic and improving time management. Overall, GPS tracking provides improved visibility of staff and understanding of their location, introduces opportunities to reduce costs associated with travel, schedule smarter and even improve driver safety (by limiting their need to race across to another side of town to complete a job).”

A growing field

The field service management market is rapidly expanding, expected to climb from $2.85 billion in value in 2019 to $7.10 billion in 2026. While as many as 25% of field service organizations are still using spreadsheets for job scheduling, an estimated 48% were using field management software as of 2020, Fieldpoint reports. Customer demand is one major adoption driver. According to data from ReachOut, 89% of customers want to see “modern, on-demand technology” applied to their technician scheduling, and nearly as many would be willing to pay top dollar for it.

“The pandemic made many business owners realize how crucial it is to have the right technology in place for remote work. Trades businesses couldn’t afford to abandon projects or lose out on service and maintenance calls because of delayed response times or drawn-out time to complete,” Diljore told VentureBeat via email. “For these businesses, cloud-based software became a necessity for survival when previously it was a ‘nice to have.’”

Simpro competes with Zinier, which last January raised $90 million to automate field service management via its AI platform. The company has another rival in Workiz, a field service management and communication startup, as well as augmented reality- and AI-powered work management platform TechSee.

According to Tracxn, of the over 3,400 companies developing “field force automation” solutions (which include customer service tracking, order management, routing optimization, and work activity monitoring), more than 700 attracted a cumulative $5.8 billion from investors from 2018 to 2020.

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Categories
Computing

MacOS Monterey Public Beta Hands-On: Apple’s Ecosystem Grows

Last year’s update to Apple’s Mac operating system, MacOS Big Sur, was the largest and most significant refresh in years. This year’s iteration, dubbed MacOS Monterey by Apple’s “crack marketing team,” is more of a point-five update compared to 2020’s behemoth. That’s not to say it is a dull, pedestrian affair, but it is more refinement than revolution despite Apple opting for the MacOS 12 nomenclature rather than MacOS 11.1.

So, what can you expect when you get your hands on it in the fall (or right now if you signed up for the public beta)? Well, expect a lot of bugs for one thing. Apple released the public beta just a few days after only the second developer beta came out. That’s a quick turnaround, and it shows, with some features looking a little creaky right now.

But beyond that, is MacOS Monterey actually any good? And how do the new features work in practice? We took the new public beta for a spin to see what it had to offer.

A familiar design

Safari’s tab bar gets a redesign, and it now takes on the colors of the active tab.

MacOS Big Sur was a complete overhaul of the Mac operating system’s visual style, with new-look buttons, sidebars, menus, and much more. It was a huge improvement and helped bring MacOS kicking and screaming into the modern design era.

Don’t expect that level of makeover in MacOS Monterey — this year’s iteration is far more restrained in what it changes. There are some tweaks here and there, though. Notifications in particular have been spruced up, with user profile shots and larger app icons now showing next to the alert text.

One of the largest visual revamps comes to Safari. Here, almost everything has been streamlined to fit Apple’s minimalist aesthetic, resulting in a stripped-down top bar that is a little confusing to navigate at first, although you do get used to it.

For starters, the URL bar and tab bar are now merged instead of being two separate rows sitting one above the other. If you have multiple tabs open, the active tab is now by far the longest. Click inside it, and you can start typing — this is where the search bar now hides. Websites in the active tab lend their colors to Safari’s entire top bar. It’s a nice touch of visual flair, and it seems pretty good at picking out an appropriate color.

If you’re like me and have an ever-expanding smorgasbord of tabs open at once, Safari’s Tab Groups come as something of a relief. It’s a feature already included in Google Chrome, but Apple’s take is slightly different. You can still group tabs together though and name each group to keep them organized. Opening a group shows only the tabs it contains, no others. Managing these groups is fiddly and confusing at the moment, and it’s very easy to accidentally delete a tab group or struggle to find the command you need. But it’s a start.

Continuity gets serious

Quick Note in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Adding Quick Note to a Hot Corner means it’s always available with a swift swipe.

One of the main themes of MacOS Monterey is an emphasis on cross-platform integration. A standout feature from the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) reveal of Monterey was Universal Control, a system that lets you seamlessly move between an iPad and a Mac (or two), controlling each device with the same mouse and keyboard. It looked like a piece of Apple magic in the WWDC demo, but how does it work in reality?

Well, unfortunately we cannot yet answer that question. At the time of writing, Universal Control had been absent from both the developer and public betas of MacOS Monterey. We will update this article as soon as Universal Control becomes available and we have a chance to test it, but for now we are going to have to hang tight on this one.

Another feature making its debut on the Mac in Monterey is AirPlay to Mac, but unlike Universal Control, this is actually available to test. Using your Mac as an AirPlay destination has been a long, long, long time coming, but now that it’s finally here, we can say the wait has been worth it.

AirPlay thrives on larger screens. Apple users have been able to send video to an Apple TV for years, using an iPhone or iPad as a remote, but the Mac has been strangely exempt. Now that it is enabled, you can enjoy content from your phone — like videos captured with an iPhone — on the big screen. It works just as AirPlay normally does: Open a video, tap Share, then the AirPlay button, then select your Mac as the output. It’s a small change to MacOS, but a significant one.

Notes also gets a dose of cross-system goodness, although this is focused more on collaboration than with making it work across your devices. You can now mention colleagues and see their edits in shared notes, and notes can be categorized with tags to aid organization. Small steps, but they add up.

As well as that, the Quick Note feature that Apple showed off on iPadOS 15 also comes to MacOS Monterey. You can select any image or text on a web page, for instance, right-click it, and add it to a Quick Note. Next time you’re on the web page, a tiny thumbnail of the Quick Note appears in the bottom-right of your screen, letting you see whatever you noted down before.

My favorite thing about Quick Note is its integration with Hot Corners. These are shortcuts that can be triggered by moving your mouse pointer to one corner of your screen. I set the bottom-right Hot Corner to launch Quick Note, and now creating a new note is just a short swipe away. As great as that is, though, like many of the new features in Monterey, it’s useful without being earth-shaking.

Share and share alike

Apple News and Shared With You in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Shared news articles show the name of the person who sent it to you at the top.

Shared content and experiences figured prominently in Apple’s WWDC show, and there are plenty of new things here in MacOS Monterey. Unfortunately, not everything worked as planned at the time of writing and will presumably be fixed or updated in upcoming beta releases.

Here’s an example. Apple has always promoted the interconnectedness of its ecosystem, and it’s trying to do so again in MacOS Monterey with things like Shared With You. This highlights items that have been sent to you in Messages and then surfaces them in relevant apps. For instance, news stories sent to you via Messages will appear in the News app.

At least, that’s the theory. When we tried it, many apps did not have functioning Shared With You sections — not that we could find, anyway. The News app has a dedicated Shared With You area in the sidebar, but in apps like Photos and Podcasts it is nowhere to be found.

Apple News and Shared With You in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
The organization of Shared With You articles in News is clunky, but it works.

When it does work, Shared With You is a handy way of collating everything that has come your way, similar to how Messages gathers together all the photos, links, and files from your contacts. Shared With You is a little more basic because each app it works in only collects files that it can play or open rather than everything. But as with Quick Note, it is a welcome, if minor, addition to MacOS.

The other major sharing update in Monterey is SharePlay. The idea behind this is that you can share your screen (or the content you are watching on your screen) with other people during a FaceTime call. In a pandemic world where being together is difficult, it is not hard to see Apple’s motivation. This is one of the few features that has been newly added to the public beta, so we’ll update this post once we’ve had more time with the latest version.

It’s not the only new tool in FaceTime. You can now add a Portrait Mode filter to blur the background, although the quality depends on your camera, and it’s a little hit and miss around the edges of your outline.

As with so much else in this beta, though, lots of things aren’t quite ready. You can send invite links for FaceTime calls (finally!), but joining a call displays everyone in a square, and you can’t change your own camera to be landscape or portrait. In a call made without a link, it’s the opposite, and the grid view doesn’t work. Microphone modes like Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum aren’t available at all.

Mapping the future

Apple Maps in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Apple Maps now has better traffic information, including more detailed hazard warnings.

Shortcuts is one of the most powerful native apps on iOS, as it lets you create automated sets of actions that perform complex tasks with a simple trigger. Now, it’s on the Mac, and it’s actually better suited to this platform than the iPhone.

That’s because, like on the iPad, the Mac version has a right-hand sidebar that lets you drag and drop actions into place, creating a visual flowchart that is simple to follow. For many people, the Mac is also where they are likely to perform the most complex tasks, making Shortcuts on MacOS a powerful addition to their arsenal, if one that is also long overdue.

Elsewhere, Apple Maps gets a more detailed look and a slate of new features. Major cities are more detailed, with rich 3D models of major attractions and buildings (except … lots are invisible, at least when we tried them out), there’s a new globe view of the whole Earth, and public transit directions are more helpful and informative. Driving maps give more info on hazards and traffic conditions, too. Maps now also lets you set a time to leave or arrive on a car journey, not just on public transport. That feature’s arrival is years behind Google Maps, sure, but it’s here on the Mac at last.

Apple Maps in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Want to see Apple Park in 3D? Well you can’t, because at the moment it’s invisible in Apple Maps.

And if everything gets a bit too overwhelming, there’s a new tool called Focus that aims to cut out the barrage of notifications and distractions by only allowing certain people or apps to buzz you. What is interesting is that it allows you to set different Focus modes, each with different rules for different scenarios. For instance, Focus loads up with Do Not Disturb, Driving, and Sleep modes. The latter integrates with the sleep schedule you set in the iOS Health app, for example.

Adding your own is simple. The Automation section is where you set how the Focus mode is activated: At a set time or when you arrive at a specific location. So, you could set a location-based automation that activates when you arrive at the gym, letting you concentrate on pumping iron without distraction. There’s also an app-based automation, but it’s not clear if this refers to apps that will trigger Focus mode or apps that are allowed through. We’d bet on the former seeing as blocked apps are already covered in Apple’s Screen Time tool, but Apple has not made it very clear.

As with so much in the MacOS Monterey beta, there is a lot of potential in something like Focus, but it’s not quite ready for prime time. We will keep testing everything in the MacOS Monterey public beta and will add to this article as Apple updates the beta going forward.

Editors’ Choice




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