Google Home can now translate conversations on-the-fly

Just last month, Google showed off an “Interpreter mode” that would let Google Home devices act as an on-the-fly translator. One person speaks one language, the other person speaks another, and Google Assistant tries to be the middleman between the two.

They were only testing it in select locations (hotel front desks, mostly) at the time, but it looks like it’s gotten a much wider rollout now.

Though Google hasn’t officially announced it, AndroidPolice noticed that a support page for the feature just went public. We tested it on our own Google Home devices, and sure enough: interpreter mode fired right up.

To get started, you just say something like “Hey Google, be my Spanish interpreter,” or “Hey Google, help me speak Italian.”

Curiously, you currently have to say the initial command in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese or Spanish, but once it’s up and running you should be able to translate between the following languages:


• Czech
• Danish
• Dutch
• English
• Finnish
• French
• German
• Greek
• Hindi
• Hungarian
• Indonesian
• Italian
• Japanese
• Korean
• Mandarin
• Polish
• Portuguese
• Romanian
• Russian
• Slovak
• Spanish
• Swedish
• Thai
• Turkish
• Ukrainian
• Vietnamese

It works pretty well for basic conversations in our quick testing, but it has its quirks. Saying “Goodbye,” for example, ends the translation rather than translating it into the target language, which might be a little confusing if one half of the conversation didn’t realize the chat was nearing its end.

The new feature should work on any Google Home device — and if it’s one with a screen (like Google’s Home Hub), you’ll see the words as they’re translated.

NASA cubecraft WALL-E and EVE sign off after historic Mars flyby

A NASA mission that sent two tiny spacecraft farther out than any like them before appears to have come to an end: Cubesats MarCO-A and B (nicknamed WALL-E and EVE) are no longer communicating from their positions a million and two million miles from Earth, respectively.

The briefcase-sized craft rode shotgun on the Insight Mars Lander launch in May, detaching shortly after leaving orbit. Before long they had gone farther than any previous cubesat-sized craft, and after about a million kilometers EVE took a great shot of the Earth receding in its wake (if wake in space were a thing).

They were near Mars when Insight made its descent onto the Red Planet, providing backup observation and connectivity; having done that, their mission was pretty much over. In fact, the team felt that if they made it that far it would already be a major success.

“This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us,” said the mission’s chief engineer, JPL’s Andy Klesh, in a news release. “We’ve put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther.”

The two craft together cost less than $20 million to make, a tiny fraction of what traditionally sized orbiters and probes cost, and of course their size makes them much easier to launch, as well.

However, in the end these were experimental platforms not designed to last years — or decades, like Voyager 1 and 2. The two craft have ceased communicating with mission control, and although this was expected, the cause is still undetermined:

The mission team has several theories for why they haven’t been able to contact the pair. WALL-E has a leaky thruster. Attitude-control issues could be causing them to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands. The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor. The MarCOs are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on. The farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth.

There’s a slim chance that when WALL-E and EVE’s orbits bring them closer to the sun, they’ll power back on and send a bit more information, and the team will be watching this summer to see if that happens. But it would just be a cherry on top of a cherry at this point.

You can learn more about the MarCO project here, and all the images the craft were able to take and send back are collected here.

Showing the power of startup women’s health brands, P&G buys This is L

The P&G acquisition of This is L., a startup retailer of period products and prophylactics, shows just how profitable investing in women’s healthcare brands and products can be.

A person with knowledge of the investment put the price tag at roughly $100 million — a healthy outcome for investors and company founder Talia Frenkel. But just as important as the financial outcome is the deal’s implications for other mission-driven companies.

This is L. launched from Y Combinator in August 2015 with a service distributing condoms in New York and San Francisco and steadily expanded into feminine hygiene products.

Frenkel, a former photojournalist who worked for the United Nations and Red Cross, started the company in 2013 — roughly three years after an assignment in Africa revealed the toll that HIV/AIDs was taking on women and girls on the continent.

“I didn’t realize the No. 1 killer of women was completely preventable and I think that really inspired me to action,” Frenkel told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s launch.

Now the company has distributed roughly 250 million products to customers around the world.

“Our strong growth has enabled us to stand in solidarity with women in more than 20 countries,” said Frenkel in a statement following the acquisition. “Our support has ranged from partnering with organizations to send period products to Native communities in South Dakota, to supplying pad-making machines to a women-led business in Tamil Nadu. Pairing our purpose with P&G’s expertise, scale and resources provides an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to a more equitable world.”

The company is available in more than 5,000 stores across the U.S. and is working with women entrepreneurs in countries from Uganda to India and beyond.

“This acquisition is a perfect complement to our Always and Tampax portfolio, with its commitment to a shared mission to advocate for girls’ confidence and serve more women,” said Jennifer Davis, president, P&G Global Feminine Care. “We feel this is a strong union and together we can be a greater force for good.”

For investors with knowledge of the company, the P&G acquisition is a harbinger of things to come. The combination of a non-technical, female founder operating in the consumer packaged goods market with a mission-driven company was an anomaly in the Silicon Valley of four years ago, but Frenkel’s success shows what kind of opportunities exist in the market.

“With this acquisition investors need to update their patterns,” said one investor with knowledge of the company.

Reddit is raising a huge round near a $3 billion valuation

Reddit is raising $150 million to $300 million to keep the front page of the internet running, multiple sources tell TechCrunch. The forthcoming Series D round is said to be led by Chinese tech giant Tencent at a $2.7 billion pre-money valuation. Depending on how much follow-on cash Reddit drums up from Silicon Valley investors and beyond, its post-money valuation could reach an epic $3 billion.

As more people seek esoteric community and off-kilter entertainment online, Reddit continues to grow its link-sharing forums. Indeed, 330 million monthly active users now frequent its 150,000 Subreddits. That warrants the boost to its valuation, which previously reached $1.8 billion when it raised $200 million in July 2017. As of then, Reddit’s majority stake was still held by publisher Conde Nast, which bought in back in 2006 just a year after the site launched. Reddit had raised $250 million previously, so the new round will push it to $400 million to $550 million in total funding.

It should have been clear that Reddit was on the prowl after a month of pitching its growth to the press and beating its own drum. In December Reddit announced it had reached 1.4 billion video views per month, up a staggering 40 percent from just two months earlier after first launching a native video player in August 2017. And it made a big deal out of starting to sell cost-per-click ads in addition to promoted posts, cost per impression and video ads. A 22 percent increase in engagement and 30 percent rise in total view in 2018 pushed it past $100 million in revenue for the year, CNBC reported.

The exact details of the Series D could fluctuate before it’s formally announced, and Reddit and Tencent declined to comment. But supporting and moderating all that content isn’t cheap. The company had 350 employees just under a year ago, and is headquartered in pricey San Francisco — though in one of its cheaper but troubled neighborhoods. Until Reddit’s newer ad products rev up, it’s still relying on venture capital.

Tencent’s money will give Reddit time to hit its stride. It’s said to be kicking in the first $150 million of the round. The Chinese conglomerate owns all-in-one messaging app WeChat and is the biggest gaming company in the world thanks to ownership of League of Legends and stakes in Clash of Clans-maker Supercell and Fortnite developer Epic. But China’s crackdown on gaming addiction has been rough for Tencent’s valuation and Chinese competitor ByteDance’s news reader app Toutiao has grown enormous. Both of those facts make investing in American newsboard Reddit a savvy diversification, even if Reddit isn’t accessible in China.

Reddit could seek to fill out its round with up to $150 million in additional cash from previous investors like Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator or YC’s president Sam Altman. They could see potential in one of the web’s most unique and internet-native content communities. Reddit is where the real world is hashed out and laughed about by a tech-savvy audience that often produces memes that cross over into mainstream culture. And with all those amateur curators toiling away for internet points, casual users are flocking in for an edgier look at what will be the center of attention tomorrow.

Reddit has recently avoided much of the backlash hitting fellow social site Facebook, despite having to remove 1,000 Russian trolls pushing political propaganda. But in the past, the anonymous site has had plenty of problems with racist, misogynistic and homophobic content. In 2015 it finally implemented quarantines and shut down some of the most offensive Subreddits. But harassment by users contributed to the departure of CEO Ellen Pao, who was replaced by Steve Huffman, Reddit’s co-founder. Huffman went on to abuse that power, secretly editing some user comments on Reddit to frame them for insulting the heads of their own Subreddits. He escaped the debacle with a slap on the wrist and an apology, claiming “I spent my formative years as a young troll on the Internet.”

Investors will have to hope Huffman has the composure to lead Reddit as it inevitably encounters more scrutiny as its valuation scales up. Its policy choice about what constitutes hate speech and harassment, its own company culture and its influence on public opinion will all come under the microscope. Reddit has the potential to give a voice to great ideas at a time when flashy visuals rule the web. And as local journalism wanes, the site’s breed of vigilante web sleuths could be more in demand, for better or worse. But that all hinges on Reddit defining clear, consistent, empathetic policy that will help it surf atop the sewage swirling around the internet.