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Chinese robotics company UBTECH gets $820 million in funding

Shenzhen-based home robotics company UBTECH announced this week that it has closed a massive $820 million Series C. The round, led by Tencent and a whole slew of other investors, follows a $100 million Series B and $20 million Series C.

The bipedal robotics maker certainly isn’t a household name here in the States — though the company’s taken a few baby steps over here, including a walking Stormtrooper robot released alongside The Last Jedi. It also debuted a “robotic butler” with a tablet face back at CES in January that seemed more proof of concept than shipping product — though UBTECH has promised a broad 2019 release date.

CEO James Zhou has promised the company will use this huge backing to accelerate its vision of bringing robots into the home.

“As technology evolves to include more voice and touch capabilities, people need new devices that communicate and interact more naturally and intuitively at home, at school and at work,” he said in a release tied to the announcement. “While trends in robots and robotics are developing, no company has yet stepped forward with the resources, vision and products ecosystem to transform robot fantasy and fiction into robot reality. UBTECH is bringing this reality to life by expanding the possibilities for innovation.”

The company says the funding will go into R&D, hires and expanding its global footprint. UBTECH is one of a number of companies pushing home robotics beyond the Roomba, including a rumored upcoming device from Amazon. The technology has been a tough nut to crack in the preceding decades, but an $820 million investment certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Google Kubeflow, machine learning for Kubernetes, begins to take shape

Ever since Google created Kubernetes as an open source container orchestration tool, it has seen it blossom in ways it might never have imagined. As the project gains in popularity, we are seeing many adjunct programs develop. Today, Google announced the release of version 0.1 of the Kubeflow open source tool, which is designed to bring machine learning to Kubernetes containers.

While Google has long since moved Kubernetes into the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, it continues to be actively involved, and Kubeflow is one manifestation of that. The project was only first announced at the end of last year at Kubecon in Austin, but it is beginning to gain some momentum.

David Aronchick, who runs Kubeflow for Google, led the Kubernetes team for 2.5 years before moving to Kubeflow. He says the idea behind the project is to enable data scientists to take advantage of running machine learning jobs on Kubernetes clusters. Kubeflow lets machine learning teams take existing jobs and simply attach them to a cluster without a lot of adapting.

With today’s announcement, the project begins to move ahead, and according to a blog post announcing the milestone, brings a new level of stability, while adding a slew of new features that the community has been requesting. These include Jupyter Hub for collaborative and interactive training on machine learning jobs and Tensorflow training and hosting support, among other elements.

Aronchick emphasizes that as an open source project you can bring whatever tools you like, and you are not limited to Tensorflow, despite the fact that this early version release does include support for Google’s machine learning tools. You can expect additional tool support as the project develops further.

In just over 4 months since the original announcement, the community has grown quickly with over 70 contributors, over 20 contributing organizations along with over 700 commits in 15 repositories. You can expect the next version, 0.2, sometime this summer.