Elon Musk says Tesla vehicles will soon get a ‘Sentry Mode’

Tesla owners may soon have a way to see (and record) damage that happens to their vehicles when they’re unattended.

Tesla will roll out “Tesla Sentry Mode” for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot, CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet Tuesday. Musk didn’t provide anymore information about when this feature might be available and how it might work.

TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for more details.

The name suggests that this feature would stand guard, so to speak by either keeping the dash cam on while parked or having it automatically turn on if the car is hit or being tampered with. It could operate similar to aftermarket product Owl security camera; although, again, details are scant except that “regulators just approved.”

In October, Tesla released version 9.0 of its software, which featured a number of updates including a new UI on the center display and the ability to the use the built-in forward-facing cameras as a dash cam. The dash cam feature is available only in Tesla vehicles built after August 2017.

The dash cam feature currently lets owners record and store video footage captured by their car’s forward-facing camera onto a USB flash drive. Owners first must configure a USB flash drive in Windows or MS-DOS file architecture and add a base-level folder in the flash drive called TeslaCam. The configured USB flash drive can then be inserted into either one of the USB ports in the front row of the vehicle. When properly configured, the Dash cam icon pops up on the status bar with a red dot indicating that it is recording.

Owners can tap the icon to save a 10-minute video clip or press and hold to pause recording. Recordings that aren’t downloaded are automatically deleted.

Viacom buys the free video streaming service Pluto.tv for $340 million

Viacom is bucking the trend of launching new premium subscription-based entertainment offerings with its bid to acquire Pluto TV for $340 million in cash.

It’s a way to distribute the company’s once mighty-with-millennial properties like Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, MTV and BET to an audience that doesn’t pay for cable and boost the audience and reach for its recent acquisitions Awesomeness and Whosay.

Launched in 2013, Pluto TV has built a catalog of titles by licensing movies and television shows from studios as well as content from YouTube and other short-form digital media distributors. The company now offers more than 100 channels from 130 content partners that it distributes to roughly 12 million monthly active users — 7.5 million who access it through connected televisions.

“Today marks an important step forward in Viacom’s evolution, as we work to move both our company and the industry forward. Pluto TV’s unique and market-leading product, combined with Viacom’s brands, content, advanced advertising capabilities and global scale, creates a great opportunity for consumers, partners and Viacom,” said Bob Bakish, Viacom president and chief executive, in a statement. “As the video marketplace continues to segment, we see an opportunity to support the ecosystem in creating products at a broad range of price points, including free. To that end, we see significant white space in the ad-supported streaming market and are excited to work with the talented Pluto TV team, and a broad range of Viacom partners, to accelerate its growth in the U.S. and all over the world.”

Pluto Tv will operate as an independent subsidiary of Viacom and its chief executive and co-founder, Tom Ryan, will continue to serve as CEO of the independent entity.

“Since our launch less than five years ago, and particularly over the past year, Pluto TV has enjoyed explosive growth and become the category leader in free streaming television,” said Pluto TV CEO and co-founder Tom Ryan. “Viacom’s portfolio of global, iconic brands and IP, advanced advertising leadership and international reach will enable Pluto TV to grow even faster and become a major force in streaming TV worldwide. Viacom is the perfect partner to help us accomplish our mission of entertaining the planet.”

The deal is also a win for Pluto TV’s venture capital investors. Since its founding, Pluto TV had raised $51.8 million from investors, including USVP, ProSiebenSat.1 Media, Scripps Networks Interactive, Sky, United Talent Agency, Luminari Capital, Chicago Ventures, Pritzker Group and others.

Rocket Lab snags DARPA launch contract for first 2019 mission

Launch startup Rocket Lab is following the success of its first couple commercial launches by adding a prestigious (and deep-pocketed) new client: DARPA. The New Zealand-based company will send an experimental satellite called R3D2 into low Earth orbit sometime in late February if all goes well.

DARPA is of course the Defense Department’s research wing, and it probably has whole file folders filled with experiments it would like to send up to orbit but has deferred because of cost or timing restrictions. Rocket Lab’s whole business model is to make launches cheap and frequent so neither of those apply, and DARPA seems willing to give it a shot.

“The Department of Defense has prioritized rapid acquisition of small satellite and launch capabilities. By relying on commercial acquisition practices, DARPA streamlined the R3D2 mission from conception through launch services acquisition,” explained DARPA’s Fred Kennedy, director of the Tactical Technology Office, in a news release.

“The ability to rapidly space-qualify new technology and deploy space-based assets with confidence on short notice is a service that didn’t exist for dedicated small satellites until now,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck in his company’s corresponding release.

Apparently it’s nicknamed “Wallaby,” perhaps because it keeps things in a pouch.

The satellite itself is actually more of a short-term science experiment. It’s a “membrane antenna,” a thin layer of Kapton folded up into a tiny space that, upon reaching orbit, will unfurl to its full 7-foot diameter. The larger surface area may make for better signal reception and transmission, and packing into a smaller area of course makes more room for other components. (R3D2 stands for Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration, by the way.)

The whole thing weighs 150 kilograms, or about 330 pounds; that doesn’t leave a lot of space for ride sharing, so DARPA is paying for the whole Electron rocket. The plan is to launch in late February from Rocket Lab’s facility in New Zealand on the Māhia Peninsula. The exact date will only become clear once weather and other variables for that period are determined.

Fingers crossed for Rocket Lab on this one. It’s already done launches for private companies and for NASA; adding DARPA to the Rolodex would be a big coup for a company looking to build up its profile.