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Urgent.ly, a Tysons-based startup that connects drivers in distress with nearby roadside assistance providers, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it has secured $21 million in funding.

New investors in the project include car manufacturers BMW and Jaguar.

“Global automotive and new mobility companies are increasingly designing and marketing more transportation options with varying tasks, sizes and complexity,” the company said in a press release. “This level of innovation will render traditional roadside assistance obsolete, evolving into mobility assistance that can service today’s vehicles as well as fleets of the future that will include electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility vehicles, drones, robotic delivery and more.”

The company is headquartered at 8609 Westwood Center Drive, just off Leesburg Pike and west of the Dominion Square development.

Urgent.ly’s platform aims to make linking a driver to a roadside assistance program seamless and accessible. The company claims its product can provide a 50 percent reduction in response times and offers real-time tracking for both the driver in the crash and the roadside assistance company.

The BMW Group also selected Urgent.ly as a partner for further work with the manufacturer’s in-house roadside assistance system.

“We are truly gratified by the support of our investors, including some of the world’s top global automotive brands, as we work to define the future of mobility and roadside assistance and deliver experience customers demand and deserve,” Chris Spanos, CEO and co-founder of Urgent.ly, said in the press release.

Photo via Facebook

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In a robotics competition featuring 35 schools and 2,500 students from across the state, a team from Vienna’s St. Mark Catholic School walked away with a third place win and $16,000 in scholarships.

According to a press release from the school, eighth-graders Valentina Roza and Frankie Anstett took home a bronze award during the finals for the Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC), held at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Engineering on Jan. 12. The pair missed second place by only one point, the school said.

The competition features a graphical simulation of a robotics kit, where students use a coding interface to direct the robot to carry out a series of complex tasks and missions.

Two seventh-grade students from the school, Ava Romeo and Finley Tarr, placed 10th in the competition.

All four students were awarded the scholarships, which are applicable only if the students attend VCU.

“We are so proud of our students for shining in this state-wide event,” Darcie Girmus, principal at St. Mark Catholic School, said in the press release. “We feel strongly that by focusing our instruction on critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and teamwork, that they will succeed in any number of challenges across multiple disciplines, including coding.”

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Morning Notes

Fatal Pedestrian Crash on Route 50 — “Officers responded to the report of a hit-and-run crash involving a pedestrian on Arlington Boulevard near Summerfield Road, at approximately six [Friday] night. The pedestrian was crossing Arlington Boulevard, not in a crosswalk, and was hit by a dark colored mid to full-size pickup truck with an open bed. The truck did not stop and drove away from the scene. The pedestrian, 93-year-old Pericles Apostolou, from Falls Church, was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.” [FCPD]

Road Closed Due to Downed Trees — Amid high winds and power outages, Spring Hill Road in McLean was closed for an extended period of time Sunday due to downed trees and wires. [Twitter]

Tegna Auctioning Office Fixtures — Broadcast conglomerate Tegna is moving from its current Tysons home to the Boro development. As part of the move, it’s auctioning off furniture, TVs and other items of value from around the office. Bids close Thursday. [Washington Business Journal, Rasmus Auctions]

Local Hackers Gather in McLean — “All day Monday, the NoVa Hackers held their SchmooCon Epilogue in McLean… Over 150 members attended topical lectures, competed in MetaCTF challenges, and participated in discussions about cyber and information security between insider groups.” [WDVM]

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If your tech company is one of the several across Northern Virginia represented by Tysons-based public relations firm SpeakerBox, the reach of your advertising might soon expand after the company is swallowed into a larger marketing agency.

D.C.-based digital marketing company REQ announced today (Tuesday) that it is acquiring SpeakerBox. According to the Washington Business Journal, the combined company will have over $20 million in annual revenue and over 150 clients, including Amazon and Disney.

Elizabeth Shea, co-founder of SpeakerBox, said one condition of the deal was to allow SpeakerBox staff to continue operating out of Tysons. The company has been located in Northern Virginia since it was founded in 1997 and based out of Tysons since 2005.

“The Dulles corridor is well known as tech corridor,” said Shea. “Half of our clients are public sector groups and all of them are in Northern Virginia. We knew it was important to stay near our clients.”

Shea said the company has a staff of 20 employees all working in Tysons, while REQ has offices spread out across San Francisco, New York and Boston.

“I think the fact that there are so many tech companies in [Northern Virginia] is intriguing,” said Shea. “People think of tech as [being based in] Boston and San Francisco, but there’s a strong presence here.”

Shea said everyone currently employed by SpeakerBox will remain employed at REQ. Shea herself said she’s contracted to stay on board for the next three years or more.

“Day to day, our clients won’t see anything immediately different,” said Shea. “But as clients look to grow and expand their marketing that might involve services we didn’t previously offer.”

Photo courtesy SpeakerBox

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If you check the Google homepage, you might have noticed today’s charming dancing dinosaurs doodle. What you might not know is the artist is local second-grader Sarah Gomez-Lane.

Last year, Gomez-Lane won the 10th annual “Doodle 4 Google” competition, earning a $30,000 scholarship and $50,000 for her school, Pine Springs Elementary, to spend on technology.

Animators at Google also helped Gomez-Lane turn the artwork into a short interactive, animated feature where, on clicking, each of the animals will act out a scene, from eating berries to playing the trumpet.

“When they called my name, I felt happy and surprised,” said Gomez-Lane in a video put together by Google. “I’m going to call my principal. He’s going to say ‘yay.'”

According to a statement from Google:

“We’re thrilled to share the work of our 2018 Doodle for Google winner on the US Google homepage: 2nd grader Sarah Gomez-Lane, who drew delightful dinosaurs to highlight her dream of becoming a paleontologist! We fell in love with Sarah’s rendering of her dinos, and were blown away by her big (you might even say “dino-sized”!) ambitions for her future, especially at her young age.”

Image via Google

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What 5G Means for Tysons

5G is coming to Tysons — sooner or later — but its local rollout is not without challenges.

The next generation of wireless internet technology, which will arrive in Tysons in the next few years, means more than faster Netflix. It means infrastructure, laying the groundwork for innovation and entrepreneurship. It means bringing technology like self-driving cars a step closer to reality.

It also means regulation: it means Fairfax County negotiating with property owners, telecom providers, and the federal government. Tysons is built on a legacy of leadership in network technology, and the path forward relies on wise implementation of wireless technology. The future of “Internet Alley” hangs in the balance.

Mobile internet has changed a lot since 2G technology came along in 1991. Every additional G (for ‘generation’) follows the same trend: speed increases while range drops. Long-gone are the days of a single cellular tower providing a signal for the entire city. Today’s 4G technology relies on a network of smaller nodes, often located on top of buildings, that each cover a neighborhood. Tomorrow’s 5G nodes, with speeds up to twenty times faster, will probably have a range between 250 and 2000 feet. Fortunately, these will be “small cells”: maybe as large as a thirty-foot tower or as small as a backpack attached to a streetlight that’s already there.

5G’s higher speeds will be critical for Tysons moving forward. With much of the area’s historical success and present industry built on network technology, internet connection is as important here as was coal to the cities of the Industrial Revolution.

The new technology will be particularly important for self-driving cars, often called autonomous vehicles or AVs. Full automation will require that an AV is always connected to the internet, at reliably high speeds, so it can communicate with other AVs on the road. Only then will the full potential of the technology be unleashed. Tysons is heavily reliant on cars for transportation and Fairfax is “trying to become a capital of driverless cars,” so it is clear that AVs and 5G will play a transformative role for ‘America’s Next Great City.’ 5G will also be important for “Internet of Things” technologies like cashier-free retail and augmented reality.

Tysons faces unique and formidable challenges in implementing 5G. These challenges arise from the combination of 5G’s limited range with Tysons’ unusual physical and legal environments.

Where should 5G small cells be located? The first half of the question is physical. In traditional cities like Washington, we can attach them to existing streetlights on every block where they’ll cover traffic on the streets as well as people using mobile devices on the sidewalk or in parks, shops, and cafes. But Tysons doesn’t really have blocks. Here, a cell at the side of the road might not be strong enough to reach all the way through the parking lot to the building behind it. Here, the 495-123 interchange is almost 1,000 feet wide — it alone might need several cells.

Although Tysons is working hard to be more pedestrian-friendly, most people walking in the area are still inside buildings. Because 5G signal can’t easily penetrate walls, that means that our malls, parking garages, and big-box stores might only get reception if the cells are actually indoors with the shoppers.

Solving those technical issues will be difficult enough, but on the legal side of things the problems really get thorny.

Many of Tysons’ streets, along with its enormous buildings and parking garages, are privately-owned. This means it will be difficult for Fairfax County to coordinate a unified system that covers the entire area. The wide variety of private landowners will each bring their own desires to the table, but for the 5G network to be really useful it will have to be unified. To imagine what an inconsistent network might mean, think about an autonomous vehicle that drives itself off the highway ramp only to abruptly switch back to manual control when it enters a private street. To imagine a consistent one, think about placing an HD video call from your seat on the Metro and the connection not missing a beat as you disembark and walk to your favorite shop inside the mall.

To make the situation even stickier, Fairfax will be handling all of these negotiations with one hand tied behind its back. The FCC recently released a set of regulations dictating that local governments will only have 90 days to approve or deny small-cell installation applications, restricting environmental approval processes, and limiting the fees that can be charged to a service provider. 90 days is the blink of an eye for regulators, meaning that Fairfax will have to have a well-made plan ready before the first installation applications appear.

5G is coming quick. It could arrive as soon as next year, though probably not soon enough that you should upgrade your phone yet. However, if we hurry to bring 5G to Tysons, we might ignore the complexity of the issue and get the rollout wrong.

Early-adoption 5G might provide an advantage in the short term that turns into a long-term obstacle when the system is too established to change. We might be better off if we take our time and avoid other communities’ mistakes. Internet connectivity is important here, but it’s more important to get it right than to get it fast.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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Across all of Fairfax County, Tysons has the highest concentration of cybersecurity companies with headquarters or major operations.

According to a list put together by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA), Tysons has 119 cybersecurity companies, the most of any jurisdiction in the county. Tysons is followed by Reston with 79 companies and Herndon with 68 companies.

Economic groups have been working to turn Tysons into a Silicon Valley for cybersecurity. Bringing in more tech companies, and how that could impact education and infrastructure challenges around the region, was a major theme of the Tysons 2050 event

Some of the cybersecurity companies — or companies with cybersecurity components — in Tysons include:

  • BAE Systems — a defense, security and aerospace company
  • Centurum — a network engineering and infrastructure company
  • Cyren — a cloud-based internet security services company
  • Dell EMC — a data storage and management company acquired by Dell in 2016.
  • HumanTouch — a private and public sector cybersecurity company
  • Leidos — a defense and intelligence industry focused cybersecurity company
  • Merlin International — a cybersecurity company focusing on both government and commercial contracts
  • Microstrategy — a data analytics company
  • MITRE — a not-for-profit company that operates research and development centers
  • Nehemiah Security — a cyber-risk assessment business
  • Novetta Solutions — a data-analytics focused business
  • OBXtek — a technical and logistics solutions company which works primarily with the federal government
  • Preferred Systems Solutions — an IT management, development, and operation company
  • PFP Cybersecurity — a cybersecurity company utilizing analog signals to assess the integrity of digital information
  • Raytheon — a major defense contractor
  • RSA — a commercial-focused cybersecurity company
  • Strategic Operational Solutions — an IT strategy and management consulting firm
  • Tangible Security — a cybersecurity company
  • Tanium — an endpoint security and systems management company
  • Trustwave — a business-focused cybersecurity company
  • Veris Group — a Tysons cyber-risk assessor that acquired in 2016 by cybersecurity company Coalfire
  • Verodin — a cybersecurity management company

There are also several major cybersecurity companies located around the Merrifield area, including:

Photo via FCEDA

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The 85 students from four Fairfax and Falls Church public schools expected to graduate yesterday from the Capital One Coders program at the Capital One headquarters in Tysons East. What they weren’t expecting were free laptops given away by the company to each of the graduates.

The Capital One Coders program trains local middle school students after school for ten weeks. Students learn the basics of programming and eventually work up to developing their own mobile applications.

Part of the surprise at the graduation was gifting each student their own laptop and giving a $10,000 grant to the schools for STEM education. The kids went home with the laptops, but the grants will go to the schools at the end of the spring semester.

“The coders program started in 2014,” said Jay Sanne, Vice President of Software Engineering for Capital One. “It is deployed in each of our major people centers. It’s had a great response from schools and associates.”

Sanne said the coders program is part of a commitment to building a 21st century workforce with technology skills.

Typically students develop games, although Sanne said the applications students build are often pretty sophisticated. Sanne noted there was one student early in the program who developed a mobile application to automate her family’s chicken coop so she wouldn’t have to leave the house to open up the coop and let the chickens out.

“It’s amazing to see them going from week one to week ten, where they’re demoing real mobile apps,” said Sanne. “We see the excitement in the kids as we’re teaching the program.”

At the graduation, the students at the Capital One Coders program also demonstrated their apps for parents and loved ones in attendance. Different prizes were awarded, like most creative or most technical.

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Yombu, a startup at MakeOffices in Tysons that specializes in fingertip authentication, recently expanded its reach into New York City, California and Colorado.

Originally reported by DC Inno, fitness centers in Manhattan and other locations have started using Yombu to authenticate gym entrance and training sessions. Joe Falit, CEO of Yombu, told Tysons Reporter the push into New York came as part of Yombu’s partnership with Motionsoft, a management and software company that operates in fitness and entertainment centers across the country.

Falit said the gyms use the fingerprint software to authenticate people coming in and out of the facilities, as well as using it to sign for training sessions to avoid fraud.

Yombu is expanding into 35-40 new locations, of which 25 are in Manhattan. Falit said Yombu may expand into as many as new 60 locations in the near future.

In 2019, Falit said his aims are to add new distribution channels for the technology and continue making technical improvements.

“We still do payments, but overall we’re becoming [more of an] authentication company,” said Falit.

For now, though, Falit says he plans on doing more work from home as he helps raise his daughter, who was born last week.

Photo courtesy Yombu

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Morning Notes

Vienna Mulling Economic Development Push — “Vienna is the only Northern Virginia locality without personnel expressly devoted to economic development, but that may change soon. Vienna Town Council members, in a joint work session Dec. 3 with their Planning Commission counterparts, supported town staff’s proposal to hire a consultant (for about $100,000) who would develop an economic-development strategy and conduct a market study.” [InsideNova]

NBC4 Covers Vienna Bike Corral — The Vienna Town Council’s concern about a bike corral potentially taking up a single parking space on Church Street was the subject of an Adam Tuss story on NBC4 yesterday. Via Twitter, the [email protected] store said in response: “Needless to say, we at [email protected] support the move. Will the Town get on board with providing much needed bike infrastructure, or will cars still rule?” [Twitter, Twitter]

Photos: Reindogs in McLean — “The 2018 Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce Reindog celebration, which took place Dec. 1… brought out the creativity of local residents and the understanding of canines who found themselves dressed up in holiday-themed costumes.” [InsideNova]

Fairfax Approves Funds for Tech Firm’s Tysons Move — “Cloud computing company Appian Corporation will receive $4 million from Fairfax County for the company’s expansion and new headquarters in Tysons… The Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors approved the Development Opportunity Fund grant from the Commonwealth at its meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 4).” [Reston Now]

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