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  BGR Show All 
Facebook will finally tell you to read news articles before you share them
Facebook Sharing Prompt

Social media can be a source of toxic fake news meant to polarize users and manipulate public opinion. Facebook is at the heart of the problem as the world’s largest social network. The phenomenon was best observed during the 2016 US Presidential elections when the platform was used to target voters with misleading content. Facebook ultimately admitted that Russia meddled with the election and started taking steps to prevent similar events. But Facebook was hardly able to contain the fake news that assaulted its services in the years that followed.

Misleading content still spread with ease on its platforms, including Facebook and its messaging apps, escalating during the first year of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Conspiracy theories and fake news about the new illness, treatments, and vaccines circulated online with ease. Facebook again attempted to limit the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Later, Mark Zuckerberg banned Donald Trump on Facebook and Instagram in the aftermath of the US Capitol riots — before that, Facebook removed misleading content from the former president or labeled the posts that violated its policies. That ban was upheld recently.

Going forward, Facebook might implement another helpful feature that might curb the sharing of misleading information on its platforms. Facebook will show prompts advising people to read the news articles they’re about to share in full before actually sharing them with their contacts.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
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Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

Facebook will finally tell you to read news articles before you share them originally appeared on BGR.com on Tue, 11 May 2021 at 07:41:07 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


Intel just launched its next-gen laptop chips to compete against Apple’s M1 MacBooks
Intel Tiger Lake-H Chips

If there’s anything Intel stood out for so far this year, that’s the massive ad campaign that targeted the M1 MacBooks. Intel went out of its way to slam Apple’s M1 chips that were launched last November. The M1 powers four different Macs, including the new Air and Pro, and the 2021 iPad Pros run on the same exact silicon. The M1 is arguably one of the most exciting computing innovations of 2020, one Intel can’t quite match. The M1 is a 5nm ARM chip similar to the chip powering the iPhone 12 series. M1 Macs have been praised for their performance and battery life (on laptops), and Intel largely failed to come up with any criticism that can truly stick. The M1 does have limitations that Intel tried to highlight, but they’re limitations that Apple will likely correct in the future, such as better gaming performance and support for multiple monitors.

Against that backdrop, Intel has just launched its next-gen laptop chips to rival the M1 MacBooks, the 11th-gen Intel Core processors that will power consumer and business laptops this year. Intel made a big deal about its new Intel Core H-series processor (codenamed Tiger Lake-H) that will power plenty of “enthusiast” devices. Enthusiast is a big buzzword for the Tiger Lake-H series.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

Intel just launched its next-gen laptop chips to compete against Apple’s M1 MacBooks originally appeared on BGR.com on Tue, 11 May 2021 at 07:00:25 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


The first sounds of the Mars helicopter have made it to Earth
ingenuity

We've seen NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity sitting on the Red Planet's surface. We've seen it fly and hover. We've even seen it kick up dust and travel horizontally in a demonstration of its usefulness. The only thing we haven't done is hear what the helicopter sounds like on Mars. Now, thanks to NASA's Perseverance rover and the robot's conveniently-placed Mastcam microphone, we have the opportunity to hear the aircraft for the first time.

In a new blog post by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we get to see the helicopter's fourth flight in action. The trip was the most daring of its flight attempts when it launched, taking the helicopter on a long horizontal flight path before returning to its designated takeoff/landing location. What makes this video different is that we finally have audio to go along with it, and we can thank Perseverance and NASA scientists for making it possible.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

The first sounds of the Mars helicopter have made it to Earth originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 23:41:12 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


Pentagon considers using AI-controlled drones and robots in combat
Military Drones

The future of warfare might involve advanced artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that would have the ability and authority to assess situations and engage enemies without having a human in control of every robot or drone involved in the operation.

It might sound like the kind of scenario that sci-fi movies like the Terminator and Matrix series have depicted. Technology had advanced to the point where a computer might take matters into its own hands during an armed conflict. In the movies, AI usually ends up attacking humans. In real life, AI might help the military conduct operations where independent human control over each drone would slow down the mission. One obvious downside is that the enemy might employ similarly sophisticated technology.

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You Save: $14.00 (50%)
Coupon Code: 77KBX5Q2 (by 5/15)
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Today's Top Deals

  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

Pentagon considers using AI-controlled drones and robots in combat originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 22:09:45 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


Researchers found a fossil of three sea creatures eating each other
fossils

Finding fossils of creatures that lived 180 million years ago isn't easy. The vast majority of the fossilized remains that are found from millions of years ago are of animals doing their own thing on their own. On rare occasions, fossils of animals interacting have been found. These are often animals of the same species or sometimes two different species in a predator-prey relationship. Those are quite rare but extremely exciting and valuable to researchers. So, you can imagine the excitement of the team of scientists that found fossilized evidence of an interaction between not two, but three different species.

The fossils were found in Germany by what is described as an "amateur collector" who just happened to stumble across an absolutely incredible discovery. The fossils are that of an ancient crustacean and a squid, with a special cameo by a hungry shark. The fossils are the subject of a new paper published in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

Researchers found a fossil of three sea creatures eating each other originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 20:37:11 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


This simple trick could change the way smartphone cameras work
Xiaomi Camera Tech

When it comes to smartphone design, we’ve been in a holding pattern for at least a couple of years, as we’re waiting for handset makers to bring to the market the perfect phone. The iPhone 12 comes with a brand new design, but the screen has the same notch as the 2017 iPhone X. Over on Android, hole-punch cameras are the norm of all-screen smartphones. The selfie camera might be piercing through the screen from a central position or off-center. It might feature one or two lenses. But the phones look all the same.

Things might get even worse when the perfect design drops. Smartphone vendors are working on camera technology that will let them place the selfie cam under a functional OLED screen, at which point phones will lose notches and display holes. Apple is even rumored to be working on Face ID components that would work through the display.

We saw prototypes with under-display cameras back in 2019, and the world’s first commercial product to use the technology launched last year. But the feature has yet to go mainstream. Camera quality might be a challenge that phone makers still need to overcome, but Xiaomi already has a brilliant idea for killing two birds with one stone.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

This simple trick could change the way smartphone cameras work originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 19:05:15 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


The Biden administration has started sending out stimulus checks to restaurants
New stimulus check

The new stimulus check train just keeps rolling along.

Just days after we noted that the IRS has now sent out the eighth batch of $1,400 stimulus checks -- totaling 1.1 million new payments -- as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that President Biden signed in March, the president on Monday announced that a whole new batch of stimulus checks has now started to go out to a very specific group of recipients. They are the restaurants that have been "hard-hit" by the coronavirus pandemic, with the administration confirming those new relief payments started going out on Monday. It's money that is part of a $28.6 billion pool of financial aid called the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which itself was made possible by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Also important to mention is that this money is a grant, not a loan -- so, for example, it's distinct from the Trump administration's Paycheck Protection Program, which facilitated emergency loans to businesses.

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  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

The Biden administration has started sending out stimulus checks to restaurants originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 18:03:01 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


NASA nails fifth Mars helicopter flight
ingenuity flight

NASA has had a great deal of success with its Mars helicopter Ingenuity. The aircraft took the long trip from Earth to the Red Planet while strapped to the belly of the Perseverance rover, and once it was dropped off at its first Mars "airstrip" it didn't take long for the helicopter to begin its flight testing. Now, with its fifth flight in the books, the helicopter has completely relocated to a new area of Mars and logged its longest flight so far. The chopper left the area nicknamed Wright Brothers Field and is now sitting at its second testing location in anticipation of its big brother rover traveling to the same location.

The Ingenuity project is a very important one for NASA. The helicopter is the first powered aircraft ever sent to another planet, and the fact that it works — and works very well — is a huge credit to the NASA engineers and scientists that are behind it. However, it's not done yet, and the plucky chopper still has some life left and NASA plans to push it to its limit.

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Today's Top Deals

  1. I can’t cook without this one-of-a-kind kitchen gadget – now it’s on sale for $35 at Amazon
  2. Get a 2K camera drone that folds up as small as a smartphone for $65 at Amazon
  3. Upgrade your shower with this classy $21 rain shower head that went viral on TikTok
  4. Today’s best deals: $3.50 smart plugs, $65 2K camera drone, $34 4K Roku, mesh Wi-Fi under $100, Instant Pot deals, more

Trending Right Now:

  1. You might have unclaimed stimulus checks and not even know it
  2. A major grocery store chain just issued two big recalls – here’s what you need to know
  3. Marvel fans are going nuts over this new ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoiler

NASA nails fifth Mars helicopter flight originally appeared on BGR.com on Mon, 10 May 2021 at 17:32:13 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.


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  TechNewsWorld Show All 
Allow App to Track? Most iOS 14.5 Users Tap Fuggedaboutit!
More than 90 percent of U.S. users of the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system iOS 14.5 are taking advantage of a new feature to block an application's ability to track their activity on their phones. Worldwide, 88 percent of users shut down app tracking on their iPhones. This is bad news for advertisers.

Dell Apex Sets High Bar for As-A-Service Offerings
Last week at Dell Technologies World, the most significant announcement was a massive as-a-service offering called Dell Technologies Apex. This promises to return the IT market to its long lost but fondly remembered IBM past. Let's talk about Apex this week. We'll then close with the product of the week, an impressive new WiFi 6E wireless mesh solution from Linksys.

Software Business Driving US Jobs, GDP Growth
The software industry fueled jobs and GDP growth in the United States in 2020, according to a report by Software.org: the BSA Foundation. The software industry supported more than 15.8 million jobs in 2020. While the largest concentrations of software jobs remain in traditional tech hubs, such as Washington and California, other states have experienced greater job growth.

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Livestream E-Commerce Goes Mainstream
Livestream shopping delivers an interactive experience for brands, influencers, or celebrities to promote and sell products; and for consumers to participate by asking questions and shopping during the event. The E-Commerce Times checked in with experts in the field to see what's driving this shopping phenomenon.

SCOTUS Tilts Toward Software Access in Ruling for Google
Last month's ruling by the Supreme Court in Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc. ended 10 years of tortuous litigation. While the Court definitively addressed the dispute between the two high tech giants, it put aside answering one critical infringement factor. Still, the ruling appeared to reduce the legal leverage available to software developers who seek copyright protection.

Many CEOs Skeptical of Social Media Marketing
A survey of more than 200 CEOs maintains that poor digital marketing practices and meaningless metrics are "putting the board to sleep." According to the study, 62 percent of the CEOs believe that too much of marketing budgets is wasted on activities that don't deliver meaningful results, while nearly as many -- 60 percent -- think that the marketing potential of social media has been exaggerated.

This New Online Marketplace Caters to Creators
TrovaPage helps creators and other entrepreneurs focus on marketing without detracting from their creativity. The internet marketplace provides a complete e-commerce platform that allows entrepreneurs to build, market, and bill for services. Users' businesses range from yoga instruction and guitar lessons, to small restaurants, personalized astrology, and nonprofits.

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  Engadget Show All 
The best affordable Windows laptops you can buy
Here's a list of the best affordable Windows laptops you can buy, as reviewed by Engadget editors.

ASUS ROG goes big with the 16-inch Zephyrus M16 and 17-inch S17
ASUS is ready to debut two new big-screen gaming laptops, the Zephyrus M16 and S17.

Colonial pipeline hackers say they're 'apolitical' and only out to make money
The Darkside hacking group believed to be behind the rasomware on the Colonial pipeline has said it is "apolitical" in a statement.

The Morning After: Xbox Series X and PS5 progress update
After half a year with the new consoles, what do you think of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X?

NVIDIA's RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti bring ray tracing to affordable laptops
NVIDIA is officially unveiling the RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti. They deliver the ray tracing and AI features from the rest of its RTX line, but with a much lower starting price around $799.

Razer upgrades its Blade 15 laptop with 11th-gen Intel H-series chips
Razer is launching an upgraded Blade Advanced 15-inch gaming laptop armed with Intel’s latest 11th Gen H-series chips.

Alienware teases new X-Series laptops with exotic cooling solution
Dell has teased an upcoming Alienware laptop lineup called the X-Series offering improved thermal performance using new materials.

NVIDIA's Broadcast app gains echo and video noise removal in new update
NVIDIA has made it easier to remove room echo, sounds of pets and video noise with the latest version of its Broadcast app.

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  WSJ.com: WSJD Show All 
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  CNET News Show All 
Samsung to attend MWC virtually, but the show will still go on in person in Barcelona - CNET
A growing list of companies including Ericsson and Google have announced their withdrawal from the mobile conference, which will take place in June.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti promise $799 RTX gaming laptops - CNET
Whether they'll be able to keep that price promise in these days of chip shortages remains to be seen.
Asus tunes up TUF series gaming laptops with new Nvidia, Intel processors - CNET
Fast displays and military-grade durability are also part of the package.
Asus ROG Zephyrus S17, M16 gaming laptop designs evolve with CPU, GPU updates - CNET
Asus throws a redesign party to celebrate the Intel 11th-gen H-series CPUs and Nvidia RTX 3050 GPUs.
Best 0% APR credit cards for May 2021 - CNET
The right 0% credit card could save you big money in interest payments.
Come to the deepfake cabaret, where AI drag performers come to play - CNET
Fun, mischief, humor and performance throw big questions about AI ethics into the limelight.
Best Oculus Quest 2 accessories for 2021 - CNET
Here's a look at some of the best we've found, including eye-pad covers, controller grips, upgraded head straps and much more.
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  SlashdotShow All 
IBM's CodeNet Dataset Can Teach AI To Translate Computer Languages
IBM announced during its Think 2021 conference on Monday that its researchers have crafted a Rosetta Stone for programming code. Engadget reports: In effect, we've taught computers how to speak human, so why not also teach compute

Voyager 1 Detects Plasma 'Hum'
Obipale shares a report from Phys.Org: Voyager 1 -- one of two sibling NASA spacecraft launched 44 years ago and now the most distant human-made object in space -- still works and zooms toward infinity. The craft has long since zi

MDMA Passes a Big Test For PTSD Treatment
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-t

Facebook Is Testing Pop-Up Messages Telling People To Read a Link Before They Share It
Following Twitter's lead, Facebook is trying out a new feature designed to encourage users to read a link before sharing it. TechCrunch reports: The test will reach 6% of Facebook's Android users globally in a gradual rollout that

Amazon 'Seized and Destroyed' 2 Million Counterfeit Products In 2020
Amazon "seized and destroyed" over 2 million counterfeit products that sellers sent to Amazon warehouses in 2020 and "blocked more than 10 billion suspected bad listings before they were published in our store," the company said i

DHS Launches Warning System To Find Domestic Terrorism Threats On Public Social Media
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: The Department of Homeland Security has begun implementing a strategy to gather and analyze intelligence about security threats from public social media posts, DHS officials said.

Harley-Davidson Launches All-Electric Motorcycle Brand 'LiveWire'
Harley-Davidson on Monday launched an all-electric motorcycle brand "LiveWire," the latest effort by the company to ramp up bets on the rapidly growing electric-vehicle market. Reuters reports: Named after Harley's first electric

Game Developers Break Silence Around Salaries
Developers are sharing their salaries on Twitter under the hashtag #GameDevPaidMe to encourage pay transparency in their industry. Axios reports: The hashtag started circulating last year, but has returned periodically as develope


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'The bar is low for the social media industry': Top platforms are unsafe for LGBTQ community, new report says

GLAAD's social media index report said the top platforms won't use tools to stop harassment, thus "effectively unsafe" for the LGBTQ community.

     

Home video shows driver entering front door before deadly Tesla crash, NTSB says

A fire that erupted after a Tesla crash that killed two people in the Houston area in April destroyed the vehicle's data recorder.

     

Sony reportedly warns PlayStation 5 supply could stay tight through next year

Sony warned analysts its popular video game console will remain under tight supply constraints through 2022, said a report from Bloomberg.

     

Nix Facebook's plan to create Instagram for kids, state attorneys general urge CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Attorneys general in 40 states, D.C. and 3 territories want Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to halt plans for Instagram for kids, calling it "dangerous."

     

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  TechCrunch Show All 
GM and LG Chem’s Ultium Cells partners with Li-Cycle to process manufacturing waste

Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has been steadily building up its battery cell manufacturing capacity in the U.S. since the venture was first announced in December 2019. But with each battery cell they produce, they’ll also produce waste – tricky-to-handle waste that also has too much inherent valuable to toss into a landfill.

Instead of throwing it away, Ultium is sending it to a recycler. The venture has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium’s manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2020. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle’s recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.

General Motors and LG Chem are clearly determined to scale their battery cell manufacturing. Around 5-10% of the output of a cell manufacturer is this excess scrap. Considering that the Lordstown facility will be capable of producing 30 gigawatt hours of capacity annually, it’s sure to produce a sizable amount of waste material. (For perspective, Tesla’s factory in Nevada has a 35 GW-hour capacity.)

Li-Cycle’s approach is different from more traditional recycling processes, co-founder Ajay Kochhar told TechCrunch. Traditional recycling use a pyrometallurgical, or high temperature, process. With this process, batteries go into a furnace and excess material, like plastics and the electrolyte, are burned off, leaving around a 50% recovery rate for the valuable raw materials.

Li-Cycle also differs from competitors like Redwood Materials, which also use high-temperature, Kochhar explained. Redwood processes things like consumer electronics, which requires different approaches. Li-cycle uses a hydrometallurgical process that shreds – actually shreds, like a paper shredder – the battery materials in a submerged, proprietary solution. Doing it this way reduces the thermal risk of a fire and recovers up to 95% of the battery materials (Redwood also claims a recovery rate of 95-98%). By not burning anything off, the company also avoids producing potentially toxic emissions, Kochhar said.

Shredded lithium-ion batteries. Image Credits: Li-Cycle (opens in a new window)

The cathode and anode material is converted into battery-grade chemicals, like lithium carbonate, nickel sulfate and cobalt sulfate. Li-Cycle works with a company Traxys, which buys the chemical material.

“And where it goes from there is back into cathode making and back into the broader economy and battery supply chain,” Kochhar said. The next step would be a “true circular economy closed loop” where the same material used by a manufacturer is returned back to it.

The company has two recycling “spokes,” where shredding and mechanical separation occurs, in Rochester and Ontario, Canada, with a third commercial facility being built in Arizona. Once the Arizona facility becomes operational, Li-Cycle will be able to process around 20,000 metric tons, or 4 gigawatt-hours, of lithium-ion batteries annually. It’s also building what it calls a “hub” to make the battery chemicals in Rochester, which will have an annual capacity to process around 60,000 metric tons of battery scrap and “black mass” (a mix of cathode and anode material, and one of the outputs from the company’s “spokes”).

It works with 14 different automotive and battery manufacturers (though not all of those deals are public), as well as auto dealers and auto recyclers to accept and process spent lithium-ion batteries.

Ultium in April announced a second $2.3 billion U.S.-based battery factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee that is due to open in 2023. Both factories will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade. However, it is not known if Li-Cycle will process waste from this plant, too.

Notably, the company also recycles R&D scrap from various automakers, giving Li-Cycle “a kind of first look at what’s coming down the pipe” in terms of battery technology, Kochhar said. That helps the company stay on top of the newest battery chemistries and technologies, like solid-state or lithium iron phosphate (LFP), and develop recycling processes accordingly. Li-Cycle already processes some LFP batteries; in those instances it remakes the phosphate back into a fertilizer additive.

In this case, Kochhar said he hopes people see this partnership as a proof point for the economic and environmental case for electric vehicles.

“This should be one commercial example [. . .] that EV batteries will not go into a landfill,” he said. “They’re very valuable. The technology’s here to deal with that in an economically and environmentally friendly fashion.”


Berkeley has a big new biotech incubator in Bakar Labs

The University of California has always embraced the startup ecosystem in the state, including running a few of its own incubators and accelerators. Now Berkeley will have a huge new incubator of its own, Bakar Labs, which will host as many as 80 young companies a year and provide access university facilities and networks.

Hosted at the lovely brutalist Woon Hon Fai Hall, formerly the Berkeley Art Museum, the incubator is just part of the greater Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, an ongoing cross-disciplinary initiative within the university. It will be run by QB3, a pan-UC organization that organizes entrepreneurship efforts, and replaces a much smaller biotech-focused program at Berkeley.

Rather than provide a set curriculum of achieving product fit, building the team and so on that you might find at an accelerator, Bakar Labs will be more of a benevolent host with all the best toys. Berkeley is of course a world class research institution with an enviable faculty and extensive resources — and those in the incubator will have (limited) access to them.

Startups need not be affiliated with Berkeley in any way — the hub is hoping to attract founders from all over the place with its promise of inexpensive office and lab space and the aforementioned extensive resources. The term “incubator” seems apt for both the topic and the method — bring in the organisms, provide plenty of nutrients, and watch them grow.

Students in a lab space working in white coats.

Artist’s impression of what a lab space in Bakar will be like.

The relatively hands-off approach applies to funding as well. Companies will pay for their places at the Labs, but there’s no contract to sign over equity or first rights to Berkeley or its associated organs. A QB3 representative explained that investments may still occur, through an affiliated VC fund, but that it’s not baked into the program.

There’s no connection with Berkeley’s Skydeck, another university entrepreneurship program that has produced some highly valued companies in and out of biotech. The team that will be helping select companies for Bakar Labs helped Skydeck with its biotech applicants, so it seems going forward like there will be a friendly bifurcation of streams.

As for entry, companies will be judged on their potential (both business and scientific), but the exact requirements and preferences will no doubt be flexible. Managing director of Bakar Labs Gino Segre explained that they would hope a company has more on its mind than either a buyout or a big paper.

“We encourage teams with a double bottom line to apply– they aim to better human health and are pursuing a profit-driven business model. Entrepreneurship for good,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “We are already seeing interest in therapeutics, diagnostics, research tool, foodtech and agtech.”

“The strongest teams will be two to 15 people, with operating capital for at least 6 months, and are leveraging an innovative technology for which a lab is required to advance their program,” he continued. There’s no limit on how long startups can stay, but after a couple years you might wonder whether there’s been a failure to launch. Ideally the startup raises money and moves to its own office and lab, but until that’s an option the incubator would be far superior to garages and temporarily vacated conference rooms.

“The Bakar BioEnginuity Hub holds enormous promise as a space for mobilizing our vibrant changemaking students and faculty, our powerful research enterprise, and a community of innovators who will maximize societal benefit over profit,” said UC Chancellor Carol T. Christ in a Berkeley news release.

If this all sounds like a good match for your company (or maybe your roommate’s, currently operating out of the spare bedroom) head over here to apply.


Apptopia raises $20M to expand its competitive intelligence business beyond mobile

Boston-based Apptopia, a company providing competitive intelligence in the mobile app ecosystem, has closed on $20 million in Series C funding aimed at fueling its expansion beyond the world of mobile apps. The new financing was led by ABS Capital Partners, and follows three consecutive years of 50% year-over-year growth for Apptopia’s business, which has been profitable since the beginning of last year, the company says.

Existing investors, including Blossom Street Ventures, also participated in the round. ABS Capital’s Mike Avon, a co-founder of Millennial Media, and Paul Mariani, are joining Apptopia’s board with this round.

The funding follows what Apptopia says has been increased demand from brands to better understand the digital aspects of their businesses.

Today, Apptopia’s customers include hundreds of corporations and financial institutions, including Google, Visa, Coca-Cola, Target, Zoom, NBC, Unity Technologies, Microsoft, Adobe, Glu, Andreessen Horowitz and Facebook.

In the past, Apptopia’s customers were examining digital engagement and interactions from a macro level, but now they’re looking to dive deeper into specific details, requiring more data. For example, a brand may have previously wanted to know how well a competitor’s promotion fared in terms of new users or app sessions. But now they want to know the answers to specific questions —  like how many unique users participated, whether those users were existing customers, whether they returned after the promotion ended, and so on.

The majority of Apptopia’s business is now focused on delivering these sorts of answers to enterprise customers who subscribe to Apptopia’s data — and possibly, to the data from its competitors like Sensor Tower and App Annie, with the goal of blending datasets together for a more accurate understanding of the competitive landscape.

Apptopia’s own data, historically, was not always seen as being the most accurate, admits Apptopia CEO Jonathan Kay. But it has improved over the years.

Kay, previously Apptopia COO, is now taking over the top role from co-founder Eliran Sapir, who’s transitioning to chairman of the board as the company enters its next phase of growth.

Apptopia’s rivals like Sensor Tower and App Annie use mobile panels to gather app data, among other methods, Kay explains. These panels involve consumer-facing apps like VPN clients and ad blockers, which users would download not necessarily understanding that they were agreeing to having their app usage data collected. This led to some controversy as the app data industry’s open secret was exposed to consumers by the media, and the companies tweaked their disclosures, as a result.

But the practice continues and has not impacted the companies’ growth. Sensor Tower, for example, raised $45 million last year, as demand for app data continued to grow. And all involved businesses are expanding with new products and services for their data-hungry customer bases.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia, meanwhile, decided not to grow its business on the back of mobile panels. (Though in its earlier days it did test and then scrap such a plan.)

It gains access to data from its app developer customers — and this data is already aggregated and anonymized from the developers’ Apple and Google Analytics accounts.

Initially, this method put Apptopia at a disadvantage. Rivals had more accurate data from about 2016 through 2018 because of their use of mobile panels, Kay says. But Apptopia made a strategic decision to not take this sort of risk — that is, build a business that Apple or Google could shut off at any time.

“Instead, what we did is we spent years investing into data science and algorithms,” notes Kay. “We figured out how to extract an equal or greater signal from the same data set that [competitors] had access to.”

Using what Kay describes as “huge, huge amounts of historical data,” Apptopia over time learned what sort of signals went into an app’s app store ranking. A lot of people still think an app’s rank is largely determined by downloads, but there are now a variety of signals that inform rank, Kay points out.

“Really, a rank is just an accumulation of analytical data points that Apple and Google give points for,” he explains. This includes things like number of sessions, how many users, how much time is spent in an app, and more. “Because we didn’t have these panels, we had to spend years figuring out how to do reverse engineering better than our competitors. And, eventually, we figured out how to get the same signal that they could get from the panel from rank. That’s what allowed us to have such a fast-growing, successful business over the past several years.”

As Apptopia was already profitable, it didn’t need to fundraise. But the company wanted to accelerate its expansion into new areas, including its planned expansion outside of mobile apps.

Today, consumers use “apps” on their computers, on their smartwatches and on their TV, in addition to their phones and tablets. And businesses no longer want to know just what’s happening on mobile — they want the full picture of “app” usage.

“We figured out a way to do that that doesn’t rely on any of what our competitors have done in the past,” says Kay. “So, we will not be using any apps to spy on people,” he states.

However, the company was not prepared to offer further details around its future product plans at this time. But Kay said Apptopia would not rule out partnerships or being acquisitive to accomplish its goals going forward.

Apptopia also sees a broader future in making its app data more accessible. Last year, for instance, it partnered with Bloomberg to bring mobile data to investors via the Bloomberg App Portal on the Bloomberg Terminal. And it now works with Amazon’s AWS Data Exchange and Snowflake to make access to app data available in other channels, as well. Future partnerships of a similar nature could come into play as another means of differentiating Apptopia’s data from its rivals.

The company declined to offer its current revenue run rate or valuation, but notes that it tripled its valuation from its last fundraise at the end of 2019.

In addition to product expansions, the company plans to leverage the funds to grow its team of 55 by another 25 in 2021, including in engineering and analysts. And it will grow its management team, adding a CFO, CPO, and CMO this year.

To date, Apptopia has raised $30 million in outside capital.


CMU researchers show potential of privacy-preserving activity tracking using radar

Imagine if you could settle/rekindle domestic arguments by asking your smart speaker when the room last got cleaned or whether the bins already got taken out?

Or — for an altogether healthier use-case — what if you could ask your speaker to keep count of reps as you do squats and bench presses? Or switch into full-on ‘personal trainer’ mode — barking orders to peddle faster as you spin cycles on a dusty old exercise bike (who needs a Peloton!).

And what if the speaker was smart enough to just know you’re eating dinner and took care of slipping on a little mood music?

Now imagine if all those activity tracking smarts were on tap without any connected cameras being plugged inside your home.

Another bit of fascinating research from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group opens up these sorts of possibilities — demonstrating a novel approach to activity tracking that does not rely on cameras as the sensing tool. 

Installing connected cameras inside your home is of course a horrible privacy risk. Which is why the CMU researchers set about investigating the potential of using millimeter wave (mmWave) doppler radar as a medium for detecting different types of human activity.

The challenge they needed to overcome is that while mmWave offers a “signal richness approaching that of microphones and cameras”, as they put it, data-sets to train AI models to recognize different human activities as RF noise are not readily available (as visual data for training other types of AI models is).

Not to be deterred, they set about sythensizing doppler data to feed a human activity tracking model — devising a software pipeline for training privacy-preserving activity tracking AI models. 

The results can be seen in this video — where the model is shown correctly identifying a number of different activities, including cycling, clapping, waving and squats. Purely from its ability to interpret the mmWave signal the movements generate — and purely having been trained on public video data. 

“We show how this cross-domain translation can be successful through a series of experimental results,” they write. “Overall, we believe our approach is an important stepping stone towards significantly reducing the burden of training such as human sensing systems, and could help bootstrap uses in human-computer interaction.”

Researcher Chris Harrison confirms the mmWave doppler radar-based sensing doesn’t work for “very subtle stuff” (like spotting different facial expressions). But he says it’s sensitive enough to detect less vigorous activity — like eating or reading a book.

The motion detection ability of doppler radar is also limited by a need for line-of-sight between the subject and the sensing hardware. (Aka: “It can’t reach around corners yet.” Which, for those concerned about future robots’ powers of human detection, will surely sound slightly reassuring.)

Detection does require special sensing hardware, of course. But things are already moving on that front: Google has been dipping its toe in already, via project Soli — adding a radar sensor to the Pixel 4, for example.

Google’s Nest Hub also integrates the same radar sense to track sleep quality.

“One of the reasons we haven’t seen more adoption of radar sensors in phones is a lack of compelling use cases (sort of a chicken and egg problem),” Harris tells TechCrunch. “Our research into radar-based activity detection helps to open more applications (e.g., smarter Siris, who know when you are eating, or making dinner, or cleaning, or working out, etc.).”

Asked whether he sees greater potential in mobile or fixed applications, Harris reckons there are interesting use-cases for both.

“I see use cases in both mobile and non mobile,” he says. “Returning to the Nest Hub… the sensor is already in the room, so why not use that to bootstrap more advanced functionality in a Google smart speaker (like rep counting your exercises).

“There are a bunch of radar sensors already used in building to detect occupancy (but now they can detect the last time the room was cleaned, for example).”

“Overall, the cost of these sensors is going to drop to a few dollars very soon (some on eBay are already around $1), so you can include them in everything,” he adds. “And as Google is showing with a product that goes in your bedroom, the threat of a ‘surveillance society’ is much less worry-some than with camera sensors.”

Startups like VergeSense are already using sensor hardware and computer vision technology to power real-time analytics of indoor space and activity for the b2b market (such as measuring office occupancy).

But even with local processing of low-resolution image data, there could still be a perception of privacy risk around the use of vision sensors — certainly in consumer environments.

Radar offers an alternative to such visual surveillance that could be a better fit for privacy-risking consumer connected devices such as ‘smart mirrors‘.

“If it is processed locally, would you put a camera in your bedroom? Bathroom? Maybe I’m prudish but I wouldn’t personally,” says Harris.

He also points to earlier research which he says underlines the value of incorporating more types of sensing hardware: “The more sensors, the longer tail of interesting applications you can support. Cameras can’t capture everything, nor do they work in the dark.”

“Cameras are pretty cheap these days, so hard to compete there, even if radar is a bit cheaper. I do believe the strongest advantage is privacy preservation,” he adds.

Of course having any sensing hardware — visual or otherwise — raises potential privacy issues.

A sensor that tells you when a child’s bedroom is occupied may be good or bad depending on who has access to the data, for example. And all sorts of human activity can generate sensitive information, depending on what’s going on. (I mean, do you really want your smart speaker to know when you’re having sex?)

So while radar-based tracking may be less invasive than some other types of sensors it doesn’t mean there are no potential privacy concerns at all.

As ever, it depends on where and how the sensing hardware is being used. Albeit, it’s hard to argue that the data radar generates is likely to be less sensitive than equivalent visual data were it to be exposed via a breach.

“Any sensor should naturally raise the question of privacy — it is a spectrum rather than a yes/no question,” agrees Harris.  “Radar sensors happen to be usually rich in detail, but highly anonymizing, unlike cameras. If your doppler radar data leaked online, it’d be hard to be embarrassed about it. No one would recognize you. If cameras from inside your house leaked online, well… ”

What about the compute costs of synthesizing the training data, given the lack of immediately available doppler signal data?

“It isn’t turnkey, but there are many large video corpuses to pull from (including things like Youtube-8M),” he says. “It is orders of magnitude faster to download video data and create synthetic radar data than having to recruit people to come into your lab to capture motion data.

“One is inherently 1 hour spent for 1 hour of quality data. Whereas you can download hundreds of hours of footage pretty easily from many excellently curated video databases these days. For every hour of video, it takes us about 2 hours to process, but that is just on one desktop machine we have here in the lab. The key is that you can parallelize this, using Amazon AWS or equivalent, and process 100 videos at once, so the throughput can be extremely high.”

And while RF signal does reflect, and do so to different degrees off of different surfaces (aka “multi-path interference”), Harris says the signal reflected by the user “is by far the dominant signal”. Which means they didn’t need to model other reflections in order to get their demo model working. (Though he notes that could be done to further hone capabilities “by extracting big surfaces like walls/ceiling/floor/furniture with computer vision and adding that into the synthesis stage”.)

“The [doppler] signal is actually very high level and abstract, and so it’s not particularly hard to process in real time (much less ‘pixels’ than a camera).” he adds. “Embedded processors in cars use radar data for things like collision breaking and blind spot monitoring, and those are low end CPUs (no deep learning or anything).”

The research is being presented at the ACM CHI conference, alongside another Group project — called Pose-on-the-Go — which uses smartphone sensors to approximate the user’s full-body pose without the need for wearable sensors.

CMU researchers from the Group have also previously demonstrated a method for indoor ‘smart home’ sensing on the cheap (also without the need for cameras), as well as — last year — showing how smartphone cameras could be used to give an on-device AI assistant more contextual savvy.

In recent years they’ve also investigated using laser vibrometry and electromagnetic noise to give smart devices better environmental awareness and contextual functionality. Other interesting research out of the Group includes using conductive spray paint to turn anything into a touchscreen. And various methods to extend the interactive potential of wearables — such as by using lasers to project virtual buttons onto the arm of a device user or incorporating another wearable (a ring) into the mix.

The future of human computer interaction looks certain to be a lot more contextually savvy — even if current-gen ‘smart’ devices can still stumble on the basics and seem more than a little dumb.

 


Final-mile fulfillment startup parcelLab closes $112M Series C funding led by Insight Partners

Munich-based parcelLab, which offers a final-mile fulfillment service for online retailers, has closed a $112 million (GB£80 million) Series C funding round led by the US VC/PE firm Insight Partners.

Germany’s Endeit Capital participated as a co-investor, alongside existing investors Capnamic Ventures and coparion. parcelLab last raised an undisclosed Series B in October 2019. The new funding will feed into parcelLab’s global expansion plans and new product development.

Founded in 2015 by Tobias Buxhoidt (CEO), Julian Krenge (CTO), and Anton Eder (COO), the startup has managed to bag such customers as Lidl, to which it provides automated personalized shipping messages. This means that as much as 85% of Lidl customers return to its website.

It also works with IKEA and Farfetch to increase basket sizes and email open rates of – it claims – over 90%, 25% reductions in WISMO (where is my order), and increases of customer reviews.   

In a statement Tobias Buxhoidt, CEO and Founder of parcelLab, said: “As e-commerce becomes increasingly competitive, providing unique and branded experiences will drive growth. Identifying opportunities to further connect with people and build a better, stronger relationship is a key differentiator.”   
 
Matt Gatto, Managing Director at Insight Partners, said: “We pride ourselves in identifying and investing in software ScaleUp companies that are driving transformative change in their industries. In parcelLab, we see true potential to transform how brands and people connect.”

Endeit only recently raised a €250 million fund to invest in B-stage European startups, so this is its most recent deployment of capital.

Philipp Schroeder Partner at Endeit commented: “ParcelLab’s team is the perfect example of internet entrepreneurs that we want to support – entrepreneurs who can drive the change to make Europe more competitive and who have the ambition to become global market leaders.” 

ParcelLab’s main competitor is US-based Narvar which has raised $64M, with its last round being a Series C funding.


The motorcycle ride-hailing wars in Nigeria and Uganda is SafeBoda’s to lose

On April 16, Uganda-based two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in Ibadan, a southwestern city in Nigeria. This might not seem spectacular from a global perspective because it took the startup a year and two months to achieve but it’s a noteworthy feat in African markets.

Ibadan is one of the cities where SafeBoda operates. The company, which first launched in Uganda, is disrupting the offline market of local motorcycles referred to as boda-bodas in Uganda and okadas in Nigeria.

In 2017, SafeBoda officially started operations in Kampala and almost immediately began to deal with the threat posed by new entrants at the time: uberBODA and Bolt boda.

Uber and Bolt are two of the most well-known ride-hailing companies in the markets in which they operate. Uganda was the first African country the pair decided to test out their two-wheel ride-hailing ambitions and it was the second market globally after Thailand for Uber. So given the clout and money these companies hold, most people anticipated they would give SafeBoda a run for its money. But that didn’t happen.

According to Alastair Sussock, co-CEO of SafeBoda, who founded the company with Ricky Rapa Thomson and Maxime Dieudonne, SafeBoda was clocking about 1,000 rides daily at the time. He argued that even though the company’s volumes were one of the best, there was a misrepresentation in the media that SafeBoda wasn’t in the league as other platforms.

“Everyone thought Uber and Bolt would enter Africa to revolutionize the informal boda market,” Sussock told TechCrunch. “There was mention of other players, some of which have folded now, but no one mentioned SafeBoda although we were actually doing quite good stuff. And that energized us to prove the perception wrong, which was that SafeBoda didn’t really exist”.

Strategy, hard work and a large Series B investment followed the next couple of years, which has established SafeBoda as a market leader in Uganda. Sussock said the company now completes about 80,000 rides a day. Uber and Bolt barely complete 10,000 rides in the country.

SafeBoda

Ricky Rapa Thomson, Alastair Sussock, and Maxime Dieudonne

So what has been instrumental to this growth?

Before founding SafeBoda, Rapa Thomson was also a boda rider. As the company’s director of operations, he’s pivotal in making sure the company adopts localized methods with its riders. And despite its exciting features, pieces of equipment and safety measures employed, what stands out is how SafeBoda adapts to the boda boda community. This has been responsible for the 80% year-on-year retention the company currently enjoys, Sussock said.

“We tend to localize our product and take a local approach where we hire local guys to be part of the team. They help to have boots on the ground and of course, what you see with Nigeria, is not as much a dissimilar story,” the co-CEO added.

When starting in Nigeria, most two-wheel ride-hailing startups begin from Lagos, the nation’s hotbed of commerce and transport. In recent times, the city has had entrants like Opera’s OPay, Gokada and MAX.ng. These startups, like SafeBoda, are heavily backed by U.S., Chinese and Japanese investors. They have been at loggerheads with each other to capture on-demand mobility market share in Africa’s most populous country.

SafeBoda first hinted at a possible expansion into Nigeria in 2019. All the aforementioned ride-hailing companies were already in operation and it appeared as if SafeBoda was a very late entrant. But according to Babajide Duroshola, the country head for SafeBoda in Nigeria, the team knew it was going to thrive despite the timing and what competition looked like. “For us, it was a no-brainer decision to come into Nigeria and do the same thing that we did at Kampala, which is to grow quickly and make SafeBoda a household name,” he said to TechCrunch

When the time came to reveal which city it was going to start with, it was Ibadan, not Lagos. SafeBoda caught everyone unawares with the decision and subsequently faced heavy backlash. This was in December 2019 but fast-forward to February 2020; it proved to be a masterstroke because in one fell swoop, the Lagos State government rendered bike-hailing operations obsolete with new regulations. For the next couple of months, SafeBoda was the only reliable source of two-wheel ride-hail service in the country. While the regulations forced others to pivot into asset financing for bikes and logistics services, SafeBoda was waxing strong with its ride-hailing operations in Ibadan.

In its first five months, SafeBoda had completed more than 250,000 rides and onboarded thousands of drivers. Once again, adopting a local strategy and community building proved vital to the seemingly modest but explosive growth it experienced in a market no company had really tested.

“One of the things that really separated us from all the other guys in the market was a localization play. The fact that we could connect with and employ these people who were okada drivers right off the streets to become part of our operations team was very key,” Duroshola said.

The country manager added that SafeBoda’s progress showed other two-wheel operators that a market outside Lagos existed. “Lagos is the commercial capital. There’s a lot of money in the city and income per household is high. But then, it is not a true representation of Nigeria. We saw that if you really want to scale across the country, Ibadan was actually a very good place to start because it had all the kinds of people you’d typically find in Nigeria.”

The ease of doing business for a ride-hailing platform in Ibadan is also easier than in Lagos. The latter is known for endorsing NURTW, a transport group known to legally extort riders daily or weekly in the city. Such activities are prohibited in Ibadan giving SafeBoda a smooth path to achieving scale and allowing its drivers to work effectively.

A year in the city has rewarded the company with over 2,500 drivers and 40,000 customers. Together, they performed more than 750,000 trips in SafeBoda’s first year, which has since surpassed more than 1 million trips.

SafeBoda’s progress in Uganda and Nigeria makes it one of the most active players in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has completed more than 35 million rides across both countries, with over 25,000 registered riders. It also claims to hold more than 80% market share in the two countries.

Despite this success, SafeBoda struggled in its third market, Kenya — a market it expanded to and left before Nigeria. The company had onboarded over 1,500 riders in less than a year, but it wasn’t growing at the pace it wanted. The pandemic made SafeBoda’s struggles obvious and per this report, riders’ dissatisfaction with pricing caused an upheaval that sent the company out of the Kenyan market.

In addition to rider troubles, Sussock noted that Kenya’s motorcycle taxi market wasn’t as highly dense as Uganda and Nigeria which, according to him, contributed to the exit.

“We were the market leader in Kenya, and we were doing like the most rides in Kenya. But it was still quite small in terms of volume compared to Uganda. And we knew what the potential would be in Nigeria, which we hadn’t done at the time. So it was just quite clear that Kenya, while very developed for tech, and developed per capita, was just really quite hard to scale in terms of motorcycle taxi transportation,” he said.

SafeBoda

Image Credits: SafeBoda

SafeBoda isn’t ruling out a return to the East African market. But with the East African market out of the way for now, it has the resources to focus ride-hailing efforts on Uganda and Nigeria. The ultimate goal, however, is to scale its super app play.

In Uganda, it is already in motion. SafeBoda offers on-demand food, grocery, pharmacy, essentials and beverages delivery services, of which more than 500,000 orders have been completed. This model is inspired by the Go-Pay model at GoJek, where two-wheel ride-hailing was an entry point to high-frequency wallet spend behavior.

The Asian multi-service company is one of the investors in SafeBoda via its GoVentures arm. Other backers include Transsion Holdings, Beenext, and serial entrepreneur Justin Kan.

SafeBoda has no real competition in the bike-hailing wars in Uganda and Nigeria as it stands. The company’s challenge remains the large offline market, where more than 1.5 million rides are completed daily in Uganda alone. The plan for SafeBoda is to convert more of this base to its existing online market share. Additionally, it wants to expand into P2P, merchant and bill payments and grow its on-demand business in Uganda. Its plan in Nigeria? Maintaining its core transport business before venturing into payments and deliveries.


Engageli nabs $33M more for its collaborative video-based teaching platform

As schools move more widely into reopening their doors for in-person learning, many educational institutions have also learned a critical lesson in the last year. Having better tools to teach remotely are critical for situations when the physical experience has to be shut down, but even when things are “back to normal”, better tech can still enhance what educators and students can do, and to whom teaching can be delivered. Now, a startup betting on virtual learning in higher education — and investing in the innovation to deliver that — is announcing a round of funding as it continues to expand its business.

Engageli, which has built an online teaching platform from the ground up — providing not just its own built-in-house video technology to deliver lectures and enable conversations, but tools to enable students to “sit” in study groups to work together; and features to share and annotate lecture notes, take quizzes and more — has picked up $33 million in funding.

CEO Dan Avida — who co-founded the company with his wife Daphne Koller (the Coursera co-founder) and Serge Plotkin — said the startup will be using to continue building more tools and scaling its platform and opening it up to more schools, specifically the bracket of higher learning colleges and universities that it targets as customers, as these institutions continue to embrace the promise of better video tools both for delivering live lessons, and also to develop more on-demand and other features around Engageli’s video platform.

“At first the priority was on the best synchronous experience,” Avida said in an interview of the priorities of universities when it came to remote learning. “Now everyone is much more focused on multi-modality.”

The funding, a Series A, is being co-led by Maveron and another (unnamed) investor and also includes participation from Corner Ventures, Good Friends, Educapital, and what Engageli describes as several “prominent individual technology executives.”

Notably, the funding is coming only seven months after the startup first emerged from stealth in October 2020, and investors from the $14.5 million seed round that it announced at the same time are also participating. The startup has now raised over $47 million and is not disclosing its valuation.

While there are now dozens, maybe even hundreds, of tools to help students learn things without being inside a traditional classroom, Engageli has taken a slightly different approach from the pack by building its video-based platform from the ground up with educational aims in mind.

This is already a step change, when you think about it, from the likes of Teams from Microsoft, Google Classroom, or Zoom. These are three of the most commonly used video platforms in educational settings, but they are all based on technology that was, essentially, originally built with more enterprise and generic purposes in mind.

From this, Engageli has worked on expanding the platform with tools that enhance not just the video experience, but enhance it in ways that make sense for educators and learners — that is, tools that are intuitive to use for those teaching and studying.

[gallery ids="2150333,2150334,2150335,2150336,2150337"]

Up to now, these have focused on both the kinds of conversations that students can have with each other and the teacher, and ways for the teacher to keep their students engaged, by way of quizzes, notes that they can download and annotate and Q&A channels. For now, Engageli is focused on building its own technology, but over time you can see how the platform might open up to link up with bigger learning management systems and the other tools that institutions might already be using regularly.

Avida said that Engageli is not yet disclosing any metrics on engagement time, customer or user numbers or any other figures. For now, he said the startup is picking up university customers across the U.S., in the UK and Israel (where the founders hail from and all originally cut their tech teeth in the country’s military units), where classes are already handling up to “hundreds” of concurrent students.

He also added that even as more schools return to in-person learning, he is expecting a boost of new users in the fall quarter because the genie, so to speak, is out of the bottle with remote learning and the fact that it can continue to be effective.

“Even before the pandemic there were tens of millions of students online, half of all students were taking some form of online course, and we expect this to go much further, not unlike online grocery or telemedicine,” he said. “One professor described it to me like this: the trough of disillusionment” — a reference to the Gartner Magic Quadrant visualization — “is very shallow here. We ain’t going back.”

This is also a sentiment that educators also seem to be picking up.

“It’s hard to go back once you raise the bar on engagement. With Engageli, I felt the experience was the most like a real classroom. Students are sitting at tables, I can quickly see what they are doing, they can ask others at their table questions, they are chatting and interacting,” said Dr. Theodora Christou, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, in a statement. “I finally have an easy way to lead meaningful group work and case studies online. I would choose Engageli over any other existing tool that my university offers.”

The company’s funding and growth come at a time when we’re indeed seeing a wider wholesale adoption and development of more tools to accommodate digital modes of learning, in many cases also to complement what is happening offline, and also in younger age groups, too.

Just in the last week, Kahoot acquired Clever in the U.S. to bring on a popular platform used by many K-12 schools to manage their online learning interctions, and yesterday StuDocu raised funding for a platform that crowdsources, rates and shares university class notes, a platform that has now passed 15 million students and is growing very fast. All of these spell higher expectations for better technology in the future, something Engageli will also be hoping to engage.

“Dan Avida and his team at Engageli, that includes professors, talented technologists and accomplished ed-tech executives, are uniquely suited to building a digital education solution that actually feels like a classroom and functions even better than some in-person courses,” said Jason Stoffer, Partner at Maveron, in a statement. “Pandemic or not, every school needs Engageli to drive better outcomes for students, whether they’re taking remote classes full time or opt to tune in digitally when they need the flexibility. We’re passionate about leveling the playing field in higher education, and Engageli’s unique platform will help institutions reach and support the needs of every type of student.”


Google Pay US users can now send money to users in India and Singapore

Google Pay users in the U.S. can now send money to GPay users in India and Singapore, Google said on Tuesday, making its first push into the remittances market.

The company has partnered with Western Union and Wise, both of which have integrated their services into Google Pay. This is the first time either of the cross-border payments firms have inked such a deal.

Josh Woodward, Director of Product Management at Google, told TechCrunch in an interview that the company is kickstarting its cross-border payments feature with India and Singapore and intends to expand this worldwide by the end of the year.

“As we do with a number of Google products, we will test, learn, and iterate and then start scaling,” he said.

As part of the partnership, Western Union will power cross-border payments on Google Pay in over 200 countries, while Wise — formerly known as TransferWise — will extend the support in over 80 countries.

When Google Pay users in the U.S. attempt to send money to someone in India or Singapore, they will be informed about the exact amount that the recipient will receive. From within the Google Pay app, users also get to choose which payments provider — Wise or Western Union — they wish to use and how long it would take for the recipient to receive the money.

The remittance feature currently allows only Google Pay’s US users to send money to those in India and Singapore — and not the other way around. Woodward said the company picked India and Singapore in part because of how crucial they are in the remittances world.

India was the largest receiving country for remittances in 2019, receiving more than $80 billion in the year, according to the World Bank. The U.S., meanwhile, is the largest sender. Eventually, Google intends to enable fully cross-border remittances worldwide.

Also worth noting: The cross-border payments is only available for person-to-person payments. (Businesses on GPay in the U.S. can’t send money to individuals or businesses in India, for instance.)

The partnership with Google will help Wise and Western Union to expand their presence in several markets and more aggressively compete with rivals such as PayPal, which has a wider reach (but has struggled to make inroads in India). Wise and Western Union will shoulder the liability and risk.

Nearly 250 million people across the world send over $500 billion in cross-border remittances annually, a report by Citi said last month. But the space is ripe for disruption. “The fees are extremely high. It is embarrassing that we have not solved this issue so far,” Citi analysts wrote. Global average cost for sending money is around 6.5%.

Western Union said in a statement that receivers will pay no charges and will get the exact value in their local currency as chosen by the user in the U.S. Wise said it will charge the actual foreign exchange rate and additional transfer fees, which will wary from country to country. (“The easiest way to find out how much it’ll cost is to find a friend on Google Pay, select Wise as a partner, tap Pay, and enter the amount you’d like to transfer,” it said.)

In either case, Google will not levy any additional fee to customers. Also, until June 16, Western Union will offer unlimited free transfers when sending money with Google Pay, and Wise will make the first transfer free for new customers on transfers up to $500.

“The pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on communities, customers and colleagues in many parts of Asia, especially in India and Latin America. This convenient channel will help people continue supporting one another in these trying times as they reimagine how they can pay and move money worldwide,” said Shelly Swanback, President of Western Union Product and Platform, in a statement.

Tuesday’s announcement comes months after Google redesigned the GPay app in the U.S., and made a push into banking services with checking accounts feature from lenders such as Citi.


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