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Original Content podcast: The filmmakers behind ‘The Breaker Upperers’ know that breaking up is the worst

“The Breaker Upperers” kicks off with an ingenious premise: What if you could pay an agency to take care of your awkward romantic break-ups? And what if that agency was run by two longtime friends who are starting to drift apart?

The film was a big hit in New Zealand last year and is now available to global audiences on Netflix. Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami joined this week’s Original Content podcast to talk about writing, directing and starring in the movie together.

“I was thinking about how many conversations I’d had with people about the level of dread that they have when they realize they have to break up with their partner,” van Beek said. “I mean, nobody enjoys it. I thought, you could make a lot of money doing that for somebody or offering to do that for somebody.”

They pair also discussed shooting a sex scene of Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, and finding room for improvisation on a relatively short, low-budget shoot.

The movie was executive produced by Taika Waititi, director of “Thor: Ragnarok,” a film that Sami credited with exposing global audiences a similar style of humor. Both filmmakers said they never expected “The Breaker Upperers” to find an audience outside New Zealand, so they’re delighted to be launching on Netflix .

“It’s fun, it’s colorful, it’s not too long, it’s just the right length,” van Beek added. “I reckon it’s the most amazing movie to watch on a chair, or on a couch, or even lying down on a sheepskin with your legs in the air. Like any kind of position, I think.”

After the interview, we’re joined by Brian Heater for to follow-up on last week’s brief review of “Russian Doll” — this time, we go deep into spoilers, discussing the twists that kept us hooked and how the “Groundhog Day”-style storyline ultimately wrapped up.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 11:27 am

Learn modern web design for as little as £12.99 with this heavily discounted course
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It's a dog-eat-dog professional world out there, and you should be doing everything you can to give yourself the edge. Whether that's pursuing extra-curricular activities or learning new skills, it's important to always be learning and growing.

Fortunately, in this day and age, there is pretty much a course for everything. If you want to hone your skills or develop new ones, you can probably find an online course from Udemy that can guide you. 

For many of us, it's our tech skills that let us down. This is easy to rectify though, with many courses offering a combination of on-demand video, articles, and other downloadable resources on mobile and TV that can help anyone. Read more...

More about Web Design, Mashable Shopping, Shopping Solo, Udemy, and Online Courses

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 11:23 am

Apple partners with Oakland nonprofit Dream Corps on Swift coding initiative

Apple this morning announced a new partnership designed to train more people to code using its own programming language, Swift. The company says it’s now working with the Oakland-based nonprofit organization Dream Corps on the initiative, which will see Apple providing technology along with curriculum guidance, professional support and advocacy to individuals in middle and high schools, college and beyond.

The nonprofit currently operates its own learn-to-code program called #YesWeCode, which has graduated 100 people to date and placed around 60 percent in tech jobs. Its long-term goal is to help 100,000 young people from underrepresented backgrounds to be able to train for jobs in tech.

“I see Dream Corps as a peace corps for the American Dream,” said CEO Vien Truong, in a statement. Truong joined the organization in 2015, and is herself the youngest of 11 children born to an immigrant couple who migrated from Vietnam in the 1970’s, Apple also noted.

“It’s about making sure that we can help support people who lived or grew up in communities like mine. And this partnership with Apple will help unlock the untapped genius and talent within those communities, which will allow a new generation to achieve their dreams,” she added.

Dream Corps is now working with the Mayor’s Office and City of Oakland to find a location for a dedicated space to support the program with Apple and other workforce development initiatives. Apple says it’s expected to launch its program later this year in the Bay Area.

Apple’s investment in programming training and development is part of its larger Community Education Initiative. But partnerships like this aren’t the only way Apple is pushing people to learn to code with Swift.

Since the language’s introduction in 2014, Apple has rolled out several programs and tools aimed at helping introduce more people to Swift, including the 2016 launch of kids coding app Swift Playgrounds, expansions of its own “Everyone Can Code” program across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world; the addition of free coding sessions at its retail stores; and it has offered educational tools, software and curriculum for teachers.

For Apple, all of this is about ensuring there’s a new generation of developers learning its tools and Swift, in order to develop new apps for its platforms, iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS.

At last year’s WWDC event, WWDC, Apple CEO Tim Cook said there were 20 million registered developers on iOS, who collectively made about $100 billion in revenues, while the App Store saw some 500 million visitors per week.

As more of Apple’s business shifts to its growing Services business instead of just iPhone sales, it’s critical to ensure the developer pipeline remains open and accessible.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 11:04 am

Scientists use CRISPR to make stem cells invisible to immune system
Scientists at the University of California San Francisco have developed a new method to minimize the likelihood that a person's body will reject stem cells during a transplant. Using the CRISPR gene editing tools, the scientists managed to create ste...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 11:00 am

Amazon wants half of its shipments to be carbon-neutral by 2030
Amazon doesn't have a sterling environmental record, but it is making some headway. The internet giant has launched a Shipment Zero initiative that aims for net zero carbon emissions for deliveries. While it doesn't have a timetable for achieving per...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 10:51 am

Victoria Beckham had a Spice Girls drag performance at her London Fashion Week after party
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Victoria Beckham has made it quite clear that she's not planning on reuniting with the four other Spice Girls, but that doesn't mean she's totally done with the catchy songs or girl power. 

After Beckham's London Fashion Week show, her after-party guests were surprised by a drag performance of the Spice Girls' hit song "Wannabe," featuring drag queens dressed as Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Scary, and Posh. 

SEE ALSO: We asked our science reporter to review Ariana Grande's song 'NASA'

A video of the performance was posted to Twitter by DJ and drag performer Jodie Harsh, in which you can also see Beckham's evident joy. Read more...

More about Youtube, Uk, Spice Girls, Victoria Beckham, and Culture

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 10:31 am

Casper mattresses, Instant Pot, MacBook Air, Beats, Keurig, Fire Stick TV 4K, and more on sale for Feb. 18
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Did you know that we're all using our "second screens" wrong? It seems that most of us aren't using our tablets and smartphones in the best ways possible when watching TV or using a laptop. 

This is something to consider when shopping online for Presidents Day. We rounded up the best deals on all sorts of tech products, Amazon devices, and second screens. For example: Save $40 on the Apple iPad and save $20 on the Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet. 

SEE ALSO: Best Presidents Day sales: Casper mattresses, Dell laptops, KitchenAid mixers, and more

If tablets aren't your thing, you can also save on mattresses for the holiday, including up to $600 on brands like Serta, Beautyrest, and Sleepy's from Mattress Firm, while you can save up to 25% on mattresses and bedding at Brooklyn Bedding. We also gathered deals on kitchen products from Instant Pot, Keurig, and more. Read more...

More about Macbook Air, Keurig, Beats, Mashable Shopping, and Shopping Amazon
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Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 10:29 am

What we're listening to in February
Senior News Editor Billy Steele confesses his love for the Album of the Year while Managing Editor Terrence O'Brien explains why Punch Up the Jam should be in your podcast rotation. Community Content Editor Amber Bouman also breaks down the thrilling...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 10:00 am

11 DIY videos that absolutely no one asked for
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DIY videos have saved our lives on more than one occasion, and sure, some of the hacks that surface are really cool and useful. But, some content creators have taken the trend a little too far. 

We're talking about those videos where someone decides to DIY or "hack" something that no one really wants or needs, and ends up making the process 19 billion steps long.

1. 1,4000 to make a ring made of denim

One of the biggest problems facing the world today is the utter lack of rings made out of jeans. Thanks to YouTuber jedrek29t, that is no longer an issue. Unfortunately, unless you have an array of power tools, you're just out of luck. Even if you were dying for a ring made out of jeans, there must be an easier way to do it than this. Read more...

More about Watercooler, Diy, Hack, Watercooler, and Web Culture

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 10:00 am

Study says US Twitch streamers raked in roughly $87 million in 2017

A new study estimates that revenue-earning American Twitch streamers grew to nearly 9,800 in 2017 (a 59 percent increase from 2016) and made an estimated $87.1 million (representing a 30 percent YOY increase).

Twitch is one of the fastest-growing platforms for American content creators. In terms of YOY growth in number of creators themselves, Twitch falls just behind Instagram and YouTube, and ranks second behind Instagram in YOY revenue growth for those creators. (Fun Fact: Instagram’s creator-based revenue growth grew nearly 50 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $460 million, according to the study.)

Recreate Coalition says these numbers are very conservative based on the methodology of the study and the fact that it’s limited to the U.S.

The growth of Twitch is predicated on a few obvious trends, as well as a very nuanced relationship between a streamer and his or her respective audience.

In the case of the former, “live” digital experiences continue to be a fascination for startups and consumers alike. While Twitch and YouTube have offered live broadcasts for a while, social media companies have followed along with their own live-streaming products. In fact, Betaworks dedicated a season of its accelerator program to “live” startups, calling the program LiveCamp.

With regards to the latter, things get more interesting. The relationship between a viewer and a streamer is similar to our relationships with other famous celebrities, artists and athletes, but puts the viewer far closer to the action.

Streamers don’t just pop up briefly in articles, TV interviews or on Twitter or Instagram. They spend hours and hours each day just sitting there, doing whatever it is they do on stream and chatting with their viewers. You can get to know their personality, talk to them and they talk back to you!

It’s a bizarre combination that has proven financially fruitful for these streamers, especially at a time when the gaming industry itself is growing by double-digit percentages YOY for the past two years.

A tier of elite, hyper-popular streamers such as Shroud, DrDisrespect, Dakotaz and of course Ninja are leading the way for others as they continue to gain followers. In fact, Ninja just partnered with Wicked Cool Toys to introduce to the market a line of actual toys. Ninja himself made nearly $10 million in 2018.

But as the gaming world explores new genres and esports grow, there seems to be plenty of room for streamers to make a name (and a pretty penny) for themselves.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post included a few too many zeroes, stating that U.S. Twitch streamers made $87 billion instead of $87 million. It has been corrected for accuracy with my apologies.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 9:59 am

Sharp's latest RoBoHon robot can't walk, but hey it's only $715
The cute Japanese robots keep coming. Sony's adorable Aibo pups are already on to their sixth litter and now Sharp is upgrading its RoBoHon line, too. In case you need reminding, that's the robot smartphone that -- like all good droids -- can sing an...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 9:41 am

Fox delays 'Cosmos' season 2 premiere over misconduct investigation
Fox's investigation into sexual misconduct claims against Neil deGrasse Tyson has led to a change of schedule for Cosmos: Possible Worlds. The company has quietly removed the show's season 2 premiere from its March 3 schedule, indicating that it's w...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 9:21 am

PlayStation Now still isn't good enough
Sony launched its subscription plans for PlayStation Now, a service that lets you download and stream games from an ever-growing library, on January 13th, 2015. Since then, a lot has changed. The company has added PS4 blockbusters and PS2 classics to...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 9:00 am

China wants to put a solar farm in space by 2025
Humanity uses a lot of energy, and while solar power here on Earth is doing a reasonable job of contributing to the electricity mix, scientists have long hypothesized that gathering the sun's energy from space would be a lot more effective. And now C...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 8:29 am

Save up to 24% on selected Samsung TVs and soundbars from Amazon UK
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With so many blockbuster movies and top sporting events available at our fingertips, it's a wonder that we ever leave the house. It's so easy nowadays to draw the curtains, shut out the world, and get lost in whatever is on your TV.

Before you strap in for a lengthy session though, you need to assess your TV setup, because nobody wants to be spending all day straining to see what's on the box. Likewise, you need to make sure that the sound quality matches up to your picture quality. The two go hand in hand.

You can now save up to 24% on Samsung TVs and soundbars from Amazon UK. So whether you like your movie marathons or playing host for the big game, we have the deals to ensure that your home cinema setup is a good as it can be.  Read more...

More about Samsung, Mashable Shopping, Shopping Solo, Samsung Tv, and Soundbar

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 8:02 am

LG won't release a foldable smartphone anytime soon
As Samsung, Huawei, and Motorola rush to release their foldable smartphones, one notable company is sitting out the trend. LG says it's scrapping plans to release a bendy handset, reports The Korea Times, and will instead launch a 5G version of its f...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 8:01 am

We're all second-screening. Here's how you're doing it wrong.
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Second-screening — watching TV while also looking at your phone, tablet or laptop — is probably the  most widely adopted destructive behavior of the decade. We keep hearing that it's bad for us; we keep doing it regardless. It's the smoking of the 2010s. 

Psychologists were sounding the alarm as early as 2012 that this kind of screen-based multitasking seemed to be correlated with depression and anxiety. Did we listen? Did we hell. Back then, according to Nielsen, a mere (!) 40 percent of American adults looked at their phones or tablets every day while parked in front of the tube. By 2017, according to eMarketer, that number had climbed to over 70 percentRead more...

More about Second Screen, Culture, and Web Culture

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 8:00 am

Researchers blame YouTube for the rise in Flat Earthers
Despite steps taken to counteract problematic material YouTube is still a hotbed of hoaxes and fake news -- a problem that's become so prevalent the site recently announced it is changing its AI in a bid to improve matters. But now the scope of the p...

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 7:29 am

Miley Cyrus tweets the funniest moment from her and Liam Hemsworth's wedding
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Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth have been married for nearly two months now. But Cyrus is nowhere near done blessing our feeds with romantic (and hilarious) content from the couple's wedding.

On Twitter, Cyrus shared a photo from the ceremony of herself, her mom Tish Cyrus, and her wedding bouquet. 

SEE ALSO: Miley Cyrus tweets hilariously NSFW Valentine's greeting to husband Liam Hemsworth

"My mama told me this bouquet is for holding .... not eating .... or smoking..... or using as a 'penis' but .... I did it anyway. Sorry mom," Cyrus captioned the photo in which she appears to be eating the bouquet.  Read more...

More about Miley Cyrus, Wedding Photos, Liam Hemsworth, Culture, and Web Culture

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 7:25 am

John Boyega dancing to Vanessa Carlton is instantly cheering to watch
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Sometimes, all you really want is for the DJ to put on an old-school banger.

And if there's one track that truly fits that bill, it's the memorably intense piano chords of Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles".

SEE ALSO: John Boyega posts very teasing photo from the set of 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

As you can tell from the video below, John Boyega understands this perfectly.

In fairness, what better way to celebrate wrapping up Star Wars Episode IX than by dancing to a bit of Vanessa in the club?

The Terry Crews reference of course refers to this iconic lip sync battle, which may be the greatest lip sync battle performance of all time. Read more...

More about Uk, Terry Crews, John Boyega, Vanessa Carlton, and Culture

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 7:23 am

Oral-B electric toothbrushes, Braun electric shavers, Philips epilators, and more on sale for Feb. 18 in the UK
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We have make the decision to start the week with deals on personal care products designed to make you dazzle. We're not saying you need any help in this department, but Monday is definitely the day that this kind of product is needed most.

We have tracked down deals on electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, and epilators from leading brands like Braun, Panasonic, Oral-B, and Philips, to ensure that you not only get a great deal but that you receive a quality product too.

These are the best deals from across the internet for Feb. 18.

Electric toothbrushes

You can save on Philips Sonicare electric toothbrushes, Oral-B SmartSeries CrossAction electric toothbrushes, and more, with the chance to save over £150. Read more...

More about Mashable Shopping, Tech, and Consumer Tech
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Save up to 12% sitewide on select products in the Dell UK sale
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There's no hard and fast rule that dictates when you need to say goodbye to your trusty old device and replace it with something shiny and new. You just know when the time is right. 

Maybe you glanced at your tired old laptop recently and got that feeling, and now you're in the market for something new. Congratulations on taking the first step. We are here to guide you through what to do next.

Dell is launching a UK flash sale with the chance to save up to 12% sitewide on selected products. This sale ends at midnight on Feb. 20, so if you have taken the first steps to replacing your old device, now is the time to make the final move. Read more...

More about Dell, Mashable Shopping, Dell Computer, Dell Laptop, and Shopping Uk

Source: Mashable | 18 Feb 2019 | 7:13 am

The Morning After: Razer will close its game store
Welcome back to the week. While gaming laptop player Razer shutters its game store, we're getting primed for Samsung's big phone launch this Wednesday, where the company could reveal maybe four (!) different phones in one fell swoop.

Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Feb 2019 | 6:53 am

Australia’s government and political parties hit by cyberattack from ‘sophisticated state actor’

The Australia government suffered a cyberattack that it suspects is the work of a “sophisticated state actor,” according to the country’s prime minister.

PM Scott Morrison said today the computer network of the country’s parliament, and those belonging to Liberal, Labor and Nationals parties, were targeted by an attack that took place a few weeks ago, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Australia is months away from federal elections, which will take place in May.

Morrison said there is “no evidence of any electoral interference.”

“We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system,” he said, adding that security services “acted decisively to confront it.”

There is apparently no indication that data was accessed following the attack.

Where exactly it originated from remains unclear.

Sources told SMH that the sophistication of the attack was “unprecedented,” but nobody in the government is naming suspects. Reportedly, the incident sports “the digital fingerprints of China,” but there remains the possibility that the attack was framed to look like it originated from China.

The incident recalls the hacking of the Democrat Party around the U.S. presidential election in 2016. The attackers, who are widely suspected to be linked to the Russian government, accessed 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments from DNC email accounts, said John Podesta, who was the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.

Australia itself has a history of parliamentary hacks. The national government was attacked in 2015 by a “foreign government” (later named as China) that reportedly used computers at the Bureau of Meteorology as its entry point. The incident is said to have given China the records of 14 million federal employees.

Australia passes ‘dangerous’ anti-encryption law after bipartisan compromise

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 4:55 am

Alan raises another $45 million for its health insurance product

Paris-based startup Alan has raised a Series B round of funding of $45 million (€40 million). Index Ventures is once again leading the round, with partners of DST Global also participating. The company had raised a $28 million funding round only 10 months ago.

Alan is a software-as-a-service startup tackling a very specific industry: the health insurance market in France — and soon across Europe. The company wants to create a well-designed insurance product with transparent pricing and policies to make healthcare more accessible. And it isn’t just a marketplace — the startup has obtained an official health insurance license and is the first new health insurance company in France in 30 years.

Alan raises $28.3 million for its health insurance of the future

In France, every employee is covered by the national healthcare system for basic reimbursements, as well as a private insurance company for more expensive treatments. In addition to that, legacy insurance companies have neglected those products as they usually don’t generate a lot of margins on that segment. It creates a huge market opportunity for Alan.

With today’s funding announcement, the startup has shared some numbers. In 2018 alone, the company grew from 5,000 insured people to 27,000, and revenue jumped from $4 million to $25 million (€3.5 million to €22 million). Alan has been focused on freelancers as well as small and medium companies, such as My Little Paris, Le Slip Français, Ledger and Converteo.

More interestingly, Alan is close to break-even right now with 64 employees. That gives you an idea of Alan’s margins.

Following today’s funding round, the company is going to hire a lot more people. There should be around 175 people working for Alan by the end of the year.

On the product front, the company is always looking at ways to make the experience as seamless as possible. “We’re trying to make the insurance process instantaneous, from quotes to coverage and reimbursements” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian told me.

But Alan has always been about healthcare at large, not just insurance products. So let’s see how they can use this influx of funding to simplify healthcare in general.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 1:31 am

Razer is closing its game store after less than a year

Razer is one of the dominant brands in gaming when it comes to buying equipment to play, but one of its biggest efforts to own a larger slice of digital spending hasn’t gone according to plan. After less than a year, the company announced it will close its digital game store at the end of this month “as part of realignment plans.”

The Razer Game Store launched worldwide in April 2018 with the aim of taking a slice of a game sales business that is dominated by Steam. Razer’s offering tied into its gamer credit (virtual currency) strategy to incentivize its customers to buy hardware and digital content with the promise of discounts. The company didn’t comment on why the store is closing, but you’d imagine that it didn’t go as well as Razer had hoped.

It sure takes a lot to bite into digital game sales, but the rewards are potentially lucrative.

Steam made $4.7 billion in 2017 (we don’t yet know its total for 2018) and Epic Games, buoyed by the runaway success of Fortnite, banked a $3 billion profit last year across its entire business, sources previously told TechCrunch.

Amazon-owned Twitch — which dominates the live-streaming space — had its own store before it closed, while Epic launched a very competitive offering at the end of 2018. The Epic Games Store, though, is fairly sparsely populated at this point. It is a long-term project, but the fact that even a company of the size and influence of Epic needs time goes to show the struggle that any new entrant will face.

The Razer Game Store will close on February 28

The Razer Game Store will close its doors at 1am PST February 28. All purchased games will continue to work and pre-ordered titles will ship as planned, according to Razer. Discount vouchers must be used before that date, however.

In a Q&A accompanying the announcement, Razer said it would “continue bringing games to gamers via other services.”

“We will be investing in other ways to deliver great content and introduce game promotions through Razer Gold, our virtual credits system,” the company said, perhaps hinting at tie-ins with other game stores in the future.

Razer went public with an IPO in Hong Kong in 2017.

Gaming firm Razer up 18% following Hong Kong IPO

Note: The original version of this post has been updated to correct that Twitch’s store has in fact already closed, such is the challenge of rivaling Steam. Thank you to reader James Binns for spotting the error and writing in.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 1:00 am

China tells teachers to quit assigning homework through WeChat

China’s education authorities are about to take some burden off parents with school-aged children. A proposal posted last week by the Department of Education in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang said teachers should be banned from using WeChat, QQ or other mobile apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students’ assignments.

As mobile internet booms in China, phones have become an extension of daily activities, including school practices. Instead of announcing homework in class or handing out notices to students in person, teachers are now dumping assignments into WeChat groups designed to interact with parents. Many teachers are keen to exercise their power through these digital channels, asking parents to help students with problem sets and even grade their homework.

The regional call to action follows a set of national guidelines released by the Ministry of Education in October directing teachers and schools to take more responsibilities rather than shift the load onto parents. “Teachers should be accountable for their job, treat teaching seriously, correct homework with prudence and help students with care.”

Not all schools abuse digital platforms to such an extent. A Shenzhen-based parent told TechCrunch that her second-grader who attends a local public school still does much of her homework in written form and parents’ involvement is moderate.

“Different schools treat technology differently and I’m not opposed to the use of it. It’s helpful, for example, to use a digital device to learn English because much of the process involves audios and videos,” the parent said. “I think sometimes media are painting teachers and schools in such a negative light just to get attention.”

Other recommendations in the national notice include limiting the amount of online homework to reduce nearsightedness, which has become a source of concerns for parents and society at large.

The new directives also come as Beijing tries to rein in what and how private technology services are infiltrating students’ lives. In one far-reaching move, the government ordered video-game publishers to cap children’s playing time, sending shares of industry leaders Tencent and NetEase tumbling. More recently, the Ministry of Education asked schools and universities to audit apps used by teachers and students on campus in accordance with guidelines set by the regulator.

Despite the government’s intent to ease stress and unplug devices for students, education apps have flourished in China. Those that help students outperform their peers have done particularly well. Yuanfudao, a startup that offers live courses, exam prep and homework help, gained a $3 billion valuation in its latest $300 million funding round in December. Its rivals Zuoyebang and Yiqi Zuoye have similarly attracted big-name investors and sizable funds to help their young users get ahead.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 12:54 am

GoCardless raises $75M Series E for its recurring payments network and heads to America

Compared to startups born into the frothy London fintech space as it exists today, 2011-founded GoCardless could well be considered a slow burner. However, in more recent years, the nearly 300 person company — headed up by co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi — has undoubtedly stepped on the gas in a bid to become the one stop shop globally for businesses that want to let customers pay via recurring bank payments.

A little over a year ago, GoCardless announced that it had raised $22.5 million in further funding, off the back of record annual growth in the U.K. and strong early traction in new markets. And today the fintech is disclosing another fresh injection of capital: $75 million in Series E funding, in part to fund new offices across EMEA, APAC and North America. In addition to its London HQ, the company already has sites in France, Australia and Germany, from which it says it processes transactions for 40,000 businesses worldwide.

Leading the round are new investors Adams Street Partners, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Previous backers Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital also followed on.

In a call with Takeuchi late last week, he picked up on a familiar theme, describing the collection of recurring payments for many business as “broken”. Accessing the various bank to bank payments schemes has traditionally been difficult from a commercial, compliance and technical point of view. Instead, businesses have typically relied on payment methods, such as card payments or cheques, which aren’t up to the job of recurring payments.

That’s because these payment options are designed for one-off transactions (cards, for example, expire, breaking the payment flow). Meanwhile, there’s been a rise in subscription business models and an expanding B2B market in which contractors and partners need to make regular variable payments. According to Takeuchi, this means an international recurring payments network like the one GoCardless is building is needed more than ever.

“A global network for bank debit is an absolute necessity in allowing businesses to easily collect recurring payments anywhere, in any currency,” he says. “Thanks to the support of our investors we can now open up our global network and payments platform to more businesses across the world, delivering on our mission to take the pain out of getting paid, so that businesses can focus on what they do best”.

Takeuchi also tells me GoCardless is investing heavily in its product, with a product team of around 100 members. He declined to go into much detail with regards to GoCardless’ immediate or more long term roadmap, although currency conversion is one area the company is developing new products for. It’s not clear if that will be via an FX partner, such as London neighbour TransferWise, or a more home grown solution, although the former seems more likely. Takeuchi wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics.

Other areas of development include products to help businesses boost cash flow via “instant settlement,” and smarter payment features to increase transaction success rates. The latter could include using open banking to check if funds are available before trying to process a bank debit, or to automatically set the most appropriate payment date.

Source: TechCrunch | 18 Feb 2019 | 12:00 am

Etsy error resulted in large amounts being withdrawn from some sellers’ bank accounts and credit cards

An Etsy bill payment error resulted in large amounts of money being withdrawn from several sellers’ bank accounts and credit cards on Friday morning. While the company says the issue has been resolved and was not the result of fraud, the headache isn’t over for affected sellers because Monday is a federal holiday in the United States, and many financial institutions are closed.

Etsy sellers are required to have a valid credit or debit card on file with Etsy in order to have a payment account. Boing Boing reports that complaints first began emerging in Etsy’s Community Forums and Twitter on Friday morning, when sellers began noticing amounts ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars had ben withdrawn or charged to those accounts.

An Etsy representative posted with a brief message in its forum stating that the company was “aware of a bill payment error affecting a small group of sellers which resulted in some cards being incorrectly charged.” Then on Sunday afternoon, Etsy sent a longer explanation to sellers. The company said it has already refunded all incorrectly charged cards and will be sending deposits on Tuesday.

“An update on recent issues affecting payment accounts

On Friday, February 15, a bill payment error affected a small group of sellers which resulted in some cards being incorrectly charged. Sellers who were affected have been notified by email, or by Etsy Conversations, and the issue that caused this has since been resolved.

As part of fixing this issue, all incorrectly charged cards have been refunded. It may take several business days for the refunded amounts to clear and settle in card accounts.  Also related to fixing the root problem, some sellers saw their scheduled deposit of funds returned to Etsy on Friday, February 15, and those deposits will now be sent on Tuesday, February 19.

For affected sellers, we are very sorry for the trouble or concern this may have caused. Our first priority has been to correct the issue. This was not a fraud issue, but instead an error related to a site change which affects a small group of sellers and is unrelated to buyers’ purchases.

This is an issue we do not take lightly. We’ve assembled a Payments task force, including senior executives across Etsy, to address any concerns or troubles resulting from this error. We will refund any undue fees associated with this incorrect charge and change in deposit schedule. We don’t expect this error to impact additional sellers going forward.”

The explanation was not enough for many sellers, who said hourly updates should have been posted for a problem of this magnitude, and that Etsy had not addressed how it will compensate them for overdraft or late fees, or if the returned deposits will appear on their 1099s. TechCrunch has contacted Etsy for comment.

Source: TechCrunch | 17 Feb 2019 | 10:06 pm

Stop saying, ‘We take your privacy and security seriously’

In my years covering cybersecurity, there’s one variation of the same lie that floats above the rest. “We take your privacy and security seriously.”

You might have heard the phrase here and there. It’s a common trope used by companies in the wake of a data breach — either in a “mea culpa” email to their customers or a statement on their website to tell you that they care about your data, even though in the next sentence they all too often admit to misusing or losing it.

The truth is, most companies don’t care about the privacy or security of your data. They care about having to explain to their customers that their data was stolen.

I’ve never understood exactly what it means when a company says it values my privacy. If that were the case, data hungry companies like Google and Facebook, which sell data about you to advertisers, wouldn’t even exist.

I was curious how often this go-to one liner was used. I scraped every reported notification to the California attorney general, a requirement under state law in the event of a breach or security lapse, stitched them together, and converted it into machine-readable text.

About one-third of all 285 data breach notifications had some variation of the line.

It doesn’t show that companies care about your data. It shows that they don’t know what to do next.

A perfect example of a company not caring: Last week, we reported several OkCupid users had complained their accounts were hacked. More likely than not, the accounts were hit by credential stuffing, where hackers take lists of usernames and passwords and try to brute-force their way into people’s accounts. Other companies have learned from such attacks and took the time to improve account security, like rolling out two-factor authentication.

Instead, OkCupid’s response was to deflect, defend and deny, a common way for companies to get ahead of a negative story. It looked like this:

  • Deflect: “All websites constantly experience account takeover attempts,” the company said.
  • Defend: “There’s no story here,” the company later told another publication.
  • Deny: “No further comment,” when asked what the company will do about it.

It would’ve been great to hear OkCupid say it cared about the matter and what it was going to do about it.

Every industry has long neglected security. Most of the breaches today are the result of shoddy security over years or sometimes decades, coming back to haunt them. Nowadays, every company has to be a security company, whether it’s a bank, a toymaker or a single app developer.

Companies can start off small: tell people how to reach contact them with security flaws, roll out a bug bounty to encourage bug submissions and grant good-faith researchers safe harbor by promising not to sue. Startup founders can also fill their executive suite with a chief security officer from the very beginning. They’d be better off than 95 percent of the world’s richest companies that haven’t even bothered.

But this isn’t what happens. Instead, companies would rather just pay the fines.

Target paid $18.5 million for a data breach that ensnared 41 million credit cards, compared to full-year revenues of $72 billion. Anthem paid $115 million in fines after a data breach put 79 million insurance holders’ data at risk, on revenues that year of $79 billion. And, remember Equifax? The biggest breach of 2017 led to all talk but no action.

With no incentive to change, companies will continue to parrot their usual hollow remarks. Instead, they should do something about it.

Marriott’s breach response is so bad, security experts are filling in the gaps — at their own expense

Source: TechCrunch | 17 Feb 2019 | 7:07 pm

This smart grid program could save millions of tons of CO2 annually
smart-grid-energy

Ofgem, the U.K. government’s regulator for gas and electricity, has revealed that projects trialled under the Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF) could save 215 tonnes of CO2.

The program ran for six years, ending in 2015, with the aim of helping Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) develop cost effective and energy efficient solutions for the smart grid of the future.

Implementation of some of the smart grid projects could see benefits of between $6 billion to $10 billion, according to the Ofgem review.

See Also: Will autonomous microgrids drive IoT in smart cities?

“Today’s review has found that network companies have improved their innovation, which is significant progress,” said Jonathan Brearley, a senior partner for networks at Ofgem.

“However, there is great potential to go further. Our challenge to the companies is to build on this progress and become high-level innovators, while delivering more for less. Involving third parties in the projects will help network companies take this next step,” he added.

Looking out for a new energy grid

The LCNF provided $750 million over the six years to companies large and small that were developing innovative solutions for the energy grid.

“It is important that companies take this opportunity. We need a more innovative grid which will allow consumers to get the most out of their smart meters which are being rolled out across the UK,” said Brearley.

Ofgem will now run a Network Innovation Competition (NIC) each year, a successor to the LNCF, which will provide £70 million per year for innovative projects.

Several reports have said that Britain will not be able to achieve the goals set out at the Paris Agreement earlier this year, if it continues to pollute the Earth with the same amount of carbon as its using currently. This fund could be one way to reduce the country’s usage, without effecting the consumer in any way.

The post This smart grid program could save millions of tons of CO2 annually appeared first on ReadWrite.

Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 10:00 pm

3 benefits a smart city can gain from smart infrastructure
shutterstock_434588023

The Internet of Things is sweeping across the globe at breakneck speeds, and before we know it, our entire lives will be facilitated by connected technology.

We’re already seeing the IoT make an incredible impact on how the industrial world operates, and we’re seeing it seep into household goods to bring convenience and efficiency to consumers’ lives.

However, one less-explored (but fast-growing) area where connected technology is poised to make a big splash lies in the public sector: Specifically, how municipalities incorporate smart technology into their environments to save money, enhance the lives of their constituents, and entice the best and brightest businesses to set up shop within their borders.

Living in a Smart City

Imagine using a digital voice assistant like Siri to buy tickets for a big concert. Then, as your autonomous vehicle chauffeurs you to the venue, the streetlights lining the road form a cocoon around you, turning on as you approach and turning off soon after you pass. City-sponsored drones zip around overhead, looking out for any traffic bottlenecks that might impact your journey.

Then, when you pull up to the municipal garage outside the arena, a kiosk tells you exactly where the nearest vacant parking spot is, making the experience a stress-free breeze.

This is just a small sampling of what life will be like in a smart city. But even in this simple example, several key details went into creating the smooth experience. Among them: The streetlights must respond to the presence of a vehicle, the drones flying overhead must know how to identify and report traffic patterns, the municipal parking lot must be able to track each spot’s occupancy, and so forth.

Coordination is key

Too often, city departments dive headfirst into the realm of connected technology without coordinating their efforts. For example, the utilities department will deploy one network for its smart meters, while the department of transportation uses a different one for its energy-efficient streetlights. Ultimately, this results in a variety of compatibility issues that leave cities with headaches and high costs.

On top of that, with this uncoordinated approach, key day-to-day data ends up siloed off within departments. This makes it difficult for city leaders to fully capitalize on the treasure trove of insights made possible by the IoT. Unnecessary resources must be devoted to connect this siloed information, which results in a slower analysis process and could lead to accuracy issues.

Also, due to the fact that network longevity concerns have plagued the IoT throughout its existence, a city utilizing more networks than necessary is only making things more difficult (and costly) for itself once the next sunset comes around. Therefore, city departments must work in tandem when deploying IoT technologies, keep network longevity in mind, and strive to keep things as streamlined as possible.

The perks of a cohesive Smart City

When properly built, smart cities reap countless benefits that include:

1. Sustainability. Cities that embrace IoT technology can optimize their use of resources, including water, fuel, energy, and even waste. The city of Los Angeles, for example, installed LED bulbs in its streetlights and successfully cut its energy use by 60 percent. The Dutch city of Eindhoven took things even further by installing streetlights similar to the ones I described earlier — they turn on and off depending on how busy the street is.

Aside from saving the environment, smart cities save big bucks thanks to their IoT initiatives. Los Angeles’ LED bulbs save the city $8 million per year, and the city of Barcelona saved more than 75 million euros in 2014 by adopting IoT-driven smart water, lighting, and more.

2. Community. A city that illustrates a commitment to improvement through smart initiatives is more likely to build strong, well-informed, and healthy communities.

For example, by creating an autonomous smart bus network and offering free citywide Wi-Fi, Barcelona has effectively encouraged its residents to drive less, walk more, and get out and explore the area. As a result, pollution levels have decreased, obesity rates have dropped, and residents feel engaged with their hometown.

In America, Atlantic City, N.J., is embracing smart technology by installing LED streetlights that feature charging stations and display screens that keep citizens informed of current events and emergency announcements.

3. Growth. Smart cities don’t just save municipalities money and improve the lives of current residents; they also attract new residents. Who wouldn’t want to live and work in a city with great air quality, low utility costs, reliable public transit, and free-flowing Wi-Fi?

Businesses in particular flock to cities that take care of their smart infrastructure because it lowers operating costs. One study predicts the global business community will spend more than $18 billion incorporating smart technology into buildings in 2017 — which far surpasses the $5.5 billion it spent back in 2012.

The energy savings in smart buildings make the move worthwhile, typically paying for itself on an enterprise level within a year or two. Smart windows alone can save up to 26 percent on cooling and 67 percent on lighting costs.

In order for a smart city to truly bring its IoT-driven features to life and see long-term value in its investment, it must create a cohesive and holistic smart infrastructure. Every department must be involved and understand how IoT-driven solutions can benefit them, and they must work together to create a seamless, streamlined experience that optimizes life for its current (and future) residents.

When smart cities operate in harmony, their citizens, industries, and environments all thrive.

John Horn joined Ingenu after serving as president of RacoWireless, a leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity solutions. He led the company to record growth and multiple awards for its accomplishments, including recognition as the “Most Innovative Company” and “Entrepreneurial Company of the Year.” Before joining RacoWireless, Horn was a leader at T-Mobile for more than nine years.

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Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 9:15 pm

PARC secures federal funding to develop peel-and-stick sensors
parc-xerox-sensors

PARC, the research and development arm of Xerox, announced on Tuesday that it has secured part of $19 million in federal funding from the Energy Department to develop peel-and-stick sensors for homes, businesses, and other buildings.

The peel-and-stick sensors will be able to detect air quality, temperature, humidity, occupancy, and more, according to PARC. Instead of using batteries, which are hard to recycle, the sensors will be powered using RF energy.

See also: Xerox beacon technology brings retail to commuters

“Sensors need to be low-cost, easily deployed, require little or no maintenance, and be able to store enough energy to do their job. PARC’s flexible, printed and hybrid electronics enable the unique peel-and-stick form factor, provide affordable, plug-and-play installation, and allow for remote radio frequency power delivery,” said David Schwartz, project lead and manager of Energy Devices and Systems at PARC.

PARC thinks that the peel-and-stick functionality will give the sensors compatibility in all scenarios, since it removes the hard installation process and provides more a deeper and more accurate understanding of the building environment.

PARC sensors could be adopted to other markets

The peel-and-stick sensors could be adopted in other markets, including building efficiency applications, smart cities, industrial and resident safety, and wearables.

“Distributed, networked sensing and data collection is the basis of the IoT. PARC is poised to provide a variety of the IoT sensors given our deep and rich history in printed electronics,” said Schwartz.

PARC is one of 18 selected projects by the U.S. Department of Energy to improve the efficiency of America’s buildings. Earlier this year, the Energy Department revealed the annual energy bill for the entire country was $430 billion.

“Improving the efficiency of our nation’s buildings presents one of our best opportunities for cutting Americans’ energy bills and slashing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “These innovative technologies will make our buildings smarter, healthier, and more efficient, driving us toward our goal of reducing the energy use intensity of the U.S. buildings sector by 30 percent by 2030.”

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Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 8:30 pm

Get My Parking launches smart city pilot in India
Get My Parking

Studies of traffic congestion regularly point much blame at cars circling for parking. To tackle this perennial problem, Get My Parking is joining a smart city initiative to launch a smart parking pilot in India.

As reported in Firstpost, the Delhi-based startup’s technology is being tested in government smart city initiatives.

“We are getting a lot of traction from various municipal corporations,” said Get My Parking CEO Chirag Jain. “We have started a pilot project in Jaipur.”

See also: Greek startup Sammy guides boats to shore — and parking

Jain describes his company as providing a technological solution that allows the smart location of free parking spots through a smartphone app. The technology was the brainchild of alumni from IIT Madras and FMS Delhi.

He explained that the need for his company’s solution came from examination of how chaotic parking systems lead to many vehicles driving slower than the normal flow of traffic as they seek a spot to leave their cars.

“Just imagine when hundreds of cars are doing that at the same time,” said Jain.

Get My Parking received recent kudos from senior government figures including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The praise came from the successful use of the startup’s technology that helped ease traffic chaos during Kumbh Mela, the mass Hindu pilgrimage where members of the faith travel to bathe in a sacred river.

Get My Parking attracting investor interest

The company is also attracting the attention of investors. Recently the startup drew a first funding round from Chennai Angles and is hoping to close its second round of financing soon.

One of the areas that Jain says is of key importance is ensuring the parking technology integrates into smart city infrastructure in a secure way to keep citizens safe.

“Security is of prime concern as we work with a lot of consumer data,” he said. “The security is taken care of accordance to utmost privacy for our consumers.”

The interest in developing such smart city technology comes as India is expanding its internet infrastructure to facilitate growth in Internet of Things technology.

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Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 7:27 pm

Do fitness wearables need an affordability upgrade?
tomtom-wearable-bluetooth-headset

According to a recent Gartner survey, almost a third of fitness tracker or smartwatch owners end up ditching them. The survey studied about 9,000 users from the U.S., Australia and the U.K. Reasons for the dropped tech use vary from wearables breaking, to just becoming bored of them.

“Dropout from device usage is a serious problem for the industry,” said Angela McIntyre, Gartner research director. “The abandonment rate is quite high relative to the usage rate.”

See also: How to use your wearable’s VO2 max feature in your fitness routine

According to McIntyre, it is time for wearable devices to get creative and offer consumers something they cannot typically find on their IPhones or Android handsets.

“To offer a compelling enough value proposition, the uses for wearable devices need to be distinct from what smartphones typically provide.  Wearables makers need to engage users with incentives and gamification,” she explained.

As it stands, the smartwatch adoption rate is only 10 percent. However, fitness wearables have reached the early mainstream categorization, sitting at 19 percent.  Virtual reality headsets like the Oculus rift are currently at 8 percent.

Most owners of fitness trackers and smartwatches tend to buy their own. Thirty-four percent of fitness wearables are given as gifts, and only 26 percent of smartwatches, such as Apple Watches, are gifted.

Most users wear their health tracking devices all day, yet not all enjoy putting them on. Fitbits and other health monitoring gadgets are also more popular in the U.S. than in Australia.  They are a bit more popular in Australia than they are in the U.K.

And looks could also be part of the problem

Of those surveyed by Gartner, 29 percent believe fitness trackers are ugly. Finding one that looks nice can be costly, said Mikako Kitagawa, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Fitness tracker cases and wristbands designed by fashion brands are sold as higher-priced upgrades, which may be a barrier to purchase,” she explained.

The U.S. currently is the leader in actual smartwatch purchase rates, followed by the U.K and then Australia.  A majority of owners are 44 years of age or younger, and more than half use their smartwatches on a daily basis.

 

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Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 3:00 pm

Using IoT to help farmers to protect livestock from fires
Nare IoT

An increasing number of farm fires are being caused by electrical arc faults, a high-power discharge of electricity between two or more conductors. Nare IoT Labs, a South Korean startup, has developed a cost effective solution to prevent and warn farmers of any faults, before the fire starts.

The system, called “Prevention System for Electrical Arc Fires,” is bundled into a small Internet of Things (IoT) module that can recognize the difference between a harmless arc and a dangerous one that could spiral into a fire.

See Also: How Honeywell and the post office are making Christmas bright

With that knowledge, Nare IoT is able to send warnings to a farmer’s smartphone and let the farmer turn off a power grid near the electrical arc to avoid further damage. Inside the module is an alarm, which goes off when a dangerous electrical arc happens.

“The rise Internet of Things was an opportunity for us. Affordable modules and network fees allow vendors like us to create more sophisticated systems cheaply,” said CEO Choi Seoung Wook, the founder of Nare IoT Labs.

Started with farm security cameras

Choi has previously built security cameras for farmers to spot robbers and report them to the police, a crime that was become more commonplace in South Korea. The startup sells a bundle for farmers to receive the complete security package, but Nare’s technology can also be bought al-a-carte if farmers only want a certain module.

Nare IoT is only available in South Korea at the moment, though there are plans to bring it to Japan as an OEM. Choi said to ZDNet that he plans to export the system to European and Asian markets, albeit with different marketing and sales practices.

This is another example of IoT providing meaningful solutions to customers that do not have large budgets. The system has already been installed in 500 farms in South Korea, and is already reducing insurance costs for farmers.

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Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 2:13 pm

Google’s Waymo to put big car firms in the robot car driver’s seat
waymo

A new report says Google has spun out its self-driving unit — now called Waymo — and is undertaking a major pivot away from making its own autonomous vehicles, instead moving to become a provider of self-driving car tech for major automakers.

These Google car revelations revealed in a lengthy report on tech site The Information.

See also: Google self-driving project set to graduate from labs

If the suggestions prove true, Google and its parent company Alphabet are undergoing a major shift away from developing their own self-driving cars. The Google cars were eventually to get rid of traditional user control mechanisms like foot pedals and steering wheels.

“Google Car executives had long made clear the company’s true mission of building a car that didn’t have a steering wheel or pedals, and the two-person prototypes in fact had what were considered to be temporary gear given that a safety driver is required to test self-driving tech,” recounted the USA Today article.

Instead, the tech giant is now reportedly refocusing its efforts on developing self-driving vehicle technology that can be incorporated into traditional cars.

This would represent a major scaling-back of Alphabet’s ambitious eight-year project to develop autonomous vehicles requiring no traditional user control mechanisms.

Furthering the speculation of Google’s change in focus is The Information’s news that the “Chauffeur” self-driving car team is being moved out of Google X’s future technology focused “moonshot” division.

The Information suggested increasing competition in the self-driving car space prompted Google Co-Founder Larry Page to reconsider the autonomous vehicle program focus.

Self-driving field is getting crowded

In recent years, many new players have rushed into the self-driving car field, including startups like Drive.ai and processor-maker Nvidia. As well, traditional carmakers are also diving deep into the technology to develop new versions of their vehicles.

This apparently sparked Google’s fear of being left behind in an increasingly aggressive race to commercialize the new car technology. And hence the move to become a  technology provider for traditional car manufacturers became the preferred option.

Industry experts suggest that the goal for both car makers and technology firm is to develop autonomous transportation for ride-sharing services rather than individual consumers. Ride-sharing based business models include increased profit potential from the vehicles being in constant service unlike private robotic cars.

As evidence, drive-sharing colossus Uber has recently proven to be among the most aggressive companies in the race to develop self-driving cars.

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Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 9:30 pm

Aye! Smart city projects squirrel away $31m in Scotland
Mountain view point over Edinburgh city.

Scotland’s seven major cities are teaming up to develop a number of smart city projects, backed by a $31 million war chest.

According to Scottish Construction Now, the seven cities will springboard off the funding to collaboratively develop themselves into future-capable digital hubs.

See also: Outdated thinking on wireless could doom UK smart cities

The smart cities program is under the mantle of the Scottish Cities Alliance, which includes Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling along with the Scottish government.

European Regional Development Funding will contribute $13 million to smart cities initiatives, with another $18 million chipped in by the seven cities.

“By working together Scotland’s cities are utilizing economies of scale to learn individually and share that knowledge collectively, to be at the cutting edge of Smart City technology and the benefits that brings,” said Andrew Burns, Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance. “Our inter-city approach to developing Smart City solutions has been praised publicly by the European Commission and we have attracted the attention of other nations who are looking to emulate our collaborative model.”

A variety of smart city programs have already been given the green light to begin development in Scotland.

Intelligent Street Lighting projects are being piloted in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Stirling. The lighting technology will incorporate LED bulbs and connected sensors, and is expected to provide energy savings and improved safety for the public and drivers.

Now the bins are smart, too

Smart waste management services will be developed in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling and Perth. The waste projects will incorporate smart bin technology that improve efficiency by alerting workers to empty the garbage cans only when full.

Besides these infrastructure-related projects, Scottish cities will see the development open data initiatives under the smart city programme. The cities will build data publication platforms that incorporate data analytics capabilities.

The cities expect to the open data projects sparking better decision-making on urban issues which will improve services and efficiencies.

The Scottish initiatives come amidst a global rush to develop smart city programs. However, experts suggest that early stage smart cities often struggle to develop clearly defined entry points.

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Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 8:30 pm

5 futuristic connected car technologies that are here now — or will be soon
city-cars-road-traffic (1)

With trends like ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, and the connected car, the auto industry is increasingly in the spotlight. As drivers contemplate letting computers take over control of the wheel for them, it brings up some important questions. What will cars of the future look like? What things will drivers be able to accomplish on their rides to work? And most importantly, what cool features will they be able to enjoy now that their attention doesn’t have to be on the road?

1. No parking skills? No need to fret

Parking sucks, especially the dreaded parallel. It’s often tricky in congested areas, it sometimes leads to smashed alloy wheels and it’s deeply embarrassing when not done correctly, which is why most are happy to hand over valet duties to a robot. Ford, Renault and many premium brands already own a system that will hunt down parallel and reverse parking spots and then use sensors and cameras to correctly steer the vehicle into the space, only calling upon a human for throttle inputs.

But things are about to get a whole lot easier, as BMW and Mercedes-Benz now boast tech that simply requires a prod of a smartphone for perfect parking results. BMW’s Remote Control Parking is already on the 7 Series  —  and due to be rolled out on more models next year — and sees the car autonomously reverse into and pull out of spaces, while Mercedes’ Remote Parking Pilot does a similar thing but also caters for perpendicular parking. The latter will appear on the new E-Class, which is due out late this year or early 2017.

2. Connected from the road to the kitchen

When your car knows to open the garage door and turn the AC on as you head down the road, you know you’ve hit peak connectivity. The ease of access for drivers as cars become a tool to become your personal assistant is rapidly advancing. The latest multimedia systems allow for emails to be read and sent, hands-free calls to be made and Twitter to be updated on the move by some of the largest car manufacturers like Nissan. Some even know to power themselves!

The cars of the future will be an extension of your home. As the auto industry combines to meld with the IoT revolution, we’ll see connectivity that we’ve never had before. Wouldn’t it be great to record your favorite television show when you’re running late by communicating with your vehicle? The cars of the future and you will end up being quite the team. Can’t wait or don’t want to buy a new car? Adapters from companies like Autobrain, Automatic and Vinli will turn your car (as long as it’s built after 1996) into the 4G connected, Wi-Fi enabled, connected car of the future.

3. A mobile living room

When car owners are no longer required to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel because computers are in the driver’s seat, the journey will be just as important as the destination. To the discerning 21 century mediaphile, this means HD screens, on-demand content streaming and one-kick ass, next-generation audio system to experience it with, just like one might in their living room but with the bonus of a smaller space and killer surround sound. Companies such as Auro-3D have partnered with companies like Porsche to introduce three-dimensional spatial sound patterns that replicate real-life sound experiences that are reminiscent of the best concert halls, but all in the comfort of your own car. This set up delivers the best-possible music playback to make every trip a new driving experience, not just a ride.

4. Goodbye dials, hello gestures

Why touch, when you can wave? Rear-view mirrors, radios, and more are moving away from the antiquated dial system to understand hand gestures through infrared cameras. Touch screens are increasingly becoming the easiest way to communicate with your vehicle over fumbling with dial switches. But the cars of the futures don’t want to have you even deal with potential smudges to that chrome finish. Thanks to leadership from Audi and Volvo, in efforts to de-clutter the dashboard to make you safer and more efficient, we’re going to see even touch screens get the boot as swipes and gestures will be the simplest and safest way to control functionality. Wave goodbye to those dials.

5. Never lose your keys again

We’ve seen in recent years the shift from key to keyless entry but next-generation cars take this one step further by completely removing them altogether. In the future, drivers will be able to unlock and start their cars using a fingerprint, retina scan or voice activation—similarly to how we access our smartphones today. And with how much time drivers save by not tearing the house apart looking for lost keys, they might be able to finish that book or learn a new language—or not. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about your teenager taking your car out without permission ever again. “Open the driver door, Tesla!” “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.”

With all the cool new car technology on the horizon, it’s enough to make anyone want to give up public transit to commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic to catch up on shows, listen to the hottest new album release or just hang out with friends.

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Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 7:30 pm

Tech world aims to tackle the mental health issue next
shutterstock_emailstress

Several months ago, CCS Insight surveyed 2,000 people in the US and UK about what they would most like to have tracked about themselves, and a large portion of them answered with, “stress levels.” It looks as though their requests are being answered.  Mental health is a big focus in the tech industry right now.

According to George Jijiashvili, an analyst at CCS Insight who focuses on wearable tech, “It has been suggested that by using galvanic skin response (GSR) technology, a user’s stress levels can be determined.”

See also: New mental health technology tells your doctor what you won’t.

Interestingly enough, computer vision is 82% accurate at reading human emotions, which is better than humans themselves. So it is no wonder that what are coming next in the tech world are wearables that read exactly what is going on in a person’s emotional health, not just physical, and align it with what is going on in the individual’s life.

One way to look at what is in store for sensing emotions is to break it down into analysis and algorithms, input and output in the form of apps. Some innovations have already been looked at, like temporary tech tattoos that can read facial expressions, but there is more interest in practical emotion sensing gadgets that could easily go mainstream and assist in monitoring mental health.

“Jawbone and Basis have previously used GSR technology in their wearables to determine perspiration levels and heart rate, but I believe that its potential hasn’t been fully explored yet. I continue to believe that next year Fitbit and other major players in the wearables space will start expanding the capabilities of their device by adding additional sensors,” says Jijiashvili.

Several million users have been added to the mobile app, Headspace, over the past few months.  Several others have started using manual mood-watching Apple Watch apps, such as Thriveport. Pebble is a company that has users enter their mood levels throughout the day via its Happiness app. However, the fate of the Pebble Happiness study is in questions, after the Fitbit buyout. Apparently, Fitbit is interested in the software, and it might just show up in future Fitbit trackers.

How emotion tracking works

The most difficult parts of emotion tracking are the algorithms behind how biometric sensors and manual mood diaries work to provide insights given based on breathing and changing lifestyle habits. Any company focused on this will probably not be interested in sharing their algorithms, but a couple of companies such as Vinaya and its upcoming Zenta, along with the makers of the Feel wristband, have discussed the basics of their science.

Zenta is a biometric bracelet that measures galvanic skin response, along with heart rate and heart rate variability, and combines this with a person’s digital life — calendar, social media — to construct a picture of his or her emotional life.  Vinaya’s algorithms match physiological signals to emotions like affection, anger and melancholy based on an academic model.

“What technology can enable us to do today is truly amazing. But as we let our devices and virtual realities distract us from the present and negatively impact our wellbeing, we should recognize that this is an unbalanced relationship,” says Kate Unsworth, Vinaya’s co-founder. “We’ve built a lab in London, where our team conducts research and experiments into things like stress, anxiety, sleep, happiness, peace and fulfillment.”

There are some other pretty interesting things being offered in this new world of mental health tracking.  Intel and British-Cypriot fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan, have collaborated to turn emotions into art. They use brainwaves, heart rate and breathing tracking “smart glasses” to gather data on emotions such as nerves, stress and attraction. Then they analyze them and turn them into videos. In each case, the visualizations change as respiration or heart rates change in real time.  This project will be featured in the Design Museum in London until April.

It looks as though 2017 is set to be a big year for wearable tech that focuses more on our mental health. Monitoring health can play a big part in preventing many diseases. Our emotional wellbeing is critical, and the tech world is noticing.

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Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 6:30 pm