Magic Leap unveils its augmented reality headset
Florida-based firm Magic Leap has released details of its augmented reality/mixed reality headset, the Magic Leap One: Creator Edition. Comprising goggles that include digital Lightfield technology, a mini-computer called a Lightpack and a hand-held controller, the device enables users to "actively create with the computer", according to Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz, with uses including web browsing and gaming. While no price or availability details have been released, the company said a software development kit is set to go on sale early this year, with a product launch scheduled for later in 2018.
2018-01-02 10:44:25.070000
Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Magic Leap unveiled today what $2 billion dollars of Silicon Valley investment will get you: an augmented reality/mixed reality (ar/mr) product called “Magic Leap One: Creator Edition.” There are three components to the Magic Leap hardware: The goggles, called Lightwear, which combine “digital Lightfield technology with environment mapping, precision tracking, and soundfield audio” A puck-like mini-computer called a Lightpack that attaches to the goggle and can be clipped to your belt or pants A hand-held controller with force control, haptic feedback, and six degrees of freedom The Magic Leap website offers some additional vague details about the technology, in addition to examples of how the goggles can be used, ranging from the practical (spatial web browsing) to entertainment (gaming), as well as the nonsensical (painting with turtles instead of paintbrushes?). In this interview, Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz explains that they call it the “creator’s edition” because the device encourages “actively creating with the computer” instead of the passive consumption of content. If you’re curious to understand what makes Magic Leap’s tech unique, Rolling Stone has among the most in-depth reports, including details from a reporter who has used the product. The problem with experiential tech is that written descriptions don’t do it much justice, and it’s still difficult, at least for me, to gauge exactly how Magic Leap differs from existing ar/mr hardware. Something we do know though is that Magic Leap employs a team of animators, even if it’s not exactly clear what they’ve been working on for the last couple years. Some of the company’s animation team is ex-Moonbot employees, who were picked up last year following the collapse of the Shreveport, Louisiana studio. Skepticism remains around Magic Leap because of the astronomical sums that the company has raised to develop its technology, and the seeming gap between what the company has promised and what they are delivering. Business Insider, for example, suggests that the Magic Leap has the same fundamental limitations as the Microsoft Hololens, which is a limited field of view that doesn’t match a human’s field of view. The venture capital world itself has a sketchy track record when it comes to backing companies that have never launched a product – Juicero and Theranos anyone? – and with Magic Leap having raised nearly $2 billion to date, expectations for the company to deliver something amazing are sky-high. Magic Leap hasn’t released any firm details on pricing or availability, but has stated that a software development kit (SDK) is expected to be made available in early-2018, followed by the launch of the hardware later in the year.
Regus IWG holds takeover talks with Onex Corporation, Brookfield Asset Management
Flexible office space provider Regus – now part of IWG – has said it is in talks with Canadian companies Brookfield Asset Management and Onex Corporation over a potential £2.5bn ($3.4bn) cash buyout of the company. IWG shares rose by more than 27% after the news broke. IWG had a turbulent 2017 in the face of competition from WeWork and issued a profit warning in October. IWG founder Mark Dixon, who owns 25% of the business, could make as much as £600m from the sale. The Canadian companies have until 20 January to offer their proposal.
2018-01-02 10:40:39.757000
British tycoon Mark Dixon is in line for a £600million payday after Canadian funds made an approach to buy his global office empire. The 58-year-old built IWG, formerly called Regus, from nothing into a £1.8billion business but is on the verge of selling it. IWG says joint takeover talks are under way with Onex Corporation and Brookfield Asset Management, the biggest real estate manager in the world. Cashing in: British tycoon Mark Dixon is selling his his global office empire IWG to Canadian funds for £600m They have yet to make a formal offer but the prospect of a deal sent shares soaring by more than 27 per cent yesterday. It was the first time markets had been open since bosses revealed they were considering a deal on Saturday. Analysts said rival bidders could also emerge. Dixon, IWG’s biggest shareholder, holds a 25 per cent stake in the firm. He is estimated to be worth about £900million by Forbes but could trouser another £600million if IWG is taken over for a reported £2.5billion. The father-of-five, who sold hot dogs after leaving school in Essex, founded Regus in 1989. He is said to have had the idea for the firm after sitting in a cafe in Brussels and noticing the lack of office space for travelling business people, as they were holding meetings at tables around him. WHEELBARROW BOY DONE GOOD IWG founder Mark Dixon was an entrepreneur from the moment he left school. The Essex lad’s first venture was selling peat from a wheelbarrow to a local housing estate. He then began a sandwich making business called Dial-a-Snack. When this failed he travelled the world and was a barman, a miner in Australia and also sold encyclopedias. Back in the UK he bought a burger van for £600, but having struggled to find good baps, set up a firm called the Good Bread Roll company which he eventually sold for £800,000. <!- - ad: https://mads.dailymail.co.uk/v8/ru/money/moneymarkets/article/other/mpu_factbox.html?id=mpu_factbox_1 - -> IWG now runs Regus, Open Office and Signature offices across 3,000 locations in 1,000 cities, with annual sales of £2.2billion. But its shares have fallen over the past year in the face of tough competition from rivals such as US-based WeWork. Despite having far fewer locations, WeWork’s valuation is more than eight times higher – at almost £15billion. It has attracted trendy technology start-ups with perks such as free beer and prosecco, helping to rapidly expand its presence in London. IWG took another hit when it issued a profit warning in October, sending its shares plunging by more than 32 per cent in a day. Andrew Shepherd-Barron, an equity analyst at Peel Hunt, said the company offered a ready-made global brand. He said: ‘Much depends on founder Dixon’s attitude, but the approach could lead to IWG finally being taken over after a long and frequently volatile relationship with the equity market. 'The approach is from private equity at the moment, but we see potential bidders from a range of parties.’ IWG said it had ‘received an indicative proposal’ from Brookfield Asset Management and Onex Corporation for a possible cash offer to buy out the company. In a statement, it added: ‘There can be no certainty that any offer will be made, nor as to the terms on which any offer might be made.’ Brookfield and Onex now have until January 20 to put forward a firm proposal.
Top-tier insurers could attempt to partner with Amazon
With Amazon set on entering the insurance market, top-tier companies may seek to enter partnerships with the online marketplace. Amazon has recently been recruiting staff for an insurance division, declaring it's launching a new business line. The company already offers extended warranty services for goods under its Amazon Protect brand. Rather than put up resistance, leading insurers are likely to seek partnership arrangements with Amazon, according to industry consultant Pat Speer. Such arrangements would see Amazon treated in a similar vein to how smaller insurtech firms have been courted by incumbent insurers. 
2018-01-02 10:29:54.420000
The insurance industry was ready for Amazon to make an insurance distribution channel available to its customers: Liberty Mutual, Safeco, Farmers, Allstate, Nationwide and Grange Insurance are among the insurers leveraging the retail giant's Alexa voice assistant. Few believe this move will obviate the need for independent agents, and it remains to be seen whether the popular virtual assistant will be able to process FNOLs or policy changes, but Alexa’s ability to intuit responses can’t be ignored. The clear leader in e-commerce, Amazon ventured into selling direct in a limited fashion in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain last year with its “Amazon Protect” product, which provides extensions to manufacturers’ warranties, insuring against accidental damage, breakdown and theft for items such as electronics (mobile phones, washing machines, etc.) bought on Amazon’s website. This move didn’t cause much of a stir because the bulk of manufacturers and distributors already underwrite shipments. But a recent Reuters report in the UK notes that Amazon placed job advertisements on LinkedIn and “Where Women Work” for its EU product insurance division, which describe “launching a new business” and “creating a new palette of services,” causing industry watchers to speculate whether Amazon has a broader strategy in mind. The silhouette of Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., is seen as he unveils the Fire Phone during an event at Fremont Studios in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Amazon.com Inc. jumped into the crowded smartphone market with its own handset called Fire Phone, ramping up competition with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Jeff Bezos Mike Kane/Bloomberg What’s interesting is how larger insurers may end up responding; namely by adopting the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and offering to partner with the retail giant to be the underwriter of choice. By treating Amazon like any other insurtech firm (ready to leverage opportunity from an industry rip for innovation and disruption), larger insurers will be betting on a solid return. The reality, however, is that, although most insurers have a running start at digital transformation--a must for today’s growing competitive market--most insurers do not have the capacity to partner with the likes of an Amazon. But all insurers (from direct to aggregators) can learn from Amazon’s success. The most obvious learning is tied to what the customer wants—and with the right technology, insurers can learn a lot. Thanks to its hyper-analytics platform, Amazon continues to blaze a trail with an inherent understanding and fulfillment of customer preferences (on-demand simplicity in both purchase and services, personalization, product details and comparisons including suggestions for similar products and add-on products--insurance fits nicely here--clearly stated benefits/advantages and even peer reviews). This leads to another consideration: Rethinking how an insurer presents its company and its products. According to Steve Yi, co-founder and CEO of MediaAlpha, which connects buyers and sellers of online advertising, online conversion rates for the insurance industry generally fall in the 5% to 15% range, which means that most visitors to an insurer’s website end up buying insurance elsewhere. Amazon built its success on creating an open market, enabling customers to compare shop and even allowing its competitors to advertise on its site, which creates revenue for the giant in either case. Unless you are an insurance aggregator, that strategy may sound a bit wild, but what if your prospect/customer found everything it needed to make an informed decision on your site, reinforcing brand recognition, trust and loyalty? The fact that Google tried a similar approach and ultimately pulled out of the personal lines auto market this past year won’t impact Amazon’s decision. And whether Amazon decides to offer traditional insurance products remains to be seen (Reuters reports that an Amazon UK spokesman declined to comment, and the Warranty Group, which underwrites Amazon Protect policies, did not respond). If they do enter the market, they will be courted by more Tier 1 insurance partners than they can imagine, and may fall into the ranks of one of the largest insurtechs in history.
Water salinity test could boost production from older wells
A new analytical model for brownfield oil reservoirs uses the salinity of injected water to improve the understanding of fluid movements in the operation, said researchers from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Charting the salinity of production water could help optimise water injection, promoting the most efficient methods and increasing oil recovery, they said. The model was applied to a large oil field in Egypt, where it helped improve understanding of critical issues across about 500 wells, including fluid contacts, well integrity, aquifer support, effect of faults, well zonation, and contribution of commingled wells.
2018-01-02 10:26:36.900000
A look at recent first‑quarter results reminds us that there is no such thing as a constant trend in our industry. Continual recalibration of companies’ activities aim to obtain positive financial results in the traditional oil and gas business while devoting efforts in a practical way to both mitigate climate change issues and to develop new forms of energy.
Regus Flexible space rivals jostle to dominate South Florida
Flexible office space providers WeWork and Regus are battling each other and smaller rivals for control of the still-growing South Florida marketplace. WeWork was set to open locations in Coral Gables and Miami by the end of 2017, focusing on attracting enterprise business clients. Regus already oversees five locations in South Florida, and plans to open its first Spaces-branded site in Miami early this year.
2018-01-02 10:16:44.933000
South Florida increasingly pays for office space as a one-stop service business, with companies forsaking a traditional lease in favor of a modern mix of open-seating areas and private offices with perks, including free coffee, that aim to promote collaboration and innovation among tenants. But as co-working behemoth WeWork — with its $20 billion valuation — increases its presence in the area, will the locally founded stalwarts get drowned out? The nation’s largest co-working office operator, New York-based WeWork, started opening locations in the Miami area in 2012, two years after Miami-based Büro Group said it introduced the co-working concept in South Florida. WeWork’s arrival in Miami coincided with the startup of another formidable Miami-based competitor, Pipeline Workspaces. “When we started in 2012, WeWork really was not a known entity,” says Philippe Houdard, co-founder of Pipeline. WeWork is increasingly making its presence in the Miami market known. As the end of 2017 approached, the company was preparing to double its Miami-area space by opening new locations in Coral Gables, where the company leased 60,000 square feet during the second quarter, and downtown Miami, where it leased 97,000 square feet in a 15-story historic building. The WeWork space in Coral Gable’s Giralda Place mixed-use development is planned to open by the end of 2017. There, WeWork is leasing six floors. In November, the firm lined up five companies to occupy one whole floor each at the 15-story Security Building, a historic landmark in downtown Miami, according to Adam Wacenske, South Florida general manager of WeWork. In a mid-November phone interview, Wacenske declined to identify the big-membership buyers at the Security Building, but he said the terms of such whole-floor commitments “can be from one to five years.” Asked if WeWork lowers its price in exchange for large-scale, long-term commitments, Wacenske said, “I don’t think so, necessarily.” Unlike some smaller local co-working operators, WeWork is driven by big business, said Mark Pateman, managing principal for Palm Beach County at Cushman & Wakefield. “The enterprise business is where they’re focusing, providing space for IBM and Boeing, global companies that really need scalability,” he said. Pateman also said some smaller South Florida operators might not have staying power in a slower economy. “The big guys, the WeWorks and Reguses, are going to be more resilient in a downturn,” and smaller sellers of office space as a service and an experience will be subject to “a large cleaning out.” And Regus, with about 3,000 locations around the world, including about three dozen in South Florida, has been making some local moves lately. Since late 2016, Regus has opened five South Florida locations, in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter, Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach. It is also preparing to open a co-working office location under its Spaces brand in downtown Miami in 2018. The first Spaces in South Florida will open in a multilevel, 19,000-square-foot space at MiamiCentral Two, a 190,000-square-foot office building in downtown Miami that is under construction and expected to open in early 2018. Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter SIGN UP By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy. After introducing Spaces to South Florida in Miami, Jeff Doughman, executive vice president of North America sales and operations, said Regus plans to open more Spaces locations in South Florida targeting large companies, not just small fry. “We provide a lot of larger space for corporates,” he said, calling commitments of two and a half years or less for 15,000 square feet or more “our sweet spot.” The supply-side growth of the co-working segment in South Florida’s office market, now seven years old as estimated by stakeholders, may have years to go until it recedes. Limited office construction in the last decade has helped to hold down office vacancy rates in the tri-county market. A Cushman & Wakefield survey shows that third-quarter office vacancy rates fell year over year in all three counties. Third-quarter vacancy rates fell from 13.5 percent to 12.2 percent in Miami-Dade County, from 14 percent to 12.3 percent in Broward County and from 16.9 percent to 12.7 percent in Palm Beach. But the economy still moves in cycles, and at the first whiff of a downturn, South Florida’s cluster of co-working offices could look like a crowd. “Right now, the demand still outpaces the supply, at least in the neighborhoods where we operate, and we haven’t had to drop prices in any of our locations,” said Michael Feinstein, founder and CEO of Büro, which has five Miami-area locations. Büro plans to build on its Miami-area base in southeast Broward County. In January, the co-working operator expects to start building out the interior of a 15,000-square-foot location in downtown Hollywood at 2031 Harrison Street. Büro and an Ecuador-based partner bought the building there in August from a municipal agency for $1.15 million. The new Hollywood location is expected to open by the fall of 2018. Pipeline Workspaces also expanded north to Broward, where it opened a location in Fort Lauderdale in October 2016. The company opened its first co-working location in the Brickell area in 2012 and now has Miami-area locations in Coral Gables and Doral, too. In September, Pipeline opened its fifth Florida location, in Orlando. The Pipeline client roster presents some evidence that not every corporate giant will opt for WeWork over smaller co-working companies. In its Coral Gables location, Pipeline houses corporate tenants Kayak, Postmates and Priceline.com. But not every co-working operator in South Florida is looking to land big businesses. The Lab Miami is a five-year-old operator that has been content with its sole location at 400 Northwest 26th Street in Wynwood. “We started about five years ago with a grant from the Knight Foundation. They’ve been our biggest supporter,” said Rachel Bickford, managing director of The Lab Miami. “We don’t have a business plan like WeWork where we want to be in every city in the world. We’re just focused on growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Miami.”
US advisers back active funds to outperform in 2018
Roughly 71% of 300 surveyed registered investment advisers in the US believe active strategies, rather than passive, will be the top performers in 2018, according to a study by InvestmentNews. Despite passive funds having outperformed their active counterparts on successive market gains, many advisers believe the current bull market can't last forever, and that active management has a tendency to perform better in down markets. The US stock market ended last year with roughly a 22% gain and has been up close to 300% since its low-point in 2009. 
2018-01-02 09:58:26.643000
As the stock market closes in on a solid 22% gain for the year, marking a near-300% gain from the 2009 low point, a growing chorus of financial advisers are citing actively managed strategies as a reasonable hedge at this point in the market cycle. An InvestmentNews survey of more than 300 registered investment advisers found that nearly 71% believe active management will outperform passive strategies in 2018. “It’s almost intoxicating as the market climbs higher and higher every day, but what non-professionals don’t know may well be their Achilles heel,” said Rose Swanger, president of Advise Finance. “As more people withdrew their investments (during the extended bull market) from active fund management for passive index funds for lower fees and other attributes, they forgot the fundamental weakness of the index fund; that it passively follows the market,” she added. While passively following the market for much of the past nine years would have been a great strategy, some financial advisers are playing the odds that the good times can’t last forever, and down markets generally favor actively managed strategies. “I would like to bet [The Vanguard Group founder and retired chief executive] John Bogle $1 million that over the next five years active management handily beats passive, and with less risk,” said Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital. “I think the cycle for passive is in its final stage and those who flooded into passive strategies will be sorely disappointed,” he added. Mr. Bogle could not be reached for comment. This year through Wednesday, the S&P 500 Index trails the actively managed large-cap growth fund category by six percentage points, according to Morningstar. “I’ve always been a believer in active management, and I tell people that have drunk the Kool-Aid of passive management that they don’t need a financial planner,” said Kashif Ahmed, president of American Private Wealth. “I don’t ever believe in plain-vanilla indexing,” he added. “But right now, we’re at a point in the market where there needs to be a human being allocating to things that are not so stretched.” Such attitudes of caution are showing up despite a relative absence of calls of doom and gloom from market forecasters. John Lynch, chief investment strategist at LPL Financial, said the S&P 500 is “well positioned to generate strong earnings” in 2018, which he attributes to stronger global growth and lower corporate tax rates. Mr. Lynch predicts that the benchmark S&P 500 will gain between 8% and 10% in 2018. Tim Holsworth, president of AHP Financial Services, is among those advisers still not convinced active management is where to be at this point. “We are taking the attitude of ‘show me active is better’ before changing much of what we’re doing,” he said. “The changes we will make going forward will be focusing on allocation, which means staying within the respective risk tolerance of each portfolio.”
Lack of EV charging network damages UK growth of autonomous&nbsp;cars
Insufficient charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs) is hampering the UK's move to autonomous cars, AXA UK & Ireland Group CEO Amanda Blanc has warned. The nation has 14,000 chargers for about 125,000 plug-in EVs. Blanc called for more rapid charging bays outside London and the south-east. She also said the government needed to be smarter with renewables to avoid putting a strain on the National Grid. "Imagine what will happen if everybody comes home from work at six o’clock and switches their cars on to charge," she said.
2018-01-02 09:57:20.213000
A shortage of charging points and strain on energy supplies are now the main stumbling blocks to the rise of driverless electric cars, according to the UK boss of insurer Axa. Amanda Blanc said a lack of rapid charging bays and pressure on the National Grid have overtaken questions about accident liability as the biggest barriers to autonomous vehicles entering the transport mainstream. Blanc, a Tesla driver, said personal experience pointed to problems lying ahead for driverless electric vehicles. There are about 125,000 plug-in electric cars in the UK and 14,000 chargers – 2,620 of them being rapid chargers that can give a car an 80% charge in 30 minutes. Shell has recently opened its first charging points for electric vehicles at 10 filling stations, mostly in London and the south-east. Blanc said a recent long-distance family trip showed the potential limitations of a future dominated by autonomous transport. When Blanc recently drove to Edinburgh in the Tesla with her family, they stopped twice to use a supercharger but went for coffee while the car charged. “In three to four years’ time when more people are buying electric, you do not want to have to queue for your supercharger,” she said. “The infrastructure has to be fixed.” The other issue for Blanc is the strain on Britain’s electricity supply. According to the National Grid, growth in electric vehicles on Britain’s roads could see peak electricity demand jump by more than the capacity of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by 2030. She explained: “If suddenly everyone’s got one [an electric car] I’m not sure how the National Grid is going to cope with that. If in the Coronation Street break everyone goes to put the kettle on and that causes problems, just imagine what will happen if everybody comes home from work at 6 o’clock and switches their cars on to charge – we have to be smarter about renewables and regenerating electricity. That’s a real challenge.” Blanc, whose Axa unit has 10 million customers, is one of the strongest backers of self-driving and electric cars in the insurance industry. She believes that children born today will not need to learn to drive and as grown-ups will be cruising around Britain’s cities in electric “robo-cars”. Advocates say they will reduce pollution, be cheaper to run and provide mobility to those unable to drive, including the elderly. Until recently, the question of who is liable in an accident involving a self-driving car was seen as a major hurdle in the development of autonomous vehicles – but Blanc said a government draft bill had brought clarity. If it becomes law, insurers will automatically pay out if motorists crash a car in self-driving mode. The question of whether man or machine are to blame will then be debated by the insurance company and the carmaker. If the motorist is found to have been negligent by failing to download safety-critical software updates, for instance, the insurance payout can be reduced. With 85-90% of road accidents caused by human error, the adoption of self-driving cars is expected to slash the number of small claims made by motorists – and insurance premiums will come down as a result. The industry would be left with more severe claims: when an accident does happen, the cost is likely to be higher because car parts are now bristling with technology and are more expensive to replace. Some of the world’s biggest carmakers and technology companies including Volvo, Ford, Nissan and Google are vying to develop the first fully automated vehicles. Tesla Autopilot software already allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel in certain circumstances. Blanc said about her Tesla: “Two weekends ago we were driving too close to the kerb and it corrected on my husband’s behalf. It’s starting to think for you.” The chancellor recently reaffirmed a budget pledge to ensure “genuine driverless vehicles” on Britain’s roads by 2021. Phillip Hammond admitted that it would be a “very challenging” achievement: a million drivers of commercial vehicles would have to retrain. But others point to progress being made. Waymo, a company that started as part of Google, launched tests of fully driverless taxis on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, last month. Jaguar Land Rover is testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in Coventry, albeit with a driver in the front seat. Axa is involved in several self-driving car trials funded by the government, including Venturer in Bristol and UK Autodrive in Milton Keynes.
TalkTalk Openreach ultrafast broadband rollout behind schedule
UK telecoms company Openreach is behind schedule in bringing its G.fast broadband network to a million homes by the end of March, according to ispreview.co.uk. Openreach said it had covered 390,000 UK premises, but the slow progress could see further delays to the final Early Market Deployment phase. TalkTalk is currently running closed trials of the G.fast service and has remained tight-lipped about its launch plans.
2018-01-02 09:56:49.847000
Thursday, Dec 28th, 2017 (2:22 pm) - Score 27,867 Openreach (BT) has announced that their new 330Mbps capable hybrid fibre G.fast broadband network is “now available” to thousands of people in Bath, Glasgow and Edinburgh, although none of the major ISPs have launched public packages and the final EMD phase still hasn’t begun. Back in August 2017 the operator announced that their G.fast pilot would be expanded to include 26 additional locations across the United Kingdom (total of 46 locations) and this rollout was then “expected to reach a million premises by the end of the year” (here), although more recent updates have clarified that they actually meant “the end of the fiscal year” (BT’s financial year ends on 31st March 2018). Openreach and BT Wholesale had originally said that G.fast’s Early Market Deployment (EMD) phase, which is the final phase after the pilot and before full commercial service availability, would begin in September 2017 (here) but it appears to be lagging a little behind that plan (ideally they should have completed a bit more than 390,000 premises by now). A number of ISPs had also been planning to put their own public pilot packages live alongside, or slightly ahead of, the EMD phase during the October to November 2017 window but they now appear to have pushed those plans back into early 2018 (this doesn’t include Sky Broadband or TalkTalk, which have remained fashionably coy about their launch plans). Industry sources have indicated to ISPreview.co.uk that the decision about whether or not to enter the next EMD phase will be taken soon (possibly during February) and if that’s accurate the earliest date for EMD would be around March / April 2018, which means that a full commercial launch seems unlikely to start before June 2018 at the earliest. As it stands only a tiny number of ISPs actually have G.fast based packages and nearly all of those are still testing it as part of closed trials (see TalkTalk’s G.fast service), although we hope to see the first public pilot packages going live during Q1 2018 from a few smaller ISPs (assuming EMD isn’t further delayed). We have asked Openreach to clarify their expectations for the commercial launch, although getting a reply during the Christmas week is perhaps an exercise in wishful thinking. In the meantime we anticipate that Openreach will throw out some similar “now available” style press releases for the other 26 pilot additions, which were first announced in August 2017 and are now slowly reaching completion. However a lot of those with the desire to be early adopters may be disappointed when they realise that in a fair few areas the old FTTC (VDSL2) service can sometimes deliver a faster speed than G.fast tech, which prefers much shorter copper lines (ideally sub 350 metres). There’s a cross over point where we’ve been seeing VDSL2 speeds beat G.fast by a significant margin, although G.fast’s Fault Threshold of 100Mbps should help to keep some separation at the retail ISP level.
Redrow Final push to sell Yorkshire estate homes
 UK housebuilder Redrow is offering to pay up to £8,000 ($10,846) towards the cost of homes on its Devonshire Gardens development in Harrogate. The company said it will pay the sales taxes to sell the last dozen one- to five-bedroom properties on the Yorkshire estate. Patsy Aicken, sales director for Redrow Homes in Yorkshire, said more properties were planned for the site but construction would not begin for some time.
2018-01-02 09:54:26.907000
‘Last chance’ to buy at Devonshire Gardens, Harrogate Home buyers wishing to take root in Redrow’s Devonshire Gardens, Harrogate, can still have their pick from a choice of homes. There are only six houses and six apartments available to purchase before Redrow Homes takes a short break at the popular Claro Road development. Patsy Aicken, sales director for Redrow Homes (Yorkshire), says: “We do have a future phase planned but that won’t be starting for some time so, for now, this is the last chance for people to make Devonshire Gardens their home.” Although there are only 12 homes left to purchase, the selection is varied with one and two-bedroom apartments and four and five-bedroom houses to choose from. “That’s good news because it means we can meet the needs of a range of potential buyers, all with very different needs,” Patsy explains. “But, of course, it also means competition to own one of the final properties could be fierce, so those wanting to enjoy the quality of our homes and the lovely location should make a move as soon as they can.” The homes themselves certainly make it a tempting prospect. The four-bedroom Cleveland townhouse and it’s ‘big sister’, the five-bedroom Cleveland Grand, are classical looking townhouses with a modern twist. Priced at £334,950 and £364,950 respectively they are ideal properties for today’s modern family, with fully fitted kitchen, contemporary appliances, en-suite to master bedroom and ground floor cloakroom among their many attributes. Redrow is even prepared to pay the stamp duty for the customers who purchase one of these last six houses; and on the Cleveland Grand that could be a massive saving of over £8,000. The Faversham apartments are priced from only £162,950 for a one-bedroom property and from £224,950 for the larger two-bedroom version. Since launching, they’ve proved perfect for first time buyers and downsizers who want the luxury and manageability of something smaller, as well as investors. With properties up to £300,000 now exempt from stamp duty for first time buyers there’ll be no tax to pay for them; but Redrow may be able to help those who would still incur the tax – especially downsizers who are moving to free up capital and don’t want to immediately relinquish some of it to the treasury! Just as the homes suit all, so too does the location. Devonshire Gardens is close to the grassy parkland of The Stray and within walking distance of the town with its mix of shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. It’s also convenient for road and rail links to Skipton, Leeds and York. “That makes our homes a wise choice for the financially savvy as well as commuters or those looking for a bolthole in a pretty and popular part of the world,” Patsy adds. To find out more about the final homes in the current phase, visit Devonshire Gardens’ sales centre. Check the website for opening times - redrow.co.uk/devonshire.
Seven IM warns against 'fashionable' ETFs
Increasingly specialised smart-beta exchange-traded funds (ETF) focusing on specific sectors could sink "without a trace", warned Peter Sleep of Seven Investment Management, noting the same happened to shipbuilding and coal-mining focused products, reported David Thorpe in FT Adviser.
2018-01-02 09:53:19.590000
Many of the niche smart beta ETFs that have come to market risk "sinking without a trace" according to an investment manager at Seven Investment Management. Peter Sleep said equity ETFs are becoming increasingly specialised – to the extent you can now buy ETFs playing themes such as robotics, ageing and millennials. Mr Sleep said: "This is nothing new, as during the commodity boom we had shipbuilding ETFs, which sank without trace, and coal mining ETFs, that caved in. "It will be interesting to see whether all these ETFs survive in a Darwinian world and what new ETFs we will see in 2018.” Mr Sleep said the passive fixed income products currently on the market are often wrongly labelled smart beta because they buy bonds in relation to how long those assets have until maturity, but he thinks the gap in the market is for fixed income products focused on value or momentum styles of investing. He said equity passive funds that invest in a shares based on market capitalisation traditionally expose the investor only to the risk that the share falls in value, while such passive strategies in the ETF market mean an investor risks owning a bond that defaults, causing the investor to lose all of their money. Mr Sleep said another innovation for the ETF market could be the advent of products that allow investors to short-sell a particular bond market, something he would regard as a positive for investors. david.thorpe@ft.com
CBOE files with SEC for six bitcoin ETFs
CBOE Global Markets has applied to list six bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The move comes following the exchange's launch of futures contracts focused on the cryptocurrency. The ETFs are managed by First Trust Advisors, REX ETFs and GraniteShares. Bitcoin dropped below $11,000 for a short time on Friday, marking a 44% drop from its high at the start of last week. 
2018-01-02 09:38:47.543000
A computer screen at the Cboe Global Markets exchange (previously referred to as CBOE Holdings, Inc.) shows Bitcoin cash and futures prices on December 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Cboe Global Markets has applied with the SEC to list six bitcoin-related exchange-traded funds as the company bets further on the emerging new asset class. Earlier this month, Cboe jumped ahead of rival exchange CME Group to launch bitcoin futures first. Here are the six funds: First Trust Bitcoin Strategy ETF First Trust Inverse Bitcoin Strategy ETF REX Bitcoin Strategy ETF REX Short Bitcoin Strategy ETF GraniteShares Bitcoin ETF GraniteShares Short Bitcoin ETF The exchange-traded funds would allow traders to bet on how the volatile cryptocurrency futures contracts will perform. Cboe filed to list all six funds with the SEC within the past week. Bitcoin itself has had a rough end to the week. The digital currency briefly sank below $11,000 Friday, down 44 percent from a record high at the start of the week. "Given the success of the launch of our bitcoin futures, several partners are very interested in moving forward with the development of an exchange-traded product," a Cboe spokesperson told CNBC. According to the First Trust filing, the fund "intends to invest primarily in Bitcoin Futures Contracts, [though] it may also invest in other Listed Bitcoin Derivatives, OTC Bitcoin Derivatives, U.S. exchange-listed ETPs, and Non-U.S. Component Stocks (collectively, 'Bitcoin Instruments')." REX ETFs will place a majority of its assets in bitcoin derivatives and cash, but may also invest in U.S. exchange-listed ETPs. The GraniteShares ETFs would follow suit. The filings by Cboe Global Markets come on the heels of a filing by the NYSE to list two bitcoin ETFs as exchanges compete to get ahead in the cryptocurrency space. — CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.
Blockchain-derived platform cuts back-office costs for banks
Banks may no longer need to set aside billions of dollars in capital as they wait for collateral to be settled, thanks to a blockchain-inspired back-office platform introduced by Citi and CME Clearing. The companies partnered with Baton Systems to develop the system, which offers real-time updates on ledger collateral and eliminates the requirement for capital to be set aside to cover settlements, as well as speeding up margin funding times. The software also allows real-time transfer of cash and securities to clearing houses. Other efficiencies include reducing the need for manual intervention and reducing email traffic.
2018-01-02 09:35:41.490000
Citi and CME Clearing have teamed up with Baton Systems to implement a blockchain-inspired platform as the firms look to reduce costs of back-office functions. The platform allows banks to view their collateral in their ledgers in real-time and send cash or securities to clearing houses with one-click. Citi and CME Clearing explained the software could significantly reduce costs of back-office operations and speed up margin funding times. Traditionally banks have had to set aside capital as they wait for collateral to be settled, but the platform could see billions of dollars of capital freed up at major institutions. Stephen Marx, head of futures, clearing, and collateral operations at Citi, explained the new system also automates certain processes to free up time for market participants. “The technology allows financial institutions to eliminate manual touch points, reduce email traffic an avoid logging into multiple portals. The capabilities in the funding and collateral space create efficiency and improve productivity for our clients,” Marx said. Arjun Jayaram, CEO of Baton Systems, added the system can be implemented and is immediately scalable across any financial institution, exchange or clearing house. “Its beauty is its simplicity, leveraging the most useful elements of blockchain, while introducing interoperability and extensibility to easily fit with existing technology 'rails' and business processes,” he commented. Blockchain technology has now been widely implemented across financial institutions for various processes and functions. Earlier this month, the Australian Stock Exchange confirmed plans to replace its entire post-trade system, including the clearing and settlement of all equity transactions, with blockchain technology. Dominic Stevens, CEO at ASX, explained at the time the decision to use blockchain would reduce costs for its customers and put Australia at the forefront of innovation in financial markets.
Root approved to offer policies in Arkansas, Mississippi
Ohio-based firm Root Insurance has been granted a licence to sell insurance products in the US state of Arkansas. The insurtech, which uses telematics data gathered from a smartphone app to offer personalised car insurance, recently also secured a licence to sell car insurance in Mississippi, and has a presence in nine US states. Root also plans to expand to Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, Montana and North Carolina.
2018-01-02 09:11:36.337000
Columbus, Ohio-based insurtech company, Root Insurance, has received authorization to sell property/casualty (excluding workers’ compensation) products in Arkansas. Root is a private passenger auto insurance company that began operations in June 2016. Root is wholly owned by IBOD Inc. and is currently licensed in 18 states. The company’s policies are reinsured by Munich Re [A.M. Best rated A+ (superior)], Maiden Re [A.M. Best rated A (excellent)], and Odyssey Re [A.M. Best rated A (excellent)]. With the addition of Root, Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr has approved 30 new insurers in the state in 2017. Root utilizes telematics data, provided by consumers through its smartphone application to more accurately price insurance coverage. Customers will use the application to scan their driver’s license which Root uses to gather data, including their driving history and other demographic information. The application will turn the customer’s phone into a telematics device, gathering additional data about the customer’s driving habits by measuring driving speeds, acceleration and breaking patterns, changing lanes and other activities related to automobile accidents. Source: Arkansas Insurance Department Topics Auto Arkansas
Root approved to offer policies in Arkansas, Mississippi
Ohio-based firm Root Insurance has been granted a licence to sell insurance products in the US state of Arkansas. The insurtech, which uses telematics data gathered from a smartphone app to offer personalised car insurance, recently also secured a licence to sell car insurance in Mississippi, and has a presence in nine US states. Root also plans to expand to Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, Montana and North Carolina.
2018-01-02 09:11:36.337000
This week, insurance company Root Insurance announced it is now able to offer its services to drivers in Mississippi. The company stated: “That’s right Mississippi, we’ve arrived, and we’re here to save you from paying too much for car insurance. Because if you’re a good driver in the Magnolia State, chances are pretty high that you’re paying pretty high rates. And we don’t think that’s fair.” Root then revealed: “At Root, we rate you based primarily on how you drive. So if you’re a good driver, you can get a great rate on car insurance. That’s all it takes. Or as we like to call it—car insurance the way it should be.” The company also noted the steps that drivers need to do in order to use its platform: Download the app and burn through the 47-second signup. (Forget everything you know about insurance forms.) Take the test drive. It’s usually about three weeks. Get a rate based primarily on how you drive—up to 52% off your current rate. Purchase a policy with a few taps Root added that drivers may manage their policy, file a claim, and find their insurance cards all easily right in the app. The platform will also cancel the driver’s old insurance for them. Root Insurance is now available in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Arizona, and Utah. It is currently making plans to launch in Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Maryland, North Dakota, and Montana
Increased number of Indian insurers expected to IPO in 2018
Increasing numbers of Indian insurers are predicted to go public in 2018. Last year saw five insurance companies hold successful initial public offerings, including two state-run firms, which collectively raised INR450bn ($7bn). This year, however, is also expected to see some consolidation in the insurance sector, despite the merger of Max Life and Max Financial Services with HDFC Standard Life Insurance falling through.
2018-01-02 09:10:31.607000
December 30, 2017 08:37 pm | Updated 09:00 pm IST - New Delhi More insurance companies are expected to hit the capital markets next year after successful IPOs of five insurers, including two state-owned companies, which collectively raked in about ₹45,000 crore. Besides the spate of IPOs, 2018 will also witness some consolidation in the insurance space although the merger of Max Life and Max Financial Services with HDFC Standard Life Insurance could not go through. However, there are other deals that are in the works which may fructify next year. In the recent past, the insurance sector has seen some consolidation and the action is expected to continue going forward, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company CEO Tapan Singhel told PTI. The insurance industry is witnessing growth and is projected to have great times in the years to come. This offers immense scope for consolidation as some promoters may look at exiting non-core businesses and existing large insurers desire to achieve scale and bring in better synergies to pass on the cost efficiencies to customers and shareholders, he said. With regard to fund raising, ICICI Lombard was the first to hit the capital market this year and raised ₹5,700 crore from the primary market. Incidentally, the IPO chart in this fiscal was topped by insurance firm GIC Re that garnered over ₹11,176 crore. Going forward, other state-owned general insurance companies — National Insurance Company, Oriental Insurance Co and United India Insurance Co — are gearing up for listing. The year also witnessed the entry of new players like Acko General Insurance Company, DHFL General Insurance, Edelweiss General Insurance Company Limited and Go Digit General Insurance. With this, there are now 9 re-insurance companies, 24 life insurers and 33 general insurers, including 6 standalone health insurance companies, in India. The insurance sector is growing at a rapid pace, particularly the health insurance segment, said Apollo Munich Health Insurance CEO Antony Jacob. “Technology-led disruptive ideas are changing the face of business and the category per se is booming with new products being launched and the distribution network being expanded. This trend will continue and insurers will focus on tech-driven ideas,” according to Mr. Jacob. Though demonetisation and GST have disrupted the business and economic growth in the short run, the growth momentum will return after the economy stabilises, he said. ‘Telematics norms’ “As the sector grows, new entrants would come in with new products. This will further make the market competitive,” he added. Two major developments that are expected are norms for the usage of telematics in the industry in determining the premium pricing; and amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act. ‘MV Act amendment’ “We expect the Motor Vehicles Act to be passed in the coming year, which will have crucial implications on the insurance industry. “We would also expect the government to consider providing tax incentives on schemes such as home insurance to attract more Indians to avail this financial protection,” Mr. Singhel said. IRDAI had issued new guidelines on outsourcing activities by insurers by clearly defining areas of work that should be done in-house and those which can be handed out to third parties. The regulator said the norms were aimed at ensuring insurers followed prudent practises on management of risks arising out of outsourcing so as to prevent negative systemic impact on the one hand and protect the interests of policyholders on the other. It also proposed changes in the 16-year old regulations regarding Appointed Actuaries by modifying the framework for their appointment and functions.
Emerson launches surface-sensor oil pipe temperature reader
US electrical company Emerson has extended the potential applications of its temperature-sensor system. The Rosemount X-well technology measures the surface temperature of pipes and uses an algorithm based on the conductive properties of the materials from which the pipe is made to work out the temperature inside. This allows users to obtain an accurate reading without having to intrude into the process or install thermowells to protect sensors. Emerson has now made it available on a new platform for users with wired networks.
2018-01-02 09:01:12.403000
Emerson Automation Solutions has introduced a new platform for its RosemountTM X-wellTM Technology surface sensing temperature measurement solution. The technology with a Rosemount 3144P transmitter extends the company’s non-intrusive temperature sensing technology range for users in conventional wired I/O environments. This product expands potential application possibilities for X-well in plants and facilities where wired networks are already installed, or where WirelessHART has not yet been deployed. Other users have found this new platform solution to be a useful replacement for difficult thermowell installations, which often have a wired connection already available and can be reused. X-well works by measuring pipe surface temperature and ambient temperature, and combining this information with an understanding of the thermal conductivity properties of the installation and process piping to produce an accurate process temperature measurement. An advantage of this technology is accurate process temperature measurement without requiring any intrusions or penetrations into the process, allowing for quicker and easier installation along with simplified long-term maintenance. Users do not have to design, size or maintain thermowells. Wake frequency calculations are eliminated, as well as time spent determining material compatibility, the right insertion length and the necessary profile. Applications for this technology include pipelines, small line sizes, high velocity flows, slurries, heavy particulate fluids, wellheads, clean-in-place processes, high viscosity fluids and harsh processes in the oil and gas, chemical, refining, metals and mining industries. With X-well, users can also add temperature measurement points without having to shut down a process. The measurement instruments can be installed with a standard pipe clamp procedure and ordinary hand tools, without the need for a skilled contractor.
Fluenta unveils extreme-temperature gas-flow gauges
Norwegian company Fluenta has launched two devices that can measure the flow of gas through a pipeline in extreme temperatures. The ultrasonic flow transducers can work on gas mixes of 100% methane or 100% carbon dioxide, something many other gauges are unable to do. The high-temperature transducer aimed at the chemical-processing industry is able to measure gas flow at temperatures up to 250°C, while Fluenta's cryogenic transducer has been designed to function in temperatures as low as -200°C, making it ideal for the liquefied natural gas industry.
2018-01-02 07:50:00.220000
Fluenta has launched a new range of ultrasonic flow transducers. Its two new transducers enable ultrasonic measurement of gas flow in highly challenging environments. The high-temperature range transducer can accurately measure gas flow at up to 250°C, allowing the ultrasonic technology to be deployed in a range of flare applications, as well as in the chemical processing industry. The cryogenic transducer is designed to work in processes as cold as -200°C, typically found in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and other gas liquification and chemical processes. New software and signal processing allows these transducers to function in processes containing up to 100% methane or 100% carbon dioxide, gas mixes which historically have presented challenges to standard ultrasonic flow meters. Fluenta’s non-intrusive transducers do not interrupt gas flow and can be used across pipe diameters of 6 – 72 in. The new range of transducers and software are compatible with Fluenta’s FGM160, and can be fitted to existing installations. With government regulation increasingly strict for monitoring flare gas emissions, companies are under pressure to accurately measure and record gas flow. “These new transducers greatly increase the capacity of Fluenta to meet the needs of our existing customers, and to move into new markets such as chemical processing and liquified natural gas,” comments Sigurd Aase, CEO of Fluenta. “We are investing significantly in ultrasonic gas flow monitoring, and this product launch provides customers with an unrivalled combination flexibility, reliability and accuracy in gas flow monitoring.”
Global warming of 2C could render 25% of globe arid
Global temperature rises of 2C above pre-industrial levels could result in over 25% of the earth’s surface becoming considerably drier, increasing the risk of drought and wildfires and threatening agriculture and biodiversity, according to new research. Restricting global warming to less than 1.5C would save two-thirds of such areas from such severe change. The study analysed projections from 27 global climate models in order to identify the regions that were most at risk, including Central America, southeast Asia, southern Africa, southern Australia and southern Europe. These regions are home to 20% of the world’s current population.
2018-01-02 00:00:00
Aridity—the ratio of atmospheric water supply (precipitation; P) to demand (potential evapotranspiration; PET)—is projected to decrease (that is, areas will become drier) as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change, exacerbating land degradation and desertification1,2,3,4,5,6. However, the timing of significant aridification relative to natural variability—defined here as the time of emergence for aridification (ToEA)—is unknown, despite its importance in designing and implementing mitigation policies7,8,9,10. Here we estimate ToEA from projections of 27 global climate models (GCMs) under representative concentration pathways (RCPs) RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, and in doing so, identify where emergence occurs before global mean warming reaches 1.5 °C and 2 °C above the pre-industrial level. On the basis of the ensemble median ToEA for each grid cell, aridification emerges over 32% (RCP4.5) and 24% (RCP8.5) of the total land surface before the ensemble median of global mean temperature change reaches 2 °C in each scenario. Moreover, ToEA is avoided in about two-thirds of the above regions if the maximum global warming level is limited to 1.5 °C. Early action for accomplishing the 1.5 °C temperature goal can therefore markedly reduce the likelihood that large regions will face substantial aridification and related impacts.
Global warming of 2C could render 25% of globe arid
Global temperature rises of 2C above pre-industrial levels could result in over 25% of the earth’s surface becoming considerably drier, increasing the risk of drought and wildfires and threatening agriculture and biodiversity, according to new research. Restricting global warming to less than 1.5C would save two-thirds of such areas from such severe change. The study analysed projections from 27 global climate models in order to identify the regions that were most at risk, including Central America, southeast Asia, southern Africa, southern Australia and southern Europe. These regions are home to 20% of the world’s current population.
2018-01-02 00:00:00
More than a quarter of the planet’s surface could become significantly drier if global temperatures rise 2C above pre-industrial levels, scientists predict. The study, which is one of the most detailed assessments to date of future aridity, suggests that many regions could face an increased threat of drought and wildfires. Limiting global warming to under 1.5C would avoid extreme changes for two-thirds of these areas, the study suggested. Chang-Eui Park, the first author from the Southern University of Science and Technology (Sustech) in Shenzhen China, said: “Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity. It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires similar to those seen raging across California.” Aridity is a measure of the dryness of the land surface, which can be calculated by combining predictions of precipitation and evaporation. The scientists studied projections from 27 different global climate models to pinpoint regions where the land is expected to become significantly drier, as global warming reaches 1.5C and 2C above pre-industrial levels. Manoj Joshi, a co-author of the study from the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20 to 30% of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2C. But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5C.” Drought severity has already increased across the Mediterranean, southern Africa, and the eastern coast of Australia during the 20th century, while semi-arid areas of Mexico, Brazil, southern Africa and Australia have started turning into desert as the world warms. The study suggested that equatorial regions and countries at high latitudes could get wetter. Prof Tim Osborn, also one of the study’s co-authors from UEA, said: “The areas of the world which would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5C are parts of south-east Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, Central America and southern Australia where more than 20% of the world’s population live today.” The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
UK recycling plants see rubbish pile up due to Chinese ban
UK recycling plants are already experiencing a build up of rubbish as a result of a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. As we reported last month, the ban, which applies to 24 kinds of solid waste, came into effect on 1 January 2018. Two-thirds of the UK’s total plastic waste exports, or over 2.7 million tonnes, have been shipped to China and Hong Kong since 2012. UK Recycling Association CEO, Simon Ellin, warned of possible chaos if councils stopped collecting recycling.
2018-01-02 00:00:00
A ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste by the Chinese government is already causing a build up of rubbish at recycling plants around the UK and will bring chaos for councils in the weeks ahead, according to industry experts. Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, said his members had already seen some lower grade plastics piling up at their yards and warned urgent action was needed. “You can already see the impact if you walk round some of our members’ yards. Plastic is building up and if you were to go around those yards in a couple of months’ time the situation would be even worse.” The Chinese plastic ban came in on 1 January but Ellin said many UK recycling businesses stopped shipping plastic to China in the autumn because of fears it might not arrive before the deadline. “We have relied on exporting plastic recycling to China for 20 years and now people do not know what is going to happen. A lot of [our members] are now sitting back and seeing what comes out of the woodwork, but people are very worried.” China’s dominance in manufacturing means that for years it has been the world’s largest importer of recyclable materials. In 2016, it imported 7.3m tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the US and Japan. British companies alone have shipped more than 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports, according to data from Greenpeace released last month. But last summer the Chinese government announced it intended to stop the importation of 24 kinds of solid waste by the end of the year, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) drinks bottles, other plastic bottles and containers, and all mixed paper, in a campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”. Ellin warned that the ban could have severe consequences for council recycling in the UK – at least in the short term. “If it no longer pays for our members to take this waste and sort it once it has been collected by councils then that might stop. “That might mean that councils no longer collect recycling in the same way. It could be chaos, it really could.” Michael Gove, the environment secretary, announced a “four-point plan for tackling plastic waste” last month including cutting the total amount of plastic in circulation, reducing the number of different plastics in use and making recycling easier. But when asked recently about the impact of the China waste ban he said: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is ... something to which – I will be completely honest – I have not given it sufficient thought.” Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, has warned the ban could mean “a double whammy for council tax payers” if the price of exported waste falls and the cost of UK disposal rises. And she has called on the government to invest in more reprocessing facilities at home “to reuse these valuable materials, create green jobs and prevent plastic and paper pollution.” A Defra spokesperson insisted the government was taking “significant steps” to tackle plastic waste, from the ban on plastic microbeads to the introduction of the carrier bag charge. “We recognise more needs to be done to protect our environment from the scourge of plastics, and have launched a call for evidence around deposit reward and return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers.” Some experts believe that in the long term the decision by China could be an opportunity for the UK to develop its recycling infrastructure. Ellin agreed that if there was the political will this could be an opportunity in the medium term. “We need to look at the entire system from producing less, to better, simpler design, to standardised recycling. In the medium term this should be seen as a great opportunity for us to drastically improve how we do these things.”
Drones provide ‘Uber for blood’ in Rwanda
A drone delivery service, partnering Silicon Valley robotics firm Zipline with Rwanda’s health ministry, has delivered over 5,500 units of blood in the past year, reducing delivery times to remote regions from four hours to an average of 30 minutes. Zipline supplies blood to 12 regional hospitals, each of which serves half a million people. The service has reduced maternal deaths and malaria-induced anaemia, as well as limiting waste by reducing the amount of blood that hospitals need to store. The company now plans to launch the largest drone delivery network in the world in Tanzania.
2018-01-02 00:00:00
An ingenious drone delivery service known as “Uber for blood” has slashed the delivery time of life-saving medicine to remote regions of Rwanda from four hours to an average of half an hour. A partnership between Zipline, a Silicon Valley robotics company, and the country’s health ministry has delivered more than 5,500 units of blood over the past year, often in life-saving situations. Never before have patients in the country received blood so quickly and efficiently. While commercial drone delivery in wealthier countries is still at the testing stage, hampered by busy skies and strict regulations on airspace, Zipline is delivering blood to 12 regional hospitals from a base in the east of Rwanda. Each hospital serves about half a million people. The use of drones is helping to reduce maternal deaths – a quarter of which are the result of blood loss during childbirth – and high incidences of malaria-induced anaemia, which is common in children. Drone delivery also means hospitals can store less blood, which means less waste as blood spoils quickly. A technician from Zipline installs a cardboard box with a paper parachute in a drone in Muhanga, 50km west of Kigali. Photograph: Stephanie Aglietti/AFP/Getty Images Now Zipline plans to work with the government of Tanzania, a country of 56 million people, to launch what it claims is the world’s largest drone delivery network. Keller Rinaudo, Zipline’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said the move will make east Africa a world leader in drone logistics. “Some of the biggest, most powerful technology companies in the world are still trying to figure out how to do this. But east Africa is showing them all the way,” he said. “The work in Rwanda has shown the world what’s possible when you make a national commitment to expand healthcare access with drones and help save lives.” The idea for the drones came during a visit Rinaudo made to the Ifakara health institute in Tanzania, in 2014. He met a graduate student who had built a mobile alert system for health workers to text emergency requests for medicine and vaccines. A network of community health workers used the mobile alert system to make thousands of requests. But there was a problem – there was no way for the government to fulfil these requests. “It became clear that this was a database of death filled with thousands of names, addresses, ages and phone numbers,” said Rinaudo. “We’ve designed Zipline to solve the second half of this problem. We know who needs medicine, when and where. And now, we can get them that medicine as quickly as possible.” This year, the firm aims to deliver a range of medical products – including blood transfusion supplies, HIV medication, antimalarials, sutures and UV tubes – to four bases in Tanzania, supporting more than 1,000 clinics. In Rwanda, when a doctor or medical staffer at one of the 12 clinics needs blood, they send a WhatsApp message or log on to Zipline’s order site. They are then sent a confirmation message saying a Zip drone is on its way. A Zipline worker technician launches a drone in Muhanga. Photograph: Stephanie Aglietti/AFP/Getty Images The drone flies to the clinic at up to 60mph. When it is within a minute of the destination, the doctor receives a text. The drone then drops the package, attached to a parachute, into a special zone near the clinic before returning to base. Critics of the scheme in Rwanda have questioned why the authorities have invested in hi-tech schemes when demand for basic infrastructure, roads and health centres still exceeds supply. Zipline and the government have not revealed the cost of the project. But a spokesman for the Rwandan health ministry said: “The ministry of health and Rwanda Biomedical Center are happy to use such innovative technology to reduce the average delivery time from four hours to less than 45 minutes, with quick and reliable delivery [of] blood products.”
Pret a Manger introduces 50p discount for reusable cups
Pret a Manger has doubled the discount it offers on hot drinks to customers with reusable cups to 50p. The sandwich chain, along with Costa and Starbucks, has been offering a discount of 25p to such customers since 2017. The move follows other waste reduction initiatives by the company, including abandoning the use of plastic cup stoppers in inner city Pret branches. The UK discards 2.5 billion coffee cups each year, with fewer than one in 400 being recycled.
2018-01-02 00:00:00
Customers who bring reusable cups to Pret a Manger will be given a 50p discount on hot drinks after the company introduced the measure and said it was hoping to change people’s habits and reduce waste. The sandwich chain has been offering 25p discounts to customers using reusable cups since 2017, alongside Costa and Starbucks. CEO Clive Schlee said he hoped that doubling the discount would make a difference, following other initiatives to reduce waste such as not using plastic cup stoppers in inner city Pret shops. On Tuesday, Schlee tweeted: “I’m delighted you can now get 50p off a hot drink when you bring your reusable cup to Pret. I hope this will make a difference.” Last month he said the company was considering the move “to help change habits. It’s well known that ‘reduce’ is better than ‘recycle’.” Customers in one Pret shop in Kings Cross said they liked the idea and would consider bringing in their own reusable cups, while a barista said many people opt for reusable cups already with the current 25p discount. “In the mornings, most people coming in use their own reusable cups,” he said. Each year, the UK throws away an estimated 2.5bn coffee cups, almost 5,000 a minute. While these cups are recyclable fewer than one in 400 of them are because of difficulties in separating their plastic and paper parts. A government report has also found that red tape in the waste industry often gets in the way of effective recycling. Researchers suggested charging customers for using paper cups to reduce waste but Schlee says Pret decided against it as “it goes against our instincts as we would prefer to be generous to our customers than to tax them”. Chancellor Philip Hammond signalled that taxes or charges could be levied on single-use plastics to help the UK lead the way on tackling “the scourge” littering the environment in his November budget statement. It comes amid rising concern about the problem of plastic waste in the oceans, harming and killing wildlife and entering the food chain, highlighted most recently in the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary series. It follows the introduction of a 5p charge on single-use plastic carrier bags, which is credited with driving down how many are used by 85%, and calls to bring in charges on items ranging from plastic drinks bottles to disposable coffee cups.
Iran sees biggest protests since 2009 as economic hardships bite
Iran is seeing its largest protests since 2009. They began over economic grievances but have taken on a political dimension, resulting in more than a dozen deaths and hundreds of arrests. Police stations have been attacked and  security forces are struggling to contain the uprisings. Iran is a major OPEC member and regional power but there is increasing frustration over its involvement in Syria and Iraq as it battles for regional influence to rival Saudi Arabia. Iranians want the government to create jobs -- youth unemployment reached 28.8% in 2017 -- rather than get involved in costly proxy wars.
2018-01-01 15:06:28.727000
Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since 28 December against the Islamic Republic's government and clerical elite. Police in the centre of Tehran fired water cannons to try to disperse demonstrators, according to pictures on social media. Two protesters were reportedly killed in firing by Iranian security forces on 30 December Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran. Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage. There were also reports of demonstrations in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.
Mushroom enzymes could reduce environmental impact of laundry
Environmentally friendly detergents using enzymes from items including mushrooms are being developed by Danish biotechnology firm, Novozymes. Enzyme detergents, for use in washing machines and dishwashers, work at lower temperatures, require less water and use less soap from palm oil and petrochemicals than traditional alternatives. Washing machines are currently responsible for over 6% of European Union household electricity use. Novozymes has also developed a enzyme being used in China that it hopes will prevent people in that country starting to wash clothes at higher temperatures as they become wealthier, claiming this would constitute “a phenomenal sustainability story”.  
2018-01-01 00:00:00
COPENHAGEN — A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen. In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay. “There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists. Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.
Tesco criticised for food waste after CEO’s pledge
Tesco has faced criticism in relation to edible food waste over the Christmas period. An employee at a branch of the supermarket in Devon claimed to have been told to throw away six cages of vegetables that were still in-date on Christmas Eve. Just two days earlier, Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis, had announced a commitment that no food fit for human consumption should go to waste in UK branches by the end of February. All leading UK supermarkets, including Tesco, have pledged to reduce food waste by 20% within a decade under the government-backed initiative, the Courtauld Commitment 2025.
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The cages of in-date produce which were allegedly binned by a Tesco store in Devon (Picture: SWNS) A Tesco worker was told to throw away six cages of in-date vegetables that could have been given to homeless charities or food banks. The employee at the Exeter Vale Tesco Extra in Devon said they ‘could not believe their eyes’ as hundreds of bags of carrots and potatoes well within their sell-by date were binned. Army corporal who raped female soldier said condom made it 'fine' They spotted the cages stuffed with food on Christmas Eve. Some of the stock was dated December 30, meaning it would have been fresh for an entire week. ‘It was really getting to me all over Christmas,’ the employee – who wished to remain anonymous – told Devon Live. ‘While I tucked into my dinner, all I could think of is how that food could have helped people who cook meals for the homeless. The cages were photographed on Christmas Eve and held potatoes and carrots (Picture: SWNS) ‘Why couldn’t they just reduce it to 10p or less over the next few days, so it had chance to sell?’ Tesco defended the incident, claiming the stock was unsuitable for a charity donation and said the potatoes were ‘unfit for sale’ but did not comment on the carrots. A spokesman for Tesco said: ‘All food in our stores that is fit for consumption is either sold or offered to charities and community groups through our Community Food Connection scheme, with our Exeter Vale Extra store so far providing more than 9,000 meals through the scheme to help people in need. ‘All unsold food that was fit for consumption was offered by the store to local groups, however shortly before Christmas, the Exeter Vale store received a delivery of potatoes that store colleagues found were unfit to sell or offer to local groups. ‘Where products cannot be donated or are unfit for sale these products are put aside until they can be sent for anaerobic digestion.’ The worker was horrified to be told to throw away masses of the in-date vegetables (Picture: SWNS) Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis recently said no food fit for human consumption will be wasted by their UK stores by the end of February. He said edible food should be used for people, and not go to waste. Army corporal who raped female soldier said condom made it 'fine' Tesco, alongside all major UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, has signed a commitment to cut food waste by one-fifth within a decade as part of the Courtauld Commitment 2025. The supermarket chain has come under fire in the past week by customers who complained about ‘rancid’ and ‘rotten’ turkeys bought for their Christmas dinners. The company is refunding and compensating customers after being bombarded with complaints on social media. MORE : Why you should just tell your partner if they’ve gotten chubby over Christmas MORE : Girl, 9, spends birthday money on helping the homeless at Christmas
Climate change could triple migration to Europe by 2100
Annual migration to Europe could triple by the end of the century due to climate change, according to a study from New York’s Columbia University. The study’s author, Wolfram Schlenker, stated that even if efforts to curtail global warming succeeded, asylum applications could still rise by 25% by 2100. The research, which focused only on the impact of climate change on migration, excluding other economic and political factors, analysed asylum applications to European Union states from 103 countries between 2000 and 2014. Countries with average temperatures of 20C produced higher number of applications.
2017-12-27 00:00:00
T he devastating effects of climate change may drive up the number of migrants seeking asylum in Europe if current trends continue, a new study has shown. By the end of the century the number of migrants attempting to settle in Europe annually will triple, based on current climate trends alone, according to the research. Wolfram Schlenker, author of the report, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, said that we will see “increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries”. He predicts that, even if international efforts to curb global warming are successful, the number of asylum applications may rise by as much as a quarter before 2100. Mr Schlenker said his predictions are based only on climate changes’ impact on migration, and is independent of other economic and political factors. Asylum applications could increase on average by 28 per cent, which is an additional 660,000, according to the study. The effects of climate change is predicted to bring more extreme weather including floods, droughts and heatwaves as well as more intense storms and rising sea levels. The new study, led by scientists at Columbia University in New York, was predominantly funded by the EU’s Joint Research Centre. The US Department of Energy also contributed. The authors examined asylum applications in the EU from 103 countries between 2000 and 2014, during this time, applications averaged at more than 350,000 a year. They compared the applications with information on environmental factors, adjusting the data for factors such as conflict and political turmoil. Scientists spotted a trend correlating weather and changes in the number of asylum applications. Countries with average temperatures around 20C showed a higher number of applications, while there were fewer asylum seekers from places with cooler temperatures. The data showed that the more temperatures in a country’s key agricultural regions rose above 20C in the growing season, the more people left for another country. They founded increases in the number of migrants from hot places such as Iraq and Pakistan when temperatures increased. Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) said the study should be taken seriously by policymakers. Speaking to the Guardian, he added that forecasting models often fail to take climate factors into account. He told the newspaper: “This study shows how Europe will be impacted by one of the most serious impacts of climate change. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people will be exposed to coastal sea level rise and shifts in extreme weather that will cause mass migrations away from the most vulnerable locations. “We know from human history that such migrations often lead to conflict and war, with devastating consequences. The huge potential costs of migration-related conflict are usually omitted from economic models of climate change impacts in the future.”
Iberdrola awarded 295 MW of wind in Brazilian auction
Spanish utility Iberdrola has secured 295 MW of wind power capacity in a Brazilian auction, which saw more than 3,841 MW of clean power supply contracts awarded. The deal will see Iberdrola's subsidiary, Neoenergia, develop and bring online nine wind farms in the state of Paraiba by January 2022, increasing Neoenergia's wind capacity to over 800 MW. The project represents Iberdrola's first major step in Brazil after merging Neoenergia with its Brazilian unit Elektro earlier this year.
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Through its subsidiary Neoenergia, Spanish utility Iberdrola (BME:IBE) has secured 295 MW of wind power capacity in the Brazilian auction this week. Neoenergia will construct nine wind farms in the Santa Luzia area of the northeastern state of Paraiba and bring then online by January 2022. These projects will increase Neoenergia's wind capacity in operation or under construction to over 800 MW. Iberdrola said this is its first major step in Brazil after completing the merger of Neoenergia with its Brazilian unit Elektro earlier this year. Neoenergia recently cancelled plans for an initial public offering (IPO). Brazil awarded more than 3,841.6 MW of clean power supply contracts in the tender. Wind power was the biggest seller with over 1,386.6 MW across 49 projects, led by Enel SpA (BIT:ENEL) with some 618 MW. Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
Shell acquires UK's First Utility in retail power push
Shell has acquired the UK's largest independent energy provider, First Utility, for an undisclosed sum. The energy provider, which also supplies broadband services and smart home energy management, will continue to operate as an independent entity under Shell's "New Energies" division. First Utility CFO Darren Braham said the move will help the provider to "capitalise on all the opportunities provided by digitalisation, decarbonisation and the move to battery technology and electric vehicles", whilst continuing to disrupt the Big Six-dominated UK retail-energy market.
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First Utility's energy monitoring software has helped it become a firm favorite among British households. First Utility, which is the largest independent energy company in the U.K., has today been sold to Shell Petroleum Company for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition of First Utility by Shell means that the Dutch-British oil giant now has a firm footing in the British home energy market following First Utility’s recent growth to become a main challenger to the ‘Big Six’ energy providers that currently dominate the U.K. landscape. First Utility will continue to operate as a standalone entity in Shell’s New Energies division – a move that company co-founder and CFO Darren Braham believes can help the firm continue its disruption of the old energy guard. “This move will help us to capitalize on all the opportunities provided by digitalization, decarbonization and the move to battery technology and electric vehicles,” Braham said. Popular content First Utility’s growth in recent years was underpinned by its embrace of connected home technology, which allows homeowners to easily switch their energy provider and gain a firmer grip on their consumption patterns via its smart home platform, which supports technologies such as Google’s Nest and British Gas’s Hive smart home monitor. The company is also a leading broadband provider, and its synchronization of internet service and smart home energy management has caught Shell’s eye as the oil conglomerate continues to ramp up its clean energy footprint. The deal follows less than a week after BP bought British solar power developer Lightsource for a reported $200 million.
Insurers adopt satellite technology for data insights
Insurers are utilising satellite and sensor technology to levy data analytics for determining risk. Information mining could be the largest disruptor in the insurance industry, changing pricing, claims and payments. Among companies making use of the technology, QBE Insurance Group is using satellite readings to track activity such as shipping movements. Elsewhere, Australia's IAG has been testing an app offering drivers rewards when they don't use their smartphone while driving. AIA Group is also using data from tech wearables to determine life-insurance pricing.   
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"We have anecdotal examples where you are tracing port activity to better understand that risk. But we can now have [conversations] with the insured party that without this data we couldn't have. Honestly, it would be very hard to aggregate the data in any other way, other than to watch it from space." Sensors everywhere Stuckey says it's taken him and the industry "a while" to grasp the centrality of data and data analytics, but he now imagines a world where there are Internet of Things sensors everywhere – in your car, home and on the street. "A sort of utopian view, that everything is going to be tracked and that you can take that back to a risk." But it's not just pricing risks. Technology is helping insurers reduce them too. IAG's executive general manager for innovation, James Orchard, says it is using sensors in flood-prone parts of the country to mitigate damage. Advertisement "It's a simple technology where a dipstick literally has a sensor on a solar panel that communicates directly with the State Emergency Service. They are placed in flood zones and tell the SES when roads are likely to incur flooding," he says. "This is an example of how sensor technology can be used in the community to make it safer and how we can play a much more active role in that mitigation." Australian insurers have also been testing in-car technology to try to stem the epidemic of crashes caused by distracted drivers, with IAG testing a smartphone app that rewards customers who don't use their phone while they are in the car. Where other insurers use telematics (in-car technology that monitors a customer's driving) to reward or penalise drivers, IAG is taking a "carrot" rather than "stick" approach, incentivising drivers with non-insurance rewards – think grocery and fuel vouchers or even charitable donations – that will motivate good driving behaviour. Discounted premiums Life insurers such as AIA Group have been using sensor data gathered from Fitbits and smart watches to offer members discounted premiums; this may mean they are abe to tap into lower-income or younger markets who have traditionally shied away from insurance due to cost. Advertisement Health insurer Medibank Private is in talks with Amazon and Google about how to use data to predict customer's health outcomes. But IAG, like its competitor QBE, is also taking a deeper dive into data and moving beyond telematics. In its Singapore insurtech lab Firemark Labs, which opened its doors in 2017, the ASX-listed insurer is researching the data points needed for underwriting autonomous vehicles."It's an emerging trend and technology that could have ramifications on the insurance industry. There is plenty of opportunity that we believe will spawn from the introduction of autonomous vehicles," says Orchard. "Everyone has a different view of the impact they will have. We're [exploring] introducing different services that could complement the autonomous vehicle manufacturers themselves to be able to add value." But it's one thing to collect huge amounts of data. Stuckey says it's how that data is ultimately used that will be the biggest differentiator between insurers. "How do you exploit the most value out of it? How do you draw correlations? How do you bring in additional data to complement the data you have today to make the best decision possible? Advertisement "Gone are the days when you have an actuary or a data scientist that is really good at Excel. You do need these artificial intelligence platforms that can help you in that journey because otherwise you can't make any sense of the data. "Aviation, for example, this is a really rich specialty line in a wide variety of our markets' appetite. A single new jet engine on a Boeing 777 is generating around 16 terabytes of data each year. The volume of that data is something all insurers need to be able to respond to – it's crushing." Funding remains low But a 2016 PwC report found only 43 per cent of industry players say they have tech at the heart of their corporate strategies and funding for partnering or trialling new technology in Australia remains low. According to CB Insights, insurtech start-ups attracted around $US1.69 billion in 2016, with only 1 per cent of this coming to Australia. Lobby group Insurtech Australia is pushing the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to open its regulatory sandbox to more insurtech start-ups wanting to test their products with customers. Brenton Charnley, co-founder of IA, says insurance-related start-ups differ from fintechs in that they often partner up with larger incumbents, with insurers viewing insurtech as helping their businesses rather than disrupting them. Advertisement It is start-ups that specialise in AI or analytics, such as Sydney-based Hyper Anna, which created virtual data scientists to answer questions about information in corporate systems, that insurers such as IAG will likely invest in to complement their underwriting business. Suncorp this year introduced the IBM Watson AI technology to provide rapid liability decisions in our online motor claims system. "The AI technology automates the claims process to create 'zero-touch' claims, meaning customers' claims can be lodged, excess payments determined and repairs booked in as little as five minutes," says Suncorp chief executive for insurance data Gary Dransfield. Policy wording data For it's part QBE has a $US50 million ($65.9 million) VC fund that has so far invested in two start-ups – Cytora, an artificial intelligence platform that uses open source data to help commercial insurers lower loss ratios and improve expense ratios, and US-based Risk Genius, a machine-learning platform for analysing policy wording. "Risk Genius is an example of us trying to exploit policy wording data that we have across all the countries and markets that we operate [and] use that as a competitive advantage," says Stuckey. He adds that before investing and using Cytora, QBE was avoiding certain risks because of "anecdotal" bad experiences."But the data will tell you today they are actually great risks for us and we can cover them at a very competitive rate and give customers the cover they need to grow their business or buy their home, and we've just ignored them," says Stuckey. "We are really looking at differentiating our ability to underwrite, price and settle claims in the market, but in reality it's the core of an insurance company's business and that hasn't changed for hundreds of years, we're just trying to do it better."
Goldwind raises AUD700m for 530 MW Australian wind project
Goldwind Australia has secured nearly AUD700m ($548m) in financing for its 530 MW Stockyard Hill wind project in Victoria, led by the National Australia Bank and a consortium of international investment banks. Goldwind bought the Stockyard Hill project from Origin Energy for AUD110m and secured a power purchase agreement to sell the plant's output to Origin at below AUD60/MWh. Construction activities will begin in Q1 2018 and the project's plant services will be delivered via a joint venture between Canadian engineering group SNC-Lavalin and Australia’s WBHO Infrastructure.
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Goldwind Australia said today it has secured nearly AUD 700 million (USD 536m/EUR 451m) in financing its 530-MW Stockyard Hill wind project in Victoria, touted as the largest in the southern hemisphere. The Australian unit of Chinese wind turbine maker Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Tech Co Ltd (HKG:2208) has obtained funds from a consortium of lenders led by the National Australia Bank (NAB). The group of banks included three Australian, three Japanese, two European and one Chinese lenders. Namely, those were Dutch ABN AMRO (AMS:ABN), France-based Societe Generale (EPA:GLE), The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ ltd, Japan’s Mizuho Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp, Australian Westpac Banking Corp (ASX:WBC), the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). The wind project, to be located in Western Victoria, will be powered by Goldwind’s GW3 turbines. Balance of plant services for the project will be provided by a joint venture between Canadian engineering and construction group SNC-Lavalin Group Inc (TSE:SNC) and Australia’s WBHO Infrastructure. Goldwind expects preliminary works to begin soon, with full construction activities to be underway in the first quarter of 2018. Once completed, the plant will sell its output to Australian utility Origin Energy Ltd (ASX:ORG) under a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA). The Chinese developer agreed to buy the Stockyard Hill wind project from Origin Energy in May for AUD 110 million. The partners then negotiated a PPA price for the output of the plant at below AUD 60 per MWh. (AUD 1.0 = USD 0.766/EUR 0.645) Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
New Mexico solar park to sell cheapest PV energy in US
A 3 MW solar power plant being built in New Mexico is to sell its power at less than $45/MWh, in what The Rocky Mountain Institute believes to be the lowest reported contract for distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy in the US. The plant, which is owned by SoCore Energy, will sell power to non-profit rural electric cooperative Otero County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) under a 25 year contract. OCEC will receive the renewable energy credits from the project.
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Chicago-based SoCore Energy LLC is building a 3-MW, community-scale solar power plant in New Mexico that will be selling its output at a price below USD 45.00 (EUR 38.0) per MWh. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) believes that this is the lowest reported contract for distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy in the country, it said in a statement. RMI has provided project analysis for the project. SoCore Energy, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX), has started work on the Carrizozo solar project in Lincoln County. Upon completion in March 2018, the solar plant will be selling its output at the above-mentioned price to non-profit rural electric cooperative Otero County Electric Cooperative Inc (OCEC). The contract has a term of 25 years and calls for OCEC to receive the renewable energy credits (RECs) from the project. The Carrizozo scheme is expected to generate about USD 550,000 in property tax revenue over its lifetime. More than 25 contractors and other professionals will take part in construction activities at the site, RMI said. (USD 1.0 = EUR 0.844) Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
Subsidy-free Dutch offshore wind project tender receives bids
The Dutch government has received an undisclosed number of bids for its unsubsidised offshore wind tender, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy has announced. Applicants are currently being reviewed on the merits of timely construction, the quantity of energy generation and sound risk management. The eventual winner will be required to bring the wind farm online by 2022. "If these applications do indeed result in an offshore wind farm being constructed without any subsidy, it will be a huge breakthrough," said economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes.
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The Dutch government's subsidy-free offshore wind tender for sites I and II of the Hollandse Kust Zuid zone has shown developers are ready to build the wind farm with a capacity of about 700 MW without government support. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy made the announcement on Thursday, the deadline for submitting bids in the tender. The applications will now be assessed over the next several months. The winner must bring the wind farm online by 2022. "If these applications do indeed result in an offshore wind farm being constructed without any subsidy, it will be a huge breakthrough," said economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes. The number of applications was not specified. Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall AB has said it is taking part in the tender. Norwegian oil and gas group Statoil (STO:STLO) has also confirmed its participation. According to the ministry, the main criteria for selecting a winner are timely construction, the quantity of energy generation and sound risk management. The Dutch government announced plans for the subsidy-free offshore wind tender in June, in the wake of a German auction where three of the four winning projects would be built without subsidies. The German wind farm, however, will have more time before starting operations. The next offshore wind tender in the Netherlands will be for a 20-MW innovation project, Borssele wind farm site V. It will open on January 2 and close on January 18, 2018. Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
China to monitor PV efficiency to help guide regional investment
China's National Energy Administration is to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) monitoring system to help channel funding into regions that harness solar power most efficiently. Curtailment -- production of energy that can't be used -- has been a significant roadblock for the development of PV in China, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimating that approximately 3.28 TWh of solar capacity was wasted in 2016. The new system will advise prospective developers using data regarding site conditions, regional subsidy levels and local government support and will help shape the establishment of the government's yearly PV installation quotas.
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The system will look at curtailment risk and provide guidance to prospective developers based on criteria such as site conditions, regional subsidy levels and local government support. The information will help to shape the establishment of the government’s yearly PV installation quotas, according to an online statement. The authorities may reduce quotas for areas in which large amounts of solar capacity have gone to waste. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has estimated that roughly 3.28 terawatt-hours of solar capacity was curtailed from the Chinese grid in 2016. The curtailment of other clean-energy projects, including wind farms, has also been a significant problem for years. However, the NEA unveiled plans at the beginning of this year to facilitate CNY 2.5 trillion ($378.6 billion) of new investment in solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power projects through the end of this decade. Popular content PV developers completed roughly 24.4 GW of solar projects in the first half of this year, according to NEA data. New capacity additions rose 9% year on year in the January-June period. The country’s cumulative PV installations reached about 77.8 GW at the end of 2016, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Last month, the NEA and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced plans to set up a new wholesale market for distributed-generation (DG) electricity on a pilot basis in the first quarter of 2018. The NEA said that the government will assess the trading system, under which project owners will directly sell electricity to consumers, from the end of next June.
Israel mulls solar rooftop scheme to reach 2020 renewables target
A new scheme to promote rooftop solar-panel installations in Israel is hoped to bring online about 1.6 GW of new solar capacity and help the country reach its 10% renewable energy goal by 2020. The scheme would allow photovoltaic (PV) installations up to 15 KW to be eligible to access the net metering scheme or to apply for a 25-year feed-in tariff (FIT) of 0.39 ILS/KWH ($0.111/KWH). Meanwhile, PV installations ranging from 15 KW to 50 KW will be supported with a 25-year FIT of 0.33 ILS/KWH.
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The government of Israel is planning to launch a new scheme for rooftop PV installations soon, which is expected bring around 1.6 GW of new solar capacity online over the next three years. According to information provided to pv magazine by Eitan Parnass, founder and director of Israel’s Green Energy Association, the new scheme is aimed at helping the country achieve its 2020 renewable energy target, which is a 10% share in total energy consumption, based on a solar energy contribution of 3.5 GW. Under the new scheme, which is currently under a public hearing, PV installations up to 15 kW will be eligible to access the net metering scheme, or to apply for a 25-year FIT contract at a tariff of 0.39 ILS ($0.111)/kWh. This FIT will not be indexed to inflation. Furthermore, the scheme will support PV systems ranging in size from 15 to 50 kW, with a 25-year FIT of 0.33 ILS ($0.094)/kWh. As for net metering, Eitan said that there are still around 285 MW of projects that can be realized before the original 400 MW cap set by the government will be reached. Popular content Projects up to 5 MW will be still entitled to be developed under this mechanism; ground-mounted installations will not be entitled, however, as per the prior regulation. A new grid fee covering storage costs will also be introduced, which is expected to total 0.03 ILS ($0.008)/kWh. Israel currently has an installed PV capacity of 1 GW. Another 1 GW is expected to come from a series of six tenders totaling 1 GW, which was launched this year and will run through 2018. Of the current installed capacity, around 200 MW comes from PV projects exceeding 12 MW, while the remaining power is represented by residential installations up to 15 kW (50 MW), commercial installations ranging in size from 15 kW to 50 kW (240 MW), and distributed generation PV plants up to 12 MW (315 MW).
Vattenfall to deliver 1.5 TWh of power to AkzoNobel
Sweden's Vattenfall will supply 1.5 TWh of electricity to Dutch paint and speciality chemicals firm, AkzoNobel, to help it meet its 2050 carbon target. The Swedish state-owned utility will supply power for AkzoNobel's chemical production sites in Delfzijl, Hengelo and Rotterdam. It will also manage energy use fluctuations for better cost control and provide AkzoNobel with access to the power market through its trading operations. Vattenfall has provided power to the Dutch company's facilities in Sweden and Finland since the start of 2017.
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Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall AB has signed a power supply deal with Akzo Nobel NV (AMS:AKZA) that will help the Dutch paints and speciality chemicals company meet its 2050 goal for carbon neutrality. The contract calls for Vattenfall to supply 1.5 TWh of electricity for AkzoNobel’s chemical production facilities in Delfzijl, Hengelo and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Vattenfall said on Friday. In addition, the Swedish utility will manage fluctuations in energy use that will lead to improved cost control and increased use of renewables for its Dutch client and provide the latter with access to the energy market through its trading operations. “This agreement is testimony to the expertise of Vattenfall as a partner in the energy transition and is consistent with our own Planet Possible sustainability strategy for efficient resource and energy use across the entire value chain,” said Knut Schwalenberg, chairman of AkzoNobel Netherlands. Vattenfall noted that the deal can be expanded to Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Since the start of 2017, the utility has been supplying power to seven of the Dutch company’s factories in Sweden and Finland. The annual power volume under the deal is 1.25 TWh. Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
AMP Capital invests €245m in French power developer Neoen
Global investment manager AMP Capital has invested in the independent French power developer Neoen with mezzanine funding of €245m ($295m). Neoen, which is active in global solar markets including Australia and Argentina, will use the funding for a 1.6 GW portfolio of onshore wind and solar PV assets in France and Australia, according to AMP Capital. Neoen other projects include a Tesla partnership to install a 129 MWh lithium-ion battery in Australia and a 200 MW solar plant in Argentina.
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Australia-based global investment manager, AMP Capital has provided French independent power producer Neoen with €245 million in mezzanine financing. AMP Capital stressed that the financing was validated as a green bond, following due diligence by Vigeo Eiris, a global provider of environmental, social and governance (ESG) research to investors and public and private corporates. Neoen will use these funds for a 1.6 GW portfolio of onshore wind and solar photovoltaic assets, located mainly in France and Australia, AMP Capital said. The investment is being made through AMP Capital Infrastructure Debt Fund III (IDF III), which closed to new investors in August 2017, after raising around $2.5 billion. Popular content “Neoen’s international ambition and track record of success allows us to secure significant long-term financings, achieve economies of scale and join forces with leading investors such as AMP Capital,” said the company’s CEO Xavier Barbaro. Neoen, which is active in several solar markets across the globe, has recently secured a PPA for 100 MW of solar in Australia and is teaming up with Tesla to install a 129 MWh lithium-ion battery in the country. The company is also active in Argentina, where it is planning to building a 200 MW solar plant, and in El Salvador, where it recently completed a 101 MW solar facility. Furthermore, in April it announced it was the main winner of the tender organized by the French government with 10 projects (86 MW) awarded in the CRE 4 programme.
China opens 2 km solar highway
China has opened a 2 km solar expressway, joining France and the Netherlands in testing the technology. The road is made up of an insulating layer on the bottom, photovoltaic panels in the middle and transparent concrete on top. The solar panels cover 5,875 sq metres and can generate 1 million kWh of power a year, enough to meet the energy demands of about 800 homes, the developer said. The cost of the solar road was about $458 per sq metre, compared with about $260 per sq metre for rooftop solar and about $200 per sq metre for asphalt road.
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The idea of solar roads has been dismissed by many as being impractical. But that didn’t stop China from opening one for testing today, joining the ranks of France, Holland, and other countries giving it a shot. In Jinan, the capital of the northeastern Shandong province, traffic is now rolling over a stretch of expressway that’s also generating electricity from the sun, according to state-run CCTV (link in Chinese). Extending for 1 km (0.6 miles), the stretch is made of three layers: transparent concrete on the top, photovoltaic panels in the middle, and insulation on the bottom. The area covered comes out to 5,875 square meters (63,200 sq ft). Advertisement China is billing the project as the world’s first photovoltaic highway. In late 2016, a village in France opened what it claimed was the world’s first solar-panel road, running for about the same length as China’s new stretch though covering about half the area. In 2014, the Netherlands built a bike path embedded with solar panels. The Jinan stretch includes two lanes and an emergency lane and is designed for both electricity generation and public transport, according to Zhang Hongchao, a project designer and transportation engineering expert at China’s Tongji University interviewed by CCTV. He said the expressway could handle 10 times more pressure than the normal asphalt variety and in a year generate 1 million kWH of electricity, which will be used to power street lights and a snow-melting system on the road. It’s also designed to supply power to charging stations for electric vehicles, should those be added in the future. But it might be a while before the project can expand, he noted, as the road cost around 3,000 yuan ($458) per sq m, significantly higher than regular streets. Advertisement Still, the project signals China’s solar-power ambitions. Last year the country became the world’s top solar-energy producer, boosting its photovoltaic capacity to around 78 gigawatts, and it’s aiming for 105 by 2020. China’s eastern city of Huainan, meanwhile, operates the world’s biggest floating solar project, which could eventually power 94,000 homes.
World's biggest solar panel maker posts $355m Q3 loss
China's Yingli Green Energy saw its net loss widen to CNY2.3bn ($352m) in Q3 2017, up from CNY335.4m in the same period in 2016. It also reported a 48% drop in quarterly photovoltaic (PV) module shipments to 597.7 MW. CEO Liansheng Miao said the decrease in shipments on the previous quarter was due to lower demand as Yingli tried to balance shipment volumes with operating cash flows. It expects to ship 700 MW to 800 MW of PV panels in 4Q, and raised its full-year guidance for shipments to between 2.8 GW and 2.9 GW.
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Yingli Chairman and CEO Liansheng Miao attributed the fall in quarterly shipments to lower demand from the end of the first half, as the company tried to strike a balance between maintaining shipment volumes and ensuring that its operating cash flows remained sufficient. It expects to ship 700 MW to 800 MW of solar panels in the fourth quarter, and it has raised its full-year guidance for PV module shipments to between 2.8 GW and 2.9 GW. “Distributed generation (DG) projects maintained strong development momentum,” Miao said. “Therefore, the company adjusted its market strategy and developed more small and medium scale customers to penetrate the DG market.” Revenue hit RMB 1,678.7 million in the July-September period, from RMB 3,173.6 million in the second quarter of this year. The company recorded an operating loss of RMB 2,266.7 million, while its gross profit fell by roughly half from the preceding quarter to RMB 26.5 million, with a gross margin of 1.6%. Earnings before interest, tax expenses, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) stood at negative RMB 2,116.3 million on a non-GAAP basis, according to an online statement. Popular content Throughout the quarter, Yingli continued to restructure its overseas sales network, which is based in Madrid. It completed this process in November, with all operations now centralized out of Europe.
US DOE approves $12m funding for solar technologies
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has authorised $12m in further funding for solar forecasting technologies. The money will be split between eight projects which aim to enhance forecasting technologies, advance variability management and improve grid reliability and resilience. Some $1.8m of the funding will go to the Electric Power Research Institute in Tennessee, towards a scheme developing better probabilistic solar and net load predictions. Other winners include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Arizona and John Hopkins University.
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The US Department of Energy (DOE) will extend USD 12 million (EUR 10.1m) to finance eight projects developing technologies that forecast solar generation levels, it announced on Tuesday. The funds will be provided by the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) that supports early-stage research and development (R&D) in the solar sector. They will be split between eight projects seeking to advance solar forecasting technologies, improve variability management and thus enhance grid reliability and resilience. “These projects will address a critical gap in our research, which is knowing precisely how much solar electricity to expect at any given hour on any given day,” said energy secretary Rick Perry. More specifically, four of the selected projects will seek to make “significant advances” in solar forecasting, while another project will develop an open-source framework for evaluation of solar irradiation, plant generation and net-load forecasts. The other three schemes will explore the integration of advanced forecasting technologies with grid planning and operations systems. The largest portion of the financing, of USD 1.8 million, will go for the Electric Power Research Institute in Tennessee for a project that will develop improved probabilistic solar and net load forecasts for three separate utility case studies. The other winners are the University of Arizona, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of California San Diego, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which will work on two projects, the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University. (USD 1.0 = EUR 0.844) Choose your newsletter by Renewables Now. Join for free!
Singapore achieves 21.5% efficiency from printed solar cell
The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) has achieved a 21.5% average efficiency for its printed silicon solar cell technology. The bifacial MonoPoly technology can be used on both n-type and p-type wafers, and aims to offer similar efficiency levels to modern passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC) concepts, at lower cost. SERIS will now seek to improve the cells' efficiency and expects to reach the 23% mark though improvements to materials and the production process.
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SERIS has reached 21.5% average efficiency using its monoPoly silicon solar cell technology. The institute used a pilot scale production line, and commercially available Si wafers. The technology developed by SERIS, named MonoPoly, is bifacial and can be applied to both n-type and p-type wafers. It aims to provide similar efficiency levels to modern PERC concepts, at a lower cost. “MonoPoly cells use the same tools and fewer process steps compares standard p-type PERC technology,” says Shubham Duttagupta, head of SERIS monocrystalline silicon solar cell group. “[It delivers] a very attractive cost of ownership for solar cell manufacturers seeking to boost cell efficiencies in their current production lines, or planning for new production lines.” Popular content The team will now work on pushing efficiencies even higher, and expects to break the 23% mark through material improvements and fine tuning of production processes. “This result is a testament to SERIS’ long-standing commitment to work closely with the solar industry to reduce the $/watt, improve the cell efficiencies and increase the margins of our industry partners through technology innovation,” added SERIS CEO Armin Aberle. Earlier in 2017, SERIS announced the beginning of a three-year research partnership with JinkoSolar, which is focused on bifacial cell technology.
EIB awards Oxford PV €15m to build perovskite solar plant
Oxford PV has secured €15m ($18m) from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to help take its perovskite solar cell technology into commercial production. Oxford PV Germany, a subsidiary of the UK-based developer, received the funding from InnovFin Energy Demonstration Projects, which supports European action on climate change. It will help the company build its perovskite on silicon tandem solar cell technology into an industrial-scale process in collaboration with its joint development partner, a large-scale solar cell and module manufacturer.
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Oxford PV has picked up financing in several rounds of investment over the past two years. €15 million in funding has been awarded to Oxford PV Germany GmbH, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based perovskite solar cell developer. Funding is provided by EU nonprofit lender, EIB to support bringing perovskite on silicon tandem cell technology into commercial production. This will be the first financing in Germany issued under the ‘Innovfin – EU Finance for innovators Energy Demonstrator Projects, which aims at supporting both European innovation and action on climate change. “I am delighted to sign the contract with Oxford PV today,” said Ambroise Fayolle, Vice President of the EIB responsible for Germany and InnovFin. “The company has demonstrated the necessary parameters in efficiency and stability on its perovskite photvoltaic technology, to engage commercially with major industry players and play a key role in enhancing solar energy supply in the future.” Popular content Oxford PV has picked up financing in several rounds of investment over the past two years. In late 2016, the company announced it had acquired a former thin-film production facility owned by Bosch Solar in Brandenburg, approximately 100 km from the German capital, which it will continue to invest this latest round of financing in. “The EIB financing recognizes our considerable progress to date and the opportunity our technology has to dramatically transform silicon solar cell economics,” said Oxford PV CEO Frank Averdung. “The funding will allow Oxford PV to continue to invest in its demonstration line infrastructure, enabling the rapid transfer of its perovskite on silicon tandem solar cell technology from the lab to an industrial scale process in collaboration with our joint development partner – a large scale manufacturer of solar cells and modules.”
California can meet power needs without solar on farmland
California could meet all its energy needs without building photovoltaic (PV) panels on productive farmland, according to University of California researchers. The scientists examined four alternatives for deploying solar: built environments such as urban rooftops, building facades and walls; land too salty for crops; contaminated land, and water reservoirs for floating solar facilities. Looking at the state's Central Valley for calculations, the researchers forecast that the four land types could contain PV installations producing 17,348 TWh/year or more, which is approximately 13 times the state's expected yearly power demand up to 2025.
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Researchers from the University of California have looked at alternatives to installing solar on land that could otherwise be used for crops, and developed a model using California’s central valley as a case study. The model evaluates four different alternative land types for PV deployments – urban rooftops, walls and building facades, land which is too salty for crops, contaminated land such as brownfield and superfund sites, and water reservoirs suitable for floating PV installations. The researchers delineated a 58,815 km² region of California’s Central Valley to make their calculations, and using satellite radiation models developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, theorized that these four land types have the potential to host PV installations generating at least 17,348 TWh/year – around 13 times California’s projected annual electricity demand up to 2025. In regions where space for solar is limited, particularly in Japan and Taiwan, alternatives such as floating PV installations have already begun to make a splash, although Governments here are still likely to face some difficult decisions regarding the trade off between energy and food security. Popular content While space is at somewhat less of a premium in California, it is still a vital agricultural region, and efficient land use is an important concern for the future. The study, ‘Land Sparing Opportunities for Solar Energy Development in Agricultural Landscapes: A Case Study of the Great Central Valley, CA United States,’ is published in the American Chemical Society’s Environment Science and Technology Journal.
Hanergy partners with Chinese EV group for solar-run cars, homes
Hanergy is teaming up with a Chinese electric vehicle (EV) group to develop thin-film solar technology for cars and homes. Among other projects, Hanergy and BAIC BJEV -- the EV unit of Beijing Automotive Group -- will work together on home- and vehicle-integrated solar panels and charging units. Rooftop solar could provide auxiliary, and possibly even main, power for a vehicle, in addition to charging, Hanergy claims. The pair will also add rooftop solar to BAIC BJEV's car factories. In addition, the partnership will explore the use of thin-film solar for agriculture and poverty alleviation.
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Thin film solar cells in panoramic glass roofs of Audi models: Audi and Alta Devices, a subsidiary of the Chinese solar-cell specialist, Hanergy, are working together on this development project. With this cooperation, the partners aim to generate solar energy to increase the range of electric vehicles. At a conference held at Hanergy’s headquarters in Beijing, the company announced a partnership with BAIC BJEV, the electric vehicle unit of Beijing Automotive Group. The two companies will work together on applications including building and vehicle integrated solar panels and charging stations, and other projects utilizing thin film solar technology. The companies will partner on developing rooftop solar for vehicles, which Hanergy says could provide auxiliary power, and even function as the main power source for a vehicle, as well as charging. The partnership will also cover adding rooftop solar to BAIC BJEV’s automobile factories. On top of this, the two will also cooperate on building model villages incorporating all of these technologies, and other unspecified projects exploring the application of thin-film solar for agriculture and poverty alleviation. Popular content “Hanergy’s partnership with BAIC BJEV stands as a model for cooperation between the thin film solar and the new energy vehicle industries,” said Hanergy CEO Si Haijian. “reflecting the push within Chinese industry to transform energy production and consumption.” Since announcing a return to profitability for full year 2016, Hanergy has announced several partnerships focused on integrating its thin film technology with vehicles, including a partnership with German car maker Audi, and with several major bikesharing companies.
EIB and Yes Bank pledge $400m for Indian renewables
The European Investment Bank (EIB) and Yes Bank have teamed up to provide $400m in funding for Indian renewables. The EIB will provide a 15-year $200m loan as part of the co-financing initiative, with the remainder coming from Indian private sector financier Yes Bank, project promoters and other financial institutions. Eligible solar schemes have already been identified in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Telangana, and other solar and wind projects are under consideration.
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The European Investment Bank (EIB) and India-based private sector financier Yes Bank are supporting Indian solar and wind projects with a new US$400 million co-financing initiative. EIB will provide a 15-year US$200 million loan, with the remainder of the financing coming from Yes Bank, project promoters and other financial institutions. Details of the new initiative are expected to be finalised in the coming weeks, although the aim is to streamline project financing and an EIB release said that eligible solar projects have already been identified in the states of Rajasthan, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka, with other solar and wind projects under examination. “This new financing programme will make a significant contribution to harnessing wind power and solar energy to produce green energy, create thousands of jobs during construction and strengthen technical and financial skills for the renewable energy sector to expand,” said Andrew McDowell, EIB vice president. “With this transaction we remain well on track to achieve our commitment to finance 5,000MW of RE made at the first Re-Invest summit in Feb 2015 and is also synchronous with our COP 21 commitment of mobilizing US$5 billion for climate finance by 2020,” said Rana Kapoor, managing director and chief executive of Yes Bank. Back in June, three major development banks joined Yes Bank by signing a charter to mobilize green investments in India.
CaliBurger to use facial recognition to take food orders
US fast food restaurant CaliBurger is trialling a new self-serve kiosk which uses AI and facial-recognition technology to allow customers to place orders, pay and log in to a rewards account. The facial recognition software will also enable customers to store their orders so that when they next visit, they can order their food just by looking in to the camera. The technology and security is developed and overseen by NEC Corporation. The sole test kiosk currently in operation can be found in the Pasadena CaliBurger store, with global rollouts pending a successful trial.
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CaliBurger’s new kiosk uses facial recognition to take orders Finally, no more shaming when you ask for a diet Coke with your six burgers. Cashier-less ordering kiosks are becoming more and more commonplace at fast food restaurants like Wendy's and McDonald's. But Golden State burger chain CaliBurger is taking that one step further: its new self-ordering kiosks use AI and facial-recognition technology to order, pay and log into the chain's loyalty/rewards program. It'll even remember your crazy custom order to boot. "Our goal is to replace credit card swipes with face-based payments," parent company CEO John Miller said in a press release (PDF). Security and the underlying recognition tech are being handled by NEC Corporation. While this sounds incredibly convenient, it's basically just a high-tech way of pulling up a favorite order the way you would via a mobile-ordering app. For now, the pilot program is only available at the chain's Pasadena test store, and CaliBurger says that if it proves a success there will be a global rollout next year. If you'll remember, that's the same location where CaliBurger tried out robotic burger-flipping. Unlike that test, though, this one seems expressly designed to eliminate human employees.
NYSE, ProShares seek SEC approval to list bitcoin futures ETFs
The New York Stock Exchange has sought Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approval to list two bitcoin-linked exchange-traded funds managed by ProShares. The ETF provider has also filed a request with the SEC to launch the products, which give investors exposure to the cryptocurrency via futures contracts. The funds -- one of which allows investors to bet against the cryptocurrency -- would invest in benchmark futures contracts, though with the option to invest outside of the benchmark. 
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As custodian for the funds, Brown Brothers Harriman would oversee investment assets and cash equivalents as well as prepare and make regulatory filings. Marc Chandler and Win Thin, two of the bank's foreign exchange strategists, are widely followed among currency brokers. The funds would track either the Cboe or CME bitcoin futures and would invest their assets in benchmark futures contracts with the option of investing in contracts outside the benchmark. The NYSE wants to list the ProShares Bitcoin ETF and the ProShares Short Bitcoin ETF, two exchange-traded funds that would allow traders to bet on how the volatile cryptocurrency futures contracts will perform. ProShares, which has more than $29 billion in assets under management, filed its own documents with the SEC for the two bitcoin ETFs in September. A bitcoin ETF took another step closer to reality after the NYSE filed with the SEC to list two funds tracking bitcoin futures. Recent developments have been boosting the profile of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are unregulated and highly volatile. Futures began trading this month, believed to be a way to draw professional investors and oversight. An ETF product would add further legitimacy. "It's very hard for us, as currency analysts, to follow this," said Thin, who is Brown Brothers' global head of emerging markets strategy. "It represents further mainstreaming. Hopefully that what comes out of this: some more regulatory oversight." "Beyond that, we don't have any calls on where it will go from here." Despite bitcoin's notorious volatility, the cryptocurrency has soared nearly 2,000 percent in the past year, according to Coinbase. Cboe futures were down 3.6 percent Wednesday. Like other ETFs, investors in the ProShares Bitcoin ETF would reap benefits when the value of futures contracts climbs. "By being long Bitcoin Futures Contracts, the Fund seeks to benefit from daily increases in the price of the Bitcoin Futures Contracts," according to the SEC filing. "The Fund will not be benchmarked to the current price of bitcoin and will not invest directly in bitcoin. When the price of Bitcoin Futures Contracts held by the Fund declines, the Fund will lose value." On the other hand, investors in the ProShares Short Bitcoin ETF would benefit when the daily value of the futures falls and, like the first fund, would not be directly invested in bitcoin. Bitcoin fans have long wanted an ETF for the digital currency without much success. But turning that dream into reality appeared to become much more likely after two of the world's largest options exchanges — Cboe and CME — launched bitcoin futures contracts within the past month. "I think it is going to enable finally the approval of bitcoin ETFs, and other digital currency ETFs, which is game changing," Barry Silbert, founder and CEO of Digital Currency Group, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" earlier this month. — CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.
Robo-adviser for women Ellevest introduces tiered pricing system
Following a recent funding round, female-centric robo-adviser Ellevest has introduced a new pricing structure. The platform will now be split into three levels of service. The first, costing 25 bps, gives clients access to algorithmic portfolio creation and advice from human advisers via digital communications. For 50 bps and a minimum investment of $50,000, clients can gain access to personalised goal-planning advice from a certified adviser, as well as information such as career advice. Lastly, the firm is offering a private wealth management service for clients with more than $1m in investing assets. 
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Sallie Krawcheck is using a recent infusion of venture capital to expand the offering of Ellevest, a digital-advice platform for women, to three service levels. Investors can access the robo-adviser by itself for 25 basis points (formerly 50 basis points), which includes algorithmic portfolio construction, tax minimization strategies, and now support from human advisers via email and text. For 50 basis points and an account minimum of $50,000, investors can access Ellevest Premium, which includes the technology platform as well as personalized goals-based planning from an adviser with certified financial planner credentials. Ellevest Premium also advises on preparing for a big job interview, negotiating salary or asking for a raise through a partnership with Forshay, a career coaching and executive recruiting firm. The current national conversation surrounding discrimination women face in the workforce plays into Ellevest’s mission, its chief executive said. “This year’s seemingly endless flow of headlines on sexual harassment has underscored the obstacles women continue to face to achieving financial success,” Ms. Krawcheck said in a statement. “It’s core to the Ellevest mission to be an advocate for women’s contributions to the economy, to call foul on what impedes their success and to help women succeed regardless. Money is power, confidence, control — and can be the freedom to take this job and shove it, if needed.” (More: Sallie Krawcheck wants Ellevest to change the way women save for retirement) A third financial-advice offering Ms. Krawcheck is introducing is Ellevest Private Wealth Management, a service that more closely resembles a traditional RIA relationship for women with at least $1 million in investable assets. Ellevest PWM includes a dedicated adviser and an increased menu of investment options focused on “driving social impact and advancing women.” A spokesperson for Ellevest said the demand for this high-touch service came from existing Ellevest clients who wanted greater service for assets not invested on the Ellevest robo. Previously, Ellevest provided only one service offering: the purely digital option. The company said it’s algorithm factors in the unique financial circumstances women face related to pay, career breaks and lifespan. Ellevest raised $34 million in funding in September, led by Rethink Impact. Some have pointed out the high client-acquisition costs robo-advisers face, and have questioned whether charging low fees on relatively small accounts will allow robos to grow enough to provide an adequate return on investment for venture capital backers. An Ellevest spokesperson declined to comment on how the company is tackling this challenge, but the tiered model Ellevest is introducing has been used by other robos to attract larger accounts. For example, Betterment added a premium service earlier this year that includes access to human advisers with its technology product. Ellevest PWM could help even further offset costs. (More: Betterment funding jumps $100 million, boosting valuation to $700 million) Since Ms. Krawcheck launched Ellevest in May 2016, the company has attracted $67.6 million in assets under management among 9,700 accounts, according to its most recent Form ADV.
JPMorgan to introduce low-cost robo-adviser in 2018
JPMorgan Chase is planning to introduce a low-cost wealth management tool in 2018. The firm will allow a sub-section of clients to access the tool in March, with a full launch planned for the middle of the year. The platform, dubbed JPMorgan Digital Investing, will ask clients questions to determine their investment goals and risk appetite. Clients will then be able to access a model portfolio constructed using exchange-traded funds.
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JPMorgan Chase has announced it will be releasing a lower-cost digital wealth management tool this week, with plans to offer it to some clients in March with a wide release in mid-2018. The goal is to offer “guidance and advice for a broad range of clients, whether you have a few thousand dollars, or more,” said Kelli Keough, head of digital wealth management. Currently named JPMorgan Digital Investing, the robo advisory service will ask customers questions regarding their age, risk appetite and behaviours, thereafter modelling an ETF portfolio according to preset rules. This latest robo advice offering follows the release of several digital wealth services by major banks in the sector, all seeking to attract customers with lower amounts to invest in the hopes of turning them into future high wealth clients. In the US, both Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo released its millennial-targeted robo advisors earlier this year. The bank has yet to announce its plan for fees, however Keough has stated they will be available by the March release. The minimum investment is expected to be below $5,000.
Aviva, Tencent partner in big-data lab for Chinese AI push
Aviva's Chinese affiliate is to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to focus marketing and improve customer experiences in a big-data project with technology giant Tencent. The two will open a lab to analyse the insurer's business data. It's all part of UK-based Aviva's investment programme in its global digital operations, which has seen it spend about $134m a year since 2014.
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Aviva-Cofco Life Insurance announced Thursday a strategic partnership with Tencent Holdings in developing a big data lab. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn] Aviva-Cofco Life Insurance announced Thursday a strategic partnership with Tencent Holdings in developing a big data lab, as the latest commitment to leverage tech power in developing business. The big data lab co-developed by Tencent is an important step in Aviva’s insurance digitalization. “Working with Tencent can help us better understand our customers and enhance our precision marketing with data sets,” said Yu Ning,president of Aviva-Cofco Life Insurance. Tencent is working on a big data analysis model that can better cover Aviva-Cofco’s preferences and needs. Going forward, Tencent will focus on pinning down Aviva-Cofco’s target customers and improving their user experience by implementing artificial intelligence. “The implementation of big data in insurance can also help with risk management and further reduce management costs,” said Yu. “Our customers can enjoy a better product with a lower price.” Aviva Plc, the British shareholder of Aviva-Cofco, has been reshaping the industry with its implementation of digital technologies. Starting from 2014, the company has cultivated a specialized group aimed at big data analysis and online sales. To date, Aviva has been investing more than 100 million pounds ($133.7 million) in insurance digitalization and related research on a yearly basis. Liu Yukun contributed to this story
WeChat mobile payments arrive in United Kingdom
Chinese visitors to the UK can now use WeChat, China's "app for everything", to buy their souvenirs. WeChat Pay was made available for point-of-sale locations in the UK through a partnership with British fintech firm SafeCharge, beginning in November 2017. According to VisitBritain, Chinese tourists spent £513 million in Britain last year.
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Consumers use WeChat Pay at an exhibition in Fuzhou, Fujian province. [Photo/for China Daily] In the middle of London's Camden Market, a trader from China hands red-bean cakes to a group of tourists from Sweden, as tattooed locals dressed in black leather weave their way between food stalls cooking up dishes, including barbecued meat and fish and chips. The market, which has been at the heart of London's punk scene since the 1970s, has evolved into one of the capital's busiest tourist attractions. It draws hundreds of thousands of people every week to its maze of clothing shops, tattoo and piercing parlors and food stands. And starting this month, Chinese visitors will be able to buy goods with the mobile payment platform WeChat Pay. Camden Market is a sharp contrast to luxury shopping hot spots such as Bicester Village and Oxford Street, where Chinese tourists spend millions of pounds each year. It might not seem to be the obvious choice for the United Kingdom launch of WeChat's hugely popular digital wallet, which accounts for 40 percent of the Chinese mobile payment market. However, the number of Chinese visitors to Camden is climbing. In September 2016, 5 percent of its visitors were Chinese. The proportion doubled to 10 percent in March. "In terms of demographics, the number of Chinese tourists in Camden is certainly growing, and in terms of a brand, Camden was an obvious choice. It's iconic in London," said Craig Jacoby, head of retail payments at Safe-Charge. WeChat has worked with SafeCharge, a British payment technology company, to make WeChat Pay available at point-of-sale locations in the UK for the first time. During the next four months, SafeCharge will provide more than 1,000 Camden Market vendors with a software update that enables in-store payment terminals to generate QR codes and perform WeChat Pay transactions. Chinese tourists spent 513 million pounds ($681 million) in the UK last year, according to tourism authority VisitBritain. Camden Market's management wants to better accommodate those big-spending visitors. Jacoby said WeChat Pay will soon be available at other shopping destinations in London, and the service is also launching at six large retailers in Paris as WeChat moves forward with its international expansion. WeChat Pay rival Alipay has also made recent moves in Europe. In October, Alipay expanded its partnership with Dutch payment company Adyen to facilitate in-store mobile payments at retail partners in the UK. In Camden, merchants and customers were upbeat about the development. Yi-yin Wei, a shopkeeper from Taiwan province, who sells red-bean cakes at a stall called Wheel Cake Island, thought the update would be useful. "Chinese mainland people are used to paying for things with their phones, so it will be like home for them," Wei said. Angel Chow, a tourist from Hong Kong visiting the market, said mainland shoppers will likely spend more money when they have WeChat Pay as an option. "They will find it convenient if they can use their phones and will buy more. I think they will be excited to be able to use it in England," Chow said. Other Camden merchants were not sure there would be enough demand. Vari McGeachy, manager of Books Iconica, said fewer than 5 percent of her customers are from Asia. "We don't have many Chinese people coming through the doors, and when they do, they don't have a problem paying with cash or card," McGeachy said. "It wouldn't be worth having to train my staff about a new system." SafeCharge Chief Executive David Avgi said in general, there is great motivation to accommodate Chinese consumers in Europe, where 50 percent of luxury purchases are made by Asian tourists. And he said it is a matter of time before the mobile payment systems that are ubiquitous in China catch on in the West.
Toffee slices, dices insurance to crack Indian millennial market
India-based insurtech start-up Toffee is looking to crack the millennial market by selling micro-insurance, offering policies only when a customer requires them. For example, with only 6%-7% of Indians taking out comprehensive health insurance, Toffee offers coverage for specific diseases, such as Dengue fever, co-founder Nishant Jain said. Toffee is also aiming to speed up the claims process in India, reducing it from the typical two-to-three weeks to as little as two days, he said. 
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EXCLUSIVE— Less is more is not often a philosophy that’s applied to insurance, at least not in the United States. When it comes to India things might be different. That’s why insurtech startup Toffee is offering consumers in the country more tailored, “bite-sized” products, rather than less flexible, more traditional insurance plans. “Six to seven percent of people in India have formal health insurance, so there’s a huge population that’s not covered,” Nishant Jain, co-founder and chief product officer for Toffee told Bank Innovation. “The problem we were trying to solve was, how do we get Indians to buy health insurance online?” As so much of the population remains uninsured, the insurance market in India represents a vast opportunity for companies, Jain said, especially when it comes to millennial customers—specifically, those between 20 to 29 years of age. Toffee is not focusing solely on the health insurance market, but is launching products for a variety of use cases. That’s the segment Toffee is focusing on, offering “micro” insurance products engineered to cover particular instances where insurance might be useful to those millennial consumers: rent, backpacking, or commuting insurance, for example. “There’s a huge market there which no one is trying to grab today,” Jain said, of the millennial insurance industry in India, partially because they don’t “need” overly complicated, jargon-heavy, or more comprehensive policies, Jain said. The company, which officially launched three weeks ago according to Jain, is currently live with three of its micro products, including a policy for Dengue fever treatment, a daily commuting policy for travelers who might be “exposed” to accidents,” and a “Globetrotter” policy for international travel. Other products, including policies for rent, a “Stay Fit” policy and a backpacking policy (for accidents or other events that may occur during a backpacking trip), will follow over the next few months, the company said. It is currently partnering with other firms in order to bring its products to customers, rather than going direct to consumer, Jain said. “We are doing B2C marketing, better to go from B2B2C,” Jain said of Toffee’s approach, adding that the company has signed with several distribution partners including 1mg, which is “India’s largest online pharmacy,” Jain said. Toffee’s main benefit to its distribution partners is the fact that it is a fully digital, mobile-enabled platform, Jain said, which enables tasks such as filing a claim to be completed with a much higher speed than they would be traditionally. “Claiming in India is very difficult, it takes [customers] 2 to 3 weeks just to get the money in their accounts,” Jain said. “80% of claims, we can approve, money in your account, in 2 days.” Whether “bite-sized” insurance is the way to the millennial market in India remains to be seen—it’s only been three weeks after all—but it is certainly something to keep watching. To learn more about the latest developments in insurtech and global fintech, join us on March 5-6, 2018 at the Parc 55 in San Francisco for Bank Innovation 2018. Click here to register.
Reinsurance M&A to pick up after catastrophe losses: Clyde & Co
Having all but evaporated in the past 18 months, mergers and acquisitions could make a comeback within the reinsurance space during 2018, according to Clyde & Co. After record catastrophe losses in 2017, several company balance sheets could be under pressure, potentially opening the door to more M&A. Equally, Clyde & Co argues pricing pressure could decrease due to rate hikes in loss-impacted lines of business. This could free up firms to focus on M&A. The rise of insurtech also may create buying opportunities for incumbent reinsurers, the company said. 
2017-12-21 14:39:48.957000
2017’s record-level losses from natural catastrophes and other growing market pressures could act as a catalyst for M&A activity in the U.S. insurance industry next year, according to Clyde & Co. Analysts said M&As had taken something of a back seat in the insurance industry over the last 18 months, but changing factors in the market environment, such as increased rates in loss-affected lines, cuts to corporate tax rates, and development of InsurTech start-ups have made it likely that insurers place a renewed focus on acquisitions. Clyde & Co said that after a year of heavy losses “we expect a number of insurance businesses will see their balance sheets come under increasing strain. “This could serve as a trigger for a wave of M&A in 2018 as re/insurers look for partners to help absorb these losses or consider putting their businesses up for sale.” On the other hand, if pricing pressure decreases due to rate hikes in loss-affected lines, it could give firms the capacity to focus on strategic M&A activity. The InsurTech revolution is expected to be another driver of acquisitions, as re/insurers hunt for start-ups with a proven track record of success to fill the need for strategic innovation. In addition, Clyde & Co noted that abundant liquidity in the market means “there’s little room for insurers to differentiate on price. And the rise of broker facilities and an increasing number of managing general agents entering the market is putting additional pressure on insurers.” In Europe, the uncertainty created by Brexit had placed a significant brake on M&A activity – with firms choosing to focus on Brexit contingency plans. However, Clyde & Co expects that in 2018 a difficult trading environment where investment returns remain under pressure will mean that growth remains a priority. Re/insurers could come under additional pressure from alternative capital gaining a larger proportion of market share through expanding beyond current lines of business and into new areas, analysts believe this could result in additional pressure on pricing in which some businesses are put up for sale. However, Clyde & Co analysts cautioned that with growing geopolitical instability, a recession, a fall in the stock markets, global political conflicts or other negative global events could potentially override the factors above and put a chill on insurance M&A in 2018.
Leading UK retailers selling real fur as fake
Major companies, including Amazon, Boohoo, Groupon and TK Maxx, sold products in the UK containing real animal fur that they advertised as synthetic, according to tests conducted by charity Humane Society International and Sky News. The investigation led campaigners to call for a ban on fur imports. Although fur farming was prohibited in the UK in 2003, such imports remain legal. TK Maxx is offering refunds to affected customers, while Groupon and Boohoo are reviewing their procedures. Amazon said that it could delete the accounts of sellers failing to meet the company’s guidelines.
2017-12-21 14:36:47.667000
Get the free Morning Headlines email for news from our reporters across the world Sign up to our free Morning Headlines email Please enter a valid email address Please enter a valid email address SIGN UP I would like to be emailed about offers, events and updates from The Independent. Read our privacy notice Thanks for signing up to the Morning Headlines email {{ #verifyErrors }} {{ message }} {{ /verifyErrors }} {{ ^verifyErrors }} Something went wrong. Please try again later {{ /verifyErrors }} A number of major retailers have been criticised after it emerged they were selling products containing animal fur, despite advertising them as synthetic. Amazon, TK Maxx, Boohoo and Groupon were among companies found to be selling real fur that was not advertised as such. Tests undertaken as part of an investigation by the charity Humane Society International and Sky News revealed that customers have unwittingly been buying animal products. Among the items wrongly described as faux fur were a £5 pair of earrings from online retailer Boohoo that actually contained real mink fur. Other Boohoo products were found to be made from rabbit fur. Recommended Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo to stop using fur from 2018 Boohoo has an Animal Welfare Policy that it says was approved by animal rights charity PETA. The company has committed to not selling real animal fur. Other retailers were also found to have mislabelled products. TK Maxx was selling a coat made from real fox fur, despite the product description claiming the material was manmade. The company claims it has “not sold real animal fur of any type” since 2003. Customers had even raised concerns that some TK Maxx products appeared to be made of real fur, but were assured by the chain’s customer services department that they were not. Testing revealed that the product in question was indeed made of rabbit fur. The revelation prompted calls for the Government to ban the importation of fur from abroad. Fur farming was outlawed in the UK in 2003 but it remains legal to purchase fur from elsewhere. A special permit is needed to import animal skins and it is illegal to bring into the country the fur of animals caught in leg-hold traps. However, the fact that real fur is unknowingly being bought by UK shoppers is likely to prompt concern about the origins of the skins and the treatment of the animals from which they come. Angela Smith MP, who co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, told The Independent: “In this day and age, when the cruelty of the fur trade is so well known, I would have thought that manufacturers and stockists would have more sense than to try and smuggle such vile products into the hands of well-meaning customers. “I will be calling on the Government to tighten up the regulations to ensure this kind of flagrant deception does not happen again and to help bring an end to this barbaric trade.” Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, backed calls for a wholesale ban on the importation of fur. She told The Independent: “Imagine finding out that the socks or hat you’ve been wearing for months, thinking it was fur free, had in fact been made from rabbit or another animal. It’s a deplorable practice and these shops need to end this deception. “At the very least, we need a decent fur labelling law. But that will only fix the problem in the short term. The simplest, most effective thing to do would be not just to maintain the bans on cat, dog and seal fur post-Brexit, but to extend the ban to all species. “Given the UK banned fur farming back in 2000, it’s completely perverse to be importing tens of millions of pounds of that same cruelty – or worse – from overseas. Debates over the last few months, inspired by the BBC’s Blue Planet and the vote on animal sentience, have proven once again that we are a nation of animal-lovers. I urge our government to protect the wellbeing of animals, and take fur out of our shops.” UK news in pictures Show all 50 1 / 50 UK news in pictures UK news in pictures 5 June 2023 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak onboard Border Agency cutter HMC Seeker during a visit to Dover PA UK news in pictures 4 June 2023 A hot air balloon rises into the sky above Ragley Hall, Alcester, south of Birmingham in central England AFP via Getty Images UK news in pictures 2 June 2023 Skaters use the mini ramp at the Wavelength Spring Classic festival in Woolacombe Bay in Devon PA UK news in pictures 1 June 2023 The And Beyond installation, during a photo call for the London Design Biennale at Somerset House in London PA UK news in pictures 31 May 2023 Emergency services attending to a blaze at a derelict listed building in Samuel Street, Belfast PA UK news in pictures 30 May 2023 A robot named Stella interacts with visitors during the International Conference on Robotics and Automation ICRA in London AP UK news in pictures 29 May 2023 Dave Hackett and his daughter Daisy, five, explore the laburnum arch in the grounds of Preston Tower, East Lothian, in the warm Spring Bank Holiday weather PA UK news in pictures 28 May 2023 Great Britain’s Nick Bandurak scores their side’s third goal of the game during the FIH Hockey Pro League men’s match at Lee Valley, London PA UK news in pictures 27 May 2023 People enjoy the sunny weather at a park in London AP UK news in pictures 26 May 2023 People drink coffee inside Daleks during MCM Comic Con at the ExCel London in east London PA UK news in pictures 25 May 2023 King Charles III and Queen Camilla during a visit to Enniskillen Castle, Co Fermanagh as part of a two day visit to Northern Ireland PA UK news in pictures 24 May 2023 Horses enjoy the sunny weather on Middleham Gallops in North Yorkshire PA UK news in pictures 23 May 2023 An aerial view of a yellow rapeseed field in Hemel Hempstead, Britain Reuters UK news in pictures 22 May 2023 Manoj Malde and Clive Gillmor kiss after getting married, the first wedding ever at the Chelsea Flower Show AP UK news in pictures 21 May 2023 People enjoy the warm weather as they take punt tours along the River Cam in Cambridge PA UK news in pictures 20 May 2023 Protesters emerge from the sea as Surfers Against Sewage hold a UK-wide paddle-out protest at Brighton West Pier in East Sussex PA UK news in pictures 19 May 2023 Good Karma ridden by Daniel Muscutt (right) wins the Earl & The Pharaoh Novice Stakes at Newbury Racecourse, Berkshire PA UK news in pictures 18 May 2023 Choristers from the Choir of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge look out from the top of the Chapel Tower before performing the Ascension Day carol - a custom dating back to 1902. PA UK news in pictures 17 May 2023 Oxfam activists wearing 'big heads' of G7 leaders during a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, highlighting their lack of action to tackle the East Africa hunger crisis ahead of the start of the G7 summit in Japan PA UK news in pictures 16 May 2023 Part of a child’s jacket during a photo call for the China’s hidden century exhibition, which opens at the British Museum PA UK news in pictures 15 May 2023 Viewing assistant and History of Art student Emma Scarr Hall takes a closer look at @Pink Roses’ (1923) by Scottish Colourist artist Leslie Hunter which is estimated at £60,000-80,000 in the forthcoming Bonhams Scottish Art Sale in Edinburgh PA UK news in pictures 14 May 2023 Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene, Sharon Horgan and Anne-Marie Duff, with the award for Drama Series, for Bad Sisters at the 2023 BAFTA TV Awards in London EPA UK news in pictures 13 May 2023 Singer Loreen performing on behalf of Sweden celebrates with the trophy after winning the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2023 AFP/Getty UK news in pictures 12 May 2023 Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer views a cancer tumour under a microscope during a visit to the Francis Crick Institute in north London where he met scientists working on research into lung cancer PA UK news in pictures 11 May 2023 Judging takes during the artisan cheese awards at St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray PA UK news in pictures 10 May 2023 A dog joins members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) on the picket line outside HMRC in East Kilbride during a strike in the long-running civil service dispute over pay, jobs and conditions PA UK news in pictures 9 May 2023 Two trains carrying 170 Eurovision song contest superfans arrive into Liverpool Lime Street train station PA UK news in pictures 8 May 2023 Britain’s Prince Louis eats toasted marshmallows as they take part in the Big Help Out, during a visit to the 3rd Upton Scouts Hut in Slough, England, AP UK news in pictures 6 May 2023 King Charles III and Queen Camilla can be seen on the Buckingham Palace balcony ahead of the flypast during the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla Getty UK news in pictures 5 May 2023 Britain's King Charles III leaves after speaking to well-wishers on The Mall near to Buckingham Palace in central London AFP via Getty Images UK news in pictures 3 May 2023 A night time rehearsal in central London for the coronation of King Charles III PA UK news in pictures 2 May 2023 Teacher members of the National Education Union (NEU) at a rally in Westminster, London, as they stage walkouts across England in an ongoing dispute over pay PA UK news in pictures 1 May 2023 Former US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the tarmac after disembarking "Trump Force One" at Aberdeen airport on the north-east coast of Scotland AFP/Getty UK news in pictures 30 April 2023 Handout photo issued by the Big Partnership of walkers at the start of The Kiltwalk 2023 from Glasgow Green. PA UK news in pictures 29 April 2023 England’s flanker Marlie Packer celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam at the end of the Six Nations international women’s rugby union match between England and France at Twickenham in south-west London AFP/Getty UK news in pictures 28 April 2023 Lucy Williams, from Aberfan, holds her son Daniel Williams, one, as he takes the handbag of the Princess of Wales, during her visit with her husband the Prince of Wales, to the Aberfan memorial garden, to pay their respects to those who lost their lives during the Aberfan disaster on October 21st 1966 PA UK news in pictures 27 April 2023 Teachers on the picket line outside Bristol Cathedral School, College Square, Bristol, as they take strike action in a dispute over pay PA UK news in pictures 26 April 2023 Protesters wait for the arrival of King Charles III and the Queen Consort for their visit to Liverpool Central Library PA UK news in pictures 25 April 2023 Wreaths are laid at the Cenotaph in central London, in commemoration for Anzac Day PA UK news in pictures 24 April 2023 Waves crash over Tynemouth pier on the North East coast of England PA UK news in pictures 23 April 2023 People cross the finish line at the 2023 London Marathon Getty UK news in pictures 22 April 2023 A Wrexham fan in a Deadpool costume ahead of the Vanarama National League match at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham PA UK news in pictures 21 April 2023 A demonstrator wears a costume as people protest during the Extinction Rebellion's 'The Big One' event, in London, Britain Reuters UK news in pictures 20 April 2023 The funeral cortege of Paul O’Grady travels through the village of Aldington, Kent ahead of his funeral at St Rumwold’s Church PA UK news in pictures 19 April 2023 Georgia Harrison, who was a victim of revenge porn, at a demonstration organised by Refuge outside the Houses of Parliament, calling for a violence against women and girls code of practice to be added to the ‘Online safety bill’ PA UK news in pictures 18 April 2023 People walk at the Taihaku Cherry Tree Orchard at Alnwick Gardens in Alnwick, Northumberland Reuters UK news in pictures 17 April 2023 A pelican sits in St James’s Park, London PA UK news in pictures 16 April 2023 People take part in the Nagar Kirtan procession through the city centre in Southampton, during Vaisakhi celebrations to mark the birth of the Khalsa and to celebrate the spring harvest and the solar new year PA UK news in pictures 15 April 2023 Former Chelsea players and fans show the Samaritans' 24-hour helpline number 116 123 on the back of their shirts during the launch of the TalkMoreThanFootball campaign from Three, during halftime of Chelsea v Brighton at Stamford Bridge, London PA UK news in pictures 14 April 2023 Protesters outside York Magistrates’ Court, where Patrick Thelwell is charged with threatening behaviour after eggs were thrown at King Charles III during his visit to York in November PA Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said: “The amount of fake faux fur online is truly shocking, with even trusted retailers mis-selling real animal fur as synthetic. “It is appalling that British shoppers, who are actively choosing not to buy real fur because of the terrible animal suffering, are being misled into buying the very same fur products they’re trying to avoid.” TK Maxx said customers who had bought the real fur products would be offered a refund, while Groupon said it was reviewing its suppliers and internal processes “to ensure this doesn’t happen again”. Boohoo said: “We are very disappointed that on this occasion our high standards have been breached by the suppliers from who these items have been sourced. “The items in question were immediately removed from sale and the breach of the policy and its standards is being investigated as a matter of urgency.” Amazon said marketplace sellers who don’t meet its guidelines faced the prospect of having their account deleted.
Leading UK retailers selling real fur as fake
Major companies, including Amazon, Boohoo, Groupon and TK Maxx, sold products in the UK containing real animal fur that they advertised as synthetic, according to tests conducted by charity Humane Society International and Sky News. The investigation led campaigners to call for a ban on fur imports. Although fur farming was prohibited in the UK in 2003, such imports remain legal. TK Maxx is offering refunds to affected customers, while Groupon and Boohoo are reviewing their procedures. Amazon said that it could delete the accounts of sellers failing to meet the company’s guidelines.
2017-12-21 14:36:47.667000
London—British consumers are being misled into buying real fur from fox, rabbit, chinchilla and mink, falsely advertised as fake fur, an investigation by Humane Society International UK and Sky News has revealed. The investigation found trusted online retailers such as Boohoo, Amazon and Not On The High Street all selling items such as bobble hats, keychains, scarves, shoes and coats advertised as faux fur when laboratory tests revealed them to be real animal fur. Many of these items have deceptively low price points; life is cheap on fur farms, with animals enduring appalling deprivation, and this means that real fur trim often costs the same or even less than faux fur. Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said: “The amount of fake faux fur online is truly shocking, with even trusted retailers mis-selling real animal fur as synthetic. It is appalling that British shoppers, who are actively choosing not to buy real fur because of the terrible animal suffering, are being misled into buying the very same fur products they’re trying to avoid. The combination of trusted brands, cheap prices, and items described as “faux” or “100% acrylic”, means many people will be justifiably horrified to discover they’ve inadvertently bought animal fur. Consumers rightly expect brands to sell what they say they’re selling, so urgent action is needed to stop this insidious creep of fur through the back door.” Animal lover Jayne Webster got in touch with HSI to report concerns about the key chain that she bought from T.K. Maxx after being assured it was faux fur by T K Maxx staff. HSI sent the keychain off for testing and found it to be made of rabbit fur. Jayne said: “As a company who proudly boasts that they have not sold fur or angora products since 2003, I would assume that TK Maxx takes a strong ethical stance on this issue. So when I found out that the fur pom-pom I bought was actually made of rabbit fur I was extremely disappointed and concerned. I am aware of the horrific suffering that animals on fur farms go through and would never want to buy real fur, I don’t know how companies can get away with this.” Fake faux fur items include: T.K. Maxx, fox fur coat Boohoo, mink fur earrings Boohoo, rabbit fur shoes Miss Bardo, fox fur hat Amazon, rabbit fur children’s shoes Not On The High Street, rabbit fur keychain Groupon, rabbit fur keychain Etsy, mink fur earrings Around the world in countries such as the U.S., France, Poland and China, animals on fur farms are subjected to terrible conditions. Beautiful wild animals are kept their entire lives in small, barren cages, physically and mentally deprived, before being killed and skinned for their fur. Wild animals such as coyotes fair no better, caught in agonising traps for hours or even days before being shot. The vast majority of the British public are against wearing fur. A 2016 YouGov poll shows 9 out of 10 Brits believe that it is unacceptable to buy and sell real fur, averaged across nine species. Although fur farming was outlawed in the UK on moral grounds in 2000, and EU regulations ban fur from domestic cats, dogs or commercial seal hunts, the UK still imports and sells fur from a range of other species such as fox, rabbit, mink, coyote, raccoon dog, and chinchilla. HSI is campaigning for the British Government to make the United Kingdom a fur-free zone by extending the cat, dog and seal fur bans to include all fur-bearing species. As a member of the EU single market, under rules relating to free movement of goods the UK is not currently at liberty to ban the import of animal fur, which is farmed in several European countries. But Brexit could give the government the freedom to reflect the public’s distaste for all fur and close our borders fully to this cruel and outdated trade. Bass continued: “The government banned fur farming as unethical in the UK more than ten years ago, but perversely we have since been importing that same cruelty from fur farms overseas. The vast majority of British people believe that animal fur has no place in our high streets and wardrobes, and would support a UK ban. Mandatory, clear labelling of all fur is urgently needed to stop consumers being misled, but ultimately to properly protect both animals and consumers, the government must use the opportunity presented by Brexit to ban all UK fur imports.” Frequently Asked Questions: There is no legal requirement to use the specific word “fur” on items containing real fur. EU regulations do require items defined as “textile products” to carry the confusing wording “contains non-textile parts of animal origin” but as well as not clearly telling consumers it means “real animal fur”, in practice this wording requirement is rarely adhered to at all. Products sold online are exempt even from the above confusing wording requirement, and footwear or non-garment accessories such as handbags and keychains are also excluded. Under consumer protection legislation, it’s technically illegal to mislead. However, the regulation – with respect to the sale of animal fur – is very poorly enforced, and ‘an honest mistake’ is considered a legitimate defence and so retailers are rarely prosecuted. HSI believes that all products containing real animal fur (including clothing, footwear, accessories etc) should be clearly labelled in plain English. Such labelling is already in place in the US and Switzerland, and should include the animal species (both common and scientific name); country of origin (where the animal was bred/trapped and killed); how the animal was reared and killed (trap caught or reared in a wire cage, for example). Media contact: Harriet Barclay, HBarclay@hsi.org, +44 (0)7794354596 Notes:
UK agency workers paid £400m less than peers
UK agency workers are collectively paid £400m ($534m) less than their permanent peers, according to research by charity the Resolution Foundation. Temporary admin staff experience an average pay gap of £990 annually. The average individual loss for the country’s 800,000 agency workers is £500 per year, up from £430 in 2016. After three months with the same employer, agency workers are legally expected to have the same pay as full-time colleagues. However, 85% were found to have a pay deficit. “Swedish derogation” contracts, which offer pay between assignments, are used to allow workers to sign away equal pay rights.
2017-12-21 14:17:13.320000
Agency workers are collectively underpaid by £400m a year compared to their full-time counterparts, with the pay gap costing temporary admin staff £990 a year on average, according to new research. The Resolution Foundation said the loss of pay across all sectors took the average loss for each of the UK’s 800,000 agency workers to £500 a year, up from £430 last year. The charity said it was shocked to find that around 85% of temporary staff suffered a pay deficit while working in the same job for more than three months. It said agency workers that stayed with one employer for more than three months were expected to have the same pay as full-time employees. Lindsay Judge, a policy analyst at the foundation, said many employers were using loopholes in the law that allow agency workers to sign away their right to equal pay. “Agency workers deserve to be paid the same as employees if they’re doing the same job, so the government should look to close the loophole that allows agency workers to sign away their right to equal pay. “With the government-commissioned Taylor Review noting this abuse, we’re hopeful that 2018 will be the year of action on fair pay for agency workers.” Last year, labour market economist John Philpott found that more than one in five workers, around 7.1 million people, were in precarious employment, up from 5.3 million in 2006. A report by the GMB union this summer warned that the number of workers who could be dismissed at short notice was nearer 10 million. The foundation said some agency workers earned a bonus to compensate in part for the loss of pension contributions, with interim managers and senior social care staff topping the list of those workers who command high wages. Workers in the category for caring, leisure and other service occupations earn £218 more on average than equivalent full-time members of staff, while temporary managers and directors enjoy a £2,477 pay boost compared to full-timers. But administrators lost £990 a year compared to full-time employees and the average sales or customer service worker lost £800 a year. The report said: “These pay penalties exist despite the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 which gives those with 12 weeks-plus of continuous service in the workplace pay parity with comparable employees.” It said the regulations allow agency staff to forgo their right to equal pay with directly employed staff in return for a contract that offers pay between assignments, known as a “Swedish derogation” contract. It said these were “widely abused, as noted by the government commissioned Taylor Review of Modern Working Practises”. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “Two people working next to each other, doing the same job, should get the same pay rates. But too often agency workers are treated like second-class citizens. “It’s time to end this undercutters’ charter and for the government to scrap this loophole. It’s recent review into modern employment practices called for precisely that.”
UK agency workers paid £400m less than peers
UK agency workers are collectively paid £400m ($534m) less than their permanent peers, according to research by charity the Resolution Foundation. Temporary admin staff experience an average pay gap of £990 annually. The average individual loss for the country’s 800,000 agency workers is £500 per year, up from £430 in 2016. After three months with the same employer, agency workers are legally expected to have the same pay as full-time colleagues. However, 85% were found to have a pay deficit. “Swedish derogation” contracts, which offer pay between assignments, are used to allow workers to sign away equal pay rights.
2017-12-21 14:17:13.320000
Christmas is coming – and many of the presents we’re all busy buying are being picked and packed in warehouses, delivered by drivers, or sold to us in shops by staff who are not directly employed, but who work through an agency instead. So how has this part of the workforce fared over the course of 2017? Perhaps unsurprisingly in a year when low levels of unemployment and a falling numbers of migrants have led to a tighter labour market, the number of agency workers plateaued in 2017 (Figure 1). When we launched our agency worker project last year we suggested that if this contingent way of working grew at a similar rate to that we had observed in the previous five years, we could expect to see as many as one million agency workers in the UK by the end of the decade. The latest data now suggests we are no longer on trend to reach that threshold. Figure 1: Agency workers over time: UK Source: RF analysis of ONS, Labour Force Survey But is this more propitious labour market also feeding through to improvements in agency workers’ pay? At first glance this would appear to be the case: average hourly pay for those working through an agency grew by 2 per cent in real terms over the first three quarters of 2017, in contrast with a 2 per cent fall for other types of staff. While some of this uplift was provided by the National Living Wage – with over a quarter of agency workers paid at or very close to the wage floor, above inflation increases in the NLW have a significant effect – on balance, all agency workers look to be doing better in the pay stakes than their directly employed counterparts. Or are they? Before directly employed staff decide to jump jobs they should think about how the pay levels of agency workers compare with their salaries. When we compare the hourly wage of agency workers and employees with same personal characteristics (age, gender, migrant status, ethnicity, experience and the like) who do the same type of work (when it comes to industry, occupation or whether the job is full or part-time for instance), we can see that agency workers remain at considerable disadvantage. On average, over the period 2011-2017 we estimate that like for like, agency workers have been paid 23p less an hour than employees who work directly for a firm. However, this ‘agency pay penalty’ is not distributed equally through the workforce. As Figure 2 shows, in some occupations working via an agency comes with a pay premium rather than a pay penalty. But interestingly we don’t observe the simple occupational gradient as we might expect, with those in higher paid jobs able to extract more from the workplace while those lower down the occupational scale subject to heavier penalties. Figure 2: Difference in hourly pay between agency workers and employees controlling for personal and job characteristics, by occupation: UK Source: RF analysis of ONS, Labour Force Survey So what explains this picture? We think (at least) four things could be going on. First, managers and senior staff who work through agencies often take on unpopular, trouble-shooting roles for which they may be able to command a premium. Second, many workplaces in caring and leisure have legally required staff ratios – as we have noted for social care, this can oblige firms to pay a premium for staff needed at short notice. Third, other research has shown that in professions such as teaching, staff are prepared to accept a lower pay rate in order to avoid what they see as high levels of bureaucracy. And fourth, the smaller penalties we observe in elementary and other low paid jobs may simply be because so many in those occupations are at the wage floor that the difference between the pay of agency workers and other staff is naturally slight. Whatever the reasons, the fact that an agency worker sitting (or standing or lifting) next to an identical employee is not being paid an equivalent rate should give us pause for thought. We estimate that across all occupations, agency workers lost £400 million of earnings in 2017 as a result of the agency pay penalty. That’s a lot of Christmas presents they could have bought for their families, but also a loss to the public purse. With over one in ten agency workers claiming tax credits or Universal Credit the state is substituting at least some of these lost wages, as well as forgoing the additional tax it could levy if agency workers were paid in full. This state of affairs is all the more concerning given that the government introduced the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 explicitly to give those with 12 weeks-plus of continuous service in the workplace pay parity with comparable employees. While we have some concerns about how agency workers interpret survey questions about length of service (do they report the length of single assignments, for example, or instead the length of time they have worked with a specific agency?), it is possible to look at the subset of agency workers who say they have been working in their existing role for 3 months-plus (Figure 3). As this shows, in some (but not all) occupations the agency pay penalty is attenuated. Nonetheless, we still estimate the lost earnings of these longer term workers totals around £300 million for 2017. Figure 3: Difference in hourly pay between agency workers and employees controlling for personal and job characteristics, by occupation and length of employment: UK Source: RF analysis of ONS, Labour Force Survey It’s fair to say that there could be a number of reasons why these lower rates of pay exist which we aren’t picking up in our analysis here. Perhaps agency workers are less motivated, for example, or lack a very specific set of skills needed for the job? But another potential explanation lies with the very law designed to end unequal pay between agency workers and employees. The 2010 Regulations allows agency staff to forgo their right to pay parity with direct employees in return for a contract that offers pay between assignments (a so-called ‘Swedish derogation’ contract). But as both the Taylor Review and the joint BEIS-Work and Pensions Committee report have acknowledged this year – and three focus groups we have run recently with agency workers also confirm – such contracts are widely abused. In this festive season maybe it’s time for the government to give agency workers a present too. Closing this loophole in the law and enforcing the right of agency workers to equal pay with comparable employees would be a gift to the tune of £990 a year for the average administrator who works through an agency, £800 a year for the average sales or customer service staff and £285 a year for the typical worker in an elementary occupation. Now that really would make for a merry Christmas, one and all.
Moet breaks trend for alcohol companies with Snapchat game
Champagne company Moët has launched a game on social media platform Snapchat, aimed at over 25s, despite wider industry concerns regarding Snapchat's age-filtering capabilities. Both Heineken and William Grant & Sons have previously cited difficulties in verifying recipient ages on Snapchat. Moët's marketing director, Ngo Isaac, believes that the issue other firms experience is with their targeting, arguing that they "just take a piece of content from other platforms and amplify it through Snapchat".
2017-12-21 14:03:20.970000
Alcohol brands like Heineken and William Grant & Sons have concerns about using Snapchat as a marketing platform because they don’t think the app’s age-filtering feature is effective. But that’s not a hurdle for Moët. The luxury champagne company, which is more than 250 years old, is launching a Snapchat game this week called “Moët & Chandon Tower Toss” as part of its holiday campaign “The Greatest Entertainer.” To play the game, two people take turns swiping up to shoot a champagne cork at a four-layer Moët champagne tower on a table. Each player has 10 seconds to toss as many corks as they want, receiving points based on precision and which tier they target. Moët placed paid ads on Snapchat Discover to direct users to play the game. “We don’t want to just buy people’s attention through media — we want to get their attention naturally in a customized way,” said Christine Ngo Isaac, marketing director and head of U.S. consumer engagement for Moët & Chandon. “Snapchat is an open ecosystem and has done a good job in building a customer experience outside of traditional advertising.” Agency Attention helped Moët develop the game, which the brand claimed is Snapchat’s first two-player game. While the game was designed for Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook users can also play a web version through special links. But one big question for alcohol brands marketing on Snapchat is how to ensure they accurately target people of legal drinking age, which is 21 in the U.S. After all, marketers from Heineken and William Grant & Sons have said it was hard to verify the ages of recipients of ads on Snapchat. But Ngo Isaac disagrees. “The statement that Snapchat has an age-gating problem is not completely true. I think the problem is many alcohol brands just take a piece of content from other platforms and amplify it through Snapchat,” she said. “For this specific game, our paid ads on Discover target people over 25, even older than the legal drinking age.” In addition to Snapchat’s own ad-targeting capacities, Moët also asks players to enter their birthdates before playing the game. “We use double verification to ensure that we are not presenting alcohol content to minors,” said Tom Buontempo, president of Attention. “Targeting in general has become more sophisticated on Snapchat. It is working with many third-party vendors to make sure that their ads reach the right audience.” But that’s not saying alcohol brands face no limitations in marketing on Snapchat. Moët and Attention originally designed the game differently: Winners would have a chance to unlock an exclusive geofilter and then share it with their Snapchat friends after completing the game. But Moët ended up dropping the geofilter idea because it was extremely difficult to prevent Snapchat users from sharing the geofilter with people under 21 on the platform, according to Ngo Isaac. “We thought of all the possible scenarios that could damage the Moët brand,” she said. “We take the age issue very seriously, which is why we don’t have a company account on Snapchat. We are still experimenting with the platform.” A Snapchat blog post said 44 percent of Snapchat users in the U.S. look to friends and family for recommendations on alcohol purchases, compared to 19 percent of non-Snapchatters. Bud Light, Shock Top, Smirnoff and Jameson have all used Snapchat’s ad products like Snap Ads, holiday filters and lenses, according to the company blog. “We use the same type of age registration as similar ad platforms. All new Snapchat [users] enter their date of birth when they sign up for the app, and we then age-gate,” said a Snapchat spokesperson. “We also don’t serve alcohol ads to users with improbable ages that fall at the upper end of the age ranges on our platform.” The spokesperson said around 80 percent of Snapchat users are above 18 but declined to specify how many are over 21. But Ngo Isaac said Moët has found “the next generation of drinkers” on Snapchat, older millennials around 30-34, whom Moët wants to target. “Snapchat is no longer just a teenager app,” she said. “It is becoming a more general advertising platform.” Image courtesy of Attention
PageFair and AppNexus help to make partners GDPR compliant
Digital advertising firms PageFair and AppNexus are addressing publishers and adtech firms' needs as implementation of the EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) approaches. PageFair's Perimeter, a "regulatory firewall", will allow publishers to monetise websites without using users' personal data by blocking non-GDPR-compliant firms from being included in the adtech chain. AppNexus has created the role of vice-president of strategic and regulatory affairs to help its partners change their business plans to accommodate the new regulations. It is also offering an open-source tool to help firms with compliance.
2017-12-21 14:01:13.917000
As the deadline for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) draws ever closer, publishers and adtech players are urged to ensure their supply chain partners meet requirements, with both PageFair and AppNexus recently launching offerings that look to enable this. Earlier this week PageFair announced the launch of Perimeter, a self-styled “regulatory firewall” that will enable publishers to monetise their websites without the use of personal data by blocking all non-compliant third parties from entering the adtech chain, circumventing the need for individual adtech players to gain consent. For instance, when publishers install PageFair Perimeter on their properties it will block adtech that uses unique identifiers without the consent of the consumer. Meanwhile, adtech vendors that use “ethical data” – non-personal data – will be whitelisted. This GDPR-friendly tool enables: frequency capping; attribution; impression counting, click counting; view-through counting; conversion counting; and fraud mitigation, all without personal data. Perimeter has been in development for two years and also works to fix the challenges associated with third party data leakage which will become illegal under GDPR, according to Pagefair. To do this, it blocks all third parties from accessing personal data unless both publisher and consumer have given their consent, in theory protecting both the publisher and advertiser from legal risk. Additionally, the tool provides publishers with a ‘consent system’ which will allow them to collect consent on behalf of their adtech partners, and interoperate that consent with other compliant consent management platforms. Blanchfield said: “We built Perimeter to enable all media owners to operate within a clean and ethical data/media industry that prevents brands from being exposed to risk under the GDPR, and enables relevant advertising to sustain the online media industry”. The initiative comes just weeks after AppNexus, an adtech outfit that has offerings catered to the buy- and sell-side of the market, introduced a new role dedicated to helping its partners shift their business models around upcoming regulatory requirements. The role, as vice-president of strategic and regulatory affairs, was filled by Uli Hegge, formerly vice-president of strategic market development for AppNexus in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It will see Hegge both support the company’s efforts to be compliant in new regulations – chiefly the European Union’s GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive – while also helping its partners create compliant business models, in recognition of the “lack of clarity” from regulators over how the rules affect individual players, Hegge told The Drum. While legal and technical teams within businesses are already "advanced" on GDPR compliance, how the new rule book will affect their sales and business process is as yet unclear, Hegge said. As such, his role will be focused on helping develop business models for AppNexus’ partners that are compliant with new regulation. However, regulators and legislators across Europe have failed to provide the industry with a full set of requirements on how GDPR will be interpreted, according to Hegge. "You can read quite a few interpretations into the law as it is out there today, we don't have many common notes on it coming from regulators and legislators," Hegge bemoaned – a common theme among the industry. There are two key areas of GDPR, consent and "legitimate interest", that directly affect adtech players, but guidance on these topics remains "unclear", Hegge said. The UK's regulator, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), has delayed the publication of its final guidance – originally pledged to be published in June – until 'early 2018' as it waits for the Article 29 Working Party of European Data Protection Authorities (WP29) to agree on its Europe-wide consent guidelines. The regulator published further guidance on legitimate interest this month, however final guidance has also been pushed back to 2018. This means an adtech company with an existing consent solution – or one that is currently in progress – has to work in an “environment of uncertainty”, since whatever it implements now may be contradicted by the final guidance, IAB UK's head of policy and regulatory affairs, Yves Schwarzbart told The Drum. This air of uncertainty is a "pan-European question mark", Hegge asserted. AppNexus' approach is to err on the side of caution. Hegge believes there is an argument to be made by publishers that they have 'legitimate interest' to support their business with advertising, therefore the adtech shop is taking a "conservative approach" to its GDPR preparations in the possibility that broad consent is required. "Whatever kind of consent is needed, if you are prepared for the most extensive one, that's fine, then you can scale back. On the other hand, if you would be caught out without any proper learning and the tech isn’t in place – this shouldn’t happen," he said. To support its partners and the wider industry with GDPR, the company will provide an open source tool to help players achieve compliance, conceptualise what the user experience will look like, plus how the rules will influence the way advertising is traded. "We want to put that into the hands of our partners to learn and be prepared for any scenario that comes up," Hegge said.
Ad buyers find Amazon client services hard to work with
Ad buyers looking to advertise on Amazon report their frustrations with Amazon's client services teams in increasing numbers. Agency sources have spoken of their experiences "stalking" Amazon for a year before making headway, and even then, one anonymous source has said that Amazon's service is so murkily structured that "you never have a holistic idea of what’s going on”. PMG's digital strategy EVP Price Glomski argues that to retain agency buy-in, Amazon needs to "provide optics to performance on a daily and hourly level", as competitors Google and Facebook continue providing more transparent client services.
2017-12-21 13:48:02.403000
For the past year and a half, Theresa Moore, vp of platform partnerships at Pixability, has been trying to buy video ads on Amazon to no avail. A few months ago, Moore — who said trying to build a relationship with the e-commerce giant has been an “interesting journey” — thought she finally had an in. Amazon’s user-experience team responded to an email she sent, but instead of giving her the direction she needed to buy, it offered her a $100 Amazon card to learn about her experience trying to contact the company. Moore was flabbergasted: “I told them, keep your $100 and give me the contact information of someone at the company who can help me make progress.” She said she didn’t get a contact, but she kept the $100. Moore is one of many ad buyers trying to work with Amazon but finding it difficult to secure an Amazon rep and then start the process of advertising through Amazon’s suite of ad offerings, including its in-house team Amazon Media Group, self-serve marketing suite Amazon Marketing Services and programmatic solution Amazon Advertising Platform. “It’s at a level where you can only develop a relationship with Amazon if you know someone,” said one ad buyer at a large agency who asked for anonymity. Another ad buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said their large agency has begun forming a relationship with Amazon after a year of “stalking,” but only because of a major client’s spend. Digital agency PMG had a similar experience. PMG started reaching out to Amazon about two years ago and didn’t gain traction with the company until a year in, when its client, retailer Cole Haan, expressed interest in spending with Amazon, according to Price Glomski, evp of digital strategy at PMG. That led the agency to acquire eight contacts at Amazon and start building its own internal Amazon practice. In the past year, the agency has spent well into seven figures on the platform, working on campaigns for large clients like Beats By Dre, Glomski said. But even when ad buyers have an Amazon rep and footing within Amazon, they don’t necessarily get the answers they need quickly. The makeup of Amazon’s internal client services teams is murky. None of the five ad buyers Digiday spoke with for this story know how Amazon’s client services teams are structured or how many people each has. There is a general understanding that AMG, AMS and AAP all have their own teams, and one ad buyer, who prefers anonymity, believes Amazon has teams structured around specific brands rather than agencies. Still, this person said, “You never have a holistic idea of what’s going on.” An Amazon spokesperson said the company does not reveal how many people work in each division or how many teams fall under client services. Moore said after months of pestering Amazon, she finally secured her own rep who directs her to other groups within the company that might be able to assist her. But that’s where the help stops. “It’s such a black box,” said Moore. “They’ve been really nice, but the groups at Amazon don’t know who does exactly what I want, which is to run video ads.” Even PMG, with its eight contacts and several Amazon campaigns under its belt, has trouble navigating Amazon’s internal client services teams. “The teams have really focused expertise, so when you ask a question about another ad product or product road map, it tends to get lost in translation, and you have to be directed to another product team,” Glomski said. “Fortunately, the Amazon team we work with is really good, but even they come back to us and say, ‘Sorry, it’s a development in progress.’” Ad buyers said Amazon is following the playbooks of other ad platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, which were slow to make their client services teams available to agencies and ad tech providers while developing ad offerings. Rather, they initially focused on building relationships with large brands. “Amazon definitely gives more interest and more resources to the larger brands,” said one ad buyer. For instance, one brand this person works with has its own assigned Amazon contact. Moore is not surprised that Amazon would take this approach. “At the end of the day, brands are the ones that have the creative and the customers,” she said. “Amazon can get the information they desire straight from the brands without having too many chefs in the kitchen.” “Everything Amazon does is to benefit Amazon,” said another ad buyer. “Everything they’ve built, from their tech stacks to their ad units to their content pages is all to benefit them, so why wouldn’t they go to brands with the big budgets first?” But this might not be the best tactic for Amazon, as ad buyers at agencies and brands with smaller budgets get antsy about spending on the platform. PMG’s smaller clients, for instance, are eager to spend more on Amazon. Glomski said PMG estimates another $20 million to $25 million is on the table for Amazon from the agency’s midsize brands. “You can tell [Amazon] is continuing to grow, so for some of our smaller clients, which are still good brands, they just don’t have as much mind share for them,” said Glomski. “What needs to happen quickly in order for advertisers to not get frustrated with Amazon is for Amazon to start building out their strategic group to help grow and train advertisers that will be in the system.” Amazon has made strides in the past year, like bringing training teams to select agencies and making client service hires. The fact that Amazon’s user-experience team is reaching out to ad buyers like Moore also shows the company is considering ad buyers’ efforts to advertise with the behemoth. “Agency relationships are very important to us,” said Seth Dallaire, vp of worldwide sales and marketing for Amazon Media Group. “We’ve made investments in both agency development and services as our advertising business grows, and this will continue to be the case.” Some agencies are seeing the effects of these investments. “They’ve gotten much better in terms of having contacts you can work through, and they’ve made themselves more available to agencies,” said Kevin Packler, vp and director of Amazon services at independent agency The Tombras Group. But Glomski warned that until the majority of ad agencies and smaller brands feel they are getting the attention they need from Amazon, other platforms with robust client services teams like Google and Facebook will continue to retain more market share. This is especially true, he said, when it comes to transparency and data, another area in which Amazon is known for being a black box. “With Google and Facebook, any CMO can go in and pick apart different aspects of their marketing strategy,” said Glomski. “If Amazon can provide optics to performance on a daily and hourly level, which is what most marketers today need, that will create a sense of trust and willingness to spend $10,000 dollars a day on Amazon.”
Antibiotic use concentrated in small number of UK dairy farms
High antibiotic use is concentrated in a small percentage of UK dairy farms, according to new research. The study, which investigated 358 farms, housing 7% of England’s dairy cows, found that although most farms surveyed used lower levels of antibiotics than UK livestock averages, 25% of farms were using 52% of the drugs. The researchers could not identify the reasons for such concentrated high use, but said that studying such farms could reduce the use of antibiotics in the sector. Use of antibiotics in farming is causing growing concern about antibiotic resistance and resultant threats to human health.
2017-12-21 13:39:17.330000
A small number of the UK’s dairy farms account for an outsized proportion of antibiotic use, according to new research, suggesting that closer scrutiny of antibiotic prescribing practices could help bring down their use. A study published in the BMJ publication Vet Record found some farms were using “extremely high levels” of antibiotics in their cattle. While most of the dairy farms surveyed showed lower than average use compared with the averages for all livestock reared in the UK, some outlying farms with high levels of use stood out. The researchers were unable to pinpoint why this small number of farms should exhibit such high use, but said that identifying these hotspots and the reasons their administration of the drugs is so high could prove a big help in reducing antibiotic use. The use of antibiotics in farming is of increasing concern. On Wednesday, M&S and Waitrose for the first time published data on the use of the medicines in their farming supply chain, showing that both were below the industry average in their usage. Antibiotics are more widely used in farming than in human health, in the UK and around the world, and experts are worried that the over-use of such medicines could be imperilling human health, by encouraging the growth of resistant bacteria. The chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, has repeatedly said that the rapidly increasing resistance to antibiotics and the rise of resistant “superbugs” is one of the greatest threats to human health, which could make even routine operations life-threatening in future. The World Health Organisation called earlier this year for the strongest antibiotics to be banned from use on farms, owing to the likelihood that their use in agriculture would result in them becoming ineffective in human medicine. Data on antibiotic use in farming is hard to find, as the government collates only national level statistics on the tonnage of the medicines used, rather than breaking it down into finer detail that might reveal prescribing practices across sectors and geographically. The new study examined 358 dairy farms over a 12-month period, including more than 81,500 cows in its sample – about 7% of all the dairy cows in England. Most of the drugs used were administered by injection. In the study, the top 25% of farms used just over half – about 52% – of the total antibiotics used across the sample. It is not known why this small number of farms accounted for such high usage. The researchers said their work should provide a benchmark for future studies of antibiotic use. The called for “targeting the reduction of antibiotics among the minority of high users, while maintaining high standards of health, welfare and production [as a] fast and effective first step to reduce [antibiotic use] at farm, practice and national levels.” Lucy Coyne, a veterinarian at the University of Liverpool, said the work was timely and welcome and provided insight into how antibiotic use could be reduced. “Through improved antimicrobial use data and a continuation of a united and proactive approach, there should be confidence in the UK dairy sector achieving the reduction target by 2020.” The government said last month that sales of antibiotics to treat animals in the UK had fallen by 27% in the two years from 2014 to 2016. There was also a drop of 83% in sales of colistin, an antibiotic of last resort that is critical for human health,
LG ventures into AI market with ThinQ
LG Electronics has launched a new brand for its work on artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The South Korean company will market all its future AI products and services under the ThinQ name, incorporating the new logo on products including those which use its other product brands Dios, Tromm and Whisen. LG established an AI laboratory earlier this year, and has been working on building AI home appliances and wireless infrastructure. As well as being compatible with Amazon's Alexa, the technology also makes use of LG's own proprietary system, DeepThinQ.
2017-12-21 13:37:46.943000
[ETNEWS] LG Electronics announced on Dec. 21 the launch of its global artificial intelligence brand ThinQ. The Korean tech firm will use the ThinQ brand for all its future AI products and services. In addition a ThinQ Zone will be set up at the CES 2018, which will be held in January in Las Vegas to promote the brand. ThinQ communicates through Wi-Fi, utilizes an open platform to acquire knowledge and accumulates intelligence through a deep learning technology. The primary goal of the brand is to provide an optimized AI experience for customers’ daily life in consumer electronics products and services. LG plans to build a differentiated AI image centering on consumer electronics. The company will use the ThinQ logo on all its products with AI technology, even on separate product brands such as Dios, Tromm and Whisen. The ThinQ products can be equipped with external AI technology such as Naver’s Clova or Amazon’s Alexa as well as LG’s proprietary AI technology DeepThinQ. For this, the firm initiated three strategies -- open platform, open partnership and open connectivity. LG has made 2017 the first year of “AI home appliance” and has laid the foundation for AI-leading companies. In January, the company released the first AI learning for space learning, and introduced AI appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and robot cleaners. In addition, the company has been focusing on building AI home appliances and service infrastructure by installing wireless internet in all household appliances. In June, the company’s AI Laboratory was established under the CTO division to develop the technology that can recognize, infer and learn from voices, images and sensors. “Global companies have been fiercely boosting their marketing efforts to take the lead in the AI industry. We plan to continue leading the AI market by spreading the concept of human centered AI with our ThinQ brand,” said Han Chang-hee, director of global marketing at LG Electronics. By Alex Lee (alexlee@heraldcorp.com) Powered by The Investor and ET News.
Saatchi & Saatchi, DNA and Mindshare make notable appointments
Michelle Kunken has been appointed executive creative director (ECD) at Saatchi & Saatchi New York, reporting to chief creative officer Javier Campopiano. Fast-growing agency DNA has promoted Chris Witherspoon to president and the newly created position of chief growth officer, while at GroupM's Mindshare, M K Machaiah has been named as chief innovation officer of South Asia.
2017-12-21 12:49:51.507000
This week has seen another wave of appointments and departures at brands, media owners and agencies. The Drum has rounded up the key moves from the EMEA, APAC and North America regions below. Debenhams Debenhams has created three new managing director roles as part of an internal restructure that has seen the business pivot around three units: Beauty and Beauty Services, Fashion and Home, and Food and Events. Two of the new managing director roles will be filled internally. The retailer's marketing director Richard Cristofoli will take up the new role of managing director of beauty, beauty services and marketing, while retail director Ross Clemmow will broaden his role to become managing director for retail, digital, food and events. The last role will be filled by Steven Cook, former chief merchant of Canada’s luxury retailer, Holt Renfrew, who will join Debenhams in January 2018 as managing director of fashion and home. The Guardian The Guardian has appointed John Mulholland, editor of the Observer, as editor of the newspaper's US division. Mulholland has been editor of the Sunday paper since 2008, having joined as deputy editor in 1998. He will take on the top US job for the Guardian in spring 2018 when his replacement at the Observer will also be named. He had been serving in the role on an interim basis since April to cover Lee Glendinning, who was on maternity leave. However, he returned to the UK to reprise his Observer duties during the Autumn. But with this latest shake-up and Mulholland's return to the helm for the Guardian US, Glendinning has become executive editor for membership. Natalie Hanman, who currently holds the role, has become assistant editor for the global publication as a result. Merkle ​Merkle has appointed Julia Crawley-Boevey as head of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for EMEA to help drive its growth strategy for the region. In the role Crawley-Boevey will be responsible for both sourcing the companies best aligned with Merkle’s aims, leading all deal activity and overseeing post-acquisition integration. Prior to joining Merkle, Crawley-Boevey was head of global business strategy and M&A at digital marketing agency iCrossing, where she oversaw the launch of new agency services and identified key investment priorities. She also led a team dedicated to the marketing services sector at Results International, the leading advisor on M&A and fundraising, where she advised Periscopix on its acquisition by Merkle. Bench Bench has appointed Dan Johns, the former chief operating officer of IPG Mediabrands Australia, as a member of the marketing platform’s advisory board to accelerate growth with APAC enterprise clients. Johns will act as a key advisor to Bench, supporting the company’s growth across the APAC region and spearhead the company’s new enterprise division. Kantar Kantar has appointed Katie McClintock as chief executive of its insights division (Kantar TNS and Kantar Millward Brown) in Singapore. Katie will take up the position in January. Katie joins from MasterCard, where she led marketing planning, insight and strategy development in APAC. Prior to this, Katie was regional CEO at Kantar Added Value, part of the consulting arm of the Kantar business. She also held the position of insights director, APAC for PepsiCo. Mindshare Mindshare, a part of GroupM, has announced the appointment of M K Machaiah (Mac), as chief innovation officer of South Asia. In this role, Mac will lead the integrated approach to consumer engagement and strengthen brand propositions across all consumer touchpoints including traditional, social and experiential. FCB Ulka ​FCB Ulka brought on board Shalini Rao to lead strategic planning for the Horlicks portfolio. Shalini comes with close to two and a half decades of marketing experience across FMCG brands, such as (Marico, Gillette, Mars), B2B (Tetra Pak) & Service (Taj Hotels). Partners + Napier Julie DeRoller has been promoted to senior vice president, group director at Rochester-based Partners + Napier. DeRoller has led and built the newly rebranded Vine Creative Studios group over the course of her 13-year career at the agency, most recently as vice president/creative and account director. DeRoller started at Partners + Napier in 2005 as a senior art director working on Constellation Brands. DNA DNA has promoted long-time agency executive Chris Witherspoon to president and chief growth officer, a new position at the agency. The agency also announced that award-winning creative director Scott Fero is being promoted to executive creative director. The moves put in place an extended leadership and management team designed to accelerate the agency’s already fast-paced growth. Odysseus Arms Odysseus Arms has added to its account team, bringing on Gillian McBrayer as an account supervisor on Carlo Rossi, Andre Champagne and Barefoot wines; and Caroline Sinclair as a junior strategist. McBrayer joins from San Francisco shop Venables Bell & Partners, while Sinclair, a native of Sweden, has held various strategic and creative positions at San Francisco firms Blue Truck Inc. and Cross Marketing PR. Saatchi & Saatchi New York Saatchi & Saatchi NY appointed Michelle Kunken as an executive creative director. She will report directly to chief creative officer Javier Campopiano and will work across a variety of clients. Most recently Michelle was an ECD at KBS and oversaw creative development and production on AdCouncil, Boar’s Head, Monster and Vanguard. Want to get your career on the move? Check out The Drum Job page and follow @TheDrumJobs for updates.
Blue Origin steps up rocket tests for space tourism
Privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services firm Blue Origins New Shepard launch system is approximately one year from launching a programme of manned spaceflights. The system has been used for a test flight with the company's Crew Capsule 2.0 to suborbital space. The company will be competing against Boeing and SpaceX, which both plan to launch manned test flights next year.
2017-12-21 12:47:04.923000
We might witness several new space vehicles blast off with a human crew onboard for the first time next year. One of them could be Blue Origin's New Shepard launch system. According to Jeff Ashby, the private space corporation's director of safety and mission assurance, Blue Origin is "about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes." Ashby spoke at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference just a few days after his company successfully sent Crew Capsule 2.0 to suborbital space with "Mannequin Skywalker" on board. The recent test fight carried 12 experiments from paying customers to space and is the first flight for the New Shepard launch system in a year. Blue Origin always intended to use its technology for space tourism, but like its peers it still has to conduct test flights before its spacecraft can start blasting off with paying civilians. Based on Ashby's statetment, though, the company still isn't 100 percent sure of its timeframe, so its manned mission could be delayed. Ashby said: "We're probably a year and a half, two years out from when we're actually able to fly tended payload. We're about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes. We have a bunch more tests to do, and we'e going to fly some human test flights before we put paying people in the rocket." Blue Origin is but one of the private space corporations planning to launch manned flights next year. Boeing and SpaceX, both recipients of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, also intend to conduct their first crewed test flights in 2018. Blue Origin, however, is aiming to conquer suborbital space, while the other two are preparing to ferry NASA astronauts to the ISS.
AI to add $957bn to India's GDP by 2035: Accenture
India's economy is predicted to reach $10tn by 2035, with artificial intelligence expected to make up $975bn of the gross domestic product, according to a report by Accenture. The US company said it had based its results on a study of India's universities and businesses from start-ups to large companies, as well as policymakers and multi-stakeholder partnerships, and said India needed to come up with a "multi-stakeholder action plan".
2017-12-21 12:46:11.710000
Home News Agencies Accenture sees AI adding a whopping $957 bn to GDP by 2035 Accenture sees AI adding a whopping $957 bn to GDP by 2035 Mumbai, Dec 21 (PTI) American tech major Accenture has said artificial intelligence (AI) alone will contribute a whopping USD 957 billion to the gross domestic product by 2035 when the domestic econom Mumbai, Dec 21 (PTI) American tech major Accenture has said artificial intelligence (AI) alone will contribute a whopping USD 957 billion to the gross domestic product by 2035 when the domestic economy is slated to touch the USD 10 trillion-mark by many estimates. “Artificial intelligence could add USD 957 billion to the economy by changing the nature of work to create better outcomes for businesses and the society,” Accenture said in a report today. You may like to read The report said the emerging technological area will add 1.3 per cent to the economy per annum, which will lift up the national income by 15 per cent by 2035. According to Accenture’s baseline projection, India will a USD 6.4 trillion economy by 2035, and AI will add another USD 957 billion to, taking the overall size of the economy to USD 7.355 trillion. “There’s strong early evidence that AI can play a key role in unlocking socioeconomic value here,” its senior managing director and chairman for India Rekha Menon said. The estimate from the global tech major comes even as analysts and business leaders continue to come up with their estimates on the size of the Indian economy in future, to illustrate the important role it will be playing the world. Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council chairman Bibek Debroy today pegged the economy to grow to USD 6.5-7 trillion by 2030, and further grow to up to USD 10 trillion by 2040, from the present USD 2.4 trillion. Earlier, Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani had said the country could be a USD 10 trillion economy by 2030. For its estimate of AI adding USD 957 billion by 2035, Accenture said it has studied the country’s strengths in AI across the pillars of universities, startups,large businesses, policymakers and multi-stakeholder partnerships. However, a comparison with other countries in the G20 grouping suggests “India lags on key indicators of AI development”, it said. It said even though major technical universities in the country have been doing fundamental research in AI, they are not doing enough to strengthen the AI ecosystem around them like their global counterparts like the Cambridge. On startups, it said the size of funding received is substantially smaller than by those in the US and China, reflecting the limited success of the country’s AI startups. Accenture said there is a need for the country to build an AI blueprint, bolster research and development, prepare the next generation, democratise data and embrace “smart regulation”. “What’s needed is a clear, long-term vision, and a multi-stakeholder action plan that balances growth with the ethical questions posed by AI,” Menon said. This is published unedited from the PTI feed. For breaking news and live news updates, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Read more on Latest News on India.com.
JPMorgan Chase encouraging mobile wallet use
From Q1 next year, users of JPMorgan's Chase Freedom wallet will be able to earn rewards when using Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, in a move aimed at increasing adoption of its mobile wallet. The US mobile wallet market underperformed in 2017, and Chase Freedom struggled in particular, with just 6% of shoppers adopting it, despite a $100m investment. However, by taking a leaf out of Samsung's book, whose specific rewards programme led to a huge increase in engagement, JPMorgan hopes to encourage use of the wallet.
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BI Intelligence This story was delivered to BI Intelligence "Payments Briefing" subscribers. To learn more and subscribe, please click here. Chase Freedom cardholders will be able to earn additional rewards by paying with Apple Pay, Android Pay, Chase Pay, and Samsung Pay in Q1 2018. Each quarter, Chase announces rotating categories in which customers can earn up to 5% cashback — the card’s standard is 1% — on up to $1,500 in purchases. Customers can enroll in the benefit through mid-March, though it will apply retroactively to purchases made from January 1. At its surface, the move is a somewhat confusing one for Chase, which is attempting to promote its own struggling mobile wallet. US mobile wallet adoption is paltry across products, stagnating around 25% at best. But Chase Pay, Chase’s proprietary, QR-code based wallet that launched last fall, is doing particularly poorly. Despite a nearly $100 million investment in the wallet, just 6% of shoppers had used the platform in the past year, and the retailer’s network of merchants still remains limited, which is stifling adoption. It seems like it would make sense for Chase to promote Chase Pay at the forefront, which is why the inclusion of other services seems counterintuitive at first glance. But any uptick in wallet usage would likely benefit Chase in the long run. Specific incentives are the key to adoption and engagement. The force of habit is hard to break, and so it’s tough to get customers to give up card payments, which they’re both very accustomed to and satisfied with, without a strong incentive. Specific incentives, which layer rewards directly tied to paying via mobile on top of existing card or retailer programs, could be a game changer — Samsung’s specific rewards program, for example, has led to vast increases in adoption and engagement. Chase’s program, which encourages customers to continue to pay via mobile over the course of three months, could aid in habit formation and build up repeat usage. The force of habit is hard to break, and so it’s tough to get customers to give up card payments, which they’re both very accustomed to and satisfied with, without a strong incentive. Specific incentives, which layer rewards directly tied to paying via mobile on top of existing card or retailer programs, could be a game changer — Samsung’s specific rewards program, for example, has led to vast increases in adoption and engagement. Chase’s program, which encourages customers to continue to pay via mobile over the course of three months, could aid in habit formation and build up repeat usage. And Chase could be the benefactor of those gains. If Chase’s plan works, and mobile wallet usage ticks up among Freedom cardholders, the mobile wallet habits that are formed will be around Chase’s Freedom card, ultimately increasing top-of-wallet status for the card and growing the percentage of spending that consumers do on Freedom versus competitors, according to NerdWallet. That ultimately grows loyalty, as well as volume and revenue. Jaime Toplin, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has written a detailed report on mobile payments that: Sizes the US in-store mobile payments market and examines growth drivers. Analyzes headwinds that have suppressed adoption. Identifies three strategic changes providers can make to improve their results. Evaluates pockets of success in the market. Provides actionable insights that providers can implement to improve results. Interested in getting the full report? Here are two ways to access it:
Glencore faces criminal complaint after Paradise Papers claims
Glencore faces investigation by the Swiss attorney general over whether its acquisition of a copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) involved a failure to prevent illegal practices. Human rights group Public Eye lodged a criminal complaint following information revealed in the Paradise Papers, leaked earlier this year from offshore law firm Appleby. The papers revealed Glencore lent $45m to a company belonging to diamond merchant Dan Gertler after using him to help arrange a joint venture with DRC state-controlled mining group Gécamines, on the proviso the loan was immediately repayable if the contract was not granted.
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A watchdog group has filed a criminal complaint against the Anglo-Swiss commodities giant Glencore following revelations from the Paradise Papers. Human rights campaigners in Switzerland have formally asked the country’s attorney general to investigate how the multinational obtained a copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Under Swiss law, the office of the attorney general will be required to assess and formally respond to the criminal complaint lodged by Public Eye. “With the Paradise Papers, there are now even more elements pointing at embezzlement surrounding the acquisition of mines for the legal authorities to launch an investigation,” the watchdog group said in a statement. “It’s overdue for [Swiss authorities] to rule on the legality of operations, whose dubious nature has been brought to the fore by the press and NGOs for more than five years.” The Paradise Papers, files leaked from the offshore law firm Appleby, revealed how Glencore loaned $45m in pledged shares to an offshore firm of the diamond businessman Dan Gertler after enlisting him to help secure a joint venture agreement with the state-controlled mining entity Gécamines in the DRC. “Glencore shall use its vote at the board of Katanga [Mining Ltd] to have Dan Gertler exclusively mandated to assist Katanga in finalising the terms of the joint venture agreement,” a document in the files stated. However, Glencore made the loan with the caveat that it would be “immediately repayable on demand” within three months if Gertler failed to secure the contract. Glencore has previously said the loan “was made on commercial terms negotiated at arm’s length”. The files also reveal Glencore used Gertler to negotiate with the DRC government. It has since distanced itself from Gertler, who was named in a 2001 UN investigation as having given $20m to the DRC president, Joseph Kabila, to buy weapons in exchange for a monopoly on the country’s diamonds. He is also reported to be the unnamed “DRC partner” identified by the Department of Justice last year in a deferred prosecution agreement with a hedge fund accused of paying bribes to secure access to Congo’s mining interests. Gertler’s lawyers have said that he denies the UN report’s allegations and that he was not a party to the DoJ agreement, which “does not constitute evidence of anything against Mr Gertler”. Explaining its decision to file a complaint, Public Eye said: “The recent revelations in the Paradise Papers have added yet more damning elements to this momentous saga. “In lodging its complaint, Public Eye is asking the office of the attorney general to open legal proceedings, in particular to ascertain whether Glencore has failed, as a company, to prevent illegal practices in upholding its legal duty of care.” Glencore declined to comment.The development comes one month after Glencore’s head of copper was forced to resign from the board of Katanga Mining amid an investigation into accounting practices by the Ontario Securities Commission in Canada. Aristotelis Mistakidis and two other executives stepped down after the review raised questions about the “appropriateness” of some of Katanga’s accounting, according to Bloomberg. It also found that management staff and executives were responsible for “overriding the company’s control processes”. Separately, charities and campaigners have expressed support for the Guardian and the BBC after Appleby commenced legal action against them. “In Transparency International’s experience, investigative journalism of this type is critical in detecting and deterring corruption,” said Robert Barrington, the executive director of Transparency International UK. “The extent of wrongdoing and unethical behaviours exposed by the Guardian, the BBC and the other global media partners of the ICIJ [International Consortium of Investigative Journalists] demonstrate the clear public interest in publishing material from the Paradise Papers.” Rebecca Gowland, Oxfam GB’s head of inequality, said: “Investigations like the Paradise and Panama Papers help lift the lid on the hidden world of tax dodging which costs the poorest countries an estimated $170bn a year in lost revenue. “Protecting those who expose these tax scandals is vital – public scrutiny is helping drive action to fix the broken global tax system and ensure there is more money to fight poverty worldwide.” Christian Aid noted that the Panama Papers had prompted the EU to pass a directive requiring greater corporate transparency. “Leaks such as the Panama and Paradise Papers play a crucial role in … increasing the pressure on politicians and global leaders for further action around the world.” Appleby has claimed it is “obliged” to sue and that there was no public interest in publication. It has only brought action against journalists in the UK.
Leaseholds to be banned on most new build homes in England
UK Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has unveiled a series of measures to tackle unfair practices in the leasehold sector, following an overwhelmingly positive public response to a recent government consultation. Javid said the new rules, covering England only, will include preventing the sale of new build leasehold houses, except in instances of shared ownership. Ground rents on new long leases will be set at zero, and freeholders will have the same rights as leaseholders to challenge service charges they deem unfair.
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Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced new measures to cut out unfair and abusive practices within the leasehold system, including a ban on leaseholds for almost all new build houses. This comes as part of government action to deliver a fairer, more transparent system for homeowners to help fix the broken housing market and build a Britain fit for the future. Changes will also be made so that ground rents on new long leases – for both houses and flats – are set to zero. The government will also make it cheaper and easier for existing leaseholders to buy-out their freehold and there will be better information available about redress for those consumers who face the most onerous terms. These measures follow a recent consultation where there was an overwhelming response in favour of government plans to tackle the unfair practices in the leasehold sector. With 1.4 million leasehold houses across England and the number of leasehold sales rapidly growing, the government is taking crucial action to make the leasehold market fairer. Leasehold generally applies to flats with shared spaces, making multiple ownership more straightforward, but developers have been increasingly selling houses on these terms – adding further costs to over-stretched house buyers. Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid said: It’s unacceptable for home buyers to be exploited through unnecessary leaseholds, unjustifiable charges and onerous ground rent terms. It’s clear from the overwhelming response from the public that real action is needed to end these feudal practices. That’s why the measures this government is now putting in place will help create a system that actually works for consumers. Measures to be introduced include: legislating to prevent the sale of new build leasehold houses except where necessary such as shared ownership making certain that ground rents on new long leases – for both houses and flats – are set at zero working with the Law Commission to support existing leaseholders and make the process of purchasing a freehold or extending a lease much easier, faster and cheaper providing leaseholders with clear support on the various routes to redress available to them a wider internal review of the support and advice to leaseholders to make sure it is fit for purpose in this new legislative and regulatory environment making sure freeholders have equivalent rights to leaseholders to challenge unfair service charges These latest measures follow the government setting out plans in the housing white paper to fix the broken housing market, including making sure councils release more land for housing, building the right homes in the right places and improving affordability and protections for renters and home purchasers. Further information These measures relate to England only. Over 6,000 responses were submitted to the recent government consultation on leasehold practices. The vast majority of responses expressed their concerns about the buying experience and living in a leasehold property. This highlights how the current system is clearly not working in the best interest of those living in or purchasing a leasehold home. The proposed prohibiting of future houses being sold as leasehold will apply to all houses apart from a few exceptional circumstances where leasehold is still needed – such as houses that have shared services or built on land with specific restrictions. We will also be continuing to discuss the case for limited exemptions with industry. The Communities Secretary will be writing to all developers to strongly discourage the use of Help to Buy Equity loans for the purchase of leasehold houses in advance of legislation and to ask those who have customers with onerous ground rent terms to provide necessary redress. Department for Communities and Local Government statistics estimate there were 4.2 million residential leasehold dwellings in England in the private sector in 2015 to 2016 and of these 1.4 million were leasehold houses. This was a rise on the previous year when in 2014 to 2015, there were 1.2 million leasehold houses.
Direct lending managers plan on lowering hurdle rates
Some managers of direct lending funds have been lowering hurdle rates for their products in recent fundraising rounds. The move effectively boosts overall fees, according to consultancy Bfinance. The consultancy added, however, many managers are yet to take the step, which would be unpopular with limited partners in the funds. The consultancy said hurdle rates within the direct lending market have not been too high in recent years, if anything slight too low in some cases. Hurdle rates are the point at which performance and other fees start being applied to funds.
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Many asset managers selling direct lending investment vehicles have made moves to lower hurdle rates in the latest round of fundraising, which would effectively increase their overall fees, according to consultancy bfinance. Niels Bodenheim, London-based senior director of private markets at bfinance, and Dharmy Rai, associate within bfinance’s private markets department, said: “Some are sounding out the idea; some have already tried to market their latest offerings; most have not (yet) succeeded in taking a step that, for [limited partners (LPs)], would be hard to stomach.” Hurdle rates are the point at which lucrative “catch-ups” and performance fees kick in, the firm explained. In a market commenary, Bodenheim and Rai said that, often, the height of a hurdle and the structure that kicks in when it is reached receive less attention than management fee and carry percentages. This may be because the latter are often open to negotiation while the former are set in fund terms and conditions, they said. “Yet the hurdle is, arguably, the most important part of the fee leakage puzzle,” they said. “Indeed, we see examples where managers with lower management fees end up taking home more money purely because they reached the same — net-of-management-fee — hurdles sooner than they otherwise would have done,” said Bodenheim and Rai. The pair said they did not believe direct lending managers’ hurdle rates had been too high in recent years and that in some cases, the threshold had already been a bit too low. “There is still, on average, too much leakage in the net performance figures,” they said, adding that in general the hurdle should be no lower than 2% beneath the fund’s expected return. Although it might be understandable that firms were cutting hurdle rates if expected returns were lower for new funds — in order to keep their business profitable — bfinance said that this did not seem to be the case –– expected returns on funds being raised in 2017 were broadly the same as before, except where strategies were very different. One explanation could stem from the fact that many private debt funds were run by private equity firms, said Bodenheim and Rai. Staff at these companies expected the same compensation that they received for private equity work. But this was hard to justify, bfinance said, since private equity managers could generate significant upside but private debt managers could not. Following noticeable improvement for LPs in management and performance fees for direct lending funds over the last few years, a reduction in hurdle rates could represent a backwards step, Bodenheim and Rai said. “Hopefully the negative reaction among investors, together with rising competition among fund managers, will dissuade firms from following through on such changes,” they said.
GM car owners can order and pay for items while driving
General Motors has launched Marketplace, the first automotive commerce platform that allows customers to make on-demand orders and reservations using their vehicle's dashboard. Drivers will be able to reserve tables for dinner, search for the nearest filling station and order food with Buick, GMC, Cadillac and Chevrolet cars. Drivers will also be able to shop for oil change discounts, GM accessory deals and Wi-Fi data. The feature will be offered over 12 to 18 months to about four million car owners in the US, and is intended to be used while driving. Brand partners include Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.
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GM Lets Customers Order Their Morning Coffee With Their Car A simple tap on the dash can make the daily drive more productive for millions of customers Back DETROIT — Starting today, General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is rolling out the automotive industry’s first commerce platform for on-demand reservations and purchases of goods and services. With Marketplace, drivers can now order and pay for their favorite coffee — and much more — on the way to work with a simple tap on the dash. Marketplace allows customers to order food, find the closest gas station to save on fuel, and make dinner reservations on the go. This means Marketplace gives drivers of eligible Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles the opportunity to more safely interact with a growing number of their favorite brands in retail, fuel, hospitality, food, hotel and transportation through the in-vehicle touchscreen. Marketplace also features a “Shop” section dedicated to offers specific to GM vehicles, for instance purchasing Wi-Fi data, discounts for an oil change or deals on GM accessories. Simple on-screen notifications can identify relevant offers. “The average American spends 46 minutes per day on the road driving[1]. Leveraging connectivity and our unique data capabilities, we have an opportunity to make every trip more productive and give our customers time back,” said Santiago Chamorro, vice president for Global Connected Customer Experience, GM. “Marketplace is the first of a suite of new personalization features that we will roll out over the next 12 to 18 months to nearly four million U.S. drivers.” Leveraging the embedded 4G LTE connectivity, GM is adding Marketplace to millions of existing 2017 and 2018 model-year cars, trucks and crossovers that have compatible infotainment systems, with continued rollout to compatible new vehicles. A separate data plan is not required to use Marketplace. “For most retailers and consumer brands the daily commute is the only time not accessible in a consumers’ day,” said Chamorro. “Marketplace gives merchants the ability to more safely engage with drivers and passengers in a meaningful way that provides true value for our customers.” Marketplace is designed to be used while driving. It leverages machine learning from real-time interaction data, such as location, time of day and a driver’s established digital relationship with third-party merchants, to offer highly personalized experiences. Adhering to industry distracted driving guidelines, as well as GM’s strict in-house safety guiding principles, GM designs its in-vehicle systems to minimize manual interactions, helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. The first brands accessible through Marketplace include: GM lets customers buy 4G LTE Data packages, extend their OnStar subscription or receive offers for certified service, parts and accessories for their specific vehicle. lets customers buy 4G LTE Data packages, extend their OnStar subscription or receive offers for certified service, parts and accessories for their specific vehicle. Starbucks offers another convenient way for customers to order ahead and enjoy their favorite handcrafted beverage or food item. And as part of the Starbucks Rewards™ program, members enjoy more value by earning Rewards towards free food and drink. (Early 2018) offers another convenient way for customers to order ahead and enjoy their favorite handcrafted beverage or food item. And as part of the Starbucks Rewards™ program, members enjoy more value by earning Rewards towards free food and drink. (Early 2018) Dunkin’ Donuts will help customers start their day off right through an experience that allows DD Perks members to preorder and pay onscreen for their favorite coffee and donut, at their preferred pickup location. will help customers start their day off right through an experience that allows DD Perks members to preorder and pay onscreen for their favorite coffee and donut, at their preferred pickup location. Wingstop will allow you to skip the wait by re-ordering your favorites and paying ahead, so you can get home in time for the big game will allow you to skip the wait by re-ordering your favorites and paying ahead, so you can get home in time for the big game TGI Fridays will let customers schedule a table reservation for them and their closest friends and family when they need a break from the week. will let customers schedule a table reservation for them and their closest friends and family when they need a break from the week. Shell will enable the exceptional driver experience, providing ease of payment and savings with INSTANT GOLD STATUS in the Fuel Rewards® program. Customers’ closest Shell station will be identified and station amenities showcased among the largest fuel station network in the U.S., with the ability to pay in-dash coming soon. will enable the exceptional driver experience, providing ease of payment and savings with INSTANT GOLD STATUS in the Fuel Rewards® program. Customers’ closest Shell station will be identified and station amenities showcased among the largest fuel station network in the U.S., with the ability to pay in-dash coming soon. ExxonMobil will quickly locate Exxon and Mobil fuel stations with details of what they offer, route you there and get you back on the road faster. will quickly locate Exxon and Mobil fuel stations with details of what they offer, route you there and get you back on the road faster. Priceline.com gives drivers access to hundreds of thousands of hotels and exclusive hotel savings on the go. gives drivers access to hundreds of thousands of hotels and exclusive hotel savings on the go. Parkopedia allows drivers to find, reserve and pay for parking, all at the click of a button. allows drivers to find, reserve and pay for parking, all at the click of a button. Applebee’s ensures customers are never too far from Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood whether close to home or miles away with the ability to locate their nearest restaurant, order featured menu items and reorder recent favorites through the convenience of their vehicle’s touchscreen. ensures customers are never too far from Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood whether close to home or miles away with the ability to locate their nearest restaurant, order featured menu items and reorder recent favorites through the convenience of their vehicle’s touchscreen. IHOP makes it easy for guests to enjoy hot, fresh all-day breakfast favorites like fluffy buttermilk pancakes on the go, thanks to safe and secure on-dash ordering and location service capabilities that help search and find the nearest restaurant for pickup. makes it easy for guests to enjoy hot, fresh all-day breakfast favorites like fluffy buttermilk pancakes on the go, thanks to safe and secure on-dash ordering and location service capabilities that help search and find the nearest restaurant for pickup. delivery.com empowers the neighborhood economy by enabling customers to order online from their favorite local restaurants, wine and spirits shops, grocery stores and laundry and dry-cleaning providers. To allow merchants to efficiently and quickly integrate their content as part of the in-vehicle Marketplace ecosystem, General Motors is working with three main platform partners: Xevo (www.xevo.com) in Seattle, Washington; Conversable (www.conversable.com) in Austin, Texas; and Sionic Mobile (www.sionicmobile.com) in Atlanta, Georgia. Merchants interested in Marketplace can contact the above platform partners or email GM at Marketplace@onstar.com. General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM, its subsidiaries and joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Jiefang, and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com # # # [1] Source: AAA, 2016
Digital 3D printing company Carbon raises $200m in first round
3D digital printing company Carbon has closed a $200m series D funding round, led by Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Sequoia Capital, Hydra Ventures and GE Ventures. Carbon offers the manufacturing industry hardware, software and "molecular science" support. The company is most famous for its 3D-printed show sole for Adidas' Futurecraft 4D shoes; Adidas has invested in the company through its venture capital arm, Hydra Ventures. Carbon had previously raised approximately $220m in funding, with the new capital due to be used for scaling its tech for manufacturing.
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Missed the GamesBeat Summit excitement? Don't worry! Tune in now to catch all of the live and virtual sessions here. Carbon, a digital 3D printing company for manufacturing industries, has announced the first closing in a $200 million series D round of funding from Baillie Gifford, Sequoia Capital, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Adidas VC arm Hydra Ventures, and GE Ventures, among other investors. Founded out of Redwood City, California in 2013, Carbon describes itself as working at the “intersection of hardware, software, and molecular science” to bring digital 3D printing to manufacturing. The company hit the headlines in April this year when Adidas announced its Futurecraft 4D shoe, which sports a 3D-printed sole courtesy of Carbon’s technology, and which Adidas plans to mass produce next year. Carbon said its 3D printing alternative meshes light and oxygen to quickly produce products from a pool of resin. The speed 3D printing technique enables manufacturers to offer mass customization and on-demand inventory that has been difficult to deliver with existing manufacturing methods. Prior to now, Carbon had raised around $220 million in funding from such companies as BMW, Nikon, and GV (Google Ventures), and with its latest cash injection the company plans to scale its technology across manufacturing. “The age of digital 3D manufacturing is here, and this funding validates our vision to fundamentally change how the world designs, engineers, makes, and delivers products,” said Carbon CEO and cofounder Dr. Joseph DeSimone. “Since Carbon first introduced digital light synthesis, we have continuously pushed the boundaries and transformed industries, and [we] are uniquely positioned to take digital manufacturing to an entirely new level. This funding will help us realize new classes of workers and business models, where product design and engineering is facilitated by cloud-based computing and a wide range of scanning, sensor, and simulation technologies that enable the creation of perfectly tuned — even personalized — products that have been previously impossible to produce.” Though 3D printing has held promise for many years, it has yet to take hold in the manufacturing sphere at scale. But it still remains a hot industry for investment. Last month, Markforged raised $30 million to simplify the manufacturing process for 3D printing, while Desktop Metal nabbed $115 million earlier this year to make metal 3D printing more accessible. Elsewhere, HP and Deloitte recently partnered to bring more 3D printing services to manufacturers. With another $200 million incoming, Carbon should play a big role in advancing the 3D manufacturing movement. “Through a combination of faster production times, lower costs, and a wider range of materials, Carbon is delivering on the long-standing but elusive promise of 3D manufacturing at scale,” added Peter Singlehurst, investment manager at Baillie Gifford.
NASA sets 2069 date to reach neighbouring solar system
NASA has aims to send a space shuttle to adjacent star system Alpha Centauri by the year 2069, on the 100th anniversary of the moon landing. The star system, 24.9 trillion miles away from Earth, will be searched for signs of life, inspired by the discovery of an Earth-type planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri last year. "Proxima" has mild enough temperatures to sustain liquid surface water, which could indicate the ability to sustain life. Any travel would have to be completed at a minimum speed of 30 million metres per second, or 10% of the speed of light.
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N ASA has announced plans for an interstellar mission to search for life outside our solar system. The US space agency hopes to send a spacecraft to neighbouring star system Alpha Centauri by 2069, which is the 100th anniversary of the first moon landing. The star system is 24.9 trillion miles away from Earth. It consists of three stars: Centauri A, Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri. It has been the subject of great scientific interest since an Earth-like planet was discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri in 2016. The planet, known as Proxima, resides in a "habitable zone" where temperatures are mild enough for liquid surface water. Astronomers believe there are "almost certainly" other small Earth-like planets capable of harbouring alien life in the star system. To visit Alpha Centauri a spacecraft would need to travel at a minimum of 10 per cent of the speed of light - nearly 30 million metres per second. Even if this could be achieved, the journey would take 44 years. This would mean the spacecraft would not reach the star system until the year 2113. NASA is said to be exploring different options in its approach to the mission, including sending tiny probes powered by lasers. Scientists believe they may be able to reach a quarter of the speed of light. Other techniques under consideration include harnessing nuclear reactions, or collisions between matter and antimatter, New Scientist magazine reported.
Bing should not be overlooked by advertisers: opinion
Digital marketers should consider Bing as an alternative to Google, given it is the second largest search engine and reaches one in three people undertaking searches, according to Paul Korber, Marin Software's head of customer success in the Asia-Pacific region. Bing Ads can be synchronised with Google AdWords and can import campaigns directly from it. Bing receives 6.2 billion searches a month, offering advertisers the chance to target a wider audience by combining their advertising with Google. Around 72% of businesses plan to increase their investments with Google next year and 36% plan to do the same with Bing.
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With Christmas bells ringing, there are compelling reasons why digital marketers should turn their heads to search engines outside of Google, writes Paul Korber (pictured below), regional vice president of customer success for the Asia Pacific at Marin Software. We know that once a brand becomes a verb, it’s well and truly in the lead of its competitors. So, it’s no surprise that Google’s dominance in the search marketplace has been firmly held and that advertisers often neglect other search engines in their digital advertising efforts. While Google’s influence still remains comfortably unchallenged, there are compelling reasons that digital marketers should be advertising on other search engines as well. As an advertising channel, search can be one of the best ways to reach consumers when they’re in the process of actively researching a product. Whether it’s quickly searching for the location of a restaurant, or beginning the research process for a high-consideration purchase like a new car, search is the channel that most businesses need to invest in if they want to be top of mind during the online customer journey. Paired with retargeting, search advertising technologies have become more advanced and complex over the last decade, and many organisations are still learning how to make full use of the capabilities of paid search advertising. This, combined with a limited search advertising budget, can be a major constraint for advertisers despite clear evidence that the investment is worth it. It’s unsurprising that Google is still king in paid search investment, with the search engine giant accounting for 81 per cent of desktop searches and 96 per cent of mobile searches. However, Bing is emerging as a player worth considering. Organisations investing in Google are allocating an average of 83 per cent of their spend to the search company, while those investing in Bing are allocating 20 per cent of their total paid search spend. On average, 72 per cent of organisations are planning to increase their investment in Google over the next 12 months, while 36 per cent plan to do the same on Bing. Bing is the second largest search engine after Google. According to comScore, Bing receives 6.2 billion searches a month. What’s more, people searching on Bing and Yahoo sites see advertisements that are powered by Bing Ads. According to those stats, that means you can reach one in three people who are searching for information, products and services. By no means am I suggesting you should stop search advertising on Google, just that Bing is hardly deserving of being overlooked by advertisers. In the words of Old El Paso, “Why don’t we have both?” Advertisers are more likely to get the best return on investment by implementing search advertising across multiple search engines, with statistics showing Google and Bing reach the most consumers. A study by Marin Software found that replicating ad campaigns across search providers is advertisers’ biggest challenge around delivering ROI from paid search. This confirms a major opportunity for advertisers wanting to dominate as much advertising space as possible. Most good things don’t come without their challenges. In the same report, a ‘lack of funding’ and ‘lack of support for investing in paid search’ was cited as organisations’ greatest challenge when wanting to duplicate search ad campaigns across search providers. This is a challenge that could imminently lead to their fall from the top in the paid search market, literally. To address this hurdle, one of the most important features Bing Ads has implemented in recent years is the ability to import existing campaigns directly from Google AdWords. This makes the platform’s adoption by new and returning advertisers a painless process. To make cross-publisher management even easier, Bing Ads now offers automated imports to enable advertisers to synchronise their Google campaigns with their Bing counterparts on a recurring basis. If you’re not already advertising on Bing, chances are your competitors aren’t, either. The relatively low competition on Bing offers the opportunity for advertisers to accrue incremental traffic with the same level of search intent as your Google campaigns. And, the ability to cross-publish ad campaigns via emerging software means that you don’t have to sacrifice your search-ads on Google – or your budget– to do so. Another benefit of replicating paid search campaigns across both Bing and Google is that Bing doesn’t force close variants on you. Whilst Google effectively killed off exact and phrase match keywords as we used to know them by forcing a “close variant” matching target onto all AdWords accounts, Bing’s option to include close variant queries as matches, remains just that– an option. Replicating search ad campaigns across both Google and Bing offers advertisers the best of both worlds. You would be crazy to believe that investing in paid search advertising on Google isn’t worthwhile – just take one look at its monopoly. You could also be making a big mistake by overlooking the benefits of replicating these search campaigns across Bing. Bing increasingly accounts for a huge amount of search traffic, as well as offering a far less cluttered market and open variant queries. Most importantly, replicating search ad campaigns across both Google and Bing will give you an unfair share of search advertising real estate, and who doesn’t want a slice of that?
Mars' porous rocks may be where its missing water is hiding
Results from scientific modelling carried out by Oxford University have shown that a significant proportion of Mars' water resources could be locked within rock structures. "The results revealed that the basalt rocks on Mars can hold approximately 25% more water than those on Earth, and as a result drew the water from the Martian surface into its interior", said the scientists. Releasing the water now would require melting the rock, as "It is not liquid anymore but physically bound in the mineral", according to the study's co-author John Wade.
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Paris (AFP) – Advertising Read more What happened to all the water that once sloshed in lakes and oceans on Mars? Much of it, researchers proposed Wednesday, may be locked up in stone. Previous studies had concluded that the water was swept into space by powerful solar winds when the planet's magnetic field collapsed, while some was captured in sub-surface ice. But this did not account for all the missing water. To try to track down the rest, an international team of researchers put scientific modelling to the test. "The results revealed that the basalt rocks on Mars can hold approximately 25 percent more water than those on Earth, and as a result drew the water from the Martian surface into its interior," said a statement from Oxford University, where scientists took part in the study. As on Earth, chemical weathering and hydrothermal reactions can change minerals in rock from dry to water-bearing, study co-author Jon Wade of Oxford told AFP. But Martian rock, because of a different composition, is much better at doing so. Such rocks would have reacted with the surface water on Mars, locking some of it up in their mineral structure, Wade said in an email. "It is not liquid anymore but physically bound in the mineral," he said -- which means the only way to release the water would be to melt the rock. On an infant Earth, water-bearing rocks formed in a similar way would have floated on the planet's super-hot surface until they melted, releasing water back to the surface as they did. But on Mars, not all the rock would have melted and some of the water would have remained trapped in rock that sank straight to the mantle. "In essence, Mars was doomed by its geochemistry!" Wade said. Liquid water is a prerequisite for life as we know it. And although it is dry and dusty today, the Earth's neighbour is thought to have been a wet planet once. In 2015, NASA said almost half of Mars's northern hemisphere had once been an ocean, reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres (one mile). Later that year, a study announced the discovery of "water" remaining on the fourth rock from the Sun, in the form of super-salty brine streaks running down steep slopes. The latest findings were published in the journal Nature. © 2017 AFP
3.5 billion-year-old fossil indicates alien lifeforms on earth
Evidence that life existed on Earth much earlier than previously thought could indicate a greater likelihood of life on other planets. Scientists from the Universities of California and Wisconsin have published research claiming that microscopic fossils found in Western Australia show evidence of life 3.5 billion years ago. These include organisms which use methane to exist, and others which can live in environments with light but no oxygen. The ability for life to develop in such inhospitable conditions makes it more likely life could be found on Mars or other planets, they say.
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The surface of planet Earth 3.5 billion years ago was probably quite unpleasant, to put it mildly. There were frequent volcanic eruptions, almost no oxygen and higher chances than today of getting bombarded by large asteroids. Yet somehow a diverse group of life forms was already alive and kicking here, despite such seemingly inhospitable conditions, leading some scientists to presume that the same thing almost surely has happened on other planets as well. Enlarge Image An example of one of the microfossils discovered in an ancient rock. J. William Schopf New research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports microscopic fossils in a 3.5-billion-year-old piece of rock from Western Australia are the oldest such fossils found -- and also the earliest direct evidence of life on our planet. That makes for an intriguing enough headline, but the new research digs deeper into the nature of the tiny organisms and finds that they weren't all identical: some were primitive photosynthesizers, while others were producers and users of methane. "This tells us life had to have begun substantially earlier and it confirms that it was not difficult for primitive life to form," said lead author and UCLA paleobiology professor J. William Schopf, in a statement about the research, adding that scientists can't yet be sure how much earlier life may have actually begun on Earth. "But, if the conditions are right, it looks like life in the universe should be widespread." The organisms in the fossils would likely be poisoned by Earth's oxygen-rich atmosphere today, but they show life might tend to find a way to emerge in environments that would seem to us to be unlivable. Primitive photosynthesizers like those found in the ancient fossils are thought to live where there is light but no oxygen, which describes the surface of Mars, among other places. The discovery that the earliest life forms here also included methane users is intriguing in light of the fact that Saturn's moon Titan may be covered with large seas of liquid methane. The time period at which the microorganisms lived, some 3.5 billion years ago, is also interesting because it comes only a few hundred million years after the period known as the late heavy bombardment, when Earth is thought to have been pelted with large asteroids and other pieces of space debris hanging around the inner solar system. In other words, the living conditions here were not great at the time and yet a diverse roster of organisms still popped up in a relatively short period of time, geologically speaking. The next obvious question is that, if simple life forms can emerge this easily, shouldn't it also increase the odds that intelligent life forms have also evolved elsewhere? Schopf says the answer to that question is less certain but still promising. "[This study] confirms it is not difficult for primitive life to form and to evolve into more advanced microorganisms," he explains. You heard it here first, kids: The career of the future might just be in Martian paleontology, digging up ancient fossils on the red planet -- perhaps on the outskirts of Elon Musk's colony. Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech." Life, Disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it?
Canadian Uber drivers to pay less for insurance than taxi drivers
Uber drivers in Manitoba are set to pay significantly less for their insurance coverage than taxi drivers in the central Canadian province. According to proposals from Manitoba Public Insurance, Uber contractors can expect rates that are roughly a quarter of those paid by taxi drivers, who pay about CAD10,000 a year ($7,795) for insurance coverage. Taxi drivers who opt to work within an allocated time window will also pay lower rates under the proposal. 
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Uber drivers will pay a quarter of what taxi drivers do for insurance, according to rates proposed by Manitoba Public Insurance. MPI has set proposed rates for ride sharing drivers, who work for companies like Uber and Lyft, at about $2,500 annually for drivers operating at all times of the day, every day of the week. “They’re insured just like a normal driver, except if they want to do ride-sharing services, then they pay a premium over top of what they normally pay,” said Ward Keith, vice-president of business development and communications for MPI, adding that the additional premium is 20 per cent. Keith said taxicab drivers pay around $10,000 per year. Under the new rate scheme, taxi drivers who choose to only work in select time categories will be eligible to pay less than the full cost, as will ride-sharing drivers. Keith says rates for ride-sharing drivers could change in the future, because MPI will track the claims experience of those drivers in a separate pool from other drivers. “The objective here is to make sure that regular drivers are not subsidizing the insurance rates for ride-share operators, just like they’re not subsidizing the rates for taxi operators today,” said Keith. The proposed rates are subject to approval by the Public Utilities Board. If approved, they will come into effect March 1, 2018.
Insurtech Lemonade approved to operate in Arkansas
New York-based insurtech Lemonade has been granted permission to operate in Arkansas. The firm has been green-lighted to sell property, casualty and marine coverage in the state. Lemonade will initially be restricted to offering renters insurance in this market. 
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Insurtech company, Lemonade, has received a Certificate of Authority to do business in Arkansas. Lemonade Insurance Co. has been approved to sell property, casualty and marine products in Arkansas with an initial limit to renters insurance. A New York-domiciled property/casualty insurance company offering renters and home insurance policies, Lemonade was created in 2016 and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lemonade Inc., a Delaware corporation. Lemonade offers renters insurance through a mobile application. In a statement Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr said “Lemonade is a company focused on using technology, artificial intelligence, and bots to innovate the insurance industry while promoting nonprofit giving through its annual ‘Giveback’ program of underwriting profits. I am proud to welcome Lemonade to the renters’ market in Arkansas.” Lemonade is also a Certified B-Corp, where underwriting profits are contributed to nonprofits. The company receives a flat 20 percent fee, treating premiums as belonging to the policyholders. Lemonade returns “unclaimed money” during its annual Giveback. Giveback is a feature of Lemonade in which undistributed profits each year are donated to causes that customers elect. Lemonade is currently writing business in five other states and seeking to expand operations. Kerr has granted authority to 28 new companies so far in 2017. Since becoming commissioner in 2015, Kerr has welcomed 63 new companies to Arkansas. Source: Arkansas Insurance Department Topics Oklahoma Arkansas
Indigo Ag, Maihoulang top 2017 agriculture tech finding deals
Last year saw some of the biggest funding deals in agtech, with Indigo Agriculture's record-breaking $203m Series D topping a list compiled by agfundernews.com. In second place was a $200m investment for vertical farmer Plenty, followed by Chinese outfit Maihoulang's Series A injection of $150m and Uptake's $117m Series D. Farmers Business Network received $110m in a Series D round, followed by the $100m collaboration between Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks. Produce Pay secured $70m in Series A funds and debt, 3D Robotics raised $53m, and Protix Biosystems and Orbital Insight both garnered $50m.
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It was an exciting year in farm technology involving a few high profile venture capital exits and some of the largest deals on record. In fact, funding records for this category and the subcategories within were broken more than once during the course of the year. Read about how we define Farm Technology here and then check out the largest funding rounds of 2017. 1. Indigo Agriculture – $203 million – Series D Just this month Indigo Agriculture, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup, closed its Series D funding round on $203 million, the largest fundraising effort by a farm tech company on record. Indigo’s product portfolio includes microbial seed coatings for corn, soy, wheat, and cotton. These coatings help crops to withstand environmental stressors such as drought, high temperatures, salty soils or low nitrogen and bolster resistance to disease and pests. The company also claims its products produce higher quality crops, such as increasing the protein content of wheat. Indigo does not sell its microbial coated seed product to farmers like most ag input suppliers; instead, the company enters into contracts with farmers, providing them with the seed at the start of the season and then purchasing their harvest for a guaranteed, premium price. Investors: Investment Corporation of Dubai, Flagship Pioneering, Alaska Permanent Fund, Baillie Gifford, Activant Capital. Read more about Indigo’s record-breaking round and innovative business model here. 2. Plenty – $200 million – Series A Indoor vertical farming company Plenty raised $200 million in a Series B round of funding announced in July (at the time the largest farm tech investment though the record did not last the year.) Plenty uses a vertical growing plane to grow leafy greens in a 52,000 square foot South San Francisco facility. The Series B — which brought total funding for the startup to $226 million — is being out to use on new farms and new hires. In November, the company announced its next farm will be in Kent, WA. The 100,000 sq. ft. indoor vertical farm will open in mid-2018 and will represent Plenty’s first “full-scale” farm. The company is also looking to employ roughly 50 new employees. Fellow vertical farming entrepreneur AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg said at the time: “This is a monster raise, and ultimately competition can be good for the industry to drive further advancement.” Investors: SoftBank Vision Fund, Affiliates of Louis M. Bacon, the founder of Moore Capital Management, Innovation Endeavors, Bezos Expeditions, DCM, Data Collective, and Finistere Ventures. Read more about Plenty’s Series A round here. And listen to our recent in-depth interview with Plenty CEO Matt Barnard here. 3. Maihuolang – $150 million – Series A In what seemed like an outlier for agribusiness marketplaces at the time, China’s Maihoulang raised a $150 million Series A in March of 2017. In light of Farmers Business Network’s most recent round (up next on this list), it is slightly less remarkable now that the year is coming to a close. Maihoulang launched 51mhl.com in 2014, as a marketplace for farm supplies, specialty foods, electric motorbikes, and household appliances covering 23 provinces in China with 218 county offices and 28,500 village services stations, according to Deal Street Asia. Competition is coming from a partnership between Alibaba Group Holding and China’s National Development and Reform Commission, which are starting hundreds of pilot programmes in rural villages and towns in three years. Investors: Shenzhen New Industry Venture Capital, Weiji Investment, and Qianhai Great Wall Fund. Farmers Business Network (FBN), a farmer-to-farmer digital network offering data insights, input procurement, and crop marketing services, raised $110 million in Series D funding in November. “We’ve built a phenomenally high-growth business with membership doubling year-on-year to nearly 5,000 farms around the US across 16 million acres, taking on another million acres each month,” Charles Baron, cofounder and VP of product, told AgFunderNews. The company has grown in other ways too: its input procurement business has expanded from selling 170 products initially to over 1,200, it launched a crop marketing business earlier this year, it is expanding into Canada, and its team is now 200-strong, with plans to increase by another 100 in the next 12-18 months. Investors: T. Rowe Price, Temasek, Acre Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, GV (Google Ventures) and DBL Partners. Read more about Farmers Business Network’s Series D round, IPO plans, and the reactions from ag strategics here. 5. Uptake – $117 million – Series D Uptake, a data analytics startup that uses sensor data to optimize machinery including farming equipment, raised a $117 million Series D round announced this month. This brings Uptake’s total fundraising to $264 million, $130 million of which was raised in two rounds earlier this year, and it is now valued at $2.3 billion. Uptake is cash flow positive, according to TechCrunch, but said in a statement that the new funds will allow it to speed up its growth. The company was founded by two cofounders of flash deal site Groupon on the idea that most commercial equipment comes outfitted with some sensors, but little use has been made of the data they produce. Using these sensors, plus additional sensors from outside partners in some cases, Uptake tracks the performance and usage of combines, carts, trucks, and semis, to name a few, in order to gauge optimal use and also machine performance. The software is able to make recommendations to optimize machinery expenses by minimizing downtime among other things. Investors: Baillie Gifford, GreatPoint Ventures, and Revolution Growth. Read more about Uptake’s Series D round here. 6. Unnamed Bayer + Ginkgo Bioworks Ag Biotech Company – $100 million German agribusiness Bayer CropScience and Ginkgo Bioworks, a startup genetically engineering microbes for the flavor, fragrance, and food industries, have partnered with hedge fund Viking Global Investors to invest $100 million in a new, as yet unnamed agtech startup, announced in September. The new company will focus on manufacturing microbial products to help with nitrogen fixation and minimizing agriculture’s environmental impact by decreasing the amount of chemical fertilizers farmers apply to crops. The new company will be co-located at Bayer’s biologicals R&D facility in West Sacramento, which was created through the 2012 acquisition of AgraQuest, and at Ginkgo’s Boston facility. AgFunderNews sources say that this mysterious venture will be getting a name and a CEO early in the year. Read more about the joint venture here. 7. Produce Pay – $70 million – Series A + Debt Produce Pay, an online platform that connects farmers directly with distributors and pays them for their produce the day after it’s shipped through a lending platform. CoVenture, a software-focused VC from New York City, arranged a $70 million debt facility for the startup alongside leading its $7 million Series A. Farmers are often left waiting for produce to sell before they’re paid, leaving them in a risky financial position post-harvest. Produce Pay is also launching a trading platform to connect vetted growers and distributors all over the world. Produce pay is part of a growing group of agtech startups branching out into fintech to mitigate some of the financial challenges on farms today. Investors: CoVenture, Menlo Ventures, Arena Ventures, Red Bear Angels and Social Leverage. Read more about agtech startups venturing into the world of fintech here. 8. 3D Robotics – $53 million – Series D Back in April, drone startup 3D Robotics (3DR) raised a $53 million Series D round, which included the conversion of some existing debt to equity, though it did not release details. According to Tech Crunch, 3DR has faced a cavalcade of competition in recent years from the likes of dominant Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, management software platform Drone Deploy, and more. 3DR stopped selling consumer drones in 2015 and transitioned to selling software product Site Scan as a service. Site Scan helps users manage flight plans, drone cameras and data transfer to the cloud. Though the company has historically included agriculture as an industry of focus, the company’s website does not currently list it as such. We have reached out to 3DR to find out more. Investors: Atlantic Bridge, Autodesk Forge Fund, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Mayfield and other undisclosed investors. Read more about current trends in drones for agriculture here. 9. Protix Biosystems – $50 million Protix, a Netherlands-based company, raised €45 million ($50.5 million) in equity and debt funding to expand its insect farming business in June. This is the largest investment in the nascent insect farming industry to-date, according to Protix and its investors. Protix farms insects predominantly for animal and aquaculture feed, with feed products in over 12 countries, ranging from pig and poultry to pet food specialties. Insects are increasingly seen as a viable and low-impact protein alternative, because they can be reared on waste and are much more resource efficient versus other sources of protein and feed such as soy, corn, forage fish and meat. The company acquired Fair Insects, a consortium of breeders growing mealworm, crickets, and locusts. According to Protix, the acquisition will allow the company to serve a wider spectrum of customers from B2B to food markets with protein-rich foods, meal replacements, and health beverages in September. Investors: Rabobank, Aqua-Spark, Brabant Development Agency (BOM) and other private investors. Read more about Protix’s record-breaking insect farming round here. 10. Orbital Insight – $50 million – Series C Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics startup, that generates macro-level analytics for businesses using satellite imagery and other data raised a $50 million Series C round in March. The company addresses multiple industries, including financial services (i.e. hedge funds), commodities, and agriculture. One of the offerings is tracking of macro-level production flows. AgFunderNews has reason to believe that a new suite of products for agriculture is on the way in 2018. Investors: Sequoia, Envision Ventures, Balyasny Asset Management, Geodesic Capital, ITOCHU Corporation and Intellectus Partners. Read more about the entire remote sensing landscape for agriculture here. Tweet at @AgFunder to tell us how many you guessed!
The Social Security cost-of-living increase is a cruel fraud
Social Security was initiated in 1935, being signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to offer Americans an income after their retirement. However, this program has been greatly reduced. Despite a minor increase in Social Security payment due to launch in January 2018, the subsequent increases in Medicare Part B and Part D insurance premiums will offset this rise, leading to a 2 percent cost of living increase for many Social Security recipients. Medicare premiums are deducted from Social Security payments, meaning that an increase for both services negates any positive effect. The increase may cause difficulties for retirees, and cause resentment following around 45 years of payments into the service. The proposed tax reform, however, may only exacerbate the situation, as Congress considers making cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in 2018. With rising rents and food prices, these cuts may significantly worsen living situations. Medicare Part A deductibles are already due to increase in 2018, and Medicare Part B deductibles have already risen steadily year on year. The  Federal Reserve has also just increased interest rates, leading to higher costs on car loans, mortgages and bank loans. The tax cut proposal will likely only benefit the rich or corporations, and will increase the national debt, with the plan being to finance the move with cuts to “entitlements”, or those programs that aid the poor.
2017-12-20 18:17:31.277000
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the great Social Security program. It was designed to give workers an income after retirement. Today, it’s not so great. The tiny Social Security increase that will be bestowed on retirees and the elderly in January is a cruel fraud perpetrated by the government. That’s because increases in Medicare Part B and Part D insurance premiums will negate all of the Social Security 2% cost of living increase for many recipients. Instead of staying even, we’ll fall behind. I just got my annual benefits letter from Social Security. It says I will get $24 a month more next year. However, after the Medicare premium increases, my new Social Security check will be $3.40 a month less than the one I currently get. (The government deducts Medicare premiums from Social Security checks.) Advertisement In my case, the Medicare Part B insurance premium, for doctor visits, will go from $109 a month to $133 a month, eating the entire $24 cost of living increase. And my Part D prescription drug Medicare premium will increase to $20.40 a month from $17. For retirees on a fixed, low income, every dollar counts. We can’t afford to have less money — even $3.40 a month — coming in from a government program we paid into for 45 years or so. All politicians have at least one foot in hell already, but Republicans are in with both feet. Congress needs to reset the 2018 Medicare premiums and Social Security payments so people don’t net less in 2018. Along the way, the politicians should also make up for all the negligible increases we’ve gotten over the last decade or so that didn’t come close to matching real cost of living increases. But instead of doing the right thing, the denizens of Washington are talking about taking an ax to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid next year. I paid into the system for decades from my wages, and I don’t want these programs cut. My dwindling Social Security income is only half the problem, of course. My rent will go up on Jan. 1 by $27 a month. Food prices are rising. Campbell’s soup, for example, just went up at my Wal-Mart. (I suspect they do this every year to offset the sales they have at Christmas on toys.) Grocery stores are raising prices too. The other day, I bought a box of frozen fish fillets at Stater Bros. for $5.49. Last month the same store had them for $4.99. Beyond Medicare premiums, the costs in other parts of that safety net keep rising as well. The Medicare Part B annual deductible — what I have to pay before Medicare ponies up — isn’t going up in 2018, but it rose last January to $183, from $166 in 2016, and $147 in 2015. And pray to God I don’t get hospitalized. That’s Medicare Part A, and the deductible will be $1,340 next year, up from $1,316. Most regular folks can’t afford either amount. On top of all this, last week the Federal Reserve increased interest rates. That will mean higher costs for car loans, mortgages, bank loans and the like, and it will trickle down, or is it up, to the price of consumer goods. No one in Congress from either party seems to give a damn. The House and the Senate are about to cut taxes mostly for the rich and big business, which will increase the national debt, and the word is, the government will try to pay for it with cuts to what House Speaker Paul Ryan calls “entitlements,” to make them sound bad. Here’s Sen. Marco Rubio: “The driver of our debt is … Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.” And, according to the Washington Post, Sen. Orrin Hatch, “while whipping votes for the tax bill… attacked ‘liberal programs’ for the poor.” Do I hear a hue and a cry from Congress on the other side? Not much. I think all politicians have at least one foot in hell already, but Republicans are in with both feet. As for Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters, who think of him as a saint, I will remind you that if he hadn’t run (and run and run) against Hillary Clinton last year in the Democratic primary, Clinton would probably be president, not the evil Donald Trump. Clinton is flawed too, of course, and she is a tool of Wall Street, but at least she doesn’t have a foot in hell. Maybe a toe or two, like Sanders. Purgatory is for people like them. I had hopes for Sen. John McCain, with his vote to save Obamacare, but then he didn’t have the guts to oppose the GOP tax plan. Where are the politicians who consistently, loudly stick up for people who need help? Give us our Social Security increase or throw us into the poor house. Well, I guess I wouldn’t go that far for $24 a month, but you get the idea. Les Gapay is a freelance writer and retired journalist. Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook
SpaceX recovery vessel could reduce cost of each rocket by $5m
The cost of rocket missions by US company SpaceX could be reduced by around $5m if it is successful in plans to make more of the launch vehicle reusable and the firm has been developing technology that would enable it to recover the discarded payload fairing, a major part of the its rocket. An elaborate mechanism with claw-like appendages has recently been seen on a ship chartered by SpaceX off the west coast of the US, and is thought to be being prepared for a fairing recovery attempt after a planned Falcon 9 rocket launch.
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By A mysterious and massive piece of equipment was spotted by Redditor vshie early this morning aboard one of SpaceX’s fleet of leased ocean recovery vessels. Captured aboard the recovery vessel Mr. Steven, the massive claw-like appendages are almost certainly linked to SpaceX’s payload fairing recovery efforts that have been ongoing throughout 2017. Despite SpaceX’s highly successful first stage recovery program, as much as 30% or more of the cost of every Falcon 9 launch can be found in the second stage and its many components that are discarded after every mission. Being able to recover the payload fairing, a major component of the Falcon 9 that costs approximately $5 million on its own or roughly 10% of the cost of a $62 million expendable launch, would lead to further cost reductions in commercial spaceflight. Fairing is ~$5M, but that should be reusable this year. Am fairly confident we can reuse upper stage too by late next year to get to 100%. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2017 While CEO Elon Musk has previously hinted at a sort of inflatable cushion (“bouncy castle” in his words) as the solution for keeping the fairings out of the ocean after landing, the mechanism spotted aboard would appear to be a small departure, likely instead making use of a net to catch the fairing. Mr. Steven is located on the West Coast and is almost certainly preparing for the imminent launch of the fourth group of Iridium-NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, presently scheduled for liftoff at 5:27pm, December 22. Of note, Iridium-4 will fly atop a flight-proven Falcon 9 booster, last active during the launch of Iridium-2 in June 2017, an elegant symmetry for the satellite communications company. Given that only one such modified vessel has been spotted at this point, it can be assumed that this recovery effort is an experimental test meant to only attempt the capture of one half of the payload fairing. There is also a remote possibility that SpaceX intends to stagger the recovery of each half such that technicians aboard Mr. Steven are able to quickly move the first fairing out of the way before snagging the second. SpaceX certainly is known to move quickly with hardware development and testing, but the recovery of two fairings on the same vessel seems more likely to be a future improvement that will follow mastery of a single recovery at a time. Mr. Steven’s fairing grabber adds to SpaceX’s collection of intriguing, unorthodox robotic and mechanical solutions to brand new problems on the cutting edge of reusable rocketry, following in the footsteps of Of Course I Still Love You‘s robotic stage securer, Roomba/Octagrabber. Undoubtedly, the fan mills are already churning out potential nicknames for the newfound fairing grabber as we speak, and it will be thrilling to see or at least hear official confirmation of it in action, hopefully following the successful recovery of half of the Iridium-4 mission’s payload fairing this Friday. SpaceX recovery boat spotted with huge claw-like “fairing grabber”
Media transparency fallout helps smaller agencies win accounts
Smaller agencies approach the new year with increased momentum as the media transparency crisis envelops larger agencies and advertiser spend on independents increases. Research firm Comvergence tracked media billings from 21 markets over the first nine months of 2017 and found that $2.8bn had been assigned to independent agencies. In addition, 16 of the 42 accounts analysed in the year to June moved to an independent agency. This year smaller agencies won large advertiser contracts, with The7stars taking on Capital One and Deliveroo and OMD working with Barclays, with their "open, transparent models” credited as the reason for their success.
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When Capital One hired independent agency The7stars earlier this month, the advertiser’s brand director Katy Lomax hailed the agency’s “transparent approach” to media buying. Less than a week later, food-delivery company Deliveroo echoed that sentiment, calling the agency “compelling.” Both advertisers’ decisions to opt for The7stars rather than big holding groups illustrate that a network agency’s loss is now an independent shop’s gain. The last 12 months have seen a steady flow of media budgets into independent agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Of the £11 billion ($14.7 billion) of media billings tracked by research firm Comvergence across 21 markets including the U.S., Germany and India over the first nine months of the year, around £2.1 billion ($2.8 billion) was assigned to independent media agencies. One-third (16) of the 42 accounts analyzed in the first six months moved to an independent shop, including Honda’s £449 million ($600 million) to Horizon Media and Sprint’s £516 million ($690 million) to RPA. Comvergence estimated independent agencies mainly concentrated in the U.S. would win a further £224 million to £300 million ($300 million to $400 million) in the last three months of the year. Independent agencies are benefiting from the transparency crisis, said Paul Wright, CEO at media-buying platform Iotec. That benefit is being felt in the U.K., where the likes of The7stars that have offered independent alternatives for over 10 years now have the scale to take on large clients from the big agency groups. While full disclosure, audit rights and media at net costs may provide reassurances, the web of self-interest can run incredibly deep, meaning advertisers receive no guarantee of neutrality when it comes to strategic recommendations. “Companies like The7stars are winning larger accounts, thanks to having always had open, transparent models and therefore not being part of the problem,” Wright said. Transparency has been pushed to the top of the agenda in 2017, and there is no doubt the talk is turning into action, said Jenny Biggam, CEO and co-founder of The7stars. She added that independent agencies are profiting from enlightened advertisers increasingly looking beyond the larger networks. “Billings in the independent sector were already up 10 percent in the year before some further big wins more recently, which indicates the trend is set to continue into 2018,” she said. But independent agencies will continue to benefit only if marketers are prepared to pay for transparency. For all the threats and demands made by some of the world’s biggest advertisers, few have openly said they’re willing to pay more for quality. It might seem counterproductive to put a premium on honesty. Mark Butterfield, marketing consultant and former consulting firm executive, has debated whether that means there’s a separate price for dishonesty. Yet rightly or wrongly, it seems like transparency comes at a premium. If agencies, many of which are struggling to offset shrinking budgets, are to be incentivized to stop making money from undisclosed fees, then advertisers must pay them more to close those options down. You only get what you pay for, said Darren Woolley, founder and global CEO at marketing consultant TrinityP3. In some cases, this is a flat commission or markup, he added, while in others it’s a flat fee or retainer. Both of these remuneration models are supported by some type of performance bonus, added Woolley. One advertiser wise to the transparent approach is Barclays. Earlier this year, the bank reviewed its £60 million ($80 million) global media account. Unlike other media reviews, Barclays told the participating agencies it would pay more to see how its money is being used to buy media, according to two sources. OMD eventually won the account from GroupM. OMD will have to be extremely careful with what it does with the bank’s money. Both Barclays and OMD declined to comment. If more brands follow in Barclays footsteps, then the independent shops could start to look more attractive to the big-spending brands. Momentum, both in pitch rooms and in the press, seems to be with the independent shops going into the new year as their larger counterparts struggle to adapt business models under attack on all fronts. Both Capital One and Deliveroo, two of The7stars’ biggest wins since it launched in 2005, came in the wake of the agency’s much publicized support of a strict contract template from advertiser trade body ISBA in the U.K., which is designed to ensure greater transparency in a more fragmented ad market. While the big network agencies made no secret of their frustration toward what they deemed another squeeze on their margins, The7stars did the opposite, subsequently benefiting from the PR even if the restrictive contract hurt its bottom line in the short term. Fundamentally, it’s about making investments that are right for the client and building trust, said Biggam. In transparent media-buying situations, agencies may be paid more for their services and expertise, but “ultimately, the net cost of media is lower to the advertiser because media owners aren’t paying the agency a big slice of the cost of space,” she added. Winning larger media accounts won’t be easy for independent agencies. The recent closure of the U.K. office for Blackwood Seven, a Danish startup that tried to replace media agencies with an artificial intelligence platform that could plan and buy media, is a testament to that. Any agency coming into the market fresh like Blackwood Seven will find it “difficult” due to lack of infrastructure, said Dan Pimm, co-founder and director at December 19, and the lack of its own client case studies, which offer potential clients piece of mind about working with an agency. The difficulty for independents is building from bottom up rapidly, Pimm added. Although independent agencies are on the rise, established businesses will take advantage of the current climate, while newer shops will have to work hard and be patient for success.
Musk tweets photos of Falcon Heavy rocket before its first launch
Pictures of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket being prepared for launch have been released by the company's founder, Elon Musk. The entrepreneur posted the photos on Twitter from the company's hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The private space exploration company is planning to launch the reusable rocket next month on its maiden flight and said it is the most powerful US rocket since the Saturn V moon rocket. It has 27 engines and can carry a 57-tonne payload. Musk acknowledged there was a significant risk the launch might not go according to plan.
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See more SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled a tantalizing first glimpse at his company's new megarocket — the Falcon Heavy — which is expected to launch on its maiden flight next month. In an early morning Twitter post, Musk revealed several views of the new rocket under assembly inside SpaceX's hangar at Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The images show stunning views of the Falcon Heavy from above and one imposing shot of the rocket's 27 first-stage engines, nine on each of its three main boosters. [SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Rocket in Images] "Falcon Heavy at the Cape," Musk wrote in the Twitter post. SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy rocket, a massive heavy-lift launch vehicle, is seen during assembly ahead of its first test flight from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket's first flight is expected in January 2018. (Image credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk) SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle powered by two first-stage boosters from the company's Falcon 9 rockets and a central core booster that itself is a modified Falcon 9. The rocket will stand 230 feet (70 meters) tall when complete and is designed to launch payloads of up to 119,000 lbs. (57 metric tons) into space. The 27 engines of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket are front and center during assembly in this photo tweeted by Elon Musk on Dec. 20, 2017. (Image credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk) The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful U.S. rocket since NASA's Saturn V moon rocket and is capable of launching twice as much payload as the current record-holder, the Delta IV Heavy built by United Launch Alliance. SpaceX's rocket is also designed to be reusable, with the three core boosters built to fly back to Earth and land like SpaceX's current Falcon 9 rockets. The company test-fired the Falcon Heavy's core stage for the first time earlier this year, in May. Musk has said that Falcon Heavy's first payload will be his own midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster, launched on a trajectory aimed for Mars orbit. However, Musk has said that there's a fair chance the rocket could fail on its debut test flight. The Falcon Heavy is expected to perform its first static-fire test on Pad 39A by the end of 2017, SpaceX representatives have said. SpaceX also plans to use a Falcon Heavy and Dragon space capsule to launch two passengers around the moon by the end of 2018. Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.
New chip could make quantum computing as ubiquitous as mobiles
University of South Wales (UNSW) researchers may have found a solution to making quantum computing as widespread as mobile phones. They've devised a silicon microprocessor chip that can be made using many standard industry parts but still carry out the vast amount of tasks of quantum computers that currently fill entire rooms. It can process millions of quantum bits (qubits) of data, but only requires the on/off facilities of standard microprocessors. 
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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the adoption of quantum computing on a grand scale may have just been overcome. The onset of quantum computing on a scale of what we see today with smartphones could potentially usher in a new technological and scientific age, but getting there has proven extremely difficult. While tech giants such as IBM and Google have their own quantum computers capable of performing millions of tasks a second compared with standard computers, they had yet to put this technology into a silicon chip. That was until a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) published a paper in Nature Communications, revealing a new chip design that can be manufactured using mostly standard industry processes and components. “We often think of landing on the moon as humanity’s greatest technological marvel,” said Andrew Dzurak, who led the research. “But creating a microprocessor chip with a billion operating devices integrated together to work like a symphony – that you can carry in your pocket – is an astounding technical achievement, and one that’s revolutionised modern life.” The design is capable of handling millions of quantum bits (qubits), but using the same turning on and off operations of bits in standard microprocessors. Unlike a standard bit, a qubit can be either a one, zero or an arbitrary combination of the two at the same time, allowing for substantially more processing power at once. To solve complex problems, a useful universal quantum computer will need a large number of qubits, possibly millions, because all types of qubits we know are fragile, and even tiny errors can be quickly amplified into wrong answers. Corporations now tapping in So, to overcome this, Dzurak and the team created error-correcting codes that employ multiple qubits to store a single piece of data. “Our chip blueprint incorporates a new type of error-correcting code designed specifically for spin qubits, and involves a sophisticated protocol of operations across the millions of qubits,” he said. “It’s the first attempt to integrate into a single chip all of the conventional silicon circuitry needed to control and read the millions of qubits needed for quantum computing.” While there are more modifications to the design expected to come, the UNSW team’s breakthrough is still substantial to bring the power of a quantum computer into one chip, which can be scaled up without needing to create a massive unit to house it. In the meantime, IBM has announced that 12 major corporations, research labs and industry giants have signed up to its early-access commercial quantum computing systems to explore practical applications to business and science. “Working closely with our clients, together we can begin to explore the ways big and small quantum computing can address previously unsolvable problems applicable to industries such as financial services, automotive or chemistry,” said Dario Gil, vice-president of AI and IBM Q at IBM Research.
Space is not a 'global commons', says Trump official
The Trump administration has reaffirmed the United States's view that outer space does not have the legal status of "global commons" or of being a public good. The head of the US National Space Council, Scott Pace, made the comment as he outlined the Trump administration's plans to incentivise private investment in space exploration. Trump has recently refocused NASA on returning to the moon, while a range of private companies and other countries also seek to land robots there. China is planning a manned mission by 2036, raising the prospect of a new "space race" with the US.
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The US is now dedicated to “long-term exploration and utilization” of the moon, but in practice that goal will be shaped more by a scramble of private companies than any mission executed by NASA alone. Last week, Donald Trump refocused the US space agency on returning astronauts to the moon. But without significant increases in public spending on NASA’s deep-space hardware, the US government is unlikely to reach the surface of the moon or establish a permanent base there during Trump’s term in office. Advertisement Instead, the White House is embracing companies that are racing to develop low-cost methods to find and exploit resources on the moon and other astronomical bodies, whose activities and interests will shape future rules about space activity. International law, mostly in the form of the 1967 Outer Space treaty, doesn’t have hard and fast guidelines for what private organizations can do outside the atmosphere, and nations are simply charged with managing missions that launch from their territory. Countries like the United States that want to encourage private activity in space are changing their own laws to create a regulatory framework for making money in orbit and beyond. Trump’s space advisers say they will clear the path for space business. What’s allowed in space? “It bears repeating: Outer space is not a ‘global commons,’ not the ‘common heritage of mankind,’ not ‘res communis,’ nor is it a public good,” Scott Pace, the executive director of the US National Space Council, said in a speech last week (pdf). “These concepts are not part of the Outer Space Treaty, and the United States has consistently taken the position that these ideas do not describe the legal status of outer space.” Pace says the Trump administration will work with other governments and international organizations to develop fair rules for space, but that the goal is for the US to become “the most attractive jurisdiction in the world for private-sector investment and innovation in outer space…the task for the United States, if it wishes to influence how space is developed and utilized, is to create attractive projects and frameworks in which other nations choose to align themselves and their space activities with us, as opposed to others.” Advertisement One apparently attractive project: robots that can land on the lunar surface and then return samples to Earth. Startups working on such tech have sprung up around the globe, many motivated by the Google Lunar X-Prize, which will award $20 million to a team that can put a robot on the moon. Though the prize was supposed to expire at the end of this year, its participants have received another extension, through March 2018. Last week, Japanese startup iSpace collected $90 million from its backers to support two robotic missions to the moon. In the US, Moon Express has three lunar missions planned for the years ahead, and Astrobotic says it will put a robot on the moon in 2019. An Israeli lunar team, SpaceIL, is trying to raise $7.5 million in a Hanukkah-themed fundraiser, while TeamIndus in India is resorting to crowdfunding to come up with $35 million. Space capitalism While not all of these efforts are expected to succeed on time, they are part of a broader ecosystem of space startups catalyzed by major players like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which recently updated its next-generation rocket to include lunar transit capabilities; and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which says it will invest significant capital into a moon lander as part of a NASA partnership. NASA is already partnering with three companies—Masten Space Systems, Astrobotic and Moon Express—to develop lander technology. Advertisement The space agency is “encouraging a natural economic ecosystem to exist that doesn’t have to be a solely government-supported activity,” Jason Crusan, who leads the program to develop advanced exploration technology for NASA, told Quartz in October. “We don’t have a date to supply cargo to the moon, we don’t know what the economic market is going to grow to be…hopefully, we can be a customer among many.” The groundwork for such an ecosystem was laid by previous US presidents, who embraced public-private partnerships to carry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station with companies like SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada. SpaceX launched its 17th orbital mission last week. In 2015, thanks in part to lobbying from space mining startups like Planetary Resources, Congress passed a law that allows US companies to own anything they bring back from space, while skirting legal controversy about owning anything—like a plot on the moon or an asteroid—in space. Last year, US regulators greenlit Moon Express’ plans to land on the lunar surface. “Only three superpowers have ever landed on any planet—we will become the fourth superpower,” Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain said at the time. Advertisement The US is not the only country encouraging space capitalism: Luxembourg wrote a new law to favor space mining and invested $28 million in Planetary Resources. “People tend to over-predict what will happen in the next year or two, but we under-predict what’s possible in the next five or 10 years,” Planetary Resources CEO Chris Lewicki told Quartz last year. Space race, again These new laws are not without controversy. Some nations argue for a stricter interpretation of international law that would prevent any conception of private property in space. More practically, experts are concerned that national laws pushing the current system too far could spark a backlash or a pernicious race to claim space assets. Russian officials recently said they will bring their own framework on space resources to a 2018 UN meeting to push back against the US and Luxembourg. The most ambitious plan to return to the moon currently belongs to China, which plans to put people on the moon by 2036, after a robust robotic exploration effort. That goal, however peaceful it is portrayed, has US military officials nervously re-thinking their approach to space as a war-fighting domain. Space entrepreneurs certainly aren’t afraid to use the specter of a Red Moon to urge more backing for their work. Even as the US aims to match the Chinese space program—a recasting of past, geopolitically motivated space contests—its space program is going through an evolution of its own. While tensions over limited funding sometimes threaten to cast NASA and space startups as competitors, the reality is that most of these companies depend on NASA for funding and expertise. And NASA, now more than ever, is dependent on private innovation to accomplish fundamental tasks in space. Advertisement The flood of money into private space projects, combined with a president eager to facilitate them, could mean the next US spacecraft to land gently on the lunar surface will be owned by a corporation, not the commonweal.
Solution Seeker's bespoke AI optimises oil and gas production
A Norwegian technology start-up has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of helping to optimise oil and gas production in real time. Solution Seeker created the bespoke system after it found existing machine-learning algorithms were unable to cope with the constantly changing dynamics of oil production. The new model uses the company's own algorithms for data analysis and adapts to changing operational conditions with limited need for human intervention. It has been described by the company as a "significant breakthrough" and will be applied in a number of oilfields early next year.
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Edit page New page Hide edit links Solution Seeker has developed a hierarchical neural network model that significantly improves the predictive power for real time production optimisation (illustration: Solution Seeker) Solution Seeker, a Norwegian tech start-up, has had a breakthrough in the technical development of its artificial intelligence for real time oil and gas production optimisation. After several years of research on machine learning algorithms running on oil and gas production data, Solution Seeker has developed a hierarchical neural network model that significantly improves the predictive power for real time production optimisation. The model leverages the power of neural network learning algorithms combined with domain knowledge in the form of first principle physics and production system logic. “Traditional, out-of-the-box machine learning algorithms are not sufficient for the oil production optimisation problem; the dynamics of producing oilfields are changing both with time and control settings, making it a highly challenging problem to predict optimal operational decisions. Furthermore, data may be both sparse and highly uncertain. We concluded early on that we had to develop our own purpose made models, and we are very pleased to announce that we have successfully developed models with the predictive capabilities required for real time production optimisation,” says Bjarne Grimstad, CTO at Solution Seeker. The neural network takes further advantage of Solution Seeker’s proprietary algorithms for data analysis, which automatically extract and prepare suitable training data from the production data history. New training data is generated in real time as the system is operated, and the neural network model learns to adapt to the changing operational conditions with minimal human intervention. “This is a significant breakthrough and completes our integrated artificial intelligence for real time production optimisation. We are looking forward to bringing the power of AI to our clients – it’s an AI for the production engineer to leverage!” adds Vidar Gunnerud, the company’s Founder and CEO. The learning algorithms will first be deployed at ENGIE E&P’s Gjøa field and Wintershall’s Vega field early next year. The full stack AI deploys a three-step Solution Seeker proprietary technology pipeline, from data analytics to machine learning to optimisation. The data analytics algorithms perform automatic pattern recognition, classification, statistical analysis and compression of thousands of live data streams. The learning algorithm then identifies field behaviour and relations, and enables estimation of parameters, correlations and quantification of uncertainty before automatically generating predictive models while continuously learning from new production data. Finally, Solution Seeker’s proprietary optimisation algorithm provides a framework for scalable optimisation on the predictive, stochastic models. The AI makes use of the very best available technologies, such as Google’s TensorFlow for machine learning, and is powered by cloud computing technologies to achieve reliability and performance.
Moody's uses CompStak data to assess property deals risk
Rating giant Moody's has signed a data licensing agreement with, and invested in, New York-based firm CompStak. The deal enables Moody's to use CompStak's aggregated lease comparable data to help it assess commercial property risk and provide more accurate ratings for commercial mortgage-backed securities. The two companies are also working on products that use broad datasets to enable customers to gain a greater understanding of markets, according to Michael Mandel, CompStak's CEO.
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Every decision in life can be boiled down to two criteria, risk and reward. They go hand in hand in determining the midpoint between expected gains and possible losses, an intersection that we all know as value. Due to an intrinsic value that comes from being a suitable location for humans to live and produce, real estate has been one of the most important global asset classes. The limited risk that comes with a desirable property is a major factor in its price and allows debt to be borrowed against it. For commercial real estate, knowing the reward is often easy. Many properties are bought while leases are already in place. It is almost like buying a set of cash flows, the rates of return are fairly certain. The risk side of the equation can be harder to understand. To know how risky a property is, especially one with debt against it, calculations have to be made using the probability of default and the amount that would be able to be recovered if a default occurred. That last part, the amount that someone stands to lose, is called the loss given default and it is not as easy to determine as you might think. Commercial properties are considered rather illiquid since they take time to sell. Because of this the loss given default also has to take into account how much of a discount a building must be sold for in order to recover money in a timely fashion. Assessing risk is such an important thing that the companies whose business it is to do so have tremendous power. One of those companies is Moody’s. They have been around since the turn of the century when the founder John Moody produced the first list of statistics related to stocks and bonds. Now they rate everything from countries to individual portfolios and a downgrade by them can have incredible effects on the value of even the largest assets. To do this they compile massive amounts of data from all corners of the economy. They have one of the most comprehensive sets of economic insights that can be accessed by their analytics site economy.com. But even rating giants like Moody’s don’t have all the data. One of those important yet opaque data sets is commercial real estate lease info. There is no public record for the lease agreements and industry professionals have long protected their internal information as if it was their secret recipe. For a long time, it was. That is until recently when a few startups took on the audacious goal of trying to get brokers and owners to share their info. One of the most successful companies to do this is New York-based CompStak. Rather than buying or selling data, the idea behind CompStak was to give brokers, appraisers and researchers in CRE brokerage firms access to lease comps,, as long as they provided some comps of their own. Everyone always knew that the best data would have to be comprehensive, CompStak was the company that figured out how to facilitate the exchange. Not to be left in the dark, Moody’s has now invested in and partnered with CompStak to start using its data to help better assess commercial real estate risk. This is especially important for Moody’s because they are one of the leading agencies in charge of calculating risk and assigning ratings to commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS). Their Loss Given Default model, Commercial Mortgage Metrics (CMM) is used by lenders across the board, whose portfolios include both securitized and non securitized assets. The world of commercial mortgage backed securities is large and rapidly changing. CBRE estimates that the CMBS market reached $38 billion at the end of the second quarter of this year. It is also one of the segments of the financial sector targeted by the Dodd-Frank act, which was written as a reaction to the mortgage backed security crises that shook the world’s economy to its core. I had a chance to talk to Michael Mandel, CEO and founder of CompStak, about this recent partnership. He told me that he had been talking about the idea with the Moody’s Analytics team for a while but it wasn’t until recently that they decided to formalize an agreement. “Moody’s recently created their Emerging Business Unit with a focus on working with new technologies to make investments into areas that could be applied to financial services,” he told me, adding, “they decided to do something in commercial real estate because they saw that it was a place ripe for innovation and the timing just seemed right.” Moody’s Analytics will be better able to understand what a building’s earning potential is by using CompStak’s aggregated comparable data. The partnership, which consists of a data licensing agreement and investment in Compstak, will help both companies expand the reach of their offerings. As Michael told me, “They have a lot of the same customers as we do, just different departments. They sell to risk groups at banks, which is a market that we have not gotten to previously.” It will no doubt help Moody’s Analytics that many commercial real estate brokers, appraisers and owners are now looking a little more closely at the analytics that they put out. While he was tight lipped, Michael did also tell me that they were working on a number of products that would use data from both CompStak and Moody’s. “We are working on things that help you better understand markets by leveraging wide data sets.” Besides the clout associated with a partner like Moody’s Michael did notice an unexpected benefit. “We got a lot of attention from a Moody’s press release alone. They have so many people watching their every move that they can reach a large audience with no more than a simple announcement,” he said. Assessing risk is hard. So hard that the world leaves the heavy lifting to a handful of companies like Moody’s. Determining the probability of future events based off of historical data is easier now than ever. Advances in computing and analytical modeling have enabled many to peer a little further into the proverbial crystal ball. The only way to improve on this effort is to have the most diverse and comprehensive data set. Only when new inputs are brought in, can further correlation be found. Now, thanks to CompStak, Moody’s is a little closer to seeing what risk the future holds for the world’s commercial real estate.
AI firm One Concern predicts natural disasters, secures $20m
Predictive AI firm One Concern has just closed a $20m funding round, backed by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Geodesic Capital and individuals including former CIA director David Petraeus. Following the announcement, a spokesperson for the company stated this will help "future proof the world". The company uses AI and machine learning to predict a variety of natural disaster impacts. For example, its Seismic Concern team examines earthquake preparedness and response, helping with the efficient dispatch of emergency workers. For now, the company looks at the United States with a focus on LA and San Francisco. 
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Join top executives in San Francisco on July 11-12, to hear how leaders are integrating and optimizing AI investments for success. Learn More One Concern today announced that it has closed a $20 million funding round to “future proof the world,” according to a company spokesperson. The funding will be used for research and development as One Concern expands its use of machine learning to predict and mitigate the impact of natural disasters like fires, floods, and hurricanes after they happen. Predictive AI from One Concern, called Seismic Concern, currently focuses on earthquake preparedness and response. For example, AI models trained with information about building structural integrity and seismic activity are deployed to help cities know where to dispatch emergency workers after an earthquake. Demographics of people impacted, such as age and economic status, are also provided. One Concern currently partners with cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the company said. “Our AI-based technology will assign a unique, verified ‘digital fingerprint’ to every natural or manmade element, from the smallest rock to complete structures to mega cities and eventually, the entire planet,” cofounder Ahmad Wani said in a Medium post today. “One Concern will provide insights across the entire time horizon — whether it’s days before a flood, minutes after an earthquake, or forward-looking policy and planning.” Image Credit: One Concern The $20 million round was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), with participation from Geodesic Capital and individuals like former CIA director David Petraeus and SV Angel founder Ron Conway. Event Transform 2023 Join us in San Francisco on July 11-12, where top executives will share how they have integrated and optimized AI investments for success and avoided common pitfalls. Register Now Advisors contributing to One Concern’s human intelligence to complement AI include Petraeus, OpenGov cofounder Nate Levine, and former Rockefeller Foundation director Judith Rodin. Former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate joined the One Concern team earlier this year. One Concern was established in 2015. The company has 35 employees and is based in Palo Alto, California. Clarification: The original version of this story called former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate an advisor to One Concern, however Fugate is a One Concern employee.
Publishers disappointed with financial return on viewable ads
Despite making accommodations to make ads more viewable, publishers are finding that the financial results may not be worth the appeal for advertisers. With advertisers demanding guaranteed viewings in exchange for large purchases, publishers expected higher value campaigns for better viewability. Instead, publishers are being restricted to performance-based ads, rather than seeing big brand interest. The price difference between highly viewable and not as viewable ads is minimal, despite an emphasis on the former for business.
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Publishers are bending to the will of advertisers to make their ads more viewable, but some publishers are finding the payoff isn’t as great as they anticipated. Over the past year and a half, advertisers have continually pounded their fists, demanding that they’ll only buy ads that are guaranteed to be seen by a user. The push for viewability gave the impression that advertisers would spend branding campaign dollars with publishers that had highly viewable ads, said Erik Requidan, vp of programmatic strategy at Intermarkets, which helps publishers including Drudge Report and The Political Insider market their ad inventory to buyers. Instead, the sites Requidan works with continue to be relegated to getting performance-based ads, he said. Those sites might see a few dollars increase in their CPMs if they boost their viewability, but big-brand dollars haven’t materialized. “If something is 90 percent viewable, shouldn’t that unlock a whole lot more money or a bigger price point?” he asked. When listicle publisher Ranker tweaked its site layout last year, page-load time went down 60 percent and average viewability rates doubled from 35 percent to 70 percent. Those factors helped Ranker increase its average CPMs by about 75 percent, but the prices of its least and most viewable ads don’t differ much. Ranker’s ad viewability ranges from 62 to 82 percent. But there’s only a 13 percent difference in the CPMs for these ad units, said Ranker CEO Clark Benson. Given how much advertisers and their tech vendors emphasize that campaigns perform better when ads are 80 percent viewable, Benson expected Ranker’s most viewable ad units to command a higher price. “So far, the promise of viewability quickly filtering out bad actors and improving yields for the good ones seems to be only a half-kept one,” he said. It’s a similar story elsewhere. Stephanie Layser, vp of ad tech and operations at News Corp, said there’s no significant difference in price between the publisher’s least and most viewable ads. Remedy Health Media, the publisher of health sites like HealthCentral and TheBody.com, has seen little lift in its ad rates since increasing its viewability, said Aryeh Lebeau, evp of client operations there. Some publishers said they’re satisfied with the pricing lift they’re getting for highly viewable ads, which is a function of their expectations of their advertisers. Lebeau wasn’t bothered by the lack of lift in ad rates because advertisers never promised Remedy higher rates in exchange for higher viewability. A programmatic specialist at a comScore 200 entertainment publisher, requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to share financial details, said a 30 percentage-point lift in viewability at his company’s websites tends to increase CPMs by about 20 percent. This person emphasized that it’s difficult to isolate viewability’s impact on ad rates, so these figures are rough estimates. The source still felt his company was being compensated fairly for its highly viewable ad placements. Another source, Danny Khatib, CEO of 100 percent programmatic publisher Granite Media, said high viewability rates can boost Granite’s CPMs by a few dollars, which he saw as significant. “We never expected new branding budgets to come online solely because of viewability improvements,” he said. “That seems like wishful thinking.” In an Integral Ad Science survey of more than 1,000 advertisers, 68 percent of respondents said they transact on viewability and another 25 percent said they wanted to do so. Although buyers are regularly transacting on viewable metrics, viewability is less likely to influence ad rates if it isn’t a primary KPI. The reason rates haven’t risen right along with viewability has to do with how programmatic buying works. David Lee, programmatic lead at media-buying agency The Richards Group, said that even in a private marketplace setup, most buyers don’t place bids on individual publishers but place bids across hundreds, if not thousands, of sites at a time. So if viewability is being used as a secondary KPI, then buyers’ bids will be restricted to the publishers that meet a certain viewability threshold. But since buyers aren’t bidding on individual publishers, they’re not intentionally setting out to pay specific publishers more based on their viewability gains. And since viewability rates are rising across the industry, publisher improvements in viewability are less likely to increase publishers’ CPMs than they were a year ago. Another issue with rising viewability is that in an effort to appease advertisers, many publishers are doing whatever they can to make sure their ads are viewed just long enough to be counted as viewable. Most viewable ads are in view for just one second, according to IAS data. That amount of time happens to be the standard the Media Rating Council uses to define viewability. As publishers increased their volume of viewable ads by refreshing pages, sticking ads in photo galleries and using interstitials, users got turned off and buyers caught on. IAS found that the average time that a desktop display impression was in view declined from 9.8 seconds in May 2016 to 7.7 seconds in May 2017. “We’ve seen some publishers game the system in using ad placements that provide a less than optimal consumer experience but have higher rates of viewability,” said Stephani Estes, svp of media strategy at ad agency Cramer-Krasselt. “In those instances, we’re not willing to pay more for higher viewability.” It’s understandable that publishers get miffed by low returns on highly viewable ads. But in programmatic environments, the highest CPMs come from programmatic direct deals, not the open exchange. And to entice ad buyers to set these deals up, publishers need to have viewability rates above 65 percent, according to three publisher sources. Viewability isn’t necessarily a way to lift rates, said Mort Greenberg, svp of ad sales at Sightline Media Group, which owns government-focused sites like Federal Times and Military Times. “However,” he added, “high viewability will keep you on a plan.”
NASA to choose between final two for 2025 New Frontier mission
Nasa has revealed the two finalists for its New Frontiers competition. Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return aims to explore a comet previously studied by the Rosetta mission and return a sample to Earth by 2038. Dragonfly is a project to use a drone to explore the varied terrains of Saturn's biggest moon, Titan. Both teams will be funded to the tune of $4m to develop their schemes, while Nasa will reveal the outright winner in 2019, with the mission launch planned for 2025.
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Would you like NASA to fly a drone across Saturn’s largest moon, or to send a probe to collect samples from a duck-shaped comet? From a dozen proposals to the agency’s New Frontiers competition — not unlike an interplanetary “Shark Tank” for a forthcoming robotic mission — NASA announced these two finalists on Wednesday. “It’s one of the most difficult programs to be selected for,” said James L. Green, director of the planetary science division at NASA. “We fly only about two of these types of missions per decade.” In the first proposed mission, Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return, or Caesar, a spacecraft would go to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, previously explored by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, and bring back a small chunk to Earth for closer study.
Facebook introduces facial recognition to stop online impersonation
Facebook is using the facial recognition technology that enables users to tag people in photos to prevent their images being used by someone else. The optional feature is a bid to curb impersonation on the social media site, and when activated, will see Facebook send notifications to users whose images have appeared on someone else's profile. However, the features only works for images that are shared publicly or among a group a user is a part of.
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That same facial-recognition software that simplifies the process of tagging Facebook photos will soon help make sure your photo isn’t being used as a stranger’s profile picture. On Tuesday, December 19, the company announced new (but optional) Facebook facial recognition tools, along with a handful of new options designed to help curb harassment. The first tool uses the same software that automatically tags you in photos to look for you in someone else’s profile picture. The tool is designed to combat social media impersonation. If you have the facial-recognition tool turned on, you will get a notification if Facebook spots your face in someone else’s profile picture. Recommended Videos Facebook will also begin to send users notifications if they detect your mug in a photo that wasn’t tagged. The option, Facebook says, allows users to choose whether or not to tag themselves or to reach out to the posting user with concerns. The catch? You will only get a notification if the image was shared either publicly or in a group you are included in, so the privacy settings of the photo aren’t violated. While users could turn facial recognition on and off before, Facebook is also simplifying the setting with a single control based on user feedback. Now, users can choose whether to use the facial recognition with one setting rather than setting all of the subcategories. The tools are also launching with expanded systems for visually impaired users that will now include names in the alt-text tool that describes what’s in a photo. Facebook’s facial-recognition tools have been around since 2010. Earlier this year, Facebook launched other profile photo tools with a similar goal to protect users. The newest tools are rolling out soon, excluding Canada and the European Union, where facial recognition isn’t currently available. Along with the facial-recognition tools, Facebook today also introduced new options designed for combatting harassment by preventing second accounts from a blocked user from contact and launching options for ignoring (but not blocking) messages. For users that block a harasser, Facebook is working to help make sure the same person doesn’t create a second account to attempt to contact them after being blocked. The tool works by looking at different signals, such as the IP address, that suggests the new friend request or message is coming from someone the user has already blocked. A new ignore feature for messages now allows users to stop receiving notifications for new messages without blocking the user entirely. Ignored messages also disable the tool that shows the sender when the messages have been read. The messages are moved to a filtered folder, where they can still be accessed. The new tools for preventing harassment are a result of working with organizations and safety experts, including groups for domestic violence survivors, as well as discussing the tools with journalists, Facebook said. Editors' Recommendations
Pathway for challenger banks could be improved: FinTech Australia
FinTech Australia has said that the regulatory pathway for "challenger banks" could be made easier with improvements, in response to proposed legislation from The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). Under the legislation, ADIs would apply for a restricted license that allows them to take deposits up to $2m over a period of two years, maintaining a minimum of $3m plus wind-down costs in their reserve capital. APRA has said the pathway will make the way easier for businesses, but FinTech Australia believes the deposit limit should be $5m over a three year period.
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FinTech Australia has provided a comment on the consultation paper published in August regarding authorising new entrants into the banking industry. The creation of digital challenger banks in Australia is a welcomed move but, according to FinTech Australia, needs some improvement. The discussion paper proposes that new banking entrants, known as “Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions” (ADIs) can apply for a “restricted ADI licence”. Under this restricted ADI licence, new banking entrants may take up to $2 million in deposits with an individual limit of $250,000 per depositor over a maximum period of two years, while maintaining a minimum of $3 million plus wind-down costs in reserve capital (or 20% of total assets, whichever is greater). It is expected the restricted ADI licence-holder would remain within these limits while developing the full range of capabilities necessary to graduate toward a full bank licence. The FinTech Australia submission with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) welcomes the pathway, stating “it is our belief that many innovative new challengers will benefit from this new pathway, and from being able to successfully test their new services with consumers.” However, the group believes the proposals fall short. In fact, the APRA suggestions could be improved by including the following: Boosting the deposit limit to $5 million, given that new challenger banks should easily breach the proposed $2 million limit particularly if they are targeting business customers Allowing challenger banks to operate with a restricted licence for three rather than two years, given they are unlikely to be able to raise the required $5-7 million in capital to operate if the two-year limit remains in place Setting up an innovation hub within APRA to solicit and facilitate applications Providing an improved definition of what is considered an eligible “low risk” activity during the restricted licensing period Consider creating two pathways for challenger banks – one for new startup companies and another for existing and mature “low risk” financial services Considering splitting the proposed $80,000 entrant fee across the three-year testing period FinTech Australia CEO Danielle Szetho said a few improvements and the pathway could create a path for some much needed competition. “Australia has one of the most concentrated banking industries in the world, and a large number of struggling small traditional banks. So a regime to encourage increased competition from new digital-first challengers is badly needed. New entrants to the banking industry will bring a fresh, innovative mindset to this industry and in doing this will provide consumers and businesses with increased choice and improved services,” said Szetho. “We think our suggestions will smooth the way for new digital challenger bank entrants to our banking industry, while at the same time ensure ongoing strong customer protections – including the ability for APRA to safely transition out underperforming ADIs.” FinTech Australia says the Australian Government’s proposed new entrant pathway sits alongside other proposals to encourage increased banking competition, including: Relaxing the current restriction on any one bank shareholder owning more than 15 per cent of the bank, which will make it easier for startups to become banks Removing the prohibition on use of the term ‘bank’ in the names of authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) with less than $50 million in capital, so new challenger banks may also benefit from the reputational advantages of the term. Banks around the world are struggling to adapt to their Fintech future. Legacy technology, far too many brick and mortar locations, combined with a risk averse culture means traditional banks are loathe to change. Allowing agile, Fintech startups to provide modern banking services in a mobile first platform should improve services while reducing cost for consumers and business. Isn’t that what APRA, and the Aussie government, wants?
Sony chip unit eyes robotics, self-driving cars for image sensors
Sony's chip division, buoyed by surging sales of its image sensors, is looking to incorporate the technology in self-driving cars and robotic applications. The division claims almost half the image sensor market and was the main driver behind parent Sony's estimated JPY630bn ($5.6bn) operating profit in the year to March -- more than double the previous year's figure. Divisional chief Terushi Shimizu said the unit had flourished because it had been able to operate independently of the parent company. However, the unit faces stiff competition from rivals Samsung and OmniVision Technologies.
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The breakthrough, which involved reconfiguring the sensor layout and known as backside illumination, allowed Sony to grab nearly half of the market for image sensors. (Image Source: Reuters) The breakthrough, which involved reconfiguring the sensor layout and known as backside illumination, allowed Sony to grab nearly half of the market for image sensors. (Image Source: Reuters) Sony Corp is poised to report its highest-ever profit this year on strong sales of image sensors after years of losing ground in consumer electronics and hopes to develop the technology for use in robotics and self-driving cars as competition heats up. The results will mark a significant turnaround for the conglomerate, once famed for leading the world in consumer gadgets such as its Walkman music player, but now finding a new focus on image sensors and gaming. Sony forecasts that operating profit in the year through March will more than double to 630 billion yen ($5.6 billion) compared with the year earlier and expects the chips division, most of which is made up of the image sensors business, to be the conglomerate’s biggest growth driver. Executives say a technological breakthrough in image sensors and seachange in the company’s thinking are behind the success. The breakthrough, creating a sensor that captures more light to produce sharper images, coincided with soaring consumer demand for better smartphone cameras for sharing photos on social media. The breakthrough, which involved reconfiguring the sensor layout and known as backside illumination, allowed Sony to grab nearly half of the market for image sensors. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to win if we did what our rivals were doing,” said Teruo Hirayama, technology chief of Sony’s chip business, recalling initial scepticism around the technology that is now used widely. Japanese names such as Hitachi Ltd, NEC Corp and Fujitsu Ltd, which dominated mainstream chips through the late 1980s, have lost business to Asian rivals such as Samsung Electronics.
ISS receives barley shipment with a view to brewing beer in space
Astronauts on board the International Space Station will be growing barley seeds in the first step towards brewing beer in space. The project is a collaboration between beer manufacturer Budweiser and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, which aims to find out if barley will grow in a zero-gravity environment. Any germinated plants will be sent back to Earth for analysis.
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Every few months, the International Space Station gets a rocket full of supplies from the surface containing everything from food to replacement parts to complex scientific experiments. Last week, a rocket sent one of these payloads to the ISS as usual, although it contained something a little different: a bunch of barley seeds, which the astronauts will grow in space as a precursor to brewing truly out-of-this-world beer. Back in March, Budweiser made a pledge to become the first beer on Mars, and as the first step to achieving that goal the company is sending barley seeds into space. Once there, the ISS astronauts will attempt to grow them and study how the plants react to the zero-gravity environment. This is part of a collaboration between Budweiser and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory aboard the ISS. As part of this collaboration, the ISS astronauts will perform two experiments with the barley seeds: The first will be a general study to see how well barley grows in space, while the second focuses on seed germination to determine if barley grows as quickly in space as it does on Earth. More From Popular Mechanics play icon The triangle icon that indicates to play Once these experiments are completed, the barley plants will be shipped back down to Earth, where they will be analyzed by scientists on the ground. With any luck, those scientists will learn not only how to grow plants like barley in space, but also how to grow it better here on Earth. We hope NASA’s next rocket has some hops. Source: Food & Wine and Budweiser
WeWork settles trademark dispute with Chinese equivalent URWork
Co-working companies WeWork and URWork have settled their trademark dispute, and withdrawn their London-based case. Chinese company URWork will only use that title in China, going under the name “You Ke Gong Chang” (优客工厂) in other locations to avoid confusion with WeWork. WeWork had filed the suit in the US in September 2017 after URWork announced its expansion into New York, London and Los Angeles.
2017-12-20 14:58:53.147000
The trademark dispute between US co-working behemoth WeWork and its Chinese counterpart URWork in the US has been settled to the satisfaction of both parties. A similar case between the two parties in London has also been withdrawn. It seems that English name of the Chinese co-working giant—”URwork”—will only appear in China in the future. Outside China, the company will be branded with only its Chinese name, “You Ke Gong Chang” (优客工厂), a move the company has always planned as it claimed in court files. The boom of co-working industry comes along with the rise of several regional dominators. As they are taking a global focus, competitions is heated. WeWork filed a suit in September after UrWork announced plans for several global hubs in New York, Los Angles, and London. The similarity in name and branding, and thus user confusion, were at the heart of its concerns. Through a partnership with local partner Serendipity Labs, URwork managed to open a co-branded location in New York earlier this year. They also opened a 300-desk space at 16839 Gale Avenue, Los Angeles. UrWork has withdrawn both trademark applications that were at issue in the case, for a logo with the letters “UR” on a circular background, as of December 15, according to The Real Deal. In a statement from WeWork, the co-working company said that the parties had reached “an amicable resolution to the global dispute regarding the use of certain trademarks.” the report pointed out. In fact, there have been early signs for a peaceful settlement at the beginning of this month. A picture taken at World Internet Conference in Wuzhen depicted perfect harmony between WeWork execs—co-founder Adam Neumann and vice chairman Michael Gross—and URwork founder Mao Daqing was widely circulated on Chinese social networks. A following tour of WeWork execs to URwork’s China locations drew the two firms to more friendly terms. Likewise, the two co-working giants are facing similar competition in China. Luckily, top players in the industry are focusing diversified segments in the industry as the market evolves.
Panda excrement recycled into tissues in China
Chinese paper company Jianwei Fengsheng is using panda droppings collected from a local conservation centre to make tissues and toilet paper. One box of tissues costs CNY43 ($6.50), more than 10 times the cost of regular tissue, the company claims the higher cost is due to 60 necessary sterilisation procedures - including cleaning and steaming. Creating paper from the faeces helps reduce environmental pollution. Other products recycled from faecal matter for cooking fires and artisan coffee have sold well in Tibet and Indonesia, respectively. 
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Pandas are undeniably adorable, but would you wipe your mouth with tissues made from their feces? A paper manufacturer in China is betting on it, and thinks you’ll pay extra for the privilege. Jianwei Fengsheng, based in the southwestern province of Sichuan—a panda hotspot—is collecting panda waste from a nearby conservation center and turning it into tissues and toilet paper, according to the Chengdu Business Daily (link in Chinese). Its panda-poop tissue sells for 10 to 20 times the price of the standard variety. Advertisement The higher price is necessary to offset the cost of the many sterilization procedures, of which there about 60, manager Zhou Chuanping told the daily, including cleaning and steaming. They’re meant to ensure the products meet hygiene standards around the world. Zhou expects the tissues will gain a following among consumers with an environmental-protection mindset. Turning the feces into paper helps reduce environmental pollution because the center—called the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda—would otherwise throw the feces away or use it as fertilizer, according to Huang Yan, director of animal research and management at the center. Huang told the newspaper that on average an adult panda consumes 12-15 kg (26-33 lbs) of bamboo a day, which turns into 10 kg of feces—known as “qingtuan” for its green color and round shape (“qing” means green, “tuan” a round pile). The company collects the droppings from three basements at the center, which as of October had 273 pandas, accounting for over 60% of the world’s captive population, according to Xinhua. The key to the tissues is bamboo fiber, which without the assistance of the pandas would be more difficult to process. The company would have to collect fresh bamboo and wait for the sugar to degrade. Instead, it can let the animal’s digestive system do the hard part. After absorbing the sugar, it takes about four hours for pandas to excrete the fiber, according to chairman Yang Chaolin. Advertisement Of course, putting animal poop to good use isn’t new. Tibetans and other have long used dried cattle feces (link in Chinese) for cooking fires. And in Indonesia the world’s most expensive coffee, kopi luwak, is made from the poop of civets—a single cup can sell for $80 in the US.
HIVE announces first tranche of investment
HIVE Blockchain Technologies has closed its first tranche of up to CAD115m ($90m), in a round led by GMP Securities and Eventus Capital. The round of private placement also included Haywood Securities and PI Financial. The tranche involved the sale of over 15 million units, each comprising one common share and one share purchase warrant, valid up until 14 November 2019. Each unit was sold at a price of CAD3.15. Gross proceeds were CAD50m, with a final closing for up to CAD65m expected to take place on 29 December 2017.
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Not for distribution to U.S. news wire services or dissemination in the United States Zug, Switzerland and Vancouver, Canada – HIVE Blockchain Technologies Ltd. (TSX.V:HIVE) (the “Company” or “HIVE”), the leading publicly listed blockchain infrastructure company, is pleased to announce that it has closed the first tranche (“First Tranche”) of its previously announced private placement of up to C$115 million (the “Offering”) co-led by GMP Securities L.P. and Eventus Capital Corp. and including Haywood Securities Inc. and PI Financial Corp. (collectively, the “Agents”). The First Tranche consisted of a total of 15,873,100 units (the “Units”) sold at a price of C$3.15 per Unit for gross proceeds raised of C$50,000,265. Each Unit consists of one common share (a “Share”) and one Share purchase warrant (a “Warrant”), with each Warrant entitling the holder to purchase one Share at a price of $3.90 until November 14, 2019. The Shares and the Warrants issued under the First Tranche are subject to a hold period expiring April 19, 2018. The Company anticipates that the Warrants will be listed on the TSX Venture Exchange (the “Exchange”) shortly after the hold period expires, subject to meeting the conditions in Exchange approval. In connection with the First Tranche, the Agents received a cash commission equal to 6% of the gross proceeds raised in the First Tranche. The final closing of the Offering of up to an additional of $65 million (the “Final Tranche”) is expected to be December 29, 2017. Closing of the Final Tranche is subject to certain conditions typical for a transaction of this nature and the receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals, including the approval of the Exchange. The net proceeds of the Offering are expected to be used to fund the completion of the Sweden Bitcoin Data Centre and the Phase 3 Expansion at the Sweden GPU Data Centre (as described in the Company’s December 13, 2017 news release), and for general working capital purposes. About HIVE Blockchain Technologies Ltd. HIVE Blockchain Technologies Ltd. is a growth oriented, TSX.V-listed company building a bridge from the blockchain sector to traditional capital markets. HIVE is strategically partnered with Genesis Mining Ltd. to build the next generation of blockchain infrastructure. HIVE owns state-of-the-art GPU-based digital currency mining facilities in Iceland, which produce newly minted virgin digital currency like Ethereum around the clock, and is in the midst of a major expansion of operations into Sweden. For more information and to register to HIVE’s mailing list, please visit www.HIVEblockchain.com. Follow @HIVEblockchain on Twitter and subscribe to HIVE’s YouTube channel. On Behalf Of HIVE Blockchain Technologies Ltd. "Harry Pokrandt" President, CEO and Director For further information please contact: Harry Pokrandt Tel: (604) 609-6110 Neither the TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this news release. Forward-Looking Information Except for the statements of historical fact, this news release contains “forward-looking information” within the meaning of the applicable Canadian securities legislation that is based on expectations, estimates and projections as at the date of this news release. “Forward-looking information” in this news release includes information about the expansion of the Company’s digital currency mining operations in Sweden (including into Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash mining); the quantum and closing of the second tranche of the Offering; the business goals and objectives of the Company, and other forward-looking information includes but is not limited to information concerning the intentions, plans and future actions of the parties to the transactions described herein and the terms thereon. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those described in such forward-looking information include, but are not limited to, the expansion of digital currency mining operations in Sweden (including construction of planned facilities) may not occur as currently planned, or at all; the second tranche of the Offering may not close on the terms and timing anticipated, or at all; the Exchange may not approve the transactions the Company has applied for; the quantum of computational power and electrical consumption expected by the Company in Sweden may not materialize as currently anticipated, or at all; the digital currency market; the Company’s ability to successfully mine digital currency; a decline in digital currency prices may have a significant negative impact on the Company’s operations; the volatility of digital currency prices; and other related risks as more fully set out in the Filing Statement of the Company dated September 13, 2017. The forward-looking information in this news release reflects the current expectations, assumptions and/or beliefs of the Company based on information currently available to the Company. In connection with the forward-looking information contained in this news release, the Company has made assumptions about the Company’s ability to complete of its expansion of digital currency operations in Sweden; the Company’s ability to close the second tranche of the Offering, including obtaining Exchange approval; Genesis’ participation in the Offering; the Company’s ongoing partnership with Genesis; historical prices of digital currencies and the ability of the Company to mine digital currencies will be consistent with historical prices; and there will be no regulation or law that will prevent the Company from operating its business. The Company has also assumed that no significant events occur outside of the Company's normal course of business. Although the Company believes that the assumptions inherent in the forward-looking information are reasonable, forward-looking information is not a guarantee of future performance and accordingly undue reliance should not be put on such information due to the inherent uncertainty therein. Any forward-looking information speaks only as of the date on which it is made and, except as may be required by applicable securities laws, the Company disclaims any intent or obligation to update any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or results or otherwise.
Facebook launches new tools to prevent abuse and bullying
Facebook has created two new tools aimed at reducing bullying and abusive behaviour on the site. One feature monitors information such as IP addresses to prevent blocked users from simply creating new accounts. The second works in concert with Facebook Messenger and enables users to automatically ignore communications, which are then put into a filtered messages folder. The move follows the recent launch of a snooze feature, allowing friends to be "muted" for up to 30 days.
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Facebook says it's trying to make sure you're safer when you use its services. The social network on Tuesday unveiled new tools aimed at curbing abuse and bullying on its platform. One tool is designed to make sure that when you block someone who's been harassing you, the person can't simply create a new account and continue to harass. The tool does that by looking at various signals, like the person's IP address. Another new tool involves the Facebook Messenger chat app and will let you automatically ignore messages from a contact without actually blocking that person. That's because blocking an abuser can sometimes make the abuse worse. When you choose the ignore option, the messages go straight to your filtered messages folder and not your inbox. That way, you or someone else can review the messages to see if there's any risk. Right now the feature is available only for one-on-one conversations, but Facebook said it will soon be available for group conversations too. The new features come as social networks clamor to stop regular abuse on their platforms. For example, Twitter has updated its community guidelines to reduce hateful content, and on Monday it banned at least 20 notable accounts violating the rules. Facebook, meanwhile, has been grappling with the negative effect it can have on people's well-being. The social network said last week that Facebook can play a negative role if people tend to scroll through the feed passively and in isolation, without interacting with other users or sharing messages. The company also introduced a "snooze" feature last week, which lets you mute annoying friends for up to 30 days. iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet. The Smartest Stuff: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.
Aker BP buys stake in oil recovery technology firm
Norwegian oil company Aker BP has bought a 17% stake in Fishbones, a company that has been developing unconventional stimulation technology that enhances production from tight oil reservoirs. Fishbones' method, which involves inserting 12 metre-long needles into the reservoir formation, was tested between 2008 and 2012 in the Valhall oilfield, but was not commercially adopted at the time.
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Aker BP has invested in and acquired a 17% stake in the company Fishbones AS. Fishbones is an unconventional stimulation technology applied to increase the production rates in tight reservoirs. The Fishbone concept was initially developed for a field trial at Valhall from 2008 to 2012, but was not put to use. The technology sends 12 m long needles from the wellbore into the reservoir formation, increasing the effective wellbore drainage radius, the connectivity with any natural fractures, and the penetration through natural formation fluid flow barriers. Aker BP sees a potential for substantial cost savings and potential for increased recovery by using this method. The technology will initially be applied at the Valhall field. “Investing in Fishbones enables us to influence, adapt and fully develop the technology to increase recovery on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and beyond while also developing solutions that are fit for the Aker BP fields. We have already started developing a specialized solution to handle this soft and fine-grained reservoir In the Valhall chalk field,” comments Ole Johan Molvig, SVP Reservoir in Aker BP. Subsequent to Aker BP investing in Fishbones, Statoil Technology Invest AS holds a 25% stake in the company and Freyer Holding AS holds 51%. Aker BP will have one seat in the Board of Directors of the company.
YouTube improves vertical video playback for iOS devices
YouTube's latest iPhone update enables vertical videos to be viewed on iOS without black bars, the Google-owned company said on Twitter. The tweak applies to all formats of video, which will be automatically adjusted to fit iOS smartphones, bringing YouTube in line with Snapchat and Instagram.
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Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have made recording and watching vertical videos commonplace. But if you've ever played a vertical video on YouTube, two giant black bars filled most of your screen. YouTube's latest update for the iPhone changes that. On Tuesday, in a Twitter post, the venerable site for internet videos announced that the YouTube player for iOS will now automatically adapt to the shape of the video you're watching. If the video is vertical, the player will become vertical. If the video is square, the player will become square, which means goodbye, black bars.
Ryanair investigated over pay by MPs
Ryanair, the low-cost Irish airline, is to be investigated by two UK parliamentary committees following allegations that staff have been underpaid and forced to pay for their own uniforms. The company’s boss, Michael O’Leary, has been contacted by the chairs of the work and pensions and business select committees, Frank Field and Rachel Reeves. The company is accused of avoiding paying the national minimum wage and of imposing a £175 ($234) “administration cost” on staff leaving within the first 15 months of their employment. Ryanair agreed earlier this week to recognise cabin crew unions for the first time.
2017-12-20 13:45:04.830000
Ryanair will be investigated by two parliamentary committees after allegations about employee working conditions, including that the airline has been “trying to wriggle out” of paying its staff the national minimum wage. Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions committee, and Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business select committee, on Wednesday wrote to the airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary, to demand answers to a string of allegations raised by Ryanair’s staff. The damaging claims come after Ryanair finally agreed to recognise pilot and cabin crew unions in order to avert a pre-Christmas strike. “Sadly, it will not surprise me if the sorry picture painted here is true: a company that turned in £1.15bn profit last year squeezing its workers,” Field said. “People who work long, hard hours and have an important role in passenger safety, and yet apparently cannot count on receiving the national minimum wage – or even close to it. “Ryanair once tried to make its passengers pay to use the loo – now they even make their workers pay to quit. As well as foisting a host of other miserly – and potentially unlawful – requirements on them.” The letter to O’Leary sets out detailed allegations, including staff having to pay £25 a month for their uniform in the first year of employment and having a £175 “administration cost” taken from their salaries if they leave the company in the first 15 months of employment. Reeves said: “These allegations of hours of unpaid work, of charges for uniforms, of fees being incurred to leave, suggest a company falling well short of its duty to the staff who help their planes get off the ground and who spend the flight attending to and serving its paying customers. “Ryanair now need to provide answers on the fees and charges faced by cabin staff and set out how they ensure these staff are receiving the national minimum wage.” Ryanair, which made a record £1.1bn of profit in the year to the end of March, said: “We will respond to the subcommittee in early January as requested, however the claims about cabin crew pay and working conditions are false. “Ryanair cabin crew earn between €24,000 [£21,300] to €40,000, which is more than double the UK national minimum wage.” The allegations come soon after crews were warned of disciplinary proceedings for missing sales targets on scratchcards, and staff at Italian bases were threatened with collective sanctions if any member joined a strike called last week. Earlier this week the airline said it would recognise cabin crew and pilots unions for this first time in its 32-year history in an attempt to prevent damaging strikes across Europe over the next few days. Not recognising unions was at the heart of O’Leary’s low-cost business model that helped transform a small Irish regional airline into Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers. O’Leary has frequently dismissed pilots’ complaints and insisted on pay negotiations being conducted through company-controlled representative committees at individual bases. He was once quoted as saying he would rather cut off his own hand than recognise unions. However, a shortage of pilots led the airline to cancel thousands of flights earlier this year, shifting more power to staff. “Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before,” O’Leary said in a statement. “We hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the new year.” The first meeting between company executives and a pilots union took place in Dublin on Tuesday. Ryanair announced on Tuesday that it would also recognise cabin crew unions and meet them for the first time in the new year.
Lyft to use AR glasses to help the visually impaired hail taxis
Lyft is partnering with San Diego start-up Aira to make it easier for visually impaired people to use the ride-hailing service, with the help of smart glasses and an augmented reality app on the driver's dashboard. Aira users can get information on the location of designated pick-up spots, estimated time of pick-up and fare, said Aira's Brittany Carambio, though no details about how the glasses would be distributed or their cost was released. Lyft has previously partnered with the National Association for the Deaf to offer visual information about rides.
2017-12-20 13:27:11.353000
Lyft is making it easier for the visually impaired to take a ride AR glasses will deliver information from the dashboard to the rider. Lyft is working with assistive community Aira to make catching a ride easier for the visually impaired. That means wearable smart glasses and an augmented reality implement for their driver's dashboard that will deliver "essential ride information," according to a press release. A Medium post from Aira explains things a bit further. "Upon request, Aira agents can now initiate information about the ride, including the location of designated pick-up spots, estimated time of pick-up and the estimated fare," Aira's Brittany Carambio writes. Further information includes the driver's name, vehicle information and walking directions for the last 50 feet to their destination, among other things. This piggybacks onto the work Lyft has done with the National Association for the Deaf, which uses visual cues to alert drivers of new rides, rather than an audible notification. Other details like how these glasses will be distributed, or at what cost, weren't available as of press time. It's also another way that Lyft is using its image of moral responsibility to subtly throw digs at its perpetually beleaguered competitor, Uber. Most recently, it was revealed that the company intentionally withheld evidence for its upcoming trial with Waymo. A lawyer's letter from a former employee detailed ways that Uber allegedly tried hacking its competitors and bugged meetings between transport regulators.