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July 18, 2018
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Are scooter startups really worth billions?

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It’s been hard to miss the scooter startup wars opening fresh, techno-fueled rifts in Valley society in recent months. Another flavor of ride-sharing steed which sprouted seemingly overnight to clutter up sidewalks — drawing rapid-fire ire from city regulators apparently far more forgiving of traffic congestion if it’s delivered in the traditional, car-shaped capsule.

Even in their best, most-groomed PR shots, the dockless carelessness of these slimline electrified scooters hums with an air of insouciance and privilege. As if to say: Why yes, we turned a kids’ toy into a battery-powered kidult transporter — what u gonna do about it?

An earlier batch of electric scooter sharing startups — offering full-fat, on-road mopeds that most definitely do need a license to ride (and, unless you’re crazy, a helmet for your head) — just can’t compete with that. Last mile does not haul.

But a short-walk replacement tool that’s so seamlessly manhandled is also of course easily vandalized. Or misappropriated. Or both. And there have been a plethora of scooter dismemberment/kidnap horror stories coming out of California, judging by reports from the scooter wars front line. Hanging scooters in trees is presumably a protest thing.

Scooter brand Lime struck an especially tone-deaf tech note trying to fix this problem after an update added a security alarm  that bellowed robotic threats to call the cops on anyone who fumbled to unlock them. Safe to say, littering abusive scooters in public spaces isn’t a way to win friends and influence people.

Even when functioning ‘correctly’, i.e. as intended, scooter rides can ooze a kind of brash entitlement. The sweatless convenience looks like it might be mostly enabling another advance in tech-fueled douche behavior as a t-shirt wearing alpha nerd zips past barking into AirPods and inhaling a takeaway latte while cutting up the patience of pedestrians.

None of this fast-seeded societal friction has put the brakes on e-scooter startup momentum, though. Au contraire. They’ve been raising massive amounts of investment on rapidly inflating valuations ($2BN is the latest valuation for Bird).

But buying lots of e-scooters and leaving them at the mercy of human whim is an expensive business to try scaling. Hence big funding rounds are necessary if you’re going to replace all the canal-dunked duds and keep scooting fast enough for the competition.

At the same time, there isn’t a great deal to differentiate one e-scooter experience over another — beyond price and proximity. Branding might do it but then you have to scramble even harder and faster to create a slick experience and inflate a brand that sticks. (And it goes without saying that a scooter sticky with fecal-matter is absolutely not that.)

The still fledgling startups are certainly scrambling to scale, with some also already pushing into international markets. Lime just scattered ~200 e-scooters in Paris, for example. It’s also been testing the waters more quietly in Zurich. While Bird has its beady eye on European territory too.

The idea underpinning some very obese valuations for these fledgling startups is that scooters will be a key piece of a reworked, multi-modal transport mix for urban mobility, fueled by app-based convenience and city buy-in to greener transport options with emissions-free benefits. (Albeit scooters’ greenness depends on what they’re displacing; Great if it’s gas-guzzling cars, less compelling if it’s people walking or peddling.)

And while investors are buying in to the vision that lots of city dwellers are going to be scooting the last mile in future, and betting big on sizable value being captured by a few plucky scooter startups — more than half a billion dollars has been funneled into just two of these slimline scooter brands, Bird and Lime, since February — there are skeptical notes being sounded too.

Asking whether the scooter model really justifies such huge raises and heady valuations. Wondering if it isn’t a bit crazy for a fledgling Bird to be 2x a unicorn already.

The bear case for these slimline e-scooters says they’re really only fixing a pretty limited urban mobility problem. Too spindly and unsafe to go the distance, too sedate of pace (and challenged for sidewalk space) to feel worthwhile if you don’t have far to go anyway. And of course you’re not going to be able to cart your kids and/or much baggage on a stand-up two wheeler. So they’re useless for families.

Meanwhile scooter invasions are illegal in some places and, where they are possible, are fast inviting public and regulatory frisson and friction — by contributing to congestion and peril on already crowded pavements.

After taking one of Lime’s just-landed e-scooters for a spin in Paris this week, Willy Braun, VC at early stage European fund Daphni, came away unimpressed. “I didn’t feel I was really saving time in a short distance, since there is always many people in our narrow sidewalks,” he tells us. “And it isn’t comfortable enough for me to imagine a longer distance. Also it’s quite expensive ($1 per use and $.15/min).

“Lastly: Before renting it I read two news media that told me I had to use it only on the sidewalks and they tell us that we should only use it on the road during the onboarding — and that wearing an helmet is mandatory without providing it). As a comparison, I’d rather use e-bikes (or emoto-bikes) for longer journey without hesitation.”

“Give us Jump instead of Lime!” he adds, namechecking the electric bike startup that’s been lodged under Uber’s umbrella since April, adding a greener string to its urban mobility bow — and which is also heading over to Europe as part of the ride-hailing giant’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its regionally battered brand.

“Uber stands ready to help address some of the biggest challenges facing German cities: tackling air pollution, reducing congestion and increasing access to cleaner transportation solutions,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wheeling a bright red Jump bike on stage at the Noah conference in Berlin earlier this month. Uber’s Jump e-bikes will launch in Germany this summer.

E-bikes do seem to offer more urban mobility versatility than e-scooters. Though a scooter is arguably a more accessible type of wheeled steed vs a bike, given you can just stand on it and be moved.

But in Europe’s dense and dynamic urban environments — which, unlike the US, tend to be replete with public transit options (typically at a spectrum of price-points) — individual transport choices tend to be based firstly on economics. After which it’s essentially a matter of personal taste and/or the weather.

Urban transport horses for courses — depending on your risk, convenience and comfort thresholds, thanks to a publicly funded luxury of choice. So scooters have loads of already embedded competition.

TechCrunch’s resident Parisienne, Romain Dillet — a regular user of on-demand bike services in the city (of which there are many), and prior to that the city’s own dock-based bike rental scheme — also went for a test spin on a Lime scooter this week. And also came away feeling underwhelmed.

“This is bad,” he said after his ride. “It’s slow and you need to brake constantly. BUT the worst part is that it feels waaaaaay more dangerous than a bike. Basically you can’t brake abruptly because you’re just standing there.”

Index Venture’s Martin Mignot was also in Paris this week and he took the chance to take a Lime scooter for a spin too — checking out the competition in his case, given the European VC firm is a Bird backer. So what did he think?

“The experience is pretty cool. It’s slightly faster than a bike, there’s no sweating. The weather was just amazing and very hot in Paris so it was pretty amazing in terms of speed and lack of effort,” he says, rolling out the positively spun, vested view on scooter sharing. “Especially going up hill to go to Gare du Nord.

“And the lack of friction — just to get on board and get started. So in general I think it’s a great experience and I think it feels a really interesting niche between walking and on-demand bikes… In Paris you’ve also got the mopeds. So that kind of ‘in between offering’. I think there’s a big market there. I think it’s going to work pretty well in Paris.”

Mignot is a tad disparaging about the quality of Lime’s scooters vs the model being deployed by Bird — a scooter model he also personally owns. But again, as you’d expect given his vested interests.

“Obviously I’m biased but I would say that the Xiaomi scooter/Ninebot scooter is higher quality than the one that Lime are using,” he tells us. “I thought that the Lime one, the handlebar is a little bit too high. The braking is a little bit too soft. Maybe it was the one I used, I don’t know.”

Talking generally about scooter startups, he says investors’ excitement boils down to trip frequency — thanks exactly to journeys being these itty-bitty last mile links.

But it’s also then about the potential for all that last mile hopping to be a shortcut for winning a prized slot on smartphone users’ homescreens — and thus the underlying game being played looks like a jockeying for prime position in the urban mobility race.

Lime, for example, started out with bike rentals before jumping into scooters and going multi-modal. So scooter sharing starts to look like a strategy for mobility startups to scoot to the top of the attention foodchain — where they’re then positioned to offer a full mix and capture more value.

So really scooters might mostly be a tool for catching people’s app attention. Think of that next time you see one lying on a sidewalk.

“What’s very interesting if you look at the trip distribution, most of the trips are short. So the vast majority of trips if you’re walking, obviously, are less than three miles. So that’s actually where the bulk of the mobility happens. And scooters play really well in that field. So in terms of sheer number of trips I think it’s going to dwarf any other type of transportation. And especially ride-hailing,” says Mignot.

“If you look at how often do people use Uber or Lyft or Taxify… it’s going to be much less frequent than the scooter users. And I think that’s what makes it such an interesting asset… The frequency will be much higher — and so the apps that power the scooters will tend to be on the homescreen. And kind of on top of the foodchain, so to speak. So I think that’s what makes it super interesting.”

Scooters also get a big investor tick on merit of the lack of friction standing in the way of riding vs other available urban options such as bikes (or, well, non-electric scooters, skateboards, roller blades, public transport, and so on and on) — in both onboarding (getting going) and propulsion (i.e. the lack of sweat required to ride) terms.

“That’s what’s so brilliant with these devices, you just snap the QR code and off you go,” he says. “The difference with bikes is that you don’t have to produce any effort. I think there are cases where obviously bikes are better. But I think there are a lot of cases where people will want something where you don’t sweat.

“Where you don’t wrinkle your clothes. Which goes a little bit faster. Without going all the way to the moped experience where you need to put the helmet, which is a bit more dangerous, which a lot of people, especially women, are not super familiar with. So I think what’s exciting with scooters as a form factor is it’s actually very mainstream.

“Anyone can ride them. It’s very simple to manoeuvre. It’s not super fast, it’s not too dangerous. It doesn’t require any muscular effort — so for older people or for people who just don’t want to sweat because they’re going to a meeting or something. It’s just a fantastic option.”

Index has also invested in an e-bike startup (Cowboy) and the firm is fully signed up to the notion that urban mobility will be multimodal. So if e-scooters valuations are a bit overcooked Index is not going to be too concerned. People in cities are clearly going to be riding something. And backing a mix is a smart way to hedge the risk of any one option ending up more passing fad than staple urban steed.

Mostly Index is betting that people will keep on riding robotic horses for urban courses. And whatever they ride it’s a fairly safe bet that an app is going to be involved in the process of finding (docklessness is therefore another attention play) or unlocking (scan that QR code!) the mobility device — opening up the possibility that a single app could house multiple mobility options and thus capture more overall value.

“It’s not a one-size fits all. They’re all complementing each other,” says Mignot of the urban mobility options in play. “I would say e-bikes are probably a little bit more great for little bit longer trips because you’re sitting down. But again it takes a little bit longer, because you have to adjust the saddle, you need to start peddling. There’s a bit more friction both on the onboading and on the riding. But they’re a bit better for slightly longer distances. I would say for shorter distances there’s nothing better than the scooter.”

He also points out that scooters are both cheaper and less bulky than e-bikes. And because they take up less street space they can — at least in theory — be more densely stacked, thereby generating the claimed convenience by having them sitting near enough to convince someone not to bother walking 10 minutes to the café or gym — and just scoot instead. So scooters’ slimline physique is also especially exciting to investors. (Even if, ironically, it’s being deployed to urge people to walk less.)

“I think we will end up with more density of scooters. Which is super important,” he continues. “People will, in the end, tend to take the vehicle that they can find where they are. And I think it’s more likely, eventually, that they will get a scooter than an e-bike. Just simply because they take less space and they are less expensive.”

But why wouldn’t people who do get won over to the sweatless perks of last mile scooting just buy and own their own ride — rather than shelling out on an ongoing basis to share?

Unlike bikes, scooters are mobile enough to be picked up and moved around fairly easily. Which means they can go with you into your home, office, even a restaurant — disruptively reducing theft risk. Whereas talk to any bike owner and they’ll almost invariably have at least one tale of theft woe, which is a key part of what makes bike sharing so attractive: It erases theft worry.

Add to that, you can find e-scooters on sale in European electronics shops for as little as €140. So if you’re going to be a regular scooterer, the purely economic argument to just own your own looks pretty compelling.

And people zipping around on e-scooters is a pretty common sight in another dense European city, Barcelona, which has very scooter-friendly weather but no scooter startups (yet). But unless it’s a tourist weaving along the seafront most of these riders are not shared: People just popped into their local electronics shop and walked out with a scooter in a box.

So the rides aren’t generating repeat revenue for anyone except the electricity companies.

 

Asked why people who do want to scoot won’t just buy, rather than rent Mignot talks up the hassle of ownership — undermined slightly by the fact he is also a scooter owner (despite the claimed faff from problems such as frequent flat tires and the chore of the nightly charge).

“The thing you notice very rapidly: There are two things, one is the maintenance,” he says. “The models that exist today are not super robust. Maybe in a very flat, very smooth roads, maybe Santa Monica, maybe it’s a little bit less true but I would say in Europe the maintenance that is required is fairly high… I have to do something on mine every week.

“The other thing is it takes a little bit of space. If you have to bring it to a restaurant or whatever type of crowded place, a movie theatre or wherever you’re going, to an office, to a meeting room, it’s a little bit on the heavy side, and it’s a little bit inconvenient. So certainly some people will buy them… But I also think that there are a lot of cases where you’d rather have it just on-demand.”

Unlike Mignot and Index, Tom Bradley, of UK focused VC firm Oxford Capital, is not so convinced by the on-demand scooter craze.

The firm has not made any e-scooter investments itself, though mobility is a “core theme”, with the portfolio including an on-demand coach travel startup (Sn-ap), and technology plays such as Morpheus Labs (machine learning for driverless cars) and UltraSoc (complex circuits for automotive parts, which sells to the likes of Tesla).

But it’s just not been sold on scooter startups. Bradley describes it as an “open question” whether scooters end up being “an important part of how people move around the cities of the future”. He also points to theft problems with dockless bike share schemes that have not played out well in the UK.

“We’re not convinced that this is a fundamental part of the picture,” he says of scooter sharing. “It may be a part of the picture but I personally am not yet convinced that it’s as big a part of the picture that people seem to be prepared to pay for.”

“I keep thinking of the Segway example,” he adds. “It’s an absolutely delightful product. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. In a way that these electric scooters are not. But obviously it was much more expensive. And it made people feel a bit weird. But it was supposed to be the answer — and it’s not the answer. Before its time, perhaps.”

Of course he also accepts that capital is “being used as a weapon”, as he puts it, to scoot full-pelt towards a future where shared electric scooters are the norm on city streets by waging a “marketing war” to get there.

“Venture capital valuations are what someone is prepared to pay. And in this case people are valuing potential rather than valuing the business… so the valuations [of Bird and Lime] are being driven more than anything by the amount of money being raised,” he says. “So you decide a rule of thumb about what is acceptable dilution, and if you’re going to raise $400M or whatever then the valuation’s got to be somewhere between $1.6BN and $2BN to make that sort of raise make sense — and leave enough equity for the previous investors and founders. So there’s an element of this where the valuations are being driven by the amount of capital being raised.”

Oxford Capital’s bearish view on scooter sharing is also bounded by the fund only investing in UK-based startups. And while Bradley says it sees lots of local mobility strengths — especially in the automotive market — he admits it’s more of a mental leap to imagine a world leading scooter startup sprouting from the country’s green and pleasant lands. Not least because it’s not legal to use them on UK public roads or pavements.

“If you look at places like Amsterdam, Berlin, they’re sort of built for bikes. London’s getting towards being built for bikes… Cycling’s been one of the big success stories in London. Is [scooter sharing] going to replace cycling? I don’t know. Not so convinced… It’s obviously easy for anyone to get on and off these things, young and old. So that’s good, it’s inclusive. But it feels a little bit like a solution looking for a problem, the sorts of journeys people talk about for these things — on campus, short urban journeys. A lot of these are walkable or cycle journeys in a lot of cities. So is there a mass need?

“Is this Segway 2 or is this bike hire 2… it’s hard to tell. And we’re coming down on the former. We’re not convinced this is going to be a fundamental part of the transport space. It will be a feature but not a huge part.”

But for Mignot the early days of the urban mobility attention wars mean there’s much to play for — and much that can be favorably reshaped to fit scooters into the mix.

“The whole thing, even on-demand bikes, it’s a two year old phenomenon really,” he says. “So I think everyone is just trying to learn and figure out and adapt to this new reality, whether it’s users or companies or cities. I think it’s very similar to when cars were first introduced. There were no parking spaces at the time and there were no rules on the road. And fast forward 100 years and it looks very different.

“If you look at the amount of infrastructure and effort and spend that has been put into making — and I would argue way more than should have — into making a city car-friendly, if you only do a 100th of the same amount of effort and spend into making some space for bicycles and light two-wheel vehicles I think we’ll be fine.

“That’s the beauty of this model. If you compare the space of the tech and if you look at the efficiency of moving people around vs the space, the scooters are simply the most efficient because their footprint on the ground is just so small.”

He even makes the case for scooters working well in London — arguing the sprawl of the city amps up the utility because there are so many tedious last mile trips that people have to make.

Even more so than in denser European cities like Paris, where he admits that hopping on a scooter might just be more of a “nice to have”, given shorter distances and all the other available options. So, really, where urban mobility is concerned, it can actually be courses for horses.

Yet, the reality is London is off-limits to the likes of Bird and Lime for now — thanks to UK laws barring this type of unlicensed personal electric vehicle from public roads and spaces.

You can buy e-scooters for use on private land in the UK but any scooter startups that tried their usual playbook in London would be scooting straight for legal hot water.

It’s not just the British weather that’s inclement.

“I’m really hoping that TfL [Transport for London] and the Department for Transport are going to make it possible,” says Mignot on that. “I think any city should welcome this with open arms. Some cities are, by the way. And I think over time once they see the success stories in other parts of the world I think they all will. But I wish London was one of those cutting edge cities that would welcome new innovation with open arms. I think right now, unfortunately, it’s not there.

“There’s a lot of talk about air quality, and so on, but actually, when push comes to shove… you have a lot of resistance and a lot of pushback… So it’s a little bit disappointing. But, you know, we’ll get there eventually.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

For Apple, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about education

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Following Apple’s education event in Chicago in March, I wrote about what the company’s announcements might mean for accessibility. After sitting in the audience covering the event, the big takeaway I had was Apple could “make serious inroads in furthering special education as well.” As I wrote, despite how well-designed the Classroom and Schoolwork apps seemingly are, Apple should do more to tailor their new tools to better serve students and educators in special education settings. After all, accessibility and special education are inextricably tied.

It turns out, Apple has, unsurprisingly, considered this.

“In many ways, education and accessibility beautifully overlap,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, said to me. “For us, the concept of differentiated learning and how the accessibility tools that we build in [to the products] help make that [learning] possible is really important to us.”

Apple’s philosophy toward accessibility and education isn’t about purposely targeting esoteric use cases such as IEP prep or specialized teaching methodologies.

In fact, Apple says there are many apps on the iOS App Store which do just that. The company instead believes special education students and teachers themselves should take the tools as they are and discover creative uses for them. Apple encourages those in schools to take the all-new, low-cost iPad and the new software and make them into the tools they need to teach and learn. It’s a sentiment that hearkens back how Steve Jobs pitched the original iPad: It’s a slab of metal and glass that can be whatever you wish it to be.

In other words, it’s Apple’s customers who put the ‘I’ in iPad.

In hindsight, Apple’s viewpoint for how they support special education makes total sense if you understand their ethos. Tim Cook often talks about building products that enrich people’s lives — in an education and accessibility context, this sentiment often becomes a literal truism. For many disabled people, iOS and the iPad is the conduit through which they access the world.

Apple ultimately owns the iPad and the message around it, but in actuality it’s the users who really transform it and give it its identity. This is ultimately what makes the tablet exceptional for learning. The device’s design is so inherently accessible that anyone, regardless of ability, can pick it up and go wild.

(Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Apple’s education team is special

At the March event, one of the onstage presenters was Kathleen Richardson, who works at Apple on their ConnectedED program. She is one of many who work on the company’s education team, whose group is tasked with working with schools and districts in evangelizing and integrating Apple products into their curricula.

I spoke with Meg Wilson, a former special education teacher who now works on education efforts inside Apple. A former Apple Distinguished Educator, Wilson is the resident “special education guru” who provides insight into how special education programs generally run. With that knowledge, she provides guidance on how Apple products can augment the process of individualizing and differentiating educational plans for special ed students.

A focus of our discussion was the Schoolwork app and how it could be used to suit the needs of teachers and support staff. One example Wilson cited was that of a speech therapy session, where a speech pathologist could use Schoolwork not necessarily for handouts, but for monitoring students’ progress toward IEP goals. Instead of the app showing a worksheet for the student to complete, it could show a data-tracking document for the therapist, who is recording info during lessons. “What we need in special ed is data — we need data,” Wilson said. She added Schoolwork can be used to “actually see the progress” students are making right from an iPad without mountains of paper. A key element to this, according to Wilson, is Schoolwork’s ability to modernize and streamline sharing. It makes conferring with other members of the IEP team a more continuous, dynamic endeavor. Rather than everyone convening once a year for an annual review of students’ progress, Wilson said, Schoolwork allows for “an amazing opportunity for collaboration amongst service providers.”

Wilson also emphasized the overarching theme of personalizing the iPad to suit the needs of teacher and student. “When you are creative with technology, you change people’s lives,” she said.

To her, the iPad and, especially, the new software scale for different learners and different environments really well. For special educators, for instance, Wilson said it’s easy to add one’s entire caseload to Schoolwork and have progress reports at the ready anytime. Likewise, the ability in Classroom to “lock” an entire class (or a single student) into an activity on an iPad, which takes its cues from iOS’s Guided Access feature, helps teachers ensure students stay engaged and on task during class. And for students, the intuitive nature of the iPad makes it so that students can instantly share their work with teachers.

But it isn’t only Apple who is changing education. Wilson made the case repeatedly that third-party developers are also making Apple’s solutions for education more compelling. She stressed there are many apps on the App Store that can help in special education settings (IEP prep, communication boards, etc.), and that Apple hears from developers who want to learn about accessibility and, crucially, how to make their apps accessible to all by supporting the discrete Accessibility features. Wilson shared an anecdote of an eye-opening experience for one developer, who expressed the idea of supporting accessibility “didn’t even occur to him,” but doing so made his app better.

One “big idea” that struck me from meeting with Wilson was how diverse Apple’s workforce truly is. Wilson is a former special education teacher. Apple’s health and fitness team reportedly is made up of such medical professionals as doctors and nurses. Apple’s education team is no different, as my conversation with Wilson attested. It’s notable how Apple brings together so many, from all walks of life, to help inform as they build these products. It really does intersect liberal arts with technology.

Apple makes learning code accessible to all

In early March, Lori Hawkins at the Austin American-Statesman reported on how Apple has made its Everyone Can Code program accessible to all. Hawkins wrote that representatives from Apple visited Austin’s Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach students to fly drones with code written in the Swift Playgrounds app. As you’d expect, Swift Playgrounds is fully compatible with VoiceOver and even Switch Control. “When we said everyone should be able to code, we really meant everyone,” Herrlinger told the Statesman. “Hopefully these kids will leave this session and continue coding for a long time. Maybe it can inspire where their careers can go.” Herrlinger also appeared on a panel at the SXSW festival, where she and others discussed coding and accessibility pertaining to Everyone Can Code.

For Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year, Apple has announced that a slew of special education schools are adopting Everyone Can Code into their curricula. In a press release, the company says they “collaborated with engineers, educators, and programmers from various accessibility communities to make Everyone Can Code as accessible as possible.” They also note there are “additional tools and resources” which should aid non-visual learners to better understand coding environments.

In addition to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin, Apple says there are seven other institutions across the country that are implementing the Everyone Can Code curriculum. Among them are two Bay Area schools: the Northern California campuses of the California School for the Blind and the California School for the Deaf, both located in Fremont.

At a special kick-off event at CSD, students were visited by Apple employees — which included CEO Tim Cook — who came to the school to officially announce CSB and CSD’s participation in the Everyone Can Code program.

Students arrived at the school’s media lab for what they believed to be simply another day of coding. In reality, they were in for a  surprise as Tim Cook made his appearance. Members of Apple’s Accessibility team walked students through controlling drones and robots in Swift Playgrounds on an iPad. Cook — along with deaf activist and actor Nyle DiMarco — toured the room to visit with students and have them show off their work.

In an address to students, Cook said, “We are so happy to be here to kick off the Everyone Can Code curriculum with you. We believe accessibility is a fundamental human right and coding is part of that.”

In an interview Cook told me, “Accessibility has been a priority at Apple for a long time.” He continued: “We believe in focusing on ability rather than disability. We believe coding is a language — a language that should be accessible to everyone.” When I asked about any accessibility features he personally uses, Cook said due to hearing issues he likes to use closed-captioning whenever possible. And because he wears glasses, he likes to enlarge text on all of his devices, particularly the iPhone.

Accessibility-related Apple retail events

As in prior years, Apple is spending the month of May promoting accessibility and Global Accessibility Awareness Day by hosting numerous accessibility-centric events at its retail stores across the globe. (These are done throughout the year too.) These include workshops on the accessibility features across all Apple’s platforms, as well as talks and more. Apple says they have held “over 10,000 accessibility sessions” since 2017.

Today, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018, Apple is holding accessibility-related events at several campuses worldwide, including its corporate headquarters in Cupertino, as well as at its satellite campuses in Austin, Cork and London.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The UK and USA need to extend their “special relationship” to technology development

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The UK and the USA have always had an enduring bond, with diplomatic, cultural and economic ties that have remained firm for centuries.

We live in an era of profound change, and are living with technologies set to change things ever faster. If Britain and America work together to develop these technologies for the good of mankind, in a way that is open and free, yet also safe and good for our citizens, we can maintain the global lead our nations have enjoyed in the fields of innovation.

Over past months we have seen some very significant strides forward in this business relationship. All of the biggest US companies have made decisions to invest in the UK. Apple is developing a new HQ in the iconic Battersea Power Station, close to the new US embassy, while Google is building a billion dollar new HQ in the increasingly fashionable King’s Cross. Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are all extending their operations, and a multitude of smaller US firms are basing their international headquarters in London.

They are all coming here because as we prepare to leave the EU we are building a forward looking Britain that is open to the wider world, and tech is at the heart of this.

Similarly, there have been major expansions or new investment from British firms into the US. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, supports more than 9,000 jobs in the USA and have recently opened their new multimillion-dollar corporate North America HQ in New Jersey.  iProov, a leading British provider of biometric facial verification technology, became the first international company to be awarded a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program last month.

We want to work with our global partners – to share expertise, and encourage investment – as we harness technology for the wider good. And that of course includes our old friend and closest ally, the USA.

We have a great deal to offer.

The UK was recently ranked the most AI ready nation among all the OECD countries. In the past three years, new AI start-ups have been created in the UK on an almost weekly basis.

Recently, UK government and industry together committed over $1 billion to support our AI sector, much of which will go towards entrepreneurs. Funding has been set aside to create a nationwide network of tech incubators, that we’re calling “Tech Nation”, which will support new AI businesses as they get off the ground.

We are also excited by — and I am a firm advocate for — the development of blockchain and similar technologies. The UK is leading the way in many areas where blockchain has the potential to be used, such as Fintech. There are now more people working in UK Fintech than in New York or in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined.

And we are eminent in the development of immersive technologies, like Augmented and Virtual Reality, which look set to radically improve many areas of life in coming years, with applications as varied as flight simulation and surgical training techniques.

There is so much to be gained from close collaboration between our two countries on these new technologies and from sharing our expertise.

Together, we can reap the economic benefits of stealing an early lead in their development. We estimate that AI, for example, if widely adopted, could add $33 billion to the UK economy. But, perhaps most importantly, we can also work together to build a strong regulatory and ethical frameworks for their wider application.

It is the role of governments across the world, the UK and US included, to set frameworks for these decentralised, cross border systems so we can manage their use in a safe and effective way.

Our aim should be to harness the power and capability of technology but always for the benefit of, and in service to the populace.

We in the UK are avowedly pro-tech, always seeking to put its power in the hands of our citizens.

We have all learned valuable lessons from the recent scandals regarding data use, most recently around Facebook’s use of data.

We want to build a system that protects and cherishes the freedom of the Internet while protecting the rights of individuals, and their property, including intellectual property.

We want to see freedom in a framework; where our tech entrepreneurs have the space to innovate, knowing they do so with full public trust. Trust underpins a strong economy, and trust in data underpins a strong digital economy.

So in the UK we are developing a Digital Charter, to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Our starting point is that what is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated in the online world. That includes how tech companies treat private citizens and use their data, as well as how people treat each other online.

Important changes like these cannot be agreed by one country alone. It is more important than ever that we work together and find common ground so we can make sure that tech continues to change the world for the better. Based on our mutual love of freedom and individual rights Britain and America have through history risen to challenges together. I firmly believe working together we can build that brighter future.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The 2017 TechCrunch Include Progress Report

in africa/Artificial Intelligence/Australia/Battlefield/berlin/Bernard Coleman/Chris Redlitz/Delhi/DeRay Mckesson/Diversity/Ellen Pao/erica joy baker/freada kapor klein/General Catalyst/Greylock Partners/India/Intuit/iRobot/London/MIT/Nairobi/Politics/project include/Salesforce/San Francisco/slack/TC/TechCrunch Disrupt/tracy chou/Uber by

This is the second annual TechCrunch Include Progress Report. Covering diversity and inclusion in the tech industry cannot be done in a vacuum. As aspects of identity are intersectional, so too should be the way in which media approaches its coverage of the tech industry. With each passing year, companies big and small release diversity data, highlighting the need for more inclusive hiring. As a media company, it is our job to report these stories through a diversity and inclusion lens. You can track our coverage here.

Complementing our editorial coverage is a series of annual events produced by our outstanding events team. Our editorial and events teams work hard together throughout the year to bring you the most unique tech events that give startups from around the world a chance to pitch judges from the most prestigious venture capital firms. In 2017, TechCrunch added to its slate of global events, bringing together startup founders, developers, scientists and technologists. From our Disrupts, Hardware Battlefield at CES, and the Crunchies to our inaugural Sessions and Battlefield X events, we set out to ensure that we had a diverse roster of speakers, judges and contestants.

The importance of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry has generated much attention since we published our last Include Program progress report. At TechCrunch, we understand the importance of diversity, and it begins with hiring. In keeping with our commitments in the core principles and mission for Include 2016, we assembled the following progress report on our initiatives, staff and workplace culture.

As in 2016, our methodology for collecting data on our event participants evolved. To date, we have tracked the gender and racial breakdown of our speakers, judges and Battlefield contestants through observed traits. In 2018, we will be implementing the use of anonymous, self-reporting surveys for all onstage participants in our events.

TechCrunch Events

Disrupt

In 2017, we hosted our TechCrunch Disrupt events in New York, San Francisco and Berlin. We continue to make strides in ensuring diverse attendance numbers in all facets of participation, from speakers, judges, Battlefield contestants, and nonprofit groups. We also host groups of underserved and underrepresented students from local schools, sourced via local groups and representatives.

For all Disrupt events, we offered a Battlefield Scholarship Fund, which we piloted in 2016, to offset the costs of participating in the program. Tickets to Disrupt have been and will always be free for Battlefield participants. Five teams applied and received financial support ranging from $200 to $7,000, which they used to cover airfare, housing and other associated costs.

Finally, to mark the start of TechCrunch Disrupt, TechCrunch parters with organizations to host the Women in Tech(Crunch) event. This is a private event specifically for female speakers, female judges, Battlefield female founders and the TechCrunch editorial team. In addition to our Women in Tech(Crunch) event in each city, we also hosted Women of Disrupt Breakfasts, all of which included programming.

Disrupt New York

The number of women who appeared onstage at Disrupt New York in May 2017 improved over the prior year, with an increase in judges (6 percent) and Battlefield founders (8 percent). However, we saw 8 percent fewer female speakers. We made gains with racial diversity onstage in 2017, as well. Speakers (5 percent) and Battlefield founders (18 percent) saw increases, but we had about 4 percent fewer judges who were people of color.

We hosted 100 female founders, investors and TechCrunch staff at the Women in Tech(Crunch) event in partnership with General Catalyst . And with Live a Moment, we hosted 80 attendees at the Women of Disrupt Breakfast.

Our efforts to ensure attendance from all groups included providing five free Startup Alley tables to nonprofits selected from a pool of over 30 applicants through an open application process announced on TechCrunch. In addition, we provided a 90 percent discount on Disrupt tickets for students.

 

 

 

Disrupt San Francisco

Disrupt San Francisco 2017 in September would be the last time we decided to hold this event at one of the piers off the San Francisco Bay. This year, Disrupt SF will be held at Moscone West, the sheer size of which will require us to step up our inclusion efforts.

In 2017, we saw an improvement over 2016 with female representation onstage, with speakers increasing 12 percent and judges increasing 13 percent. However, female representation on the Battlefield founder front decreased almost 6 percent.

To help introduce students from underserved communities, we hosted 86 middle and high school students from Dev Mission, Bishop O’Dowd High School, Hack the Hood, Founders Bootcamp and Albany High School. Student groups were selected from an applicant pool of over 35 student groups through an open application process announced on TechCrunch.

We partnered with Greylock Partners to host 165 attendees for Women in Tech(Crunch). And for our Women of Disrupt Breakfast, Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos moderated a conversation with female founders from Away and Science Exchange and discover Alice, an artificial intelligence platform for women. We partnered with Intuit for this event that held 120 attendees.

We also offered the same student ticket discount and free Startup Alley tables to nonprofits as we had in prior years; this year we expanded on that effort.

 

 

Disrupt Berlin

Disrupt returned to Berlin in December 2017 after three years in London. We saw a 14 percent increase in female judges on stage over 2016. But female speakers and Battlefield founders decreased year-over-year by about 3 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

As part of our inclusion efforts, we hosted 32 refugees learning at the ReDI School of Digital Integration. They brought a group of 30 students who had the opportunity to explore Startup Alley, listen to our speakers on the main stage and have an intimate conversation with Slack co-founder, Cal Henderson. We also supported some of the Battlefield companies with our scholarship fund and continued the student ticket discounts.

Factory Berlin helped us host 65 attendees at our Women in Tech(Crunch) event. In addition, we hosted 80 attendees at the Women of Disrupt Breakfast.

 

 

Hardware Battlefield at CES

In January 2017, we once again hosted a Hardware Battlefield at CES. Female representation for speakers, judges and Battlefield founders were down slightly from 2016. By contrast, for the first time in a Hardware Battlefield, minority founders were represented equally, with 50 percent.

 

 

Battlefield X

Building off of the overwhelming success of Disrupt Battlefield, we decided to spin it out into its own event and give it a new name: Battlefield X. In 2017, we sent teams to Africa and Australia with the intent to showcase startups doing amazing work in their respective corners of the globe.

Battlefield Africa

For the competition in Nairobi in October, we specifically looked for companies targeting social good, productivity and utility, and gaming and entertainment. Sub-Saharan African startups are helping unleash the region’s potential, from last-mile technologies that deliver edtech, agtech, and medtech to remote areas, to mobile-based fintech innovations that ease financial transactions and lending in bustling cities.

 

 

Battlefield Australia

To bring Battlefield to Australia in October 2017, TechCrunch partnered with the ELEVACAO Foundation, whose mission to empower women tech entrepreneurs globally aligns with TechCrunch’s Include program to encourage more diversity in tech. We are also joining forces with Founders for Founders, a group dedicated to supporting tech entrepreneurs across Australia, and Hoist, which is promoting innovation through collaboration between entrepreneurs and corporates.

 

 

 

Sessions

Last year we debuted Sessions, our new one-day events that dive deep on a single topic, bringing together experts in the field and those interested in the theme.

With these events, we intend to drop the barrier between speaker and attendee to allow for plenty of interaction with networking time and a big reception at the end of each day. Our very first event was Sessions: Justice in June followed by Sessions: Robotics in July.

Sessions: Justice

During the one-day event in June around diversity, inclusion and justice in tech, we heard from social justice activist DeRay Mckesson, Uber Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Bernard Coleman, Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, Safety Pin Box co-founder Leslie Mac, The Last Mile co-founder Chris Redlitz, Cryptoharlem founder Matt Mitchell and others.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice was the most racially inclusive event we’ve ever put on. That said, we could’ve done better with getting more Latinx speakers on stage. In addition, we collected statistics about gender and sexual orientation.

 

 

 

 

Sessions: Robotics

Our aim with this one-day event, which was hosted at MIT in July, was to bring together the key players in robotics. MIT CSAIL, iRobot, CyPhy, DARPA and Mass Robotics were represented. As you can see from the data below, we need to ensure higher numbers of women and people of color are represented.

 

 

Crunchies

The 10th anniversary of the Crunchies was also the last. In 2017 we renewed our intention to showcase and reward the diversity across Silicon Valley and beyond. We gave Project Include the second-ever TechCrunch Include Award. The goal of Project Include is to make the the conversation a lot easier to have. Led by Erica Joy Baker, bethanye McKinney Blount, Tracy Chou, Laura I. Gómez, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Freada Kapor Klein, Ellen Pao and Susan Wu, Project Include provides tools for tech CEOs to help foster working environments of inclusion for underrepresented groups.

 

 

Include Office Hours

Launched in 2014, TechCrunch’s Include program applies resources uniquely available to TechCrunch, including our editorial and events platforms, to create access and opportunity for underserved and underrepresented founders.

TechCrunch Include Office Hours are a part of this effort. The program, which launched in October 2015, Each month, TechCrunch partners with a VC in New York or San Francisco to host private 20-minute sessions that are valuable opportunities for entrepreneurs to gain key insights and advice from seasoned investors.

In 2017, we hosted eight Office Hours in San Francisco and New York. There were 317 total applications that resulted in 78 founders having meetings totaling 26 hours. The following firms participated:

  • Betaworks Ventures
  • BCV & Matrix
  • Flybridge
  • General Catalyst
  • Canaan Partners
  • Intel Capital
  • Greylock Partners
  • Cavalry Ventures

TechCrunch Staff/Culture

Beginning last year, TechCrunch made it a priority to improve our recruiting and hiring in order to make our workplace more diverse, and we will continue to do so.

With respect to gender representation, TechCrunch is ahead of typical tech companies. Compared to internet-based media companies, however, the TechCrunch editorial staff is in the range of most other publications, with women holding about 27 percent of newsroom jobs. This is far from where we aim to be. We have the most work to do, however, in the area of racial diversity, where we are over 80 percent white on the editorial staff and 78 white percent across all company departments.

As the issue of diversity and inclusion in tech continues to command conversations all over Silicon Valley and beyond, it will remain at the forefront of our coverage and around the world at our events.

With contributions from Alexandra Ames, director of marketing, and Neesha Tambe, Battlefield and Crunch Match manager.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Nike’s Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint leans hard into computational design

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Computational design is the hottest phrase in manufacturing and 3D printing at the moment. It’s changing the way people make all kinds of goods, and Nike used it to design and manufacture its new Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint shoe, which it’s announcing today.

The shoe is a specialized edition of its Zoom Vaporfly Elite 4%, which was used by elite runner Eliud Kipchoge during Nike’s Breaking2 event, which resulted in the fastest marathon ever run. The special sauce in this edition is the FlyPrint upper, which is printed on the fly by a specially customized 3D printer out of a proprietary Nike polymer.

I spoke with Nike’s Brett Holts, product line manager for running footwear and Roger Chen, a senior director for Nike’s NXT Digital Innovation department, about the process and the shoe.

The material is printed out in a pattern specifically designed for a given athlete’s needs and attached to the much hyped Zoom X foam midsole from the 4% model. The process, which Nike is calling FlyPrint, has some similarities to Nike’s other famous ‘fly’ process, FlyKnit, hence the name. The printing process, says Chen, is a lot like painting the material.

The uppers I saw pre-lasting look a lot like a regular butterfly upper, with the same kind of flexibility you’re used to seeing from fabric or other polymer-based upper materials. This is not a hard-shell 3D-printed material, it’s a fabric of sorts. This is reinforced by the fact that several components of the shoe are still made of FlyKnit including the tongue and collar. Those parts are so similar in chemical composition that there is no glue needed to attach them. Instead, the FlyPrint material is bonded seamlessly with the FlyKnit, making for a one-piece design that is stronger and lighter.

The process of computer aided design in consumer products has a long history — but computational design is an evolution of this concept and has begun to gain steam lately with production-ready 3D-printing processes like Carbon’s M-series digital light synthesis printers and Desktop Metal’s Production System. The guiding force behind computational design is that you feed parameters and physical properties into a model — basically limitations and desired outcomes — and get designs that would either be impossible or incredibly time consuming for humans to produce.

In the case of the new FlyPrint upper, the constraints are the properties of the material and the forces that Kipchoge’s feet were exerting on that material. With that data, along with the chemical composition of the polymer, a computational model allowed Nike to tweak the design for support, flexibility, reinforcement or relaxation on a much more granular level than they could ever accomplish with FlyKnit.

If, for instance, Kipchoge felt that he needed more support through the arch area, the team could tweak that metric in that region, resulting in a more compact pattern of diamond-shaped lattice. In the FlyKnit world (and the world of most knit running shoes) this is done by creating various panels that reflect the properties you want from that portion of the shoe and glueing or stitching them together, adding weight and reducing strength.

Now, Nike can print a fully customized upper in one go, blending it seamlessly with FlyKnit where it makes sense for comfort.

The result of all of this is that the shoe is incredibly light. A 12 gram, or 6% reduction in weight to start. On top of that, one of Kipchoge’s big issues with the Vaporfly Elites in Berlin was water retention in the rain. The shoes started out light but water soaked into the FlyKnit and couldn’t fully make its way out. The FlyPrint upper is nearly translucent it’s so porous, which solves the drainage issue.

Chen says that Kipchoge said that it ‘felt like he was flying’ because he could feel the wind on his feet.

Another huge advantage to FlyPrint, points out Holts, is speed. Nike was able to design and construct every iteration of the shoe through to the final model in just 4 months. As a frame of reference, it typically takes 9 months to a year to get a shoe off the ground.

“We would never have been able to do that [with FlyKnit],” says Holts, “we were addressing the needs of our athlete within 24 hours.”

This day-long cycle — taking into account the Kenyan time differential — of trading feedback with Kipchoge and turning around his requested updates to fit or function was uniquely enabled by using the FlyPrint process.

Additionally, the modeling component of the process allows Nike to scale the shoe through various sizes while maintaining the appropriate ratios of material to negative space for each section.

Nike is using an established 3D printing process called fused deposition modeling, basically painting shapes onto a surface with production-ready TPU materials, but Chen says that the proprietary components of the process lie in how the printers are being driven to lay down the FlyPrint. Neither will say what printers Nike is using but note the company’s history in ‘hacking’ manufacturing tools to get the job done. As an industry note, Stratasys is one of the more established players in FDM printing.

Computational design and production ready 3D printing are changing footwear as we speak. Adidas and Carbon are focusing on the midsole in fashion and basketball, Nike is reinventing the upper for elite runners. But the real gem here might not be the speed or customization — both important advancements.

Instead, it could be the way that the design process is compressed down to mate directly with the manufacturing process. This has the potential to change not just footwear, but every kind of product made. Instead of the lengthy and costly process of injection molding or milling, product designers are, for the first time ever, able to start taking direct ownership of the production process, realizing impossible designs and goals with the use of a powerful feedback loop that includes designer, materials and process in one flow of data.

The Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint is a product for elite runners only, and a small amount of them will be available at an event in London soon, as well as on the feet of Kipchoge and other Nike runners. But there is an epochal shift in the way shoes (and other products) are made coming, and this is one of the harbingers of that shift. Pay attention.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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