San Francisco

Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator is a beautiful work in progress

Posted by | artificial intelligence, barcelona, bing maps, computing, Gaming, Las Vegas, Microsoft, microsoft flight simulator, nvidia, San Francisco, Seattle, Software, TC | No Comments

For the last two weeks, I’ve been flying around the world in a preview of Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator. Without a doubt, it’s the most beautiful flight simulator yet, and it’ll make you want to fly low and slow over your favorite cities because — if you pick the right one — every street and house will be there in more detail than you’ve ever seen in a game. Weather effects, day and night cycles, plane models — it all looks amazing. You can’t start it up and not fawn over the graphics.

But the new Flight Simulator is also still very much a work in progress, too, even just a few weeks before the scheduled launch date on August 18. It’s officially still in beta, so there’s still time to fix at least some of the issues I list below. Because Microsoft and Asobo Studios, which was responsible for the development of the simulator, are using Microsoft’s AI tech in Azure to automatically generate much of the scenery based on Microsoft’s Bing Maps data, you’ll find a lot of weirdness in the world. There are taxiway lights in the middle of runways, giant hangars and crew buses at small private fields, cars randomly driving across airports, giant trees growing everywhere (while palms often look like giant sticks), bridges that are either under water or big blocks of black over a river — and there are a lot of sunken boats, too.

When the system works well, it’s absolutely amazing. Cities like Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and others that are rendered using Microsoft’s photogrammetry method look great — including and maybe especially at night.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The rendering engine on my i7-9700K with an Nvidia 2070 Super graphics card never let the frame rate drop under 30 frames per second (which is perfectly fine for a flight simulator) and usually hovered well over 40, all with the graphics setting pushed up to the maximum and with a 2K resolution.

When things don’t work, though, the effect is stark because it’s so obvious. Some cities, like Las Vegas, look like they suffered some kind of catastrophe, as if the city was abandoned and nature took over (which in the case of the Vegas Strip doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, to be honest).

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Thankfully, all of this is something that Microsoft and Asobo can fix. They’ll just need to adjust their algorithms, and because a lot of the data is streamed, the updates should be virtually automatic. The fact that they haven’t done so yet is a bit of a surprise.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Chances are you’ll want to fly over your house the day you get Flight Simulator. If you live in the right city (and the right part of that city), you’ll likely be lucky and actually see your house with its individual texture. But for some cities, including London, for example, the game only shows standard textures, and while Microsoft does a good job at matching the outlines of buildings in cities where it doesn’t do photogrammetry, it’s odd that London or Amsterdam aren’t on that list (though London apparently features a couple of wind turbines in the city center now), while Münster, Germany is.

Once you reach altitude, all of those problems obviously go away (or at least you won’t see them). But given the graphics, you’ll want to spend a lot of time at 2,000 feet or below.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

What really struck me in playing the game in its current state is how those graphical inconsistencies set the standard for the rest of the experience. The team says its focus is 100% on making the simulator as realistic as possible, but then the virtual air traffic control often doesn’t use standard phraseology, for example, or fails to hand you off to the right departure control when you leave a major airport. The airplane models look great and feel pretty close to real (at least the ones I’ve flown myself), but some currently show the wrong airspeed. Some planes use modern glass cockpits with the Garmin 1000 and G3X, but those still feel severely limited.

But let me be clear here. Despite all of this, even in its beta state, Flight Simulator is a technical marvel and it will only get better over time.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Let’s walk through the user experience a bit. The install on PC (the Xbox version will come at some point in the future) is a process that downloads a good 90GB so that you can play offline as well. The install process asks you if you are okay with streaming data, too, and that can quickly add up. After reinstalling the game and doing a few flights for screenshots, the game had downloaded about 10GB already — it adds up quickly and is something you should be aware of if you’re on a metered connection.

Once past the long install, you’ll be greeted by a menu screen that lets you start a new flight, go for one of the landing challenges or other activities the team has set up (they are really proud of their Courchevel scenery) and go through the games’ flight training program.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That training section walks you through eight activities that will help you get the basics of flying a Cessna 152. Most take fewer than 10 minutes and you’ll get a bit of a de-brief after, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep a novice from getting frustrated quickly (while more advanced players will just skip this section altogether anyway).

I mostly spent my time flying the small general aviation planes in the sim, but if you prefer a Boeing 747 or Airbus 320neo, you get that option, too, as well as some turboprops and business jets. I’ll spend some more time with those before the official launch. All of the planes are beautifully detailed inside and out and except for a few bugs, everything works as expected.

To actually start playing, you’ll head for the world map and choose where you want to start your flight. What’s nice here is that you can pick any spot on your map, not just airports. That makes it easy to start flying over a city, for example. As you zoom into the map, you can see airports and landmarks (where the landmarks are either real sights like Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle or cities that have photogrammetry data). If a town doesn’t have photogrammetry data, it will not appear on the map.

As of now, the flight planning features are pretty basic. For visual flights, you can go direct or VOR to VOR, and that’s it. For IFR flights, you choose low or high-altitude airways. You can’t really adjust any of these, just accept what the simulator gives you. That’s not really how flight planning works (at the very least you would want to take the local weather into account), so it would be nice if you could customize your route a bit more. Microsoft partnered with NavBlue for airspace data, though the built-in maps don’t do much with this data and don’t even show you the vertical boundaries of the airspace you are in.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

It’s always hard to compare the plane models and how they react to the real thing. Best I can tell, at least the single-engine Cessnas that I’m familiar with mostly handle in the same way I would expect them to in reality. Rudder controls feel a bit overly sensitive by default, but that’s relatively easy to adjust. I only played with a HOTAS-style joystick and rudder setup. I wouldn’t recommend playing with a mouse and keyboard, but your mileage may vary.

Live traffic works well, but none of the general aviation traffic around my local airports seems to show up, even though Microsoft partner FlightAware shows it.

As for the real/AI traffic in general, the sim does a pretty good job managing that. In the beta, you won’t really see the liveries of any real airlines yet — at least for the most part — I spotted the occasional United plane in the latest builds. Given some of Microsoft’s own videos, more are coming soon. Except for the built-in models you can fly in the sim, Flight Simulator is still missing a library of other airplane models for AI traffic, though again, I would assume that’s in the works, too.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

We’re three weeks out from launch. I would expect the team to be able to fix many of these issues and we’ll revisit all of them for our final review. My frustration with the current state of the game is that it’s so often so close to perfect that when it falls short of that, it’s especially jarring because it yanks you out of the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, though, flying in FS2020 is already a great experience. Even when there’s no photogrammetry, cities and villages look great once you get over 3,000 feet or so. The weather and cloud simulation — in real time — beats any add-on for today’s flight simulators. Airports still need work, but having cars drive around and flaggers walking around planes that are pushing back help make the world feel more alive. Wind affects the waves on lakes and oceans (and windsocks on airports). This is truly a next-generation flight simulator.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft and Asobo have to walk a fine line between making Flight Simulator the sim that hardcore fans want and an accessible game that brings in new players. I’ve played every version of Flight Simulator since the 90s, so getting started took exactly zero time. My sense is that new players simply looking for a good time may feel a bit lost at first, despite Microsoft adding landing challenges and other more gamified elements to the sim. In a press briefing, the Asobo team regularly stressed that it aimed for realism over anything else — and I’m perfectly okay with that. We’ll have to see if that translates to being a fun experience for casual players, too.

Powered by WPeMatico

Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18

Posted by | alpha, artificial intelligence, cloud technology, computing, denver, Frankfurt, Gaming, Heathrow, Microsoft, microsoft flight simulator, PC Games, San Francisco, simulation, TC, video games, x-plane, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

After a series of closed alpha tests, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios and Asobo Studio today announced that the next-gen Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18. Pre-orders are now live and FS 2020 will come in three editions, standard ($59.99), deluxe ($89.99) and premium deluxe ($119.99), with the more expensive versions featuring more planes and handcrafted international airports.

The last part may come as a bit of a surprise, given that Microsoft and Asobo are using assets from Bing Maps and some AI magic on Azure to essentially recreate the Earth — and all of its airports — in Flight Simulator 2020. Still, the team must have spent some extra time on making some of these larger airports especially realistic and today, if you were to buy even one of these larger airports as an add-on for Flight Simulator X or X-Plane, you’d easily be spending $30 or more.

The default edition features 20 planes and 30 hand-modeled airports, while the deluxe edition bumps that up to 25 planes and 35 airports and the high-end version comes with 30 planes and 40 airports.

Among those airports not modeled in all their glorious detail in the default edition (they are still available there, by the way — just without some of the extra detail) are the likes of Amsterdam Schiphol, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Frankfurt, Heathrow and San Francisco.

The same holds true for planes, with the 787 only available in the deluxe package, for example. Still, based on what Asobo has shown in its regular updates so far, even the 20 planes in the standard edition have been modeled in far more detail than in previous versions, and maybe even beyond what some add-ons provide today.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Because a lot of what Microsoft and Adobo are doing here involves using cloud technology to, for example, stream some of the more detailed scenery to your computer on demand, chances are we’ll see regular content updates for these various editions as well, though the details here aren’t yet clear.

“Your fleet of planes and detailed airports from whatever edition you choose are all available on launch day as well as access to the ongoing content updates that will continually evolve and expand the flight simulation platform,” is what Microsoft has to say about this for the time being.

Chances are we will get more details in the coming weeks, as Flight Simulator 2020 is about to enter its closed beta phase.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Powered by WPeMatico

Flipboard rolls out Storyboards as a new way to highlight content

Posted by | apple news, Apps, ceo, film, Film Production, flipboard, george floyd, Media, Mike McCue, Mobile, National-Geographic, San Francisco, Social, Startups, Storyboard, TechCrunch | No Comments

Flipboard is giving news publishers and other curators on the platform a new way to highlight content through a format called Storyboards.

Until now, Flipboard has largely focused on its Smart Magazines, which are ongoing collections that mix human and algorithmic curation, allowing readers to dive deeply into and keep up-to-date on a given topic.

Storyboards, on the other hand, are more of a one-time collection of articles, videos, podcasts, tweets and other media. Content-wise, they may not be that different from an “everything you need to know about X” roundup article, but they give publishers an easy and visually stylish way to put those roundups together.

Publishers have already been beta testing it. For example, TheGrio created a Storyboard collecting the latest coverage of George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, while National Geographic curated a package of new and old stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. And TechCrunch tried it out by doing daily roundups of coverage coming out of last year’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

Flipboard Storyboards

Image Credits: Flipboard

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told me this is something curators have been asking for, as a way to “structure their curation better and be able to do better storytelling.”

He also said that Storyboards could be a great way to highlight different products and make money with affiliate links, especially since “curated commerce is something that will probably play more and more of a significant role in our revenue.”

Vice President of Engineering Troy Brant gave me a quick tour of the product, showing me how a curator can create different sections in a Storyboard, tweak the look of those sections and populate them with different kinds of content.

These new Storyboards can be discovered in Flipboard based on the topics with which the curator tags them. They’re also shareable and embeddable via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and email.

Flipboard Curator Pro

Image Credits: Flipboard

Brant noted that Storyboards are “complementary” with Flipboard magazines, as magazines can include Storyboards and Storyboards can include magazines. He also said the company is developing “more product capabilities” to highlight the best curation, whether that takes the form of a Storyboard or magazine: “That’s actually a work in progress at the moment.”

And Storyboards come with detailed analytics about how many people are viewing them, liking them, commenting on them, flipping them and more.

All of this is part of a new tool in Flipboard called Curator Pro, which is now available to all verified users in English-speaking countries, with plans for a more global rollout soon. Brant added that Storyboards are just the “first step” for Curator Pro, with more magazine curation tools and analytics on the way as well.

Powered by WPeMatico

Software will reshape our world in the next decade

Posted by | Alexa, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, Column, cryptocurrency, cybernetics, Education, Entertainment, food, Gadgets, iPhone, Opinion, payments, robotics, San Francisco, smartphone, Social, TC, technology, video conferencing | No Comments
Alfred Chuang
Contributor

Alfred Chuang is general partner at Race Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm.

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

Powered by WPeMatico

Twine aims to end social isolation with its video chat app for deep conversations

Posted by | Apps, brand foundry, ceo, chatroulette, computing, connections, coronavirus, COVID-19, Cvent, doubledutch, FJ Labs, Foundry, friendships, funding, Georgetown, Lawrence Coburn, Mobile, new york city, San Francisco, scott heiferman, Social, social media, social network, Startups, Twine, Video, video chat, websites, world wide web | No Comments

A new startup called twine wants to help people feel less isolated and alone. Though the project has been in the works for around six months, it’s launching at a time when people are struggling with being cut off from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting government lockdowns and self-quarantines. Described simply as a “Zoom for meeting new people,” twine is a group video chat experience where people are encouraged to have meaningful discussions that spark new friendships.

In twine, users are matched with four other partners who they’ll then have 1-to-1 conversations with for eight minutes apiece. The full gathering lasts for a total of 40 minutes, including the virtual guide portion where the ground rules are set.

Participants choose from a library of more than 250 “deep” questions, then get matched with partners who want to explore the same topics. They then RSVP for twine’s digital gatherings in their time zone and check in when it’s time to start.

The overall experience is meant to help people find connections by skipping the small talk and going straight to what matters. But the focus is on friendships, not dating. Afterward, users are encouraged to set reminders to get back in touch and meet again in future gatherings.

There’s a hint of Chatroulette to this idea, given that users could be matched to people who are only there to disrupt the experience, in theory at least. But the company aims to reduce the potential for this sort of shock trolling by permanently banning members who are flagged for making others uncomfortable in any sort of way. We also noticed the app asks for your email, phone and ZIP code during its onboarding process, so it’s not entirely an anonymous experience.

In addition, twine requires users to rate each conversation when it ends, and members have to be pre-approved before joining a chat. The company says it’s looking to move toward “real ID only” in the future to further reduce the potential for trolling.

That said, there’s still a bit of a risk in chatting openly with strangers about highly personal topics. Twine’s guidelines say that conversations are not to be discussed with others, but this is not a doctor-patient relationship with legal protections for confidentiality. It’s just a group chat app with people who may or may not be there to follow the rules.

That said, the internet is currently experiencing a rebirth of sorts, due to COVID-19. People are coming online to look for connections. Social media is actually becoming social. This is an ideal environment to test something as optimistic as twine, which at its core believes people are largely good and will use the technology appropriately.

The idea for twine comes from serial entrepreneurs Lawrence Coburn and Diana Rau. Coburn spent the last nine years as founder and CEO of mobile events technology provider DoubleDutch, which was acquired by Cvent in 2019. Rau, meanwhile, was co-founder and CEO of Veterati, a digital mentoring platform for veterans that had also leveraged 1-to-1 conversations as part of its community-building experience.

The founders already knew each other from the Georgetown entrepreneurship ecosystem. And Coburn was an advisor to Veterati, and Rau had worked at DoubeDutch, as well.

Coburn describes his vision for twine as something in between a new social network and a substitute for those who are spiritual, but not religious, in terms of helping people who want to “be better humans.” Rau says she wanted to work on twine to help end loneliness by giving people a place to explore humanity on a one-on-one basis.

The app was originally intended to connect people who would meet up in real-life gatherings, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted those plans and accelerated launch plans.

“Launching a new company during the best of times is really, really hard. During a global pandemic? Yikes!,” wrote Coburn, in a blog post about the launch. “But as the new reality settles in, it has become clear to me that the world needs twine or something like it more than ever. The macro forces that inspired Diana and I to start twine – loneliness, polarization, isolation – will only be exacerbated by social distancing. A societal loneliness that was already classified as an epidemic pre coronavirus, is about to get way, way worse,” he added.

The startup is backed by $1.4 million in seed funding, closed on March 12, led by DoubleDutch investor, Hinge Capital. Other investors from DoubleDutch have also returned to fund twine, including FJ Labs, Brand Foundry and Bragiel Brothers. Angels in the round include April Underwood (Slack), Jay Hoffmann (Rocketmiles), Scott Heiferman (Meetup) and Vishal Kapur (Screenhero).

In the future, twine aims to be subscription-based and launch real-life gatherings, as originally planned, when it’s safe to do so.

The app is currently in private beta on iOS and web. Currently, it has a waitlist of around 1,000 users, mainly from New York City and San Francisco, but twine will be available worldwide.

Powered by WPeMatico

Nigeria’s Paga acquires Apposit, confirms Mexico and Ethiopia expansion

Posted by | africa, alipay, Android, Asia, Banking, Brown University, ceo, cisco systems, CTO, east africa, ethiopia, financial services, food delivery, isp, kenya, Lagos, latin america, M-Pesa, Mexico, Nigeria, Opay, Opera, paga, PayPal, Safaricom, San Francisco, software development, South Africa, Stanford University, Tayo Oviosu, TC, United States, western union | No Comments

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga has acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.

That’s just part of Paga’s news. The Lagos based startup will also launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch

The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally, while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.

Repat founders

Behind the acquisition is a story threaded with serendipity, return, and collaboration.

Both Paga and Apposit were founded by repatriate entrepreneurs. Oviosu did his MBA at Stanford University and worked at Cisco Systems before returning to Nigeria.

Apposit CEO Adam Abate moved back to Ethiopia 17 years ago for an assignment in the country’s Ministry of Finance, after studying at Brown University and working in fintech in New York.

“I put together a team…to build…public financial management systems for the country. And during the process…brought in my best friend Eric Chijioke…to be a technical engineer,” said Abate.

The two teamed up with Simon Solomon in 2007 to co-found Apposit, with a focus on building large-scale enterprise software for Africa.

Apposit partners (L-R) Adam Abate, Simon Solomon, Eric Chijioke, Gideon Abate

A year later, Oviosu met Chijioke when he crashed at his house while visiting Ethiopia for a wedding. It just so happened Chijioke’s brother was his roommate at Stanford.

That meeting began an extended conversation between the two on digital-finance innovation in Africa and eventually led to a Paga partnership with Apposit in 2010.

Apposit dedicated an engineering team to build Paga’s payment platform, Eric Chijioke became Paga’s CTO (while maintaining his Apposit role) and Apposit backed Paga.

“We aligned ourselves as African entrepreneurs…which then developed into a close relationship where we became…investors in Paga and strategically aligned,” said Abate.

African roots, global ambitions

Fast forward a decade, and the two companies have come pretty far. Apposit has grown its business into a team of 63 engineers and technicians and has racked up a list of client partnerships. The company helped digitize the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange and has contracted on IT and software solutions with banks non-profits and brick and mortar companies.

For a decade, Apposit has also supported Paga’s payment product development.

Paga Interfaces

Over that period, Oviosu and team went to work building Paga’s platform and driving digital payment adoption in Nigeria, home to Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

That’s been no small task considering Nigeria’s percentage of unbanked was pegged as high as at 70% in 2011 and still lingers around 60%, according to The Global Findex database.

Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Since inception, the startup has processed 104 million transactions worth $6.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers.  The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support expansion.

Paga plans its Mexico launch in 2020, according to Oviosu.

Adam Abate is now CEO of Paga Ethiopia, where Paga plans to go live as soon as it gains local regulatory approval. The East African nation of 100 million, with the continent’s seventh largest economy, is bidding to become Africa’s next startup hub, though it still lags the continent’s tech standouts — like Nigeria and Kenya — in startup formation, ISP options and VC.

Ethiopia has also been slow to adopt digital finance, with less than 1% of the population using mobile-money, compared to 73% for Kenya, Africa’s mobile-payments leader.

Paga aims to shift the financial needle in the country. “The goal is straight-forward. We want Ethiopians to use the Paga wallet as their payment account. So it’s about digitizing cash transactions and driving financial services,” said Oviosu.

Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu

With the Apposit acquisition and country expansion, he also looks to grow Paga’s model in Africa and beyond, as an emerging markets fintech solution.

“There are several very large countries around the world in Africa, Latin America, Asia where these [financial inclusion] problems still exist. So our strategy is not an African strategy…We want to go where these problems exist in a large way and build a global payments business,” Oviosu said.

Fintech competition in Nigeria

As it grows abroad, Paga faces greater competition in Nigeria. For the last decade, South Africa and Kenya — with the success of Safaricom’s  M-Pesa product — have been Africa’s standouts in digital payments.

But over the last several years, Nigeria has become a magnet for VC and fintech startups. This trend reached a high-point in 2019 when Chinese investors put $220 million into Opera owned OPay and Transsion backed PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and broader Africa.

That’s a hefty war chest compared to Paga’s total VC haul of $34 million, according to Crunchbase.

Oviosu names product market fit and benefits from the company’s expansion as factors that will keep it ahead of these well-funded new entrants.

“That’s where the world-class technology comes in,” he said.

“We also take a perspective that we cannot build every use-case,” he said — contrasting Paga’s model to Opera in Africa, which has launched multiple startup verticals around its OPay product, from ride-hailing to food-delivery.

Oviosu compares Paga’s approach to PayPal, which allows third-party developers to shape businesses around PayPal as the payment solution.

With its Apposit acquisition and continued expansion, PayPal may become more than a model for Paga.

Founder Tayo Oviosu sees big fintech players, such as PayPal and Alipay, as future competitors with Paga’s plans to move into more emerging markets.

Powered by WPeMatico

This autonomous security drone is designed to guard your home

Posted by | articles, CES 2020, drones, Gadgets, General Catalyst, home security, robotics, San Francisco, sunflower, Sunflower Labs, TC, zurich | No Comments

One of the new products unveiled at CES this year is a new kind of home security system — one that includes drones to patrol your property, along with sensors designed to mimic garden light and a central processor to bring it all together.

Sunflower Labs debuted their new Sunflower Home Awareness System, which includes the eponymous Sunflowers (motion and vibration sensors that look like simple garden lights but can populate a map to show you cars, people and animals on or near your property in real time); the Bee (a fully autonomous drone that deploys and flies on its own, with cameras on board to live-stream video); and the Hive (a charging station for the Bee, which also houses the brains of the operation for crunching all the data gathered by the component parts).

Roving aerial robots keeping tabs on your property might seem a tad dystopian, and perhaps even unnecessary, when you could maybe equip your estate with multiple fixed cameras and sensors for less money and with less complexity. But Sunflower Labs thinks its security system is an evolution of more standard fare because it “learns and reacts to its surroundings,” improving over time.

The Bee is also designed basically to supplement more traditional passive monitoring, and can be deployed on demand to provide more detailed information and live views of any untoward activity detected on your property. So it’s a bit like having someone always at the ready to go check out that weird noise you heard in the night — without the risk to the brave checker-upper.

Sunflower Labs was founded in 2016, and has backing from General Catalyst, among others, with offices in both San Francisco and Zurich. The system doesn’t come cheap, which shouldn’t be a surprise, given what it promises to do on paper — it starts at $9,950 and can range up depending on your specific property’s custom needs. The company is accepting pre-orders now, with a deposit of $999 required, and intends to start delivering the first orders to customers beginning sometime in the middle of this year.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

San Francisco smokes Juul’s hopes by voting to keep e-cigarette ban

Posted by | dennis herrera, e-cigarette, e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, fda, Gadgets, juul, prop c, San Francisco, tobacco, United States | No Comments

Voters in San Francisco have resoundingly rejected an attempt to overturn a citywide ban on e-cigarettes by a margin of around 80:20.

Reporting on the count in the Bay Area, CBS SF says at least 78 per cent of voters rejected the ballot measure, known as Proposition C.

The measure had been heavily back by e-cigarette maker Juuluntil just over a month ago. It is reported to have spent at least $10M promoting the attempt to flip the ban, before withdrawing its support at the end of September as part of a company-wider review under new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, that’s also seen between 10-15% of its workforce lay off.

The 2017-founded company, which has raised some $14.4BN in funding to date per Crunchbase, has faced trenchant criticism over the level of youth usage of its products.

In a statement responding to the Prop C vote, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera attacks Juul — dubbing the company “Big Tobacco” — and writing: “San Francisco voters are too smart to be fooled by Juul. Juul is Big Tobacco, and it’s using a classic ploy from the Big Tobacco playbook to try and hook another generation of kids on nicotine. Voters saw right through Juul’s deception. San Francisco already has the toughest e-cigarette regulations in the nation. By law, e-cigarettes must undergo FDA review to ensure they are safe for public health. Complete FDA review and you can sell your product here. If you don’t, you can’t. It’s that simple.”

We’ve reached out to Juul for comment. Update: A company spokesman told us:

As previously announced, Juul Labs ceased active support of Proposition C in September as part of new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite’s broad review of the company’s practices and policies. Crosthwaite said at the time, “I am committed to seeing that Juul engages productively with all stakeholders, including regulators, policymakers and our customers. This decision does not change the fact that as a San Francisco-founded and headquartered company we remain committed to the city. San Francisco is not only the home of our company’s founding but is also the home of many of our talented employees.”

In October Juul announced it would stop selling mango, creme, fruit and cucumber flavored nicotine products in the US, while continuing to sell the flavors elsewhere. But it did not commit to permanently giving up on selling flavored nicotine products — in the US or anywhere.

Vaping generally has also been under a growing cloud of suspicion after a number of e-cigarette users died from an acute lung condition which appears related to the process of chemicals being vaporized and inhaled — and potentially to devices being used to vape THC.

Third party sellers hawk unofficial cartridges for e-cigarette devices such as Juul’s which can contain the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, along with other unknown substances. But studies have also shown that even popular e-cigarette brands don’t know exactly what chemicals are produced when the substances contained in their cartridges are vaporized.

“If the FDA can’t verify that these products are safe, then they don’t belong on store shelves,” added Herrera in the statement. “The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that we are in the midst of a youth vaping epidemic. Juul spent millions trying to mislead San Franciscans and rewrite the rules to benefit itself before realizing that was a fool’s errand. It could have put that time and effort into completing the required FDA review. If Juul had done that the day Supervisor Shamann Walton and I introduced our e-cigarette legislation back in March, Juul would have had its answer from the FDA by now. Perhaps FDA review is a test that Juul is afraid it can’t pass.”

Last month a lawsuit filed by a former Juul executive alleged the company knew that a batch of contaminated e-liquid had been used in about one million pods shipped to retailers earlier this year but did not inform customers.

Powered by WPeMatico

The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

Posted by | Android, Assistant, AWS, Bing, chromium, cloud computing, cloud infrastructure, computing, Cortana, Developer, Enterprise, GitHub, Google, google cloud, linux, machine learning, Microsoft, Microsoft Ignite 2019, microsoft windows, San Francisco, Satya Nadella, TC, voice assistant, Windows 10, Windows Phone | No Comments

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

00000IMG 00000 BURST20180924124819267 COVER 1

Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

hero.44d446c9

You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

GettyImages 482028705 1

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

Powered by WPeMatico

Apollo raises $22M for its GraphQL platform

Posted by | Andreessen Horowitz, Android, api, computing, data management, database, Developer, Enterprise, Facebook, graph database, graph databases, Javascript, Matrix Partners, meteor, Recent Funding, relational database, San Francisco, SQL, Startups, TC, Trinity Ventures | No Comments

Apollo, a San Francisco-based startup that provides a number of developer and operator tools and services around the GraphQL query language, today announced that it has raised a $22 million growth funding round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and Matrix Partners. Existing investors Trinity Ventures and Webb Investment Network also participated in this round.

Today, Apollo is probably the biggest player in the GraphQL ecosystem. At its core, the company’s services allow businesses to use the Facebook -incubated GraphQL technology to shield their developers from the patchwork of legacy APIs and databases as they look to modernize their technology stacks. The team argues that while REST APIs that talked directly to other services and databases still made sense a few years ago, it doesn’t anymore now that the number of API endpoints keeps increasing rapidly.

Apollo replaces this with what it calls the Data Graph. “There is basically a missing piece where we think about how people build apps today, which is the piece that connects the billions of devices out there,” Apollo co-founder and CEO Geoff Schmidt told me. “You probably don’t just have one app anymore, you probably have three, for the web, iOS and Android . Or maybe six. And if you’re a two-sided marketplace you’ve got one for buyers, one for sellers and another for your ops team.”

Managing the interfaces between all of these apps quickly becomes complicated and means you have to write a lot of custom code for every new feature. The promise of the Data Graph is that developers can use GraphQL to query the data in the graph and move on, all without having to write the boilerplate code that typically slows them down. At the same time, the ops teams can use the Graph to enforce access policies and implement other security features.

“If you think about it, there’s a lot of analogies to what happened with relational databases in the ’80s,” Schmidt said. “There is a need for a new layer in the stack. Previously, your query planner was a human being, not a piece of software, and a relational database is a piece of software that would just give you a database. And you needed a way to query that database, and that syntax was called SQL.”

Geoff Schmidt, Apollo CEO, and Matt DeBergalis, CTO

GraphQL itself, of course, is open source. Apollo is now building a lot of the proprietary tools around this idea of the Data Graph that make it useful for businesses. There’s a cloud-hosted graph manager, for example, that lets you track your schema, as well as a dashboard to track performance, as well as integrations with continuous integration services. “It’s basically a set of services that keep track of the metadata about your graph and help you manage the configuration of your graph and all the workflows and processes around it,” Schmidt said.

The development of Apollo didn’t come out of nowhere. The founders previously launched Meteor, a framework and set of hosted services that allowed developers to write their apps in JavaScript, both on the front-end and back-end. Meteor was tightly coupled to MongoDB, though, which worked well for some use cases but also held the platform back in the long run. With Apollo, the team decided to go in the opposite direction and instead build a platform that makes being database agnostic the core of its value proposition.

The company also recently launched Apollo Federation, which makes it easier for businesses to work with a distributed graph. Sometimes, after all, your data lives in lots of different places. Federation allows for a distributed architecture that combines all of the different data sources into a single schema that developers can then query.

Schmidt tells me the company started to get some serious traction last year and by December, it was getting calls from VCs that heard from their portfolio companies that they were using Apollo.

The company plans to use the new funding to build out its technology to scale its field team to support the enterprises that bet on its technology, including the open-source technologies that power both the services.

“I see the Data Graph as a core new layer of the stack, just like we as an industry invested in the relational database for decades, making it better and better,” Schmidt said. “We’re still finding new uses for SQL and that relational database model. I think the Data Graph is going to be the same way.”

Powered by WPeMatico