London’s street performers are embracing cashless payments
The drive to digitize payments in the UK is modernizing income for London’s famous street performers.
Thanks to a new development backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, buskers — aka street performers and musicians — in the British capital will be able to solicit tips from credit cards as well as the traditional cash and coins method.
The initiative uses Swedish payment firm iZettle — which U.S. giant PayPal recently agreed to buy for $2.2 billion — to provide buskers with card readers that passers-by and commuters can use to make donations. A recent trial will be expanded to cover all of London’s registered buskers over the coming months, according to a report from the BBC. One busker, Charlotte Campbell, who took part in the test phase said the addition of contactless payments “had a significant impact on contributions” she received.
“More people than ever tap-to-donate whilst I sing, and often, when one person does, another follows,” Campbell added.
The deal is perhaps the most visible piece of business from iZettle, which has quietly made a mark in helping UK payments go digital.
iZettle will be PayPal’s largest acquisition to date. The company has operations in 12 markets, which include northern Europe and Mexico in Latin America. Its business is particularly strong in the UK where it has been successful in building out a point of sale business through card-reading dongles that link up with a smartphone or tablet. Like Square in the U.S., these dongles allow smaller businesses that are priced out of traditional point-of-sale solutions for taking cards to go beyond cash without a lot of hassle.
From that base, iZettle has expanded into other financial services for small businesses, which include inventory management loans and more.
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
May 29, 2018 at 03:08AM
Sign up now: 2-4-1 passes for Disrupt Berlin go live in 24 hours
Nur noch vierundzwanzig stunden — only 24 hours left! That’s when we release a sweet 2-4-1 offer on Innovator passes to attend Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30. Why pay €695 for one ticket later when — in just a few short hours — you can bag two tickets for the same price? Tomorrow, May 30 at 12pm CEST / 6am EDT we will be releasing a limited number of these 2-for-1 Innovator passes on a first-come, first-served basis. This is a limited-time offer, so be sure to sign up here to get notified the moment we release this deal into the wild.
TechCrunch Disrupt events provide access to the world’s leading tech leaders and venture capitalists — as well as the up-and-coming generation of founders and entrepreneurs. The excitement is palpable, and the air is thick with ideas, inspiration and opportunity. Don’t miss your chance to reach out and grab it.
One way to do that is to compete in Startup Battlefield. Go head-to-head against a highly vetted group of pre-Series A startups and compete for the coveted Disrupt Cup, bragging rights, massive media exposure, investor attention and a $50,000 equity-free grand prize. Applications open soon, so sign up for our newsletter to receive timely notification.
You also can join the more than 400 early-stage startups that will exhibit an impressive range of technology products, platforms and services in Startup Alley. It’s one of the best and most affordable ways to get your company in front of tech influencers, investors, potential customers, collaborators and the media. Last year, more than 2,600 people coursed through the Alley. It’s the place to be for world-class networking.
Disrupt Berlin takes place on November 29-30, 2018 at the Arena Berlin. We’re just 24 hours away from releasing two-for-one Innovator passes for €695. Take pity on your bottom line and don’t pay more than necessary. Sign up to be notified when these passes become available. Here’s to seeing you in Berlin!
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May 29, 2018 at 03:08AM
Flock raises £2.25M for its on-demand drone insurance
Flock, a London-based startup that has created a data-driven insurance product for drones, has picked up £2.5 million in seed funding. Leading the round is fintech and insurtech VC fund Anthemis, with participation from Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play, Seed and Speed, and previous backer Downing Ventures. A number of unnamed angel investors also took part.
Describing itself as “pioneering the use of real-time data in insurance,” Fock’s drone insurance has its roots in the academic studies of co-founders Antton Pena and Ed Leon Klinger. Pena wrote his thesis on the use of real-time data to quantify drone flight risks, and began building the first version of the Flock platform at the Data Science Institute at Imperial College London with help from a post-doctoral researcher in artificial intelligence.
Likewise, while studying at Cambridge University, Klinger focused on the future of the autonomous world, writing and publishing papers on driverless vehicles, AI safety, and autonomous drones. This included a paper on the future of the drone industry in which he identified the same solution that Antton had already begun building: the idea that real-time data could be leveraged to identify and quantify the risks of drone flights.
To that end, Fock’s first product, dubbed “Flock Cover”, is a ‘pay-as-you-fly’ insurance app that allows drone pilots to insure flights for a minimum of one hour. It aggregates real-time data, including hyperlocal weather conditions, population density, proximity to high-risk areas (such as airports), and more. Flock’s algorithms then analyse this data, coupled with other data points, such as the weight of the drone, to quantify the risk of any given drone flight. The insurance itself is offered through a partnership with Allianz.
“The problem we’re solving in the drone industry is that drone flight risks are unpredictable, complex, and not particularly well understood by insurers,” explains Klinger. “The result of this is overpriced, cumbersome, but often compulsory insurance policies that are not fit for purpose (in the U.K. drone insurance is a legal requirement for commercial pilots)”.
In contrast, Flock’s use of real-time (and static) data enables the startup to offer pricing that is “risk-dependant,” says Klinger, “so the safer you fly, the less you pay. Our safest pilots now pay less for their insurance than their morning coffee!”.
The company says that 1,000 commercial drone pilots now use Flock Cover, which launched earlier this year in the U.K., representing a departure from flat-rate annual premiums in favour of Flock’s on-demand model.
With that said, the Flock co-founder concedes that there are a number of other on-demand drone insurance products already on the market, even if traditional insurers remain the startup’s main competition. “These insurers have been going for longer than us, and they certainly have bigger budgets. What they don’t have is real-time data on their side. They cannot differentiate between high-risk and low-risk customers or flights, so they simply charge everyone roughly the same amount for an annual policy,” he says.
Meanwhile, it would appear that drone insurance is just the beginning, as Klinger and Pena eye up other areas of cover where Big Data can be utilised to offer more flexible and better value insurance.
“As the world becomes increasingly autonomous, from the cars on our streets to the robots in our homes, we can expect to see a whole new set of risks emerge,” adds Klinger. “Here at Flock we’re using cutting edge data science to identify, quantify and insure these risks for drones, but we’re just getting started. Our wider vision is ultimately to bridge the gap between today’s insurers and tomorrow’s technologies, pioneering the use of Big Data in insurance for an autonomous future”.
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
May 29, 2018 at 03:08AM
Alibaba Group agrees to sell several Tmall healthcare categories to subsidiary Alibaba Health
Alibaba Group announced today that it has agreed to sell several of the healthcare categories on Tmall, its B2C shopping platform, to digital healthcare subsidiary Alibaba Health Information Technology. In exchange, Alibaba Group will receive $10.6 billion HKD (about $1.35 billion) in newly issued shares of Alibaba Health and increase its equity stake in the company, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, from 48.1% to 56.2%.
If you have followed Alibaba Group for a while and this news is giving you a feeling of déjà vu, there’s a reason why. In April 2015, Alibaba Group made a similar announcement, saying that it had agreed to integrate Tmall’s pharmacy business into Alibaba Health in exchange for a majority stake.
The next year, however, Alibaba Health disclosed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it had let the proposed deal lapse because of regulatory uncertainties as the Chinese government reviewed legislation related to online drug sales. In that disclosure, it also said that Alibaba Group “continues to support [Alibaba Health] to execute an organic growth and investment strategy as the healthcare flagship company for Alibaba Group,” with the two companies exploring service agreements between Tmall and Alibaba Health.
While the deal announced today is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, it furthers Alibaba Group’s goal of consolidating more of Tmall’s pharmacy and healthcare business operations into Alibaba Health. These include Tmall categories like medical devices and healthcare products and medical services, which in total cover 3,300 vendors and generated 20.6 billion RMB (about $3.2 billion) in gross merchandise volume in the fiscal year that ended in March.
Vendors moving over to Alibaba Health will now have access to its ecosystem, including data analytics, hospitals, doctors, healthcare consultants and equipment suppliers, creating more growth and synergy opportunities, an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.
In a press statement, Daniel Zhang said “Healthcare is a strategically important area for Alibaba Group with strong growth potential. This transaction is a logical evolution for the continued development of Alibaba Health into our healthcare flagship platform.”
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
May 29, 2018 at 02:51AM
‘We’re going to have to leave this planet’: Jeff Bezos outlines moon colony plan
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is convinced that one day “we are going to have to leave this planet.” And he believes that his Blue Origin space company can help make it happen.
Outlining his ambitious vision at the Space Development Conference in Los Angeles during a recent on-stage chat with GeekWire‘s Alan Boyle, Bezos said that, ideally, Blue Origin would collaborate with NASA or ESA, Europe’s space agency, to move toward his goal, though he said that if that doesn’t work out, his company would go it alone.
It’s not the first time Bezos has described his plan for colonizing other space rocks, but his most recent comments suggest the long-term plan is still very much at the forefront of his mind.
Bezos believes earthlings will one day have to shift some of their industry to the moon to help our planet better cope with pressures brought on by a rising population. He told Boyle that leaving Earth will “make this planet better,” adding, “We’ll come and go, and the people who want to stay will stay.”
The billionaire entrepreneur predicted that the moon could one day be a home for heavy industry driven by solar power, while Earth would be for residential and light industrial use.
“The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry,” Bezos said. “It’s convenient for us right now, but in the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space, because we’ll have so much energy.”
While Blue Origin is enjoying success with the development of its New Shepard reusable rocket system, it’s designed for suborbital missions for a proposed commercial space tourism business.
He wants to use thst rocket system to transport the necessary components to the moon to build the lunar base. Think of it as a long-distance Amazon delivery service. Such a project could begin in the 2020s, with humans arriving at an unspecified time after that.
The Blue Origin boss is already intent on building more powerful rockets and landers, and is now eyeing the necessary work to create the parts required for a functioning moon base that can support human life.
Time to return to the moon
In March 2017, Bezos wrote: “It is time for America to return to the moon — this time to stay. A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”
By the end of the year, the U.S. government authorized NASA to once again focus on achieving a moon landing, 45 years after the last one.
For sure, a moon landing is a long way from a moon settlement. But many space fans will sense the two ambitions edging closer together, where relatively brief visits will eventually develop into longer stays that Bezos believes can one day become permanent as well as productive.
via Digital Trends https://ift.tt/2p4eJdC
May 29, 2018 at 02:32AM
Apply now: Startup Battlefield San Francisco ’18 applications end in less than 2 weeks
Less than two weeks.That’s all that stands between you and your chance to compete in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt San Francisco 2018 on September 5-7. If you think your pre-Series A company has what it takes to go head-to-head against some of the top early-stage startups, both domestic and international, then don’t delay. The application window for this potentially life-altering startup pitch competition slams shut in — you guessed it — less than two weeks. Apply right now.
Disrupt SF ’18 is without doubt our largest and most ambitious Disrupt ever. Our new venue, Moscone Center West, provides three times the floor space, offers four unique stages, and we expect more than 10,000 attendees over the course of three program-packed days. Clearly, we needed a Startup Battlefield suitable for an event of this magnitude. So how does a $100,000 equity-free cash prize grab you?
That kind of cheddar will go a long way to help you realize your startup dream, but you have to take the first step and apply. Here’s how it all works.
Our team of pitch-savvy TechCrunch editors will scrutinize every Startup Battlefield application. As vetting processes go, it’s highly competitive with an acceptance rate somewhere between 3 and 6 percent. We look at the team, the product and the market potential before ultimately selecting 15-30 pre-Series A startups in the final cut. Keep in mind that competing in Startup Battlefield doesn’t cost a thing; we don’t charge any fees or take any equity.
Remember those pitch-savvy TechCrunch editors? They’ll provide the competing teams with free pitch training to prepare for the big day and round one of the competition. Teams have just six minutes to pitch and demo in front of an expert panel of judges. Judges follow each pitch with questions for the team.
Those judges select approximately five teams to advance to round two for a repeat pitch performance in front of a fresh set of judges. And from that impressive cohort will come Disrupt Startup Battlefield’s first-ever $100,000 champion.
The whole thrilling shebang takes place in front of a live audience that numbers in the thousands. We also live-stream it to the world on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And it’ll be available later, on demand.
Just being a Startup Battlefield competitor can reap significant benefits — whether you win or not. You’ll receive investor interest and media opportunities from more than 400 accredited outlets at the show. Just consider Aircall, a company that competed back in 2015. It just received $29 million in another round of funding.
And every Startup Battlefield team gets to join the ranks of the Startup Battlefield alumni community. This group of more than 800 companies has collectively raised more than $8 billion in funding and produced more than 100 exits. You may recognize a few of them: Mint, Dropbox, Yammer, Fitbit, Getaround and Cloudflare. That’s some rarified company.
Disrupt San Francisco 2018 takes place on September 5-7 at Moscone Center West. Startup Battlefield is an outstanding opportunity to launch your company to the world. Don’t pass up your chance to go big — $100,000 big. Apply to Startup Battlefield today.
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
May 29, 2018 at 02:21AM
You can now tip London buskers without handing over cash
With so many people these days ditching cash for contactless payments, there may be times when they reach into their pocket for a few coins to tip a particularly impressive street performer, only to find nothing there.
With some buskers using public performances as their only source of income, that could be valuable revenue lost. But a new scheme in London hopes to offer a lifeline in the form of, you guessed it, contactless payments.
It’s the result of a collaboration between the Mayor of London’s office, the Busk in London organization, and PayPal-owned payments company iZettle, and equips buskers with a reader device so passers-by can simply tap to donate a pre-defined amount using contactless payment cards or NFC-equipped mobile devices with digital wallets.
It’s thought to be the first organized scheme in the world where buskers can offer the payment method alongside old-fashioned cash donations.
“For London to maintain its status as a global capital of music, it’s vitally important that we support the stars of tomorrow,” Khan said.
“Busking helps emerging artists to hone their talent and gives them the chance to perform in front of huge numbers of people.”
The mayor said the new scheme meant more people would now be able to show their support for the capital city’s many street performers.
Charlotte Campbell is one such busker who’s been helping to trial the project. The musician set her reader so that each transaction results in a payment of two British pounds, equivalent today to about $2.65.
Campbell said that if street performers don’t move with the times and embrace modern payment methods, “we’re at risk of becoming a dying art.”
After two weeks of trying out the electronic payments system, she said it’d “already had a significant impact on the contributions I’ve received.”
via Digital Trends https://ift.tt/2p4eJdC
May 29, 2018 at 01:28AM
Google brings its ARCore technology to China in partnership with Xiaomi
Google is ramping up its efforts to return to China. Earlier this year, the search giant detailed plans to bring its ARCore technology — which enables augmented reality and virtual reality — to phones in China and this week that effort went live with its first partner, Xiaomi.
Initially the technology will be available for Xiaomi’s Mix 2S devices via an app in the Xiaomi App Store, but Google has plans to add more partners in Mainland China over time. Huawei and Samsung are two confirmed names that have signed up to distribute ARCore apps on Chinese soil, Google said previously.
Google’s core services remain blocked in China but ARCore apps are able to work there because the technology itself works on device without the cloud, which means that once apps are downloaded to a phone there’s nothing that China’s internet censors can do to disrupt them.
Rather than software, the main challenge is distribution. The Google Play Store is restricted in China, and in its place China has a fragmented landscape that consists of more than a dozen major third-party Android app stores. That explains why Google has struck deals with the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei, which operate their own app stores which — pre-loaded on their devices — can help Google reach consumers.
The ARCore strategy for China, while subtle, is part of a sustained push to grow Google’s presence in China. While that hasn’t meant reviving the Google Play Store — despite plenty of speculation in the media — Google has ramped up in other areas.
In recent months, the company has struck a partnership with Tencent, agreed to invest in a number of China-based startups — including biotech-focused XtalPi and live-streaming service Chushou — and announced an AI lab in Beijing. Added to that, Google gained a large tech presence in Taiwan via the completion of its acquisition of a chunk of HTC, and it opened a presence in Shenzhen, the Chinese city known as ‘the Silicon Valley of hardware.’
Finally, it is also hosting its first ‘Demo Day’ program for startups in Asia with an event planned for Shanghai, China, this coming September. Applications to take part in the initiative opened last week.
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
May 28, 2018 at 11:39PM
Climate Change Made Zombie Ants Even More Cunning
Raquel Loreto is a zombie hunter, and a good one. But traipsing through dried leaves in a hot forest in Sanda, at the southern end of Japan, she needed a guide. Just a few months before, she’d been on the internet and come across the work of artist Shigeo Ootak, whose fantastical images depict humans with curious protrusions erupting from their heads. She got in touch, and he invited her to Japan for a hike to find his inspiration.
Ootak knew precisely where to look: six feet off the ground. And there in a sparse forest, that’s where they found it: the zombie ant, an entrancing species with two long hooks coming out of its back. By now you may have heard its famous tale. A parasitic fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps, invades an ant’s body, growing through its tissues and soaking up nutrients. Then it somehow orders its host to march out of the nest and up a tree above the colony’s trails. The fungus commands the ant to bite onto the vein of a leaf, then kills the thing and grows as a stalk out of the back of its head, turning it into a showerhead raining spores onto victims down below.
That’s how it all goes down in South American forests, where Loreto had already spent plenty of time. But the zombie she found on her hike in Japan was different. First of all, the fungus had driven it higher up a tree. And two, it hadn’t bitten onto a leaf, but had wrapped itself around a twig, hanging upside down.
See, in the tropics, leaves stay on trees all year—but in Japan, they wither and fall. Same goes for zombie ants in the southern United States. By ordering the ant to lock onto a twig, the fungus helps ensure it can stay perched long enough to mature and rain death on more ants. In a study out today in the journal Evolution, Loreto and her colleagues show that divergence between leaf-biting and twig-biting seems to have been a consequence of ancient climate change. So who knows, modern climate change may also do interesting things to the evolution of the parasite.
Come back in time with me 47 million years to an unrecognizable Germany. It’s much hotter and wetter. As such, evergreen forests grow not only up through Europe, but all the way up to the arctic circle. One day, a zombie ant wanders up a tree and bites onto the vein of a leaf, which conveniently enough gets fossilized. Time goes on. The climate cools, and Germany’s wet forests turn temperate.
Almost a decade ago, Penn State entomologist David Hughes looked at that fossil leaf and noticed the tell-tale bite marks of a zombie ant. “Given the fossil evidence in Germany, we know leaf biting occurred then,” say Hughes, a coauthor on the paper. “We suspect that it was also present in North America, and as those populations responded to climate change and the cooling temperature, we see a shift from biting leaves to dying on twigs.”
As vegetation changed from evergreen to deciduous, the fungus found itself in a pickle. But evolution loves a pickle. Ophio adapted independently in Japan and North America to order the ant to seek out twigs, which provided a more reliable, longer-term perch. The fungus grows much slower.
Loreto and Hughes know this thanks to the work of Kim Fleming, a citizen scientist who discovered zombie ant graveyards on her property in South Carolina. She’s been collecting meticulous data for the researchers, scouring the forest for the zombies and marking them with colored tape. “I made a map for myself so I wouldn't get lost and leave some out,” says Fleming. (For her efforts, she’s now got a species of her very own: Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae.)
What Fleming helped discover is that while in the tropics the fungus reaches full maturity in one or two months, in temperate climes like hers, the fungus sets up its zombie ant on a twig in June, but doesn’t reach maturity until the next year. In fact, the fungi may actually freeze over the winter. If it were attached to a leaf, it’d tumble to the ground in the fall.
“So it's almost as if they've decided that nothing is going to happen this year, I'm just going to have to sit around because I don't have time to mature and get spores out,” says Hughes. Plus, the ants hibernate in the winter anyway. Even if the fungus shot spores, there’d be no ants to infect—they’ll all chilling underground in their nest.
Opting for twigs does come with a downside, though: It’s really tough to get good purchase. Until, that is, the fungus initiates a second behavior, ordering the ant to wrap its limbs around the twig, sometimes crossing the legs on the other side of the twig for extra strength. “The hyphae of the fungus growing out of the legs works as glue on the twig as well,” says Loreto. “Sometimes they would even slide down the twig, but they wouldn't fall.”
It's hard to imagine how a fungus with no brain could figure this all out, but that's the power of evolution. And it goes further: In June in temperate climes, the forest is still full of both twigs and leaves, yet the fungus directs zombie ants to lock onto twigs exclusively. And in the Amazon, where it’s lush all year round, they only ever lock onto leaves. “How in the name of ... whoever ... does the fungus inside the body know what the difference between the leaf and the twig is?” Hughes asks. It always has both options, yet only ever “chooses” one—the best strategy for its particular surroundings.
And so a parasitic manipulation that already defied human credulity grows ever more incredible, far beyond any work of zombie fiction. Your move, Hollywood.
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May 28, 2018 at 11:03PM
Report: Uber Couldn't Even Leave Southeast Asia Without Pissing Everyone the Heck Off
In March, Uber abandoned its operations in eight countries in Southeast Asia with an announcement that it was selling everything it had in the region to competitor Grab. Per a Monday report in the New York Times, it now looks like this exit was anything but graceful, and has infuriated both regulators and drivers in the region who think Uber essentially flipped them the bird on its way out the door.
Per the Times, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was under pressure from investors to “reduce the company’s tremendous losses as he prepares it for an initial public offering of stock.” Yet regulators in some countries believe the Grab fire sale created an illegal monopoly, and Uber’s regional staff and drivers feel like the company screwed them over:
Selling the Southeast Asian division as well as another in Russia temporarily got the company $2.9 billion in the black for the first quarter of 2018, which is important when the company is preparing for the IPO and also hemorrhaging billions a year.
But according to the Times report, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore claimed that Uber reneged on a deal to brief officials about the merger (Uber denies this) and later barred Grab from adjusting prices or payments “while it considered whether to reverse or modify the transaction.” In the Phillippines, Uber executive Brooks Entwistle responded to an order from antitrust regulators to not merge with Grab until the deal had been reviewed by saying that “our funding is gone” and “We don’t intend to come back to these markets.”
The Times added that Malaysia and Vietnam are also preparing their own antitrust investigations.
In an interview with the paper, Uber executive Barney Harford said that Uber’s 27.5 percent share of the combined company was “obviously not a controlling position, so the management team of the controlling entity are now on point for handling the regulatory questions.” In other words, have fun cleaning up our mess.
Philippines antitrust officials say they have already determined Uber left the country’s ridehailing consumers at the mercy of a Grab monopoly that controls 93 percent of the market, resulting in higher fees for worse service—so while Grab might be on top for now, it sure sounds like it could be left holding the bag if the antitrust investigations result in serious penalties. Per the South China Morning Post, competitors like Indonesia’s Go-Jek seem to believe Grab has bitten off more than it can chew and have announced plans to move into its markets.
via Gizmodo http://gizmodo.com
May 28, 2018 at 09:54PM