Postmates lands permit to test its Serve autonomous delivery robots in SF

Postmates has officially received the green light from the city of San Francisco to begin testing its Serve wheeled delivery robot on city streets, as first reported by the SF Chronicle and confirmed with Postmates by TechCrunch. The on-demand delivery company told us last week that it expected the issuance of the permit to come through shortly after a conditional approval, and that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday this week.

The permit doesn’t cover the entire city — just a designated area of a number of blocks in and around Potrero Hill and the Inner Mission, but it will allow Postmates to begin testing up to three autonomous delivery robots at once, at speeds of up to 3 mph. Deliveries can only take place between 8 AM and 6:30 PM on weekdays, and a human has to be on hand within 30 feet of the vehicles while they’re operating. Still, it’s a start — and from a city regulatory environment that has had a somewhat rocky start with some less collaborative early pilots from other companies.

Autonomous delivery bot company Marble also has a permit application pending with the city’s Public Works department, and will look to test its own four-wheeled, sensor-equipped rolling delivery bots within the city soon, should it be granted similar testing approval.

Postmates revealed Serve last December, taking a more anthropomorphic approach to the vehicle’s overall design. Like many short-distance delivery robots of its ilk, it includes a lockable cargo container and screen-based user interface for eventual autonomous deliveries to customers. The competitive field for autonomous rolling delivery bots is growing continuously, with companies like Starship Technologies, Amazon and many more throwing their hats in the ring.

UPS takes minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple

UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup, TuSimple, just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.

TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. The system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.

The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.

“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.

TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.

UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona.  The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).

Artificial intelligence can contribute to a safer world

We all see the headlines nearly every day. A drone disrupting the airspace in one of the world’s busiest airports, putting aircraft at risk (and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of passengers) or attacks on critical infrastructure. Or a shooting in a place of worship, a school, a courthouse. Whether primitive (gunpowder) or cutting-edge (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the wrong hands, technology can empower bad actors and put our society at risk, creating a sense of helplessness and frustration.

Current approaches to protecting our public venues are not up to the task, and, frankly appear to meet Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” It is time to look past traditional defense technologies and see if newer approaches can tilt the pendulum back in the defender’s favor. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play a critical role here, helping to identify, classify and promulgate counteractions on potential threats faster than any security personnel.

Using technology to prevent violence, specifically by searching for concealed weapons has a long history. Alexander Graham Bell invented the first metal detector in 1881 in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the fatal slug as President James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet. The first commercial metal detectors were developed in the 1960s. Most of us are familiar with their use in airports, courthouses and other public venues to screen for guns, knives and bombs.

However, metal detectors are slow and full of false positives – they cannot distinguish between a Smith & Wesson and an iPhone. It is not enough to simply identify a piece of metal; it is critical to determine whether it is a threat. Thus, the physical security industry has developed newer approaches, including full-body scanners – which are now deployed on a limited basis. While effective to a point, the systems in use today all have significant drawbacks. One is speed. Full body scanners, for example, can process only about 250 people per hour, not much faster than a metal detector. While that might be okay for low volume courthouses, it’s a significant problem for larger venues like a sporting arena.

Image via Getty Images

Fortunately, new AI technologies are enabling major advances in physical security capabilities. These new systems not only deploy advanced sensors to screen for guns, knives and bombs, they get smarter with each screen, creating an increasingly large database of known and emerging threats while segmenting off alarms for common, non-threatening objects (keys, change, iPads, etc.)

As part of a new industrial revolution in physical security, engineers have developed a welcomed approach to expediting security screenings for threats through machine learning algorithms, facial recognition, and advanced millimeter wave and other RF sensors to non-intrusively screen people as they walk through scanning devices. It’s like walking through sensors at the door at Nordstrom, the opposite of the prison-like experience of metal detectors with which we are all too familiar. These systems produce an analysis of what someone may be carrying in about a hundredth of a second, far faster than full body scanners. What’s more, people do not need to empty their pockets during the process, further adding speed. Even so, these solutions can screen for firearms, explosives, suicide vests or belts at a rate of about 900 people per hour through one lane.

Using AI, advanced screening systems enable people to walk through quickly and provide an automated decision but without creating a bottleneck. This volume greatly improves traffic flow while also improving the accuracy of detection and makes this technology suitable for additional facilities such as stadiums and other public venues such as Lincoln Center in New York City and the Oakland airport.

Apollo Shield’s anti-drone system.

So much for the land, what about the air?   Increasingly drones are being used as weapons. Famously, this was seen in a drone attack last year against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. An airport drone incident drew widespread attention when a drone shut down Gatwick Airport in late 2018 inconveniency stranded tens of thousands of people.

People are rightly concerned about how easy it is to get a gun. Drones are also easy to acquire and operate, and quite difficult to monitor and to defend against. AI is now being deployed to prevent drone attacks, whether at airports, stadiums, or critical infrastructure. For example, new AI-powered radar technology is being used to detect, classify, monitor and safely capture drones identified as dangerous.

Additionally, these systems use can rapidly develop a map of the airspace and effectively create a security “dome” around specific venues or areas. These systems have an integration component to coordinate with on-the-ground security teams and first responders. Some even have a capture drone to incarcerate a suspicious drone. When a threatening drone is detected and classified by the system as dangerous, the capture drone is dispatched and nets the invading drone. The hunter then tows the targeted drone to a safe zone for the threat to be evaluated and if needed, destroyed.

While there is much dialogue about the potential risk of AI affecting our society, there is also a positive side to these technologies. Coupled with our best physical security approaches, AI can help prevent violent incidents.

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land-Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field

AT&T and T-Mobile team up to fight scam robocalls

Two major U.S. carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile, announced this morning a plan to team up to protect their respective customer bases from the scourge of scam robocalls. The two companies will today begin to roll out new cross-network call authentication technology based on the STIR/SHAKEN standards — a sort of universal caller ID system designed to stop illegal caller ID spoofing.

Robocalls have become a national epidemic. In 2018, U.S. mobile users received nearly 48 million robocalls — or more than 150 calls per adult, the carriers noted.

A huge part of the problem is that these calls now often come in with a spoofed phone number, making it hard for consumers to screen out unwanted calls on their own. That’s led to a rise in robocall blocking and screening apps. Even technology companies have gotten involved, with Google introducing a new AI call screener in Android and Apple rolling out Siri-powered spam call detection with iOS 13.

To help fight the call spoofing problem, the industry put together a set of standards called STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited / Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs), which effectively signs calls as “legitimate” as they travel through the interconnected phone networks.

However, the industry has been slow to roll out the system, which prompted the FCC to finally step in.

In November 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote to U.S. mobile operators, asking them to outline their plans around the implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN standards. The regulator also said that it would step in to mandate the implementation if the carriers didn’t meet an end-of-2019 deadline to get their call authentication systems in place.

Today’s news from AT&T and T-Mobile explains how the two will work together to authenticate calls across their networks. By implementing STIR/SHAKEN, calls will have their Caller ID signed as legitimate by the originating carrier, then validated by other carriers before they reach the consumer. Spoofed calls would fail this authentication process, and not be marked as “verified.”

As more carriers participate in this sort of authentication, more calls can be authenticated.

However, this system alone won’t actually block the spam calls — it just gives the recipient more information. In addition, devices will have to support the technology, as well, in order to display the new “verification” information.

T-Mobile earlier this year was first to launch a caller verification system on the Samsung Galaxy Note9, and today it still only works with select Android handsets from Samsung and LG. AT&T meanwhile, announced in March it was working with Comcast to exchange authenticated calls between two separate networks — a milestone in terms of cooperation between two carriers. T-Mobile and Comcast announced their own agreement in April.

The news also follows a statement by Chairman Pai that says the FCC will sign off to approve a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, as has been expected.

Reports say White House has drafted an order putting the FCC in charge of monitoring social media

The White House is contemplating issuing an executive order that would widen its attack on the operations of social media companies.

The White House has prepared an executive order called “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship” that would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight of how Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies monitor and manage their social networks, according to a CNN report.

Under the order, which has not yet been announced and could be revised, the FCC would be tasked with developing new regulations that would determine when and how social media companies filter posts, videos or articles on their platforms.

The draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when investigating or filing lawsuits against technology companies, according to the CNN report.

Social media censorship has been a perennial talking point for President Donald Trump and his administration. In May, the White House set up a tip line for people to provide evidence of social media censorship and a systemic bias against conservative media.

In the executive order, the White House says it received more than 15,000 complaints about censorship by the technology platforms. The order also includes an offer to share the complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

As part of the order, the Federal Trade Commission would be required to open a public complaint docket and coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission on investigations of how technology companies curate their platforms — and whether that curation is politically agnostic.

Under the proposed rule, any company whose monthly user base includes more than one-eighth of the U.S. population would be subject to oversight by the regulatory agencies. A roster of companies subject to the new scrutiny would include Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest .

At issue is how broadly or narrowly companies are protected under the Communications Decency Act, which was part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Social media companies use the Act to shield against liability for the posts, videos or articles that are uploaded from individual users or third parties.

The Trump administration aren’t the only politicians in Washington are focused on the laws that shield social media platforms from legal liability. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took technology companies to task earlier this year in an interview with Recode.

The criticisms may come from different sides of the political spectrum, but their focus on the ways in which tech companies could use Section 230 of the Act is the same.

The White House’s executive order would ask the FCC to disqualify social media companies from immunity if they remove or limit the dissemination of posts without first notifying the user or third party that posted the material, or if the decision from the companies is deemed anti-competitive or unfair.

The FTC and FCC had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Autonomous air mobility company EHang to deploy air shuttle service in Guangzhou

China’s EHang, a company focused on developing and deploying autonomous passenger and freight low-altitude vehicles, will build out its first operational network of air taxis and transports in Guangzhou. The company announced that the Chinese city would play host to its pilot location for a citywide deployment.

The pilot will focus on not only showing that a low-altitude, rotor-powered aircraft makes sense for use in cities, but that a whole network of them can operate autonomously in concert, controlled and monitored by a central traffic management hub that Ehang will develop together with the local Guangzhou government.

Ehang, which was chosen at the beginning of this year by China’s Civil Aviation Administration as the sole pilot company to be able to build out autonomous flying passenger vehicle services, has already demonstrated flights of its Ehang 184 vehicles carrying passengers in Vienna earlier this year, and ran a number of flights in Guangzhou in 2018 as well.

In addition to developing the air traffic control system to ensure that these operate safely as a fleet working in the air above city at the same time, Ehang will be working with Guangzhou to build out the infrastructure needed to operate the network. The plan for the pilot is to use the initial stages to continue to test out the vehicles, as well as the vertiports it’ll need to support their operation, and then it’ll work with commercial partners for good transportation first.

The benefits of such a network will be especially valuable for cities like Guangzhou, where rapid growth has led to plenty of traffic and high density at the ground level. It could also potentially have advantages over a network of autonomous cars or wheeled vehicles, since those still have to contend with ground traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles in order to operate, while the low-altitude air above a city is more or less unoccupied.

Zindi rallies Africa’s data scientists to crowd-solve local problems

Zindi is convening Africa’s data scientists to create AI solutions for complex problems.

Founded in 2018, the Cape Town-based startup allows companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions around data-oriented challenges.

Zindi’s platform also coordinates a group of more than 4,000 data scientists based in Africa who can enroll to join a competition, submit their solution sets, move up a leader board and win the challenge — for a cash prize payout.

The highest purse so far has been $12,000, split across the top three data scientists in a competition, according to Zindi co-founder Celina Lee. Competition hosts receive the results, which they can use to create new products or integrate into their existing systems and platforms.

Zindi’s model has gained the attention of some big corporate names in and outside of Africa. Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom has hosted competitions.

This week, the startup announced a partnership with Microsoft to use cloud-based computing service Azure to power Zindi’s platform.

Microsoft will also host (and sport the prize money) for two competitions to find solutions in African agtech. In a challenge put forward by Ugandan IoT accelerator Wazihub, an open call is out for Zindi’s data scientist network to build a machine learning model to predict humidity.

In a $10,000 challenge for Cape Town-based startup FarmPin, Zindi’s leader board is tracking the best solutions for classifying fields by crop type in South Africa using satellite imagery and mobile phones.

Zindi Africa competition board

 

There’s demand in Africa to rally data scientists to solve problems across the continent’s public and private sectors, according to Zindi CEO Celina Lee.

“African companies, startups, organizations and governments are in this phase right now of digitization and tech where they are generating huge amounts of data. There’s interest in leveraging things like machine learning and AI to capitalize on the asset of that data,” she told TechCrunch.

She also noted that “80% of Zindi’s competitions have some sort of social impact angle.”

Lee recognizes a skills gap and skills building component to Zindi as a platform. “Data science skills are relatively scarce still… and companies are looking for ways to access data science and AI solutions and talent,” she said.

“Then there’s this pool of young Africans coming out of universities working in data…looking for opportunities to build their professional profiles, hone their skills and connect to opportunities.”

Lee (who’s originally from San Francisco) co-founded Zindi with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Dukerand, who lead a team of six in the company’s Cape Town office. The startup hopes to get 10,000 data scientists across Africa on its platform by this year and 20,000 by next year, according to Lee.

Zindi Team in Cape Town 1

“The idea is to just keep growing and growing our presence in every country in Africa,” Lee said. Zindi could add some physical presence in additional African countries by the end of this year, Lee added, noting Zindi currently hosts data scientists and competitions online and on the cloud from any country in Africa.

Zindi received its first funds from an undisclosed strategic investor and is in the process of raising a round. The startup, which does not disclose revenues, generates income by taking a fee from hosting competitions.

Zindi is also looking to add a recruitment service to connect data scientists to broader opportunities as a future source of revenue, according to Lee.

As a startup, Zindi’s emerging model could see it enter several existing domains in African business and tech. When Zindi adds recruitment, it could offer a service similar to talent accelerator Andela of connecting skilled African techies to jobs at established firms.

CEO Lee acknowledges such, but makes a distinction between data scientists and Andela’s developer focus. “We’re honing more in on statistical modeling, AI, machine learning and predictive analytics,” she said. “I also think the developer market in Africa is much more mature and lot of developers want to move into data science.”

In addition to competing on tech recruitment, Zindi could also become a cheaper and faster alternative for African companies and governments to contracting big consulting firms, such as Accenture, IBM or Bain.

Zindi’s co-founder Lee confirmed the startup has received inbound partnership interest from some established consulting firms — which indicates they’ve taken note of the startup.

“I think we are a bit disruptive because we’re offering companies in Africa the best data scientists in the continent at their fingertips,” she said.

Lee highlighted a couple distinctions between Zindi and data-driven consulting firms: affordability and potential scale.

The startup could also provide data science solutions to many African organizations that don’t have the resources to pay big consulting firms — meaning Zindi could be on to a much larger addressable market.

Facebook could face billions in potential damages as court rules facial recognition lawsuit can proceed

Facebook is facing exposure to billions of dollars in potential damages as a federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Facebook’s arguments to halt a class action lawsuit claiming it illegally collected and stored the biometric data of millions of users.

The class action lawsuit has been working its way through the courts since 2015, when Illinois Facebook users sued the company for alleged violations of the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act by automatically collecting and identifying people in photographs posted to the service.

Now, thanks to an unanimous decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the lawsuit can proceed.

The most significant language from the decision from the circuit court seems to be this:

 We conclude that the development of face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests. Similar conduct is actionable at common law.

The American Civil Liberties Union came out in favor of the court’s ruling.

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, in a statement. “The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale. Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”

As April Glaser noted in “Slate”, Facebook already may have the world’s largest database of faces, and that’s something that should concern regulators and privacy advocates.

“Facebook wants to be able to certify identity in a variety of areas of life just as it has been trying to corner the market on identify verification on the web,” Siva Vaidhyanathan told Slate in an interview. “The payoff for Facebook is to have a bigger and broader sense of everybody’s preferences, both individually and collectively. That helps it not only target ads but target and develop services, too.”

That could apply to facial recognition technologies as well. Facebook, thankfully, doesn’t sell its facial recognition data to other people, but it does allow companies to use its data to target certain populations. It also allows people to use its information for research and to develop new services that could target Facebooks billion-strong population of users.

As our own Josh Constine noted in an article about the company’s planned cryptocurrency wallet, the developer community poses as much of a risk to how Facebook’s products and services are used and abused as Facebook itself.

Facebook has said that it plans to appeal the decision. “We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time,” a spokesman said in an email to “Reuters”.

Now, the lawsuit will go back to the court of U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco who approved the class action lawsuit last April for a possible trial.

Under the privacy law in Illinois, negligent violations could be subject to damages of up to $1,000 and intentional violations of privacy are subject to up to $5,000 in penalties. For the potential 7 million Facebook users that could be included in the lawsuit those figures could amount to real money.

“BIPA’s innovative protections for biometric information are now enforceable in federal court,” added Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. “If a corporation violates a statute by taking your personal information without your consent, you do not have to wait until your data is stolen or misused to go to court. As our General Assembly understood when it enacted BIPA, a strong enforcement mechanism is crucial to hold companies accountable when they violate our privacy laws. Corporations that misuse Illinoisans sensitive biometric data now do so at their own peril.”

These civil damages could come on top of fines that Facebook has already paid to the U.S. government for violating its agreement with the Federal Trade Commission over its handling of private user data. That resulted in one of the single largest penalties levied against a U.S. technology company. Facebook is potentially on the hook for a $5 billion payout to the U.S. government. That penalty is still subject to approval by the Justice Department.

Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion to list in Chinese IPO

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market,  Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch. 

The company—which has a robust Africa sales network—could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

“The company’s listing-related work is running smoothly. The registration application and issuance process is still underway, with the specific timetable yet to be confirmed by the CSRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange,” a spokesperson for Transsion’s Office of the Secretary to the Chairman told TechCrunch via email.

Transsion’s IPO prospectus was downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen—where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility—Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development,  including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai—a company spokesperson said. 

Transsion recently announced a larger commitment to capturing market share in India, including building an industrial park in the country for manufacture of phones to Africa.

The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. 

Listing on the STAR Market will put Transsion on the freshly minted exchange seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for high-potential tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements, for the exchange, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

Transsion’s IPO process comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan from a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market—through its brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel—and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.

Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.

On a recent research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.

In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.

Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.

Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34 percent, but expected to grow to 67 percent by 2025, according to GSMA.

This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination—such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa—thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.

If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent that could enable more startups and startup opportunities—from fintech to VOD apps.

Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular if the Shenzhen company moves strongly toward venture investing.

Comparatively, China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities—further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.

Transsion’s IPO move is the second recent event—after Chinese owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria—to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.

So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads, bridges, and buildings in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.