Truecaller makes first acquisition to build out payment and financial services in India

Sweden’s Truecaller started out life as a service that screens calls and messages to weed out spammers. In recent times the company has switched its focus to India, its largest market based on users, adding services that include payments to make it more useful. Now Truecaller is putting even more weight behind its India push after it announced its first acquisition, mobile payment service Chillr.

The vision is to go deeper into mobile payments and associated services to turn Truecaller into a utility that goes beyond just handling messages and calls, particularly payments — a space that WhatsApp is preparing to enter in India.

Truecaller doesn’t have WhatsApp -like scale — few companies can match 200 million active users in Indua, but it did recently disclose that it has 100 million daily active users worldwide, while India is its largest country with 150 million registered users.

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith. Chillr, which offer payment services between over 50 banks, had raised $7.5 million from the likes of Blume Ventures and Sequoia Capital.

Truecaller isn’t disclosing how much it has paid for the deal, but it said that Chillr’s entire team of 45 people will move over and the Chillr service will be phased out. In addition, Chillr CEO Sony Joy will become vice president of Truecaller Pay, running that India-based payment business which will inherit Chillr’s core features.

“We’ve acquired a company that is known for innovation and leading this space in terms of building a fantastic product,” Truecaller co-founder and CSO Nami Zarringhalam told TechCrunch in an interview.

Zarringhalam said the Truecaller team met with Chillr as part of an effort to reach out to partners to build out an ecosystem of third-party services, but quickly realized there was potential to come together.

“We realized we shared synergies in thought processes for caring for the customer and user experience,” he added, explaining that Joy and his Chillr team will “take over the vision of execution of Truecaller Pay.”

Truecaller added payments in India last year

Joy told TechCrunch that he envisages developing Truecaller Pay into one of India’s top three payment apps over the next two years.

Already, the service supports peer-to-peer payments following a partnership with ICICI Bank, but there are plans to layer on additional services from third parties. That could include integrations to provide services such as loans, financing, micro-insurance and more.

Joy pointed out that India’s banking push has seen many people in the country sign up for at least one account, so now the challenge is not necessarily getting banked but instead getting access to the right services. Thanks to gathering information through payments and other customer data, Truecaller could, with permission from users, share data with financial services companies to give users access to services that wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

“Most citizens have a bank account (in each household), now being underserved is more to do with access to other services,” he explained.

Joy added that Truecaller is aiming to layer in value-added services over its SMS capabilities, digging into the fact that SMS remains a key communication and information channel in India. For example, helping users pay for items confirmed via SMS, or pay for an order which is tracked via SMS.

The development of the service in India has made it look from the outside that the company is splitting into two, a product localized for India and another for the rest of the world. However, Zarringhalam said that the company plans to replicate its approach — payments and more — in other markets.

“It could be based on acquisitions or partners, time will tell,” he said. “But our plan is to develop this for all markers where our market penetration is high and the market dynamics are right.”

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith.

New technology can see your body through walls

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has created a system that can see your body through walls, recreating your poses when you walk, sit, or simply stand still. It uses RF waves to sense where you are and then recreates your body as a simple stick figure. It’s called RF-Pose.

From the release:

The researchers use a neural network to analyze radio signals that bounce off people’s bodies, and can then create a dynamic stick figure that walks, stops, sits and moves its limbs as the person performs those actions.

The team says that the system could be used to monitor diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS), providing a better understanding of disease progression and allowing doctors to adjust medications accordingly. It could also help elderly people live more independently, while providing the added security of monitoring for falls, injuries and changes in activity patterns.

The team is primarily interested in using this system for healthcare, allowing for passive monitoring of a subject inside a room without cameras or other intrusions. “All data the team collected has subjects’ consent and is anonymized and encrypted to protect user privacy,” wrote the researchers. “For future real-world applications, the team plans to implement a ‘consent mechanism’ in which the person who installs the device is cued to do a specific set of movements in order for it to begin to monitor the environment.”

The researchers trained the neural network by showing a machine a video of a person walking next to the RF interference they made as they moved. They then overlaid stick figures on the movement and trained the network to do the same automatically. Because RF signals are ubiquitous, it was easier to use than other sensing technologies.

Interestingly the researchers never trained the system to see through walls but it was able to “generalize its knowledge to be able to handle through-wall movement.”

“If you think of the computer vision system as the teacher, this is a truly fascinating example of the student outperforming the teacher,” said researcher Antonio Torralba. There is no word if the system will be used other commercial purposes.

Israeli autonomous technology developer Innoviz is entering China’s car market

Innoviz, a developer of light detection and ranging technologies for computer vision and autonomous vehicles, is getting a toehold in China, the world’s fastest growing auto market, through a partnership with the Chinese automotive supplier HiRain Technologies.

From offices in Beijing, Chicago, Detroit, Shanghai, Tianjin HiRain serves as a global supplier to some of China’s largest automakers and has already been a gateway to success for another Israeli company developing sensing technology for vehicle manufacturers — Mobileye .

That company has half of its business coming from China and has won 9 of its supplier agreements with different automakers in the country through its HiRain partnership, according to people with knowledge of the company.

For the three year old Innoviz, the opportunity to expand its list of suppliers to include one of China’s leaders was too good of an opportunity to pass up, said chief executive officer Omer Keilaf.

“China is helping lead the way towards the autonomous vehicle future, and HiRain is one of the most influential companies in the Chinese automotive industry. Last year, around 26 million vehicles were manufactured in China, making it by far the largest automotive manufacturing country in the world,” said Keilaf, in a statement. “The HiRain team has extensive experience with driver assistance and autonomous driving systems in China and we are honored to partner with them.”

It’s the latest in a series of strategic moves for Innoviz, which already counts Aptiv, Magna International and Samsung as its partners for supplying automakers in the U.S., Europe and other international markets. The company had its first win with BMW earlier this year, and will be providing LiDAR for the automakers autonomous vehicles in 2021.

“LiDAR is one of the most critical technologies for automated driving systems, and we partnered with Innoviz because not only is its technology more advanced than other LiDAR solution, but the company has proven it can deliver on its promises,” said Yingcun Ji, the chief executive of HiRain, in a statement. “Innoviz’s cutting-edge LiDAR will help us expand our leadership position within the Chinese automotive industry and continue to blaze a trail towards the autonomous driving future.”

The opportunity to expand driverless vehicle technologies in China extends far beyond the country’s established automakers like SAIC Motors, Chang’an Motors, FAW Group and Dongfeng Motor or more recent upstarts like Geely and BYD . Technology companies including Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu all have an interest in developing autonomous vehicles, and new electric car companies like Byton, Nio, WM Motor, and Xiaopeng Motors. Some of these new companies are counting on government subsidies of $8,400 per vehicle, to bring electric, autonomous technology to China’s congested and polluted streets.

Behind HiRain and its OEM relationships, Keilaf said there were as many as 20 other development programs that the company was exposed to in China.

“We are going to sell the LiDAR in this collaboration that will let us get to the volume to drive our process and get early revenues,” Keilaf said.

When it comes to autonomous vehicle standards, China is racing ahead, said Keilaf. The country wants to get to Level 3 autonomy in most of its vehicles by 2020 and level 4 autonomy in 2021.

As for other markets, like the U.S., Keilaf said the development of autonomous vehicles will continue to happen quickly, but in very specific markets. And that the growth wouldn’t be hindered by recent fatalities caused by failures in autonomous vehicle systems from Uber and Tesla (two companies that have been aggressively pushing driverless vehicle programs).

“It makes everybody understand better what is needed to make things the right way,” Keilaf said of the accidents. “The way I see it, autonomous driving will come soon. But autonomous driving is a very big term.”

For Keilaf, autonomy is going to appear in markets like the U.S. first in specific applications like shuttles around colleges, airports, or closed communities. Simultaneously some advanced autonomous technologies will take to the roads in the form of long haul convoys for shipping and logistics, and finally in industrial applications for agriculture and mining.

Founded in early 2016, Innoviz has over 150 employees worldwide and is backed by $82 million in venture funding.

Real estate property manager and developer JLL launches a $100 million tech investment fund

The multi-billion dollar real estate developer and property manager JLL is getting into the tech investment game with the launch of a new $100 million fund run by corporate subsidiary JLL Spark.

Initially envisioned as a technology-focused business unit of the multinational real estate company, the firm eventually turned to the more traditional venture capital investment model as a way to get more exposure to all of the new technologies that are coming to market, according to JLL SPark’s co-chief executive Mihir Shah.

For Shah and his co-founder Yishai Lerner running the real estate company’s investment firm is the first foray by either executive into the world of real estate or property technology. But both men have been working in the startup world of the Bay Area for at over a decade.

In fact, the two serial entrepreneurs launched one of their first companies from the TechCrunch 50 conference way back in 2007 (it was a mobile app that mimicked Yelp).

The two eventually sold their mobile review business to GroupOn and began doing some angel investing. It was during that venture into the wild world of seed stage prospecting that Shah got bitten by the real estate bug while trying to buy some commercial real estate.

“I was looking at the process and was thinking ‘Wow! That is not a modern process,'” Shah said.

Unbeknownst to Shah, at the same time he was looking for commercial real estate, the commercial real estate industry was looking for someone like him.

JLL had put out feelers and hired head hunters to find someone who could take the lead at the firm’s burgeoning technology practice, Shah said.

“They had all sorts of internal initiatives bringing in new technology companies and services to their existing clients,” Shah said. “They understood that technology was going to transform all aspects of the industry.”

One of the first steps that JLL had taken was to acquire Stessa, which developed and sold asset management software for the real estate industry. But Shah and Lerner quickly realized that the buy and build strategy wouldn’t be robust enough for JLL’s needs.

“Over the last six months we saw how much innovation was happening in the proptech space and we thought it made more sense to launch a venture fund,” Shah said.

The firm will invest anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million into seed stage or Series A companies with the option to dabble in later stage deals, according to Shah. The firm has made two investments so far — neither one of them in startups.

The commitments have been in one accelerator program, the New York-based Metaprop, which focuses on real estate tech investment, and Navitas Capital, which is billed as a later stage investor in the same space.

Both investments appear to be geared toward educating the firm’s two principals on the market and what’s already happening in the space.

The benefit that a corporate firm like JLL can provide to startups is the access to pilot projects where companies can deploy their technologies and, indeed, that’s the pitch that Shah makes to potential portfolio companies.

“Money is not enough,” he said. “There’s a lot of products out there, but they’re struggling with distribution.” JLL has designated a few buildings in top cities around the world to fast track new technologies and provide trial spaces for them to develop, Shah told me. “Our value as a strategic is to build that bridge and make that connection.”

“Creating this $100 million venture fund through JLL Spark allows us to continue to lead the real estate industry in bringing the best proptech ideas to reality,” said Christian Ulbrich, JLL’s Global chief executive. “It complements and expands our substantial ongoing investments in innovative, cutting-edge digital solutions, which is a core part of our Beyond strategic vision and commitment to achieve ambitions for our clients.”

 

The well-funded startups driven to own the autonomous vehicle stack

At some point in the future, while riding along in a car, a kid may ask their parent about a distant time in the past when people used steering wheels and pedals to control an automobile. Of course, the full realization of the “auto” part of the word — in the form of fully autonomous automobiles — is a long way off, but there are nonetheless companies trying to build that future today.

However, changing the face of transportation is a costly business, one that typically requires corporate backing or a lot of venture funding to realize such an ambitious goal. A recent funding round, some $128 million raised in a Series A round by Shenzhen-based Roadstar.ai, got us at Crunchbase News asking a question: Just how many independent, well-funded autonomous vehicles startups are out there?

In short, not as many as you’d think. To investigate further, we took a look at the set of independent companies in Crunchbase’s “autonomous vehicle” category that have raised $50 million or more in venture funding. After a little bit of hand filtering, we found that the companies mostly shook out into two broad categories: those working on sensor technologies, which are integral to any self-driving system, and more “full-stack” hardware and software companies, which incorporate sensors, machine-learned software models and control mechanics into more integrated autonomous systems.

Full-stack self-driving vehicle companies

Let’s start with full-stack companies first. The table below shows the set of independent full-stack autonomous vehicle companies operating in the market today, as well as their focus areas, headquarter’s location and the total amount of venture funding raised:

Note the breakdown in focus area between the companies listed above. In general, these companies are focused on building more generalized technology platforms — perhaps to sell or license to major automakers in the future — whereas others intend to own not just the autonomous car technology, but deploy it in a fleet of on-demand taxi and other transportation services.

Making the eyes and ears of autonomous vehicles

On the sensor side, there is also a trend, one that’s decidedly more concentrated on one area of focus, as you’ll be able to discern from the table below:

Some of the most well-funded startups in the sensing field are developing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technologies, which basically serve as the depth-perceiving “eyes” of autonomous vehicle systems. CYNGN integrates a number of different sensors, LiDAR included, into its hardware arrays and software tools, which is one heck of a pivot for the mobile phone OS-maker formerly known as Cyanogen.

But there are other problem spaces for these sensor companies, including Nauto’s smart dashcam, which gathers location data and detects distracted driving, or Autotalks’s DSRC technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. (Back in April, Crunchbase News covered the $5 million Series A round closed by Comma, which released an open-source dashcam app.)

And unlike some of the full-stack providers mentioned earlier, many of these sensor companies have established vendor relationships with the automotive industry. Quanergy Systems, for example, counts components giant Delphi, luxury carmakers Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz and automakers like Hyundai and Renault-Nissan as partners and investorsInnoviz supplies its solid-state LiDAR technology to the BMW Group, according to its website.

Although radar and even LiDAR are old hat by now, there continues to be innovation in sensors. According to a profile of Oryx Vision’s technology in IEEE Spectrum, its “coherent optical radar” system is kind of like a hybrid of radar and LiDAR technology in that “it uses a laser to illuminate the road ahead [with infrared light], but like a radar it treats the reflected signal as a wave rather than a particle.” Its technology is able to deliver higher-resolution sensing over a longer distance than traditional radar or newer LiDAR technologies.

Can startups stack up against big corporate competitors?

There are plenty of autonomous vehicle initiatives backed by deep corporate pockets. There’s Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which is subsidized by the huge amount of search profit flung off by Google . Uber has an autonomous vehicles initiative too, although it has encountered a whole host of legal and safety issues, including holding the unfortunate distinction of being the first to kill a pedestrian earlier this year.

Tesla, too, has invested considerable resources into developing assistive technologies for its vehicles, but it too has encountered some roadblocks as its head of Autopilot (its in-house autonomy solution) left in April. The company also deals with a rash of safety concerns of its own. And although Apple’s self-driving car program has been less publicized than others, it continues to roll on in the background. Chinese companies like Baidu and Didi Chuxing have also launched fill-stack R&D facilities in Silicon Valley.

Traditional automakers have also jumped into the fray. Back in 2016, for the price of a cool $1 billion, General Motors folded Cruise Automation into its R&D efforts in a widely publicized buyout. And, not to be left behind, Ford acquired a majority stake in Argo AI, also for $1 billion.

That leaves us with a question: Do even the well-funded startups mentioned earlier stand a chance of either usurping market dominance from corporate incumbents or at least joining their ranks? Perhaps.

The reason why so much investor cash is going to these companies is because the market opportunity presented by autonomous vehicle technology is almost comically enormous. It’s not just a matter of the car market itself — projected to be over 80 million car sales globally in 2018 alone — but how we’ll spend all the time and mental bandwidth freed up by letting computers take the wheel. It’s no wonder that so many companies, and their backers, want even a tiny piece of that pie.

What President Trump Doesn’t Know About ZTE

After meeting with Chinese Vice Premiere Liu He this week, President Trump is still considering easing penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE over its violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But what Mr. Trump may not realize is that ZTE is also one of the world’s most notorious intellectual property thieves — perhaps even the most notorious of all.

Since stopping Chinese theft of U.S intellectual property is one of the President’s most important trade objectives, Mr. Trump should refuse to ease sanctions against ZTE until it stops its high-tech banditry and starts playing by the rules in intellectual property (IP) matters.

To get a sense of just how egregious ZTE’s behavior truly is, we need only to consult PACER, the national index of federal court cases. A search of PACER reveals that in the U.S. alone, ZTE has been sued for patent infringement an astonishing 126 times just in the last five years. This number is even more shocking when you consider that only a subset of companies who believe their IP rights have been violated by ZTE has the means or the will to spend the millions of dollars needed to wage a multi-year lawsuit in federal courts.

But ZTE’s IP thievery is not confined just to the United States. According to one Chinese tech publication, ZTE has also been sued for patent infringement an additional 100 times in China, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, India, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other countries. As an intellectual property renegade, ZTE certainly gets around.

Even when it’s not being sued, ZTE thumbs its nose at the traditional rules of fair play in intellectual proper matters, commonly engaging in delay, misrepresentation, and hold out when dealing with patent owners. While ZTE is more than happy to accept royalty payments for the use of its own intellectual property, it rarely if ever pays for the use of others’ IP.

Consider ZTE’s treatment of San Francisco-based Via Licensing Corp, a Swiss-neutral operator of patent pools covering wireless, digital audio, and other building-block components of complex products. Patent pools offer one-stop shopping for product makers to acquire licenses to patents from multiple innovative companies at once. Pools are generally a more efficient, and less litigious, way for product makers to acquire the IP rights they need at reasonable prices.

In 2012, ZTE joined Via’s LTE wireless patent pool, whose members also include Google, AT&T, Verizon, Siemens, China Mobile, and another Chinese tech powerhouse, Lenovo, maker of Motorola-branded smartphones. It helped set the royalty pricing of the pool’s aggregated patent rights, and even received payments from other product makers for their use of ZTE’s own patents within the pool.

But in 2017, precisely when it was ZTE’s turn to pay for its use of other members’ patents in Via’s LTE pool, it suddenly and without ceremony quit the patent pool. Via and its member companies are still trying to get ZTE to pay for its use of their intellectual property — and to abide by the very rules it helped establish in the first place.

Even among much-criticized Chinese companies, ZTE’s behavior is completely outside the norm. Despite what you may hear, some Chinese companies are actually good IP citizens — Lenovo for one. In fact, Via’s various patent pools include more than two dozen Chinese companies who play by the rules.

But ZTE is not one of them. It is a blatant serial IP violator who gives other Chinese companies a bad name. And our government should not reward such behavior.

Ease sanctions on ZTE only when it finally starts respecting intellectual property rights.

Broadening education investments to full-stack solutions

As an education investor, one of my favorite sayings is that education is the next industry to be disrupted by technology, and has been for the past twenty years.

When I started my career at Warburg Pincus, I inherited a portfolio of technology companies that senior partners naively believed would solve major problems in our education system.

It would have worked out fine, of course, except for all the people. Teachers weren’t always interested in changing the way they taught. IT staff weren’t always capable of implementing new technologies. And schools weren’t always 100% rational in their purchasing decisions. And so while, given the size of the market, projections inexorably led to $100M companies, sales cycles stretched asymptotically and deals never seemed to close, particularly in K-12 education.

My current firm, University Ventures, began life in 2011 with the goal of funding the next wave of innovation in higher education. Much of our early work did revolve around technology, such as backing companies that helped universities develop and deploy online degree programs. But it turned out that in making traditional degree programs more accessible, we weren’t addressing the fundamental problem.

At the time, America was in the process of recovering from the Great Recession, and it was clear that students were facing twin crises of college affordability and post-college employability. The fundamental problem we needed to solve was to help individuals traverse from point A to point B, where point B is a good first job – or a better job – in a growing sector of the economy.

Once we embarked on this journey, we figured out that the education-to-employment missing link was in the “last mile” and conceptualized “last-mile training” as the logical bridge over the skills gap. Last-mile training has two distinct elements.

The first is training on the digital skills that traditional postsecondary institutions aren’t addressing, and that are increasingly listed in job descriptions across all sectors of the economy (and particularly for entry-level jobs). This digital training can be as extensive as coding, or as minimal as becoming proficient on a SaaS platform utilized for a horizontal function (e.g., Salesforce CRM) or for a particular role in an industry vertical. The second is reducing friction on both sides of the human capital equation: friction that might impede candidates from getting the requisite last-mile training (education friction), and friction on the employer side that reduces the likelihood of hire (hiring friction). Successful last-mile models absorb education and hiring friction away from candidates and employers, eliminating tuition and guaranteeing employment outcomes for candidates, while typically providing employers with the opportunity to evaluate candidates’ work before making hiring decisions. Today we have eight portfolio companies that take on risk themselves in order to reduce friction for candidates and employers.

The first clearly viable last-mile training model is the combination with staffing. Staffing companies are a promising investment target for our broadened focus because they have their finger on the pulse of the talent needs of their clients. Moreover, staffing in the U.S. is a $150B industry consisting of profitable companies looking to move up the value chain with higher margin, differentiated products.

Because fill rates on job reqs can be as low as 20% in some skill gap areas of technology and health care, there is no question that differentiation is required; many companies view staffing vendors as commodities because they continue to fish in the same small pool of talent, often serving up the exact same talent as competitors in response to reqs.

Adding last-mile training to staffing not only frees the supply of talent by providing purpose-trained, job-ready, inexpensive talent at scale, but also increases margins and accelerates growth. It is this potential that has prompted staffing market leader Adecco (market cap ~$12B) to acquire coding bootcamp leader General Assembly for $412.5M. The acquisition launches Adecco down a promising new growth vector combining last-mile training and staffing.

We believe that staffing is only the most obvious last-mile training model. Witness the rise of pathways to employment like Education at Work. Owned by the not-for-profit Strada Education Network, Education at Work operates call centers on the campuses of universities like University of Utah and Arizona State for the express purpose of providing last-mile training to students in sales and customer support roles. Clients can then hire proven talent once students graduate. Education at Work has hired over 2,000 students into its call centers since its inception in 2012.

Education at Work is the earliest example of what we call outsourced apprenticeships. For years policy makers have taken expensive junkets to Germany and Switzerland to view their vaunted apprenticeship models – ones we’ll never be able to replicate here for about a hundred different reasons. This week, Ivanka Trump’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion submitted a report to the President with a “roadmap… for a new and more flexible apprenticeship model,” but no clear or compelling vision for scaling apprenticeships in America.

Outsourced apprenticeships are a uniquely American model for apprenticeships, where service providers like call centers, marketing firms, software development shops and others decide to differentiate not only based on services, but also based on provision of purpose-trained entry-level talent. Unlike traditional apprenticeship models, employers don’t need to worry about bringing apprentices on-site and managing them; in these models, apprentices sit at the service provider doing client work, proving their ability to do the job, reducing hiring friction with every passing day until they’re hired by clients.

America leads the world in many areas and outsourcing is one of them. Outsourced apprenticeships are an opportunity for America to leapfrog into leadership in alternative pathways to good jobs. All it will take is service providers to recognize that clients will welcome and pay for the additional value of talent provision. We foresee such models emerging across a range of industries and intend to invest in companies ideally positioned to launch them.

All of these next generation last-mile training businesses will deliver education and training – predominantly technical/digital training as well as soft-skills where employers also see a major gap. They’ll also be highly driven by technology; technology will be utilized to source, assess and screen talent – increasingly via methods that resemble science fiction more than traditional HR practices – as well as to match talent to employers and positions. But they’re not EdTech businesses as much as they are full-stack solutions for both candidates and employers: candidates receive guaranteed pathways to employment that are not only free – they’re paid to do it; and employers are able to ascertain talent and fit before hiring.

While last-mile solutions can help alleviate the student loan debt and underemployment plaguing Millennials (and which put Gen Z in similar peril), they also have the potential to serve two other important social purposes. The first is diversity.

Just as last-mile providers have their finger on the pulse of the skill needs of their clients, they can do the same for other needs, like diversity. Last-mile providers are sourcing and launching cohorts that directly address skill needs, as well as diversity needs.

The second is retraining and reskilling of older, displaced workers. For generations, college classrooms were the sole option provided to such workers. But we’re unlikely to engage those workers in greatest need of reskilling if college classrooms – environments where they were previously unsuccessful – are the sole, or even initial modality. As last-mile training models are in simulated or actual workplaces, they are much more accessible to displaced workers.

Finally, the emergence of last-mile full-stack solutions like outsourced apprenticeships raises the question of whether enterprises might not only seek to outsource entry-level hiring, but all hiring. Why even hire an experienced worker from outside the company if there’s an intermediary willing to source, assess and screen, upskill, match, and provide workers on a no-risk trial basis? As sourcing, screening, skill-building, and matching technologies become more advanced, why not offload the risk of a bad hire to an outsourced talent partner? Most employers would willingly pay a premium to reduce the risk of bad hires, or even mediocre hires. If the market does evolve in this direction, education investors with a full-stack focus have the potential to create value in every sector of the economy, making traditional investment categories of “edtech” seem not only naïve, but also quaint.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a great deal to offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How 3D printing is revolutionizing the housing industry 

If you build it, they will come. And if you 3D-print it, they will come faster, cheaper and more sustainably.

We live in an era of overpopulation and mass housing shortages. Yet we also live in a time of phenomenal digital innovation. On the one hand we have major crises affecting the health, liberty and happiness of billions of people. But look at the other hand, where we have potential for life-changing technological breakthroughs at a rate never before seen on this planet.

Our challenges are vast, but our capabilities to produce solutions are even greater. In the future, we will remember this moment in time as a pivotal one. It is now — not tomorrow, and certainly not five years from now — when technology and innovation are disrupting multiple major industries, including those of housing and construction, at breathless and breakneck speed.

Innovators around the world are hard at work to change the way we design, build and produce our homes, and all of this will result in massive change to the housing status quo. Harnessing the revolutionary power of 3D printing, companies from Russia to China, the U.S. and the Netherlands have already proven that not only can a home be 3D-printed, it can be done cheaply, efficiently and easily.

Here are just a few ways 3D printing is already transforming the way we live.

Speed

In March 2017, Apis Cor, 3D-printing specialists with offices in Russia and San Francisco, announced they had produced a 3D-printed home in just 24 hours. That means that from the time you drank your coffee yesterday to the time you sat down for cereal this morning, they produced the self-bearing walls, partitions and building envelopes of an entire home, installed it on site and added the roof and interior finishings. It happened in the dead of winter in a tiny Russian town named Stupino, and it was done using Apis Cor’s on-site printer, which means that the massive cost and logistical hurdle of transporting parts and building materials from factories to a home site was almost entirely eliminated.

Think about the possibilities: You select the site where you want to build your home, Apis Cor brings in their 4.5-meter-long printer, the raw materials are set up and within one single day, your home is printed and ready for you. Compare that to the traditional six- or seven-month construction time the industry is used to, and you’ll begin to understand the scope of potential disruption.

The speed of technological innovation here is also exponential and mind-blowing; just one year before Apis Cor’s breakthrough, we in the 3D-printing industry were marveling over Chinese construction company HuaShang Tengda, who set their own record by 3D-printing a two-story home in a month and a half. Consider that, for a moment: This industry is moving so quickly that construction time has been slashed from 45 days to 24 mere hours in the span of a single year.

Image: shanelinkcom/iStock

Cost

Housing prices in America have skyrocketed over the past 50 years, with the average price for a home now surpassing $200,000. And remember, that’s just the average — if you live on the East or West Coast, chances are you’re going to be shelling out something closer to the half-million dollar mark (or more!).

According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, a full one-third of people who live in cities will find decent housing out of their reach due to cost by the year 2025. And construction costs are the primary barrier — the report also states that it will take between $9 trillion and $11 trillion just to build the necessary houses to flip that supply-demand ratio and make housing affordable in that time.

Of course, that’s taking only traditional methods of construction into account. But Apis Cor’s 24-hour home was made for around $10,000. HuaSheng Tenga’s homes were made with only 40 percent of the materials traditional construction usually requires, in 30 percent of the time. That represents massive savings in labor and material costs. And these companies aren’t alone — dozens of other firms are exploring cheaper and less complicated methods for building the roofs we all need over our heads, and slashing prices in the process. 

New Story, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that builds housing in the developing world, just unveiled a new 3D printer at SXSW that can print a house in less than a day for $4,000. DUS Architects — a Dutch architecture studio that has been 3D-printing houses since 2012 — has unveiled the KamerMaker, a huge 3D printer that can build using local recycled materials. This slashes transport, material and manufacturing costs, all driving down costs. 

The bottom line

What’s so revolutionary about 3D printing is that its potential is limited only by our imaginations. If the past few years have taught us anything about this industry, it’s that barriers of size, scope and material do not apply to the potential that 3D printing brings to the manufacturing market. From cars to food, to the houses we live in, the industry isn’t just gearing up for a shakeup. It’s in the throes of it already, because change is happening now.

Netgear put a cable modem in latest Orbi wifi router

Generations ago, the internet spoke of an old saying that involved a man exhibiting excitement about hearing of a person’s love of an object, so he did favor, and put that something inside of something else. That’s what Netgear did here. Netgear heard people like the internet so much that the company put an internet modem inside a wifi router.

The Orbi WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem is just that. It’s an Orbi wifi router with a DOCSIS® 3.0 cable modem built in. In theory this setup would make for easier setup and troubleshooting of internet issues while providing the home with great wifi.

I have an Orbi system in my house and it’s wonderful. The system does a far better job at covering my home with wifi than my previous single router setup. Including the cable modem in the setup, though, just makes sense and other networking companies would be smart to follow Netgear’s lead. Naturally, there’s a danger in including a cable modem in a router as one piece could become obsolete before the other but I would argue that most consumers upgrade their equipment every few years anyway.

This convinence comes at a cost. The router with built-in Orbi networking costs $299 and a system with an Orbi extender costs $399.