Tag: business

Senators want to know if Apple fought back on China’s VPN ban

Apple CEO Tim Cook wasn't pleased about pulling VPN software from the company's App Store in China, but this July, it happened anyway. As a result, many users who once counted on such software to dodge the country's Great Firewall were left to their own devices (and we've explored the situation at length here). Now, senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have called on Cook in a letter to explain in detail how that process went down, out of concern that Apple is "enabling the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance of the internet."

The letter (which can be read in full here) poses 10 questions to the Apple CEO. It asks (among other things) whether Apple formally commented on the Chinese government's Cybersecurity Law when it was presented as a first draft, whether Chinese authorities requested Apple removed the VPN apps, whether Apple has made any attempt to reintroduce said apps, and how many apps were removed in total. (A report from the BBC when the apps first disappeared put the count at around 60.)

Apple hasn't issued an official statement on the matter yet, and our request for comment was met with a transcript of Cook's statement on the issue during the company's August 1st earnings call. The thrust of that statement can be summed up in one line: "We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business."

In other words, Apple complied with the (arguably abhorrent) policy of another country because it makes a lot of money there. That's not likely to change anytime soon, either. The Greater China region (which also includes Hong Kong and Taiwan) has been known to make or break quarterly earnings reports, and mainland China's middle class is only continuing to grow in size and importance. According to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit last year, nearly 35 percent of the country is expected full under the "upper middle-income" and "high income" umbrellas by 2030 -- that works out to around 480 million people, essentially all of whom will need smartphones.

Cook hopes that these restrictions will be eased over time, but yeah, of course Apple aligned itself with Beijing on this one. The cash incentives here are no joke. The real ammunition that senators Cruz and Leahy have seized on is that Apple seems to embody two reputations that often seem antithetical to each other: that of a shrewd corporate tactician, and that of a principled company willing to take a stand on the important issues of the day. The former has stowed over $230 billion in what The Telegraph calls "offshore subsidiaries" in hopes that it'll one day be able to bring it back to the US without paying an obscene tax bill. The latter is centered around a CEO that won a Free Expression award earlier this year, who said in his acceptance that Apple "defends [the freedom of expression] by enabling people around the world to speak up."

We'll monitor the situation and update this story if Apple explicitly responds to the letter.


Wireless charging will make drones always ready to fly

Drones are great until you realize running all those propellers, a camera, GPS and other assorted technology bits are a real drain on the battery. If you're just using one for images it's not too big of a deal. But if you're using one for surveying, security or delivering burritos, swapping out batteries all the time can be a huge pain and time suck. Fortunately, there's a new wireless charging landing pad on its way.

The WiBotic PowerPad is a three-foot by three-foot landing station that comes with an onboard charger that can be attached to pretty much any drone according to the company. The company says the weather-resistant platform can be mounted pretty much anywhere and can help alleviate the need to handle drones that run automated flights on a regular basis.

The PowerPad also can serve as a waypoint for long-distance flights. If a drone needs to survey a large plot of land, it can stop and recharge at regular intervals on distributed platforms. No word on pricing or when the pad will be available, but there are sure to more than a few companies interested in reducing the time they spend swapping batteries while gathering data about battery health in the drones they have deployed.

WiBotic PowerPad for Drones from WiBotic Inc. on Vimeo.

Via: Geek Wire

Source: WiBotic


Does social media threaten the illusion of news neutrality?

For journalists, social media can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to share their opinion on a wide range of matters, from sports to politics. But at the same time, they have to remember to exercise caution, because whatever they say can be taken out of context and have major implications on the publications they work for. If a reader who follows your tweets or Facebook posts doesn't agree with you, that can motivate them to claim your entire newsroom is biased.

That's why we're now seeing publications having to change their digital strategy. Last week, The New York Times published an "updated and expanded" set of social media guidelines for its journalists. These new rules outline how every staff member (not just editors and reporters) is expected to behave online. In an article posted last week, The Times said that while social media "plays a vital role" in its journalism, since it can act as a tool to better engage with readers and help reach fresh audiences, it can also be a complicated medium. "If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media," The Times said, "that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom."

TWITTER-LAYOFFS/

Put simply, The Times wants its journalists to "take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions" through social media on issues that it covers, even if the reporter or editor isn't attached to a specific story's byline. Dean Banquet, The New York Times' executive editor, said in a memo that the guidelines are "rooted in the very experience of our journalists." Several reporters who are prominent on Twitter, including Maggie Haberman and Max Fisher, were involved in the process, offering "very helpful" input and, ultimately, their endorsement.

Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times covering ISIS, suggested in the same memo that her colleagues block abusive people, rather than engaging in a argument that may turn ugly. At the same time, however, the guidelines say that staffers should avoid muting or blocking people who are simply criticizing their work.

Meanwhile, chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, warned reporters and editors that any tweet about President Trump from them could be taken as a statement from The New York Times. That's why it's probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself. "The White House," he said, "doesn't make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together." Baker's example is important because it signals that The New York Times doesn't just want to protect itself from reader criticism, but also President Trump and his staff. Don't make you and your colleagues an easy target, Bakers seems to suggest.

It's clear the idea is to avoid giving anyone reason to claim the paper isn't fair or neutral. That's understandable, but many journalism experts believe the move was driven by recent political events. The decision comes at a time when Trump is constantly bashing the publication, with "the failing New York Times" being his favorite epithet. And he often follows that by claiming that The Times and the rest of the "mainstream media" are "fake news." That said, the paper may be doing this as a way to shield itself against growing scrutiny.

The thing is that while other news organizations, such as The Wall Stret Journal, have similar guidelines in place, those don't tend to be publicly available. The New York Times made the choice to share them with its readers, and by doing so, it's opening itself up to critiques.

So why now?

Cynthia Collins, Social Media Editor at The New York Times, told Engadget that these guidelines have been in the works for months. Though she didn't elaborate on why this was the right time to share these rules publicly, Collins said that The Times felt it would be "interesting or useful for other newsrooms, journalism schools and most importantly to us, our readers." As for what's changed from the old rules, she said only that the new ones were shaped by incorporating reporters' voices.

If our Journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.

The New York Times

"Although stricter policies are in place for journalists who directly cover topics like sports or culture," said Collins, "journalists who work outside of those departments can reasonably discuss their leisurely pursuits on social media." She said that staffers should ask themselves a couple of key questions before posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media app: "If readers see your post and notice that you're a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times's news coverage as fair and impartial?" and "Could your post hamper your colleagues' ability to effectively do their jobs?"

If the answer is "yes" to either of those, she said, then it's best for journalists to just bite your tongue. (We reached out to a couple of NYT current and former staffers, but they declined to speak on the record.)

"I am very concerned that The Times' dictum might come in response to pressure and criticism from the right," said Jeff Jarvis, Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Naturally, The Times won't say whether the new rules are, indeed, based on pressure from right-wing. Buf if that were to be the case, the paper would be making itself vulnerable. "In this age, it is more necessary than ever for journalists to connect with the publics they serve on a human level with direct communication, with empathy and with honesty. Journalists are not superhuman beings who have no opinions, no bias, no perspective, no worldview, no background."

When asked about whether reporters should avoid sharing their personal opinion, be it on Trump or other matters, Jarvis said that this shouldn't have to be the case. "I believe that we as journalists need to be transparent about our worldviews and experience," he said. "Indeed, one of the reasons the conservative half of America does not trust news media is, I believe, because we were not honest about journalists being predominately liberal in our outlook. If they could not trust us to be open about that, then they came to believe they could not trust us about other things we report."

Jarvis said he does understand The Times' desire to be somewhat more prescriptive, particularly when it comes to reporters using social media to make consumer complaints. On Twitter, for instance, journalists are often verified. That means they can use their position to grab a company's attention faster than someone without a blue check mark on their profile. Still, Jarvis said, "I feel for them as I find that public discussion can be the best way to find consumer justice."

It will be interesting to see if more publications follow in The New York Times' footsteps. Not just in demanding that staffers be less opinionated on social media but also making any revised guidelines public. Given the current state of affair, wherein readers who agree with something may shout "fake news," it wouldn't be surprising to see more news organizations change or be more transparent about their social media rules for staff members.


Pioneer and Canada partner to ensure musicians get paid for DJ play

Pioneer DJ wants to make sure electronic artists get paid for the remixes you hear at the dance club. The company's Kuvo entertainment service has partnered with Canada's performing rights organizations (PRO) and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) to beam music metadata into other PROs, according to a press release. Apparently this won't cost DJs or venues a thing, either.

"After testing Kuvo extensively at one of Canada's largest electronic music nightclubs, Coda in Toronto, SOCAN has welcomed the implementation of the service at any venue in the country wishing to use it," the statement reads.

Given how much music DJs put into a set and the very nature of the mashups they create, ensuring everyone gets their fair share of royalties can be pretty difficult. KUVO seems like a pretty elegant way of addressing that.

Club goers stand to benefit as well. If you hear a song on a night out and don't want to deal with how flaky Shazam can be, if you have the Kuvo app installed on your phone, you'll be able to see what's playing.

The service is already being used in Austria, Belgium, Spain and the UK. This marks its first implementation in North America.

Source: Businesswire


New Tesla lawsuit accuses company of LGBT discrimination

Tesla has just been hit with its second discrimination lawsuit in as many days. Just yesterday, the company was sued for racial harassment in its factories. A few months back, its diversity panel uncovered a slew of sexism. Now The Guardian reports that another employee is suing the automaker for anti-LGBT taunts.

In the newer lawsuit, reports The Guardian, an assembly line worker named Jorge Ferro was taunted and threatened for being gay. When he reported the issues, according to the suit, he was fired in retaliation. Ferro also claims that an HR rep took away his badge and insinuated that being gay was a handicap that had no place at Tesla.

Yesterday's lawsuit accuses the company of allowing racist abuse and harassment, including the use of the N-word and being told to go back to Africa. Other employees, says the complaint, drew racist and derogatory caricatures of black children. Demetric Diaz says that he was fired because he reported the issue, while his father, Owen, left Tesla when his supervisor didn't address the issues.

In a response, Tesla lines up an argument that the media should "keep in mind" that its profile makes it a target for these claims, while also stating that "If there is ever a case where Tesla is at fault, we will take responsibility. "

Tesla spokesperson:

Media reporting on claims of discrimination at Tesla should bear a few things in mind: First, as one of the most highly reported-on companies in the world, anyone who brings claims against Tesla is all but assured that they will garner significant media coverage. Second, in the history of Tesla, there has never been a single proven case of discrimination against the company. Not one. This fact is conveniently never mentioned in any reporting. Third, as we have said repeatedly, even though we are a company of 33,000 employees, including more than 10,000 in the Fremont factory alone, and it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct, we care deeply about these issues and take them extremely seriously. If there is ever a case where Tesla is at fault, we will take responsibility. On the other hand, Tesla will always fight back against unmeritorious claims. In this case, neither of the two people at the center of the claim, Mr. Ferro and the person who he alleges to have mistreated him, actually worked for Tesla. Both worked for a third-party. Nevertheless, Tesla still stepped in to try to keep these individuals apart from one another and to ensure a good working environment. Regardless of these facts, every lawyer knows that if they name Tesla as a defendant in their lawsuit, it maximizes the chances of generating publicity for their case. They abuse our name, because they know it is catnip for journalists. Tesla takes any and every form of discrimination or harassment extremely seriously. There is no company on Earth with a better track record than Tesla, as they would have to have fewer than zero cases where an independent judge or jury has found a genuine case of discrimination. This is physically impossible.

Via: The Verge

Source: The Guardian


‘Aztez’: The bloody indie brawler that should’ve been big

Imagine: It's 2012 and Matthew Wegner is sitting at his desk in the back of a one-bedroom apartment in Tempe, Arizona, pounding away at a keyboard. It's night but thick black drapes are pulled over the window; the room is suffused with dim yellow light, casting sickly shadows over the papers tacked to the walls. Most of them are emblazoned with the name Aztez, depicting bloody battles among ancient Aztec warriors. Wegner's fingers fall still as he closes a line of code and reviews his work. His computer hums, hot.

A ball of blinding white light suddenly explodes in the middle of the room, shooting sparks to the ceiling and singeing the carpet -- Wegner jumps up and stares, wide-eyed, at the intrusion. As the glare fades, a familiar shape emerges. Wegner is looking at himself: a little older, a little more weathered, but definitely himself.

"Don't do Aztez!" the second Wegner says, frantic. "I'm you from five years in the future. Trust me, stop working on this game. It doesn't go well."

The original Wegner finds his voice. "But everyone says it's going to be great! We already have a lot of buzz."

"It's a trap. Quit Aztez. Now!" The light returns and swiftly envelops the second Wegner before popping out of existence entirely. His final words reverberate around the tiny, smoking room. Wegner blinks and shakes away his shock. He pulls out his chair and sits down. Moments later, his fingers are flying over the keyboard again, coding combat combos into Aztez.

"If, five years ago, future-me were to teleport into the room and be like, 'I'm Matthew from the future -- Aztez, just get off of it, don't do it,' I'd probably still finish it," Wegner says, back in the real world.

"Yeah, I would too," his partner, Ben Ruiz, agrees. Ruiz and Wegner are the founding (and only) members of Team Colorblind, an independent game-development studio based in the Phoenix area. Their first game, Aztez, hit Steam in August after seven years of work and five years of positive public attention. It's a stylish brawler with deep strategy elements set in the ancient Aztec empire, featuring black-and-white environments splattered with bright red blood.

During development, Ruiz and Wegner rode a rising wave of love for indie games, as consumers discovered the depth of experiences available outside of the big-budget, DLC-obsessed, AAA marketplace. They rode that indie wave until it crashed. It's difficult to say exactly when, because they didn't feel the impact -- they were trapped in a development bubble, building a game that the media, their friends and fellow developers all said would perform wonderfully once it was out in the wild.

At least, that's what they said five years ago.

The video game industry evolves rapidly, constantly adopting new technologies and taking advantage of fresh distribution methods. As Team Colorblind continued to work, the indie market lost its new-toy sheen and became an established, overcrowded haven for anyone with GameMaker and an idea.

"If I was paying attention to Steam, maybe I wouldn't be so blindsided by what happened, but I'm also not necessarily sure what I would've done differently," Ruiz says. "If I'd have known like, oh, it's a saturated market now -- what the fuck do you do?"

After seven years, Aztez emerged from its development bubble -- and it bombed. This time around, Ruiz and Wegner definitely felt the impact.

"Fucking madness," Ruiz says.

The method

Ruiz chose Aztez's release date extremely carefully. He knew they didn't want to launch during the holiday season, which is generally dominated by the AAA money machine, so he looked at the summer. He scoured the charts of upcoming Steam releases, searching for a day without any big-name games. August 1st looked good. He locked it in.

"There were 40 other games that launched on August 1st," Wegner says. One of those games was Slime Rancher, an adorable first-person title that had generated a rabid fanbase while it was still in Early Access. Another was Tacoma, the new game from the team behind indie darling Gone Home. Neither of these had shown up on the new-release charts Ruiz had studied.

"If I would've seen Slime Rancher, I would've been like fuck it, we're going to wait a month," Ruiz says. "Because there's no reason to compete with that."

Slime Rancher didn't single-handedly destroy Aztez's chances at success. However, with 39 other new games also hitting Steam that day, it was difficult for any title to truly stand out. Even an eye-catching brawler with a notable amount of name recognition.

This is a different world than the one Ruiz and Wegner operated in when they started working on Aztez in 2010. Back then, Steam was a curated space, where employees worked directly with developers to approve their games and get them on the store. A handful of titles went live every week and indie developers lucky enough to secure a Steam deal could generally bank on that release to see them through the fiscal year. Getting on Steam was like hitting the jackpot.

That changed in 2012. Indie games were all the rage, development tools were becoming increasingly accessible, and there were hundreds of new titles ready to be distributed every day. Steam set up Greenlight, a system where players themselves approved indie games for the store, and Early Access, where developers could publish games-in-progress for community feedback, allowing them to feed the hype beast from day one.

Meanwhile, Ruiz and Wegner continued working on Aztez, heads down, not paying much attention to the wider marketplace as it tilted around them. They had five years to go. Today, Greenlight is dead, but the Early Access model has spread to other platforms, including consoles.

"It's almost like in the last five years, everyone was on Steam, and then it refractured and the consoles got markets back again," Ruiz says. "Five years ago everyone was on Steam because new consoles would come out and they were like $1,000, right? So, it's just this sin wave apparently, because it's like oh yeah, that's what happened with the previous generation, too."

This tug-of-war between Steam and consoles continues today. Right now, it feels like there's more opportunity for indie games to succeed on the PlayStation 4 or Switch ("They don't say Xbox One. I don't think anyone owns those," Ruiz adds) than Steam. However, PS4 has been the reigning indie hub for a few years and its dominance might be coming to an end. Managerial shakeups have recently altered the company's approach to smaller studios -- Sony is losing the indie market and the Switch alone can't support this ecosystem on behalf of all three major consoles. The momentum is poised to shift back toward Steam any time now, but the platform still has to deal with its oversaturation problem.

"I think we came out on the bad part of that rollercoaster, because you know, there's a billion indie games that come out on Steam every single day," Ruiz says.

Ruiz and Wegner aren't making any money on Aztez and they've started picking up contract work again to pay the bills.

Back in 2010, they worked on the game exclusively on nights and weekends, but they managed to secure some investors early on and Ruiz has been building Aztez full-time since then. Wegner continued doing contract work and focused on the game in his spare time -- over the past year, however, Wegner was full-time on Aztez as well.

Colorblind has to repay its investors before they see a cent out of Aztez. So far, they've sold roughly 2,000 copies of the game across Steam and other, smaller distributors. It sells for $20 when it's not on sale.

"We have no money coming to us until we pay that back," Wegner says. "Which is super frustrating, because if you sell two copies a day on Steam, you're making $1,000 a month after Steam's cut. If you sell 10 copies a day you're making $5,000 a month."

All of that cash -- real and potential -- is being funneled to Aztez's investors for now.

"It'll make money eventually," Wegner says. "Funny thing is like, I'm 37, and I'll be probably in my 40s, like, oh, Aztez made me some money, that's cool."

"Oh no," Ruiz laments.

"Then I'll put it towards my medical class for being a 40 year old."

"I'm 33," Ruiz says. "I might be in my 40s when Aztez makes some money."

Ruiz and Wegner did a lot of things right when it comes to savvy indie distribution -- Ruiz sent out press releases, published YouTube videos and got some high-profile streamers to play Aztez -- but they were a few years behind the market. They launched on Steam when consoles might have been a better move.

Now, they're working on PS4, Xbox One and Switch versions of the game. Aztez is actually running on all of those platforms, but it probably won't launch until early next year, after the holiday rush.

By that time, it's hard to say where the market's energy will be. Aztez could easily miss out on the current console bubble, too. For instance, plenty of players today are excited about indie games on the Switch, but there's no telling how long that interest will last.

"Maybe by the time we launch on Switch, you know, in whatever January, February, we will also be amongst the crowd again," Ruiz says.

Ruiz and Wegner know all it takes is one good day to set Aztez on the path of financial solvency, and they know the console releases could be major. They're also painfully aware all of their plans could fail spectacularly. It's a tense waiting game.

"We're in the part of the metaphor where, like, we hit the other car or the boundary, and flew out the windshield, and our faces and arms just ate street," Ruiz says. "I kind of feel like we're still in the street. So intellectually it's like OK, we're alive, I know we'll be alive, this isn't going to kill us. ... I know we're going to be okay, but everything blows right now. Just blood everywhere, like oh, dang it."

Ruiz and Wegner may be disappointed, bleeding and sore -- but they're not defeated.

"Some day, there could be the spark that becomes the fire, and all of the sudden it gets into the right hands, and then the conversation starts and then it's like oh, fuck," Ruiz says. "We sold 10,000 units today and we did the next day, and then all of a sudden we're a normal, successful game developer. That could happen at any time. But the fact that that is the nature of the universe is just torture. Because every day it doesn't happen. And you know it's not going to happen. ... Once the consoles are done I'm going to be relieved to let that fall out of my brain. But as long as that's in the future I can't abandon it, I can't abandon the idea that like, oh, it might turn around."


Smart lock company August home purchased by actual lock company Yale

Smart-lock outfit Yale's parent company is buying August Home, in a move that may consolidate some of the smart lock market. Sweden-based Assa Abloy will pick up August Home for a cool $60 million, and the regulatory bodies involved are expected to approve the purchase by year's end. "August Home strengthens our residential smart door strategy with complementary smart locks, expansion into video doorbells and comprehensive solutions for home delivery," ASSA's executive vice president Thanasis Molokotos said in a statement.

"We have always admired the design and quality of Yale locks," August CEO Jason Johnson said in a press release. "This is a great opportunity for us to work with the world's largest lock and access company."

While this might be good news for August, customers now have to deal with a potential oligopoly where a few firms control the entire space and innovations therein.

Source: Assa Abloy


Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show will end after two seasons

More than three years after Chelsea Handler and Netflix teamed up to "revolutionize the talk show" their quest is coming to an end. Handler tweeted that she has decided not to return after the second season of Chelsea wraps up (later this year), instead focusing on "becoming a more knowledgeable and engaged citizen" ahead of upcoming elections. That doesn't mean she's through with Netflix however, as she says the two will release a documentary where she engages with "people of different ethnicities, religions and political philosophies."

Netflix hasn't backed off of plans for original content and plans on spending more money than ever next year. Still, the attempt at diving into late night-style talk with Handler -- who launched Chelsea as a worldwide show after ending her Chelsea Lately show on E! in 2015 -- hasn't generated as much discussion as other high-profile originals like Stranger Things. In its second season, the show switched from posting three new episodes every week to weekly hour-long episodes.

Source: Chelsea Handler (Twitter)


Scoot is adding battery-swapping cars to its San Francisco lineup

If you spend any time in San Francisco you'll see them. The red electric scooters with a white lighting bolt and the word "Scoot" plastered on the side of the cargo box. Scoot, the company behind these ubiquitous two-wheeled vehicles has been able to litter the city with over 700 of these bikes that can be picked up and dropped off via an app almost anywhere within the city. Now, the short-term rental company is eyeing cars.

According to Scoot founder and CEO Michael Keating, the electric scooter rental service has been used by almost 50,000 users since it launched in 2012. An impressive number, but as pointed out by Keating, not everyone is comfortable braving the perilous streets of San Francisco on two wheels. With that in mind, he announced a partnership with Chinese automotive startup CHJ to bring the automaker's yet-to-be-released small electric car with swappable batteries to San Francisco.

The goal of the two companies is to recreate the scooter model with a small EV. Riders would find and reserve one of these SEV (small electric vehicles) via the Scoot app, get inside and drive it to their destination, then just leave the car on the street for the next Scoot customer. That sounds great, but it's not allowed in San Francisco which is why the two companies invited the city council and policy makers to an event in the city's Dogpatch district.

At the center of the shindig was the CHJ electric vehicle (which will be sold under the company name AmpGo) . A car roughly the length of a Mercedes Smart Fortwo but less than half the width. Small electric cars are nothing new, but the yet-to-be-named SEV has swappable batteries in the trunk that can be replaced in about a minute. That's what makes it suitable for a floating rental service. If the car never has to be plugged into a wall, maintenance crews can just drive around and swap out batteries, and the vehicle is good to go. "We want to bring affordable electric transportation to every San Francisco neighborhood without needing more charging stations," Keating said.

The biggest obstacle isn't technology (the SEV is built to be part of a service like Scoot from its small size to it's Linux/Android-powered infotainment system that talks to the cloud), it's San Francisco regulations and lack of parking. In 2012, BMW launched DriveNow a service similar to Car2Go. The cars could be booked for one-way trips but the vehicles had to be parked in dedicated parking lots and the city just couldn't deliver those spaces. So in 2015, BMW left and later rebranded the service ReachNow and relaunched in Seattle.

Scoot and CHJ are hoping that the small footprint of the SEV (four to five can be parked sideways in a typical parking space), its battery-swapping technology and Scoot's history of delivering a one-way rental service in San Francisco will sway city officials. But that may prove difficult as the area has experienced an increase in traffic with, according to research by the Northeastern University and San Francisco's Transit Authority, services like Uber and Lyft account for up to 20 percent of the vehicles on city roads. Adding another car service to the already congested roads could be difficult.

Keating notes this and hopes that adding Scoot's car-rental service to complement the transportation options already available in the city could convince some residents to give up their gas-powered cars for something that's more convenient and ultimately cleaner. The California DMV reports that there are over 413,000 privately owned cars in San Francisco according to 2016 registrations. Of those only 5,000 are electric.

The CEO also noted that ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft need a complimentary low-cost alternative for when someone needs to get to a destination quicker than public transportation can take them. He said that the SEV would cost slightly more than the $3 per half-hour the company charges for the scooters on the network. Anyone that's used a ride-hailing services (which have rates that fluctuate wildly based on demand) knows that's a deal.

So it's an uphill battle, but Keating seems determined that it'll happen. At the end of his presentation, he announced that Scoot and CHJ had come to an agreement to import as many of the small SEVs to San Francisco as the city would allow. That puts San Francisco on the spot to make a decision about how it works with companies like Scoot. It also puts a lot of pressure on a single tiny car.

Unfortunately, Scoot and CHJ would not allow any photos of the vehicle. Yet, even though we only have a few out of focus glimpses of the vehicle in the photos provided by the companies, I was able to take it for a spin. Well, a circle, I was able to drive it around some cocktail tables in a room.

It was far from a true test of the car's capabilities, but I was impressed that all the top-line features (touch-screen dash, transmission, rear-view camera, brakes, doors) seemed ready to hit the road. One feature that really impressed me was that the company had installed two buttons on one of the small rear flares that allowed the driver to get out of the car and back it up or move it forward with these controls. This is how the car can be arranged four (or five) across in a typical parking spot.

At the end of the evening I was shown the power packs. Two 3.2kWh batteries that work in tandem to keep the car on the road up to 30 miles. It reminded me of Gogoro's electric scooter. A new way to charge without loitering around a station. Scoot and CHJ are hoping that these two boxes and the car they go in won't have them waiting around for the city as it tries to figure out if this unlikely partnership will help it reduce congestion while cutting emissions.


The BBC is turning to AI to improve its programming

The BBC wants to leverage machine learning to improve its online services and the programmes it commissions every year. Today, the broadcaster announced a five-year research partnership with eight universities from across the UK. Data scientists will help the best and brightest at the BBC set up the "Data Science Research Partnership," tasked with being "at the forefront of the machine learning in the media industry." It will tackle a range of projects not just with the BBC, but media and technology organisations from across Europe. The larger aim is to take the results, or learnings, and apply them directly to the BBC's operations in Britain.

The broadcaster, for instance, wants to use data to "better understand what audiences want from the BBC." The organisation could, of course, simply poll licence fee payers, but the idea presumably is to burrow down into TV and iPlayer viewing habits. With a wealth of hard data, it's possible that an algorithm could pick out larger trends and deduce whether the BBC is using its resources most effectively. To that end, the BBC hopes machine learning can help it build "a more personal BBC" with tools that could allow employees to make informed editorial and commissioning decisions.

The broadcaster is also interested in a concept called object-based broadcasting. At the moment, TV shows and news bulletins are broadcast as single pieces of linear media. But for years now, the BBC has envisioned media "objects," or blocks, that could be assembled in different ways depending on the user or end-hardware. Take the news, for instance: If every story or segment was cut-up, it could be personalised based on your tastes. Maybe you want the sport first, with more time dedicated to women's football. Or a shorter, snappier version of the local news. Machine learning could, in theory, help the BBC realise this abstract dream.

Machine learning is a buzzword at the moment, but with good reason. Engineers are teaching computers to learn, adapt and analyse based on relevant examples. It's led to improvements in voice recognition, translation, and if you're Google's DeepMind division, world champion 'Go' players. It's no surprise that the BBC wants to leverage this new area of AI development in its own business. Media companies like Netflix have embraced user data to shape every part of its services, from commissioning to thumbnail designs. The BBC needs to do the same, especially as it pivots to a model increasingly dependent on original, British programming.

Source: BBC (Press Release)