Republicans Find a Cruel New Culture War: Transgender Rights

Arkansas lawmakers’ move against trans people reflects a larger strategy.

#arkansas, #homosexuality-and-bisexuality, #hutchinson-asa, #law-and-legislation, #teenagers-and-adolescence, #transgender-and-transsexuals, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vetoes-us, #women-and-girls

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Asa Hutchinson on Arkansas’s Anti-Trans Law and the G.O.P. Culture Wars

The state’s Republican governor, who recently vetoed an anti-transgender bill only to be overridden by the legislature, spoke to The Times about why his party has “got to show greater compassion.”

#arkansas, #conservatism-us-politics, #discrimination, #health-insurance-and-managed-care, #hutchinson-asa, #law-and-legislation, #republican-party, #state-legislatures, #transgender-and-transsexuals, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vetoes-us

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Keeping Trans Kids From Medicine Doesn’t Make Them Disappear

Treating trans children isn’t an “experiment.” The experiment is making it impossible for these young people to become themselves.

#arkansas, #athletics-and-sports, #hutchinson-asa, #men-and-boys, #republican-party, #transgender-and-transsexuals, #women-and-girls

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Arkansas Legislators Override Veto on Anti-Transgender Law

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately announced plans to challenge the law in court.

#arkansas, #discrimination, #hutchinson-asa, #transgender-and-transsexuals, #vetoes-us

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G.O.P. Governor of Arkansas Vetoes Anti-Transgender Bill

The bill, which could still be enacted if state legislators override the governor’s veto, would make it illegal for transgender minors to receive gender-affirming medication or surgery.

#arkansas, #discrimination, #hutchinson-asa, #law-and-legislation, #republican-party, #transgender-and-transsexuals

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Transgender Childhood Is Not a ‘Trend’

As far back as historians have found evidence of transgender people, they’ve found transgender children.

#arkansas, #children-and-childhood, #discrimination, #law-and-legislation, #politics-and-government, #state-legislatures, #teenagers-and-adolescence, #transgender-and-transsexuals, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government

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Pine Bluff, Ark., School Shooting Leaves One Student Injured

The shooting took place at Watson Chapel Junior High School in Arkansas. The injured student’s condition was not immediately clear.

#arkansas, #pine-bluff-ark, #school-shootings-and-armed-attacks

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The Activists Working to Remake the Food System

They’re committed not just to securing better meals for everyone, but to dismantling the very structures that have long exploited both workers and consumers.

#agriculture-and-farming, #andres-jose-1969, #arkansas, #atlanta-ga, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #food, #food-insecurity, #income-inequality, #new-york-city, #organic-foods-and-products

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Mate Fertility is aiming to create a franchise of fertility clinics open to everyone

Mate Fertility, the new Los Angeles startup launching today with $2.8 million in financing, has a mission to create a more inclusive network of family planning services for people struggling with the high cost and low availability of fertility clinics around the country.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Oliver Bogner and his brother Gabriel, Mate was born from both brothers’ struggles with trying to start a family. For Oliver, that was when he and his partner were looking at IVF as a way to screen for the BRCA1 gene from her embryos after she found out that she was a carrier. Meanwhile, Gabriel, an IVF baby who is a member of the LGBTQ community, felt that the services for family planning weren’t always accepting of the gay community.

“IVF and surrogacy were the only options for me to have kids,” the younger Bogner said. “And the queer community has been locked out of these services. It became my mission to democratize healthcare for my community.”

Once Oliver started doing research into the market and discovered that there were only 460 fertility clinics in the U.S. and that over 80% were concentrated in five major metropolitan areas, he knew there was an opportunity for a new business.

Mate Fertility co-founders Gabriel and Oliver Bogner. Image Credit: Mate Fertility

The Bogner brothers enlisted famed reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, who trained under the British doctors that pioneered In Vitro Fertilization, to come on board and together the three men launched Mate Fertility.

The co-founders have enlisted an impressive array of financiers to back their business boasting an investor base that includes Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos; Peter Pham, the co-founder of the LA-based consumer focused company incubator, Science; Patrick Schwarzenegger; Brian Schwartz; the investors behind Roman, Allbirds, and Caspar, Rosecliff Ventures; Pure Imagination Brands; Mana Ventures, and Maschmeyer Group Ventures.

Mate is launching first in Oklahoma City, where two legacy providers are charging anywhere from 10% to 15% above the national average for family planning services. “We’re going in at anywhere from 50% to 60% lower costs than they are,” said Oliver Bogner.

The company said it would offer egg freezing services for as low as $5,000 and IVF for $8,000, while the national average for IVF cycle costs ranges from $15,000 to $18,000, including medication.

“We’re still making healthy margins that allow us to operate the business. It’s not a matter fo these procedures costing more. These 460 clinics are allowed to radically mark up the process,” said the elder Bogner. “One of these clinics is making approximately 1,000% profit margin on every procedure.”

Given the fact that the company estimates roughly 18% of the U.S. population will face some fertility issue, the need for more clinics — setting aside the lower costs — would be enormous.

We need 3,000 clinics to properly serve our population, today we have 460. There’s a huge gap in care,” said Bogner. 

The company is working with the architects behind Dry Bar, Heitler Houstoun, to design its clinics in an effort to popularize and destigmatize the services.

“We were really intrigued by Oliver and Gabe. In terms of what the biggest risks are… you’re not playing around. You’re not creating software, you’re creating life,” said Adam Struck, the founder of Mate Fertility’s lead investment firm, Struck Capital. “The ultimate KPI which is success rate for our patients is top tier. There’s a lot that Nate is doing to ensure that some of the best medical personnel in the world are part of the Mate mission.” 

Mate Fertility offers modern EHR platforms, an e-pharmacy, proven protocols, payment assistance and digital patient and provider portals for services that include IVF, genetic screening, egg freezing, surrogacy and LGBTQ family building treatments, the company said.

Its first locations will be clinics in Oklahoma City, Anchorage, Ark., Bakersfield, Calif. Lancaster, Pa., Austin, and Portland.

#anchorage, #andy-dunn, #arkansas, #austin, #bonobos, #california, #co-founder, #e-pharmacy, #egg-freezing, #ehr, #fertility, #founder, #healthcare, #ivf, #lancaster, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #pennsylvania, #peter-pham, #portland, #reproduction, #rosecliff-ventures, #serial-entrepreneur, #struck-capital, #tc, #united-states

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Run for Arkansas Governor

The bid by Ms. Sanders, a former press secretary to Donald J. Trump who is seen as his preferred candidate in the race, will test the former president’s political strength in a divided Republican Party.

#arkansas, #governors-us, #republican-party, #sanders-sarah-huckabee, #trump-donald-j

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Augmented reality and the next century of the web

Howdy friends, this is the web version of my Week in Review newsletter, it’s here to entice you to sign up and get it in your inbox every week.

Last week, I showcased how Twitter was looking at the future of the web with a decentralized approach so that they wouldn’t be stuck unilaterally de-platforming the next world leader. This week, I scribbled some thoughts on another aspect of the future web, the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple to own augmented reality. Releasing the hardware will only be the start of a very messy transition from smartphone-first to glasses-first mobile computing.

Again, if you so desire you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


The Big Thing

If the last few years of new “reality” tech has telegraphed anything, it’s that tech companies won’t be able to skip past augmented reality’s awkward phase, they’re going to have to barrel through it and it’s probably going to take a long-ass time.

The clearest reality is that in 2021 everyday users still don’t seem quite as interested in AR as the next generation of platform owners stand to benefit from a massive transition. There’s some element of skating to where the puck is going among the soothsayers that believe AR is the inevitable platform heir etc. etc., but the battle to reinvent mobile is at its core a battle to kill the smartphone before its time has come.

A war to remake mobile in the winner’s image

It’s fitting that the primary backers of this AR future are Apple and Facebook, ambitious companies that are deeply in touch with the opportunities they could’ve capitalized on if they could do it all over again.

While Apple and Facebook both have thousands of employees toiling quietly in the background building out their AR tech moats, we’ve seen and heard much more on Facebook’s efforts. The company has already served up several iterations of their VR hardware through Oculus and has discussed publicly over the years how they view virtual reality and augmented reality hardware converging. 

Facebook’s hardware and software experiments have been experimentations in plain sight, an advantage afforded to a company that didn’t sell any hardware before they started selling VR headsets. Meanwhile Apple has offered up a developer platform and a few well-timed keynote slots for developers harnessing their tools, but the most ambitious first-party AR project they’ve launched publicly on iOS has been a measuring tape app. Everything else has taken place behind closed doors.

That secrecy tends to make any reporting on Apple’s plans particularly juicy. This week, a story from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman highlights some of Apple’s next steps towards a long-rumored AR glasses product, reporting that Apple plans to release a high-end niche VR device with some AR capabilities as early as next year. It’s not the most surprising but showcases how desperate today’s mobile kingpins are to ease the introduction of a technology that has the potential to turn existing tech stacks and the broader web on their heads.

Both Facebook and Apple have a handful of problems getting AR products out into the world, and they’re not exactly low-key issues:

  1. hardware isn’t ready
  2. platforms aren’t ready
  3. developers aren’t ready
  4. users don’t want it yet

This is a daunting wall, but isn’t uncommon among hardware moonshots. Facebook has already worked its way through this cycle once with virtual reality over several generations of hardware, though there were some key difference and few would call VR a mainstream success quite yet.

Nevertheless, there’s a distinct advantage to tackling VR before AR for both Facebook and Apple, they can invest in hardware that’s adjacent to the technologies their AR products will need to capitalize on, they can entice developers to build for a platform that’s more similar to what’s coming and they can set base line expectations for consumers for a more immersive platform. At least this would all be the case for Apple with a mass market VR device closer to Facebook’s $300 Quest 2, but a pricey niche device as Gurman’s report details doesn’t seem to fit that bill quite so cleanly.

The AR/VR content problem 

The scenario I’d imagine both Facebook and Apple are losing sleep over is that they release serviceable AR hardware into a world where they are wholly responsible for coming up with all the primary use cases.

The AR/VR world already has a hefty backlog of burnt developers who might be long-term bullish on the tech but are also tired of getting whipped around by companies that seem to view the development of content ecosystems simply as a means to ship their next device. If Apple is truly expecting the sales numbers of this device that Bloomberg suggests — similar to Valve’s early Index headset sales — then color me doubtful that there will be much developer interest at all in building for a stopgap device, I’d expect ports of Quest 2 content and a few shining stars from Apple-funded partners.

I don’t think this will me much of a shortcut for them.

True AR hardware is likely going to have different standards of input, different standards of interaction and a much different approach to use cases compared to a device built for the home or smartphone. Apple has already taken every available chance to entice mobile developers to embrace phone-based AR on iPhones through ARKit, a push they have seemed to back off from at recent developer-centric events. As someone who has kept a close eye on early projects, I’d say that most players in the space have been very underwhelmed by what existing platforms enable and what has been produced widely.

That’s really not great for Apple or Facebook and suggests that both of these companies are going to have to guide users and developers through use cases they design. I think there’s a convincing argument that early AR glasses applications will be dominated by first-party tech and may eschew full third-party native apps in favor of tightly controlled data integrations more similar to how Apple has approached developer integrations inside Siri.

But giving developers a platform built with Apple or Facebook’s own dominance in mind is going to be tough to sell, underscoring the fact that mobile and mobile AR are going to be platforms that will have to live alongside each other for quite a bit. There will be rich opportunities for developers to create experiences that play with 3D and space, but there are also plenty of reasons to expect they’ll be more resistant to move off of a mutually enriching mobile platform onto one where Facebook or Apple will have the pioneer’s pick of platform advantages. What’s in it for them?

Mobile’s OS-level winners captured plenty of value from top-of-funnel apps marketplaces, but the down-stream opportunities found mobile’s true prize, a vastly expanded market for digital ads. With the opportunity of a mobile do-over, expect to find pioneering tech giants pitching proprietary digital ad infrastructure for their devices. Advertising will likely be augmented reality’s greatest opportunity allowing the digital ads market to create an infinite global canvas for geo-targeted customized ad content. A boring future, yes, but a predictable one.

For Facebook, being a platform owner in the 2020s means getting to set their own limitations on use cases, not being confined by App Store regulations and designing hardware with social integrations closer to the silicon. For Apple, reinventing the mobile OS in the 2020s likely means an opportunity to more meaningfully dominate mobile advertising.

It’s a do-over to the tune of trillions in potential revenues.

What comes next

The AR/VR industry has been stuck in a cycle of seeking out saviors. Facebook has been the dearest friend to proponents after startup after startup has failed to find a speedy win. Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses are probably where most die-hards are currently placing their faith.

I don’t think there are any misgivings from Apple or Facebook in terms of what a wild opportunity this to win, it’s why they each have more people working on this than any other future-minded project. AR will probably be massive and change the web in a fundamental way, a true Web 3.0 that’s the biggest shift of the internet to date.

That’s doesn’t sound like something that will happen particularly smoothly.

I’m sure that these early devices will arrive later than we expect, do less than we expect and that things will be more and less different from the smartphone era’s mobile paradigms in ways we don’t anticipate. I’m also sure that it’s going to be tough for these companies to strong-arm themselves into a more seamless transition. This is going to be a very messy for tech platforms and is a transition that won’t happen overnight, not by a long shot.


Other things

The Loon is dead
One of tech’s stranger moonshots is dead, as Google announced this week that Loon, it’s internet balloon project is being shut down. It was an ambitious attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote corners of the world, but the team says it wasn’t sustainable to provide a high-cost service at a low price. More

Facebook Oversight Board tasked with Trump removal
I talked a couple weeks ago — what feels like a lifetime ago — about how Facebook’s temporary ban of Trump was going to be a nightmare for the company. I wasn’t sure how they’d stall for more time of a banned Trump before he made Facebook and Instagram his central platform, but they made a brilliant move, purposefully tying the case up in PR-favorable bureaucracy, tossing the case to their independent Oversight Board for their biggest case to date. More

Jack is Back
Alibaba’s head honcho is back in action. Alibaba shares jumped this week when the Chinese e-commerce giant’s billionaire CEO Jack Ma reappeared in public after more than three months after his last public appearance, something that stoked plenty of conspiracies. Where he was during all this time isn’t clear, but I sort of doubt we’ll be finding out. More

Trump pardons Anthony Levandowski
Trump is no longer President, but in one of his final acts, he surprisingly opted to grant a full pardon to one Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer convicted of stealing trade secrets regarding their self-driving car program. It was a surprising end to one of the more dramatic big tech lawsuits in recent years. More

Xbox raises Live prices
I’m not sure how this stacks in importance relative to what else is listed here, but I’m personally pissed that Microsoft is hiking the price of their streaming subscription Xbox Live Gold. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is embracing a subscription economy, it will be interesting to see what the divide looks like in terms of gamer dollars going towards platform owners versus studios. More

Musk offers up $100M donation to carbon capture tech
Elon Musk, who is currently the world’s richest person, tweeted out this week that he will be donating $100 million towards a contest to build the best technology for carbon capture. TechCrunch learned that this is connected to the Xprize organization. More details


Extra Things

I’m adding a section going forward to highlight some of our Extra Crunch coverage from the week, which dives a bit deeper into the money and minds of the moneymakers.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech
“After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.
But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?” More

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020
“Wrapping our look at how the venture capital asset class invested in 2020, today we’re taking a peek at Europe’s impressive year, and Asia’s slightly less invigorating set of results. (We’re speaking soon with folks who may have data on African VC activity in 2020; if those bear out, we’ll do a final entry in our series concerning the continent.)” More

Hello, Extra Crunch Community!
“We’re going to be trying out some new things around here with the Extra Crunch staff front and center, as well as turning your feedback into action more than ever. We quite literally work for you, the subscriber, and want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, as it were.” More


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

#alibaba, #anthony-levandowski, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #ar, #arkansas, #asia, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #engineer, #europe, #facebook, #google, #head, #high-speed-internet, #instagram, #itunes, #jack-ma, #lucas-matney, #microsoft, #mobile-computing, #mobile-developers, #oculus, #oversight-board, #poshmark, #president, #siri, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump, #twitter, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xprize, #yahoo

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This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

#actress, #adam-mosseri, #alipay, #alteria, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #android, #app-developer, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #arkansas, #asia, #bangalore, #biden, #bodyguard, #columbia, #computing, #data-protection-commission, #dating-group, #disney, #doj, #driver, #durable-capital-partners, #e-commerce, #epic-games, #eric-migicovsky, #europe, #european-union, #fidelity-management, #food, #fox-news, #glovo, #google, #hana-financial-investment, #india, #instagram, #iphone, #ireland, #itunes, #judge, #latin-america, #linux, #london, #macos, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #netflix, #operating-systems, #parler, #pinterest, #play-store, #president, #real-estate, #seattle, #sensor-tower, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #sony, #south-korea, #spotify, #stoneweg, #superhuman, #this-american-life, #tiktok, #tom-blomfield, #twitch, #twitter, #united-states, #wattpad, #web-services, #wnyc

0

Apple said to be working a high-priced standalone VR headset as debut mixed reality product

Apple is reportedly working on developing a high-end virtual reality headset for a potential sales debut in 2022, per a new Bloomberg report. The headset would include its own built-in processors and power supply, and could feature a chip even more powerful than the M1 Apple Silicon processor that the company currently ships on its MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, according to the report’s sources.

As is typical for a report this far out from a target launch date, Bloomberg offers a caveat that these plans could be changed or cancelled altogether. Apple undoubtedly kills a lot of its projects before they ever see the light of day, even in cases where they include a lot of time and capital investment. And the headset will reportedly cost even more than some of the current higher-priced VR headset offerings on the market, which can range up to nearly $1,000, with the intent of selling it initially as a low-volume niche device aimed at specialist customers – kind of like the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR that Apple currently sells.

The headset will reportedly focus mostly on VR, but will also include some augmented reality features, in a limited capacity, for overlaying visuals on real world views fed in by external cameras. This differs from prior reports that suggested Apple was pursuing consumer AR smart glasses as its likely first headset product in the mixed reality category for consumer distribution. Bloomberg reports that while this VR headset is at a late prototype stage of development, its AR glasses are much earlier in the design process and could follow the VR headset introduction by at least a year or more.

The strategy here appears to be creating a high-tech, high-performance and high-priced device that will only ever sell in small volume, but that will help it begin to develop efficiencies and lower the production costs of technologies involved, in order to pave the way for more mass-market devices later.

The report suggests the product could be roughly the same size as the Oculus Quest, with a fabric exterior to help reduce weight. The external cameras could also be used for environment and hand tracking, and there is the possibility that it will debut with its own App Store designed for VR content.

Virtual reality is still a nascent category even as measured by the most successful products currently available in the market, the Oculus Quest and the PlayStation VR. But Facebook at least seems to see a lot of long-term value in continuing to invest in and iterate its VR product, and Apple’s view could be similar. The company has already put a lot of focus and technical development effort into AR on the iPhone, and CEO Tim Cook has expressed a lot of optimism about AR’s future in a number of interviews.

#app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #display-technology, #facebook, #hardware, #iphone, #oculus, #playstation-vr, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices

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Roboflow raises $2.1M for its end-to-end computer vision platform

Roboflow, a startup that aims to simplify the process of building computer vision models, today announced that it has raised a $2.1 million seed round co-led by Lachy Groom and Craft Ventures. Additional investors include Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, Lob CEO Leore Avidar, Firebase co-founder James Tamplin and early Dropbox engineer Aston Motes, among others. The company is a graduate of this year’s Y Combinator summer class.

Co-founded by Joseph Nelson (CEO) and Brad Dwyer (CTO), Roboflow is the result of the team members’ previous work on AR and AI apps, including Magic Sudoku from 2017. After respectively exiting their last companies, the two co-founders teamed up again to launch a new AR project, this time with a focus on board games. In 2019, the team actually participated in the TC Disrupt hackathon to add chess support to that app — but in the process, the team also realized that it was spending a lot of time trying to solve the same problems that everybody else in the computer vision field was facing.

Image Credits: Roboflow

“In building both those [AR] products, we realized most of our time wasn’t spent on the board game part of it, it was spent on the image management, the annotation management, the understanding of ‘do we have enough images of white queens, for example? Do we have enough images from this angle or this angle? Are the rooms brighter or darker?’ This data mining of understanding in visual imagery is really underdeveloped. We had built a bunch of — at the time — internal tooling to make this easier for us,” Nelson explained. “And in the process of building this company, of trying to make software features for real-world objects, realize that developers didn’t need inspiration. They needed tooling.”

So shortly after participating in the hackathon, the founders started putting together the first version of Roboflow and launched the first version a year ago in January 2020. And while the service started out as a platform for managing large image data sets, it has since grown to become an end-to-end solution for handling image management, analysis, pre-processing and augmentation, up to building the image recognition models and putting them into production. As Nelson noted, while the team didn’t set out to build an end-to-end solution, its users kept pushing the team to add more features.

Image Credits: Roboflow

So far, about 20,000 developers have used the service, with use cases ranging from accelerating cancer research to smart city applications. The thesis here, Nelson said, is that computer vision is going to be useful for every single industry. But not every company has the in-house expertise to set up the infrastructure for building models and putting it into production, so Roboflow aims to provide an easy to use platform for this that individual developers and (over time) large enterprise teams can use to quickly iterate on their ideas.

Roboflow plans to use the new funding to expand its team, which currently consists of five members, both on the engineering and go-to-market side.

The Roboflow racoon.

The Roboflow racoon. Image Credits: Roboflow

“As small cameras become cheaper and cheaper, we’re starting to see an explosion of video and image data everywhere,” Segment co-founder and Roboflow investor French-Owen noted. “Historically, it’s been hard for anyone but the biggest tech companies to harness this data, and actually turn it into a valuable product. Roboflow is building the pipelines for the rest of us. They’re helping engineers take the data that tells a thousand words, and giving them the power to turn that data into recommendations and insights.”

#arkansas, #cloud-computing, #computing, #craft-ventures, #data-mining, #dropbox, #firebase, #france, #hackathon, #lachy-groom, #lob, #recent-funding, #roboflow, #startups, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator

0

A Long, Lonesome Look at America

Alone on a 10,000-mile road trip across the United States, a Times journalist found an America cloaked in solitude — and a country on edge.

#arkansas, #california, #colorado, #conservation-of-resources, #forests-and-forestry, #montana, #oregon, #ozark-mountains, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #states-us, #wildfires

0

Foresight raises $15M for its construction workers compensation platform

When an accident on a building site resulted in the death of their friend, the founders of Safesight were inspired to launch the platform to digitize safety programs for construction. The data from that gave birth to a new InsurTech startup this year, Foresight, which covers workers’ compensation. The startup has now released, for the first time, news that it raised a $15 million funding round back in May this year, with participation from Blackhorn Ventures and Transverse Insurance Group. To date, it has raised $20.5 million from industrial technology venture capital firms, led by Brick and Mortar Ventures and Builders VC.

Foresight launched in August of this year but has already covered $30M in risks. The company says it is now on pace to reach $50M in underwritten premium in 2021. By leveraging the data from sister company Safesite, the platform says it has been able to reduce workers comp incidents by up to 57% in a study conducted by actuarial consulting firm Perr & Knight.

Foresight’s algorithm leverages Safesight data to predict incidents, highlight risks, and informs underwriting. By wrapping Safesite risk management technology and services into every policy, Foresight provides a path to lower incident rates and lower premiums for customers.

Of the $57Bn national workers compensation market, Foresight focuses on policies ranging from $150K to $1M+ in annual premiums. The company says this segment has been largely overlooked by well-funded InsurTech startups such as Next Insurance and Pie, which provide small business policies under $50K in annual premiums.

Foresight and Safesite were developed by longtime friends and co-founders David Fontain, Peter Grant, and Leigh Appel.

Fontain said: “Foresight strengthens the correlation between safety and savings while providing the fast and easy user experience InsurTechs are known for. We leverage purpose-built technology to drive behavioral shifts and provide an irresistible alternative to traditional workers compensation coverage.”

Darren Bechtel, the founder and managing director at Brick & Mortar Ventures commented: “We first invested in 2016 and have known the founders since 2015 when it was just the two of them, squatting at a couple of empty desks inside another portfolio company’s office. Their initial vision was both elegant and powerful, and the demonstrated impact of their solution on safety performance, even in early interactions with the product, was impossible to ignore.”

Foresight now covers Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. The company expects to launch workers compensation in the eastern US and a general liability line in early 2021.

#arizona, #arkansas, #articles, #blackhorn-ventures, #brick, #brick-mortar-ventures, #builders-vc, #darren-bechtel, #future, #insurance, #louisiana, #nevada, #new-mexico, #oklahoma, #tc, #time, #united-states

0

Ex-Arizona Official Gets More Than 6 Years in Prison in Adoption Fraud Scheme

Paul D. Petersen, who served as Maricopa County’s assessor, arranged for women from the Marshall Islands to fly to the United States to give birth, prosecutors said.

#arizona, #arkansas, #fayetteville-ark, #fines-penalties, #frauds-and-swindling, #health-insurance-and-managed-care, #human-trafficking, #maricopa-county-ariz, #marshall-islands, #mesa-ariz, #parenting, #petersen-paul-d, #phoenix-ariz, #pregnancy-and-childbirth, #utah, #women-and-girls

0

New Spirits Rise in Old, Repurposed Churches

For years, attendance rates have dropped and congregations have closed nationwide. But many reused religious spaces are still sanctuaries.

#accidents-and-safety, #alexandria-va, #appalachian-region, #archives-and-records, #arkansas, #art, #audible-com, #bars-and-nightclubs, #bentonville-ark, #caesar-julius, #christian-science, #christians-and-christianity, #clapton-eric, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #duke-university, #historic-buildings-and-sites, #internet-archive, #jesus-christ, #kahle-brewster, #louisiana, #methodist-church, #monae-janelle, #nelson-willie, #new-orleans-la, #newark-nj, #ohio, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #rensselaer-polytechnic-institute, #restaurants, #restoration-and-renovation, #roman-catholic-church, #san-francisco-calif, #stained-glass, #states-us, #troy-ny, #united-methodist-church, #wayback-machine, #west-virginia, #wines

0

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and Blueyard

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and Augmented Reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

#api, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #berlin, #ceo, #creative-tools, #cto, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #facebook, #marketing, #microsoft, #social, #tc, #vectary, #web-development, #webflow

0

Walmart expands drone delivery tests to Arkansas with new Zipline partnership

Walmart now has two tests for drone delivery running in the US.

Early Monday morning the company announced a new drone delivery program with Zipline, a startup that made its name delivering medical supplies across Africa.

The partnership with Zipline comes on the heels of another newly announced drone partnership with Flytrex, which started delivering packages to Walmart customers in North Carolina last week.

Zipline’s work with Walmart in Arkansas compliments a pilot delivery program that the company began in North Carolina earlier this year. Working with Novant Health, Zipline has been delivering medical equipment and personal protective gear via drone to regions of North Carolina since May.

The drone operation with Walmart will deliver health and wellness products initially, with the potential to expand to general merchandise.

A movement into the delivery of general goods would be something of a pivot for Zipline, which has touted its ability to handle medical supplies and equipment since the launch of its services across Africa in 2016.

 

Trial deliveries for the new service will begin in Northwest Arkansas and cover a 50-mile radius, according to a statement from Walmart.

Walmart’s forays into drone delivery come as its largest competitor, Amazon, also picks up activity in the drone aviation industry.

In late August, Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet received approval from the FAA to begin trialing commercial deliveries. It’s similar to the certification that logistics companies like UPS received to test their own drone delivery networks.

Rather than operate its own drone fleet, Walmart seems content to partner with existing companies working in the space — for now.

#africa, #amazon, #arkansas, #articles, #delivery-drone, #emerging-technologies, #federal-aviation-administration, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #partner, #prime-air, #retailers, #tc, #united-states, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #ups, #walmart, #zipline

0

Former Arizona Official Pleads Guilty in Adoption Scheme

Paul D. Petersen charged as much as $30,000 to bring pregnant women into the United States and give up their newborn children for adoption, officials said.

#adoptions, #arizona, #arkansas, #marshall-islands, #mesa-ariz

0

Donna Tartt on the Singular Voice, and Pungent Humor, of Charles Portis

Portis, who died in February, occupied a unique place in American letters. His novels, written in the vernacular of his native Arkansas, beg to be read aloud.

#arkansas, #books-and-literature, #civil-war-us-1861-65, #gringos-book, #masters-of-atlantis-book, #portis-charles, #the-dog-of-the-south-book, #true-grit-book, #writing-and-writers

0

Hoping to Buy an Aboveground Pool to Salvage Summer? It May Be Too Late

The hunt for pools is fierce as homeowners search for ways to stay cool in the safety of their backyards.

#arkansas, #beaches, #belmar-nj, #boxcar-mobile-app, #central-jersey-pool, #connecticut, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #do-it-yourself, #luxury-goods-and-services, #new-jersey, #new-york-state, #quarantines, #shopping-and-retail, #shortages, #shutdowns-institutional, #swimming-pools, #the-yard

0

Covid-19 and the Rural Fear of ‘Taking Advantage’

In my community, angst over the idea that some might receive too much help is shaping reactions to pandemic relief.

#arkansas, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #food, #income, #labor-and-jobs, #little-rock-ark, #recession-and-depression, #unemployment, #unemployment-insurance, #united-states, #van-buren-ark, #welfare-us

0

Scandit raises $80M as COVID-19 drives demand for contactless deliveries

Enterprise barcode scanner company Scandit has closed an $80 million Series C round, led by Silicon Valley VC firm G2VP. Atomico, GV, Kreos, NGP Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Swisscom Ventures also participated in the round — which brings its total raised to date to $123M.

The Zurich-based firm offers a platform that combines computer vision and machine learning tech with barcode scanning, text recognition (OCR), object recognition and augmented reality which is designed for any camera-equipped smart device — from smartphones to drones, wearables (e.g. AR glasses for warehouse workers) and even robots.

Use-cases include mobile apps or websites for mobile shopping; self checkout; inventory management; proof of delivery; asset tracking and maintenance — including in healthcare where its tech can be used to power the scanning of patient IDs, samples, medication and supplies.

It bills its software as “unmatched” in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as the ability to scan in bad light; at any angle; and with damaged labels. Target industries include retail, healthcare, industrial/manufacturing, travel, transport & logistics and more.

The latest funding injection follows a $30M Series B round back in 2018. Since then Scandit says it’s tripled recurring revenues, more than doubling the number of blue-chip enterprise customers, and doubling the size of its global team.

Global customers for its tech include the likes of 7-Eleven, Alaska Airlines, Carrefour, DPD, FedEx, Instacart, Johns Hopkins Hospital, La Poste, Levi Strauss & Co, Mount Sinai Hospital and Toyota — with the company touting “tens of billions of scans” per year on 100+ million active devices at this stage of its business.

It says the new funding will go on further pressing on the gas to grow in new markets, including APAC and Latin America, as well as building out its footprint and ops in North America and Europe. Also on the slate: Funding more R&D to devise new ways for enterprises to transform their core business processes using computer vision and AR.

The need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated demand for mobile computer vision on personal smart devices, according to Scandit, which says customers are looking for ways to enable more contactless interactions.

Another demand spike it’s seeing is coming from the pandemic-related boom in ‘Click & Collect’ retail and “millions” of extra home deliveries — something its tech is well positioned to cater to because its scanning apps support BYOD (bring your own device), rather than requiring proprietary hardware.

“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in these uncertain times, and the need to blend the physical and digital plays a crucial role,” said CEO Samuel Mueller in a statement. “Our new funding makes it possible for us to help even more enterprises to quickly adapt to the new demand for ‘contactless business’, and be better positioned to succeed, whatever the new normal is.”

Also commenting on the funding in a supporting statement, Ben Kortlang, general partner at G2VP, added: “Scandit’s platform puts an enterprise-grade scanning solution in the pocket of every employee and customer without requiring legacy hardware. This bridge between the physical and digital worlds will be increasingly critical as the world accelerates its shift to online purchasing and delivery, distributed supply chains and cashierless retail.”

#7-eleven, #alaska-airlines, #arkansas, #barcode, #carrefour, #enterprise, #europe, #fedex, #fundings-exits, #g2vp, #hardware, #healthcare, #instacart, #inventory-management, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #mobile, #ngp-capital, #north-america, #ocr, #salesforce-ventures, #samuel-mueller, #scandit, #smartphones, #swisscom-ventures, #toyota, #wearables, #zurich

0

Travis McCready Performs America’s First Concert in Months

Fans who had to have their temperatures taken and wear masks for the Travis McCready show said it was worth it for the experience of hearing live music again.

#arkansas, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #fort-smith-ark, #hutchinson-asa, #mccready-travis, #music, #pop-and-rock-music, #temple-live-fort-smith-ark

0

U.S. House approves remote voting, though the tech is unclear

Congress will allow remote voting for the first time in its history, after the U.S. House approved Resolution 965 late Friday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure — sponsored by Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern — authorizes proxy voting by members for renewable periods of 45 days and allows for remote participation in committee hearings.

H.R. 965 could also permanently alter the way Congress operates through a provision that establishes a bi-partisan process to explore digital voting away from Capitol Hill.

Per the directive, “The chair of the Committee on House Administration, in consultation with the ranking minority member, shall study the feasibility of using technology to conduct remote voting in the House, and shall provide certification…that operable and secure technology exists.”

Previous House rules required in person voting only. The Senate still makes decisions by recording verbal “Yeas” and “Nays” on a tally sheet.

Friday’s congressional action is another example of how COVID-19 is forcing every organization in the U.S. to overhaul longstanding ways of doing things, usually through a mix of digital tools.

We still don’t have clear details on what tech the U.S. House will use to implement both the short and longer term provisions of H.R. 965.

The proxy voting arrangement will allow members to vote remotely through designated representatives on Capitol Hill — effectively a form of pinch-hitting for Congress. For remote participation in hearings, there are a range of options that could be selected — from Google Meet to Microsoft Teams. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before the U.S. Senate using Zoom.

On determining long-term means for remote voting, that’s now up to the Chairperson of the Committee on House Administration —  representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) —  and the ranking minority member Rodney Davis (R-IL), who voted against H.R. 965.

Lofgren offered a preview of how it could shape up in a statement supporting H.R. 965 late Friday: “For voting on the floor, we will rely on a secure email system, coupled with member-driven, remotely-directed authorizations.  This system would use secure email for proxy votes: a solid, well known, resilient technology with very low bandwidth requirements that we understand very well from a cybersecurity standpoint.”

Of course, she and Republican Congressman Davis will have to find agreement on this during a time when both parties rarely agree on anything. The vote on H.R. 965 was split along party lines, with 217 Dems voting in favor and not a single Republican member supporting the measure.

In the past, Congress has resisted calls to allow for remote voting. There was discussion of the need for such provisions after the September 11 attacks and 2001 Anthrax attacks. These was overridden by a long time expectation that those elected to represent constituencies be physically present to vote.

Over the last two months, it appeared the House might become a last holdout in the U.S. for in person only workplaces, as much of the country has shifted to tech-enabled measures for remote operations.

Shortly after the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S. in March, Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA) pressed a resolution with Arkansas Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR) that would allow members to participate virtually in hearings and vote remotely, under special circumstances.

US capitol building at night

Image Credits: Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

That was nixed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  who, at the time, wanted Congress to remain in session and present to pass the first coronavirus stimulus bill.

Two months and nearly one hundred thousand American deaths later, it appears COVID-19 could force one of the more significant procedural changes in the House’s 231 year history.

In person voting could soon be replaced with some form of two-factor authentication, digital voting. This could alter longstanding patterns for how lawmakers travel, interact with constituencies, and divide their time between the Beltway and districts back home.

#anthrax, #arkansas, #chair, #congress, #democracy, #elections, #electronic-voting, #google, #government, #il, #massachusetts, #microsoft, #nancy-pelosi, #politics, #senate, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #voting

0

Concert to Test Whether America Is Ready to Rock Again

Travis McCready is set to perform in Arkansas on Friday in what appears to be the first major U.S. music show since the pandemic began, but state officials have yet to endorse it.

#arkansas, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #fort-smith-ark, #hutchinson-asa, #music, #travis-mccready

0

Gatik adds autonomous box trucks to its ‘middle mile’ game plan

Gatik, the autonomous vehicle startup focused on the ‘middle mile’ of logistics, has added box trucks to its fleet as Walmart and other customers look for ways to boost efficiency and shore up the supply chain amid surging demand from consumers ordering goods online.

Gatik came out of stealth nearly a year ago with a game plan — and Walmart as a customer — to haul goods short distances for retailers and distributors using self-driving commercial delivery vans. The self-driving vehicles still have a human safety operator behind the wheel.

CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang has previously told TechCrunch that the company can fulfill a need in the market through a variety of use cases, including partnering with third-party logistics giants like Amazon, FedEx  or even the U.S. Postal Service, auto part distributors, consumer goods, food and beverage distributors as well as medical and pharmaceutical companies.

The business plan hasn’t changed. But its fleet has. In July, the startup launched a commercial service with Walmart to deliver online grocery orders from the retailer’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. Initially, Gatik used light commercial trucks and vans — specifically Ford Transit Connect vans — that were outfitted with its self-driving system.

Customer feedback prompted the company to add bigger temperature-controlled vehicles. Gatik’s commercial fleet of more than 10 vehicles are used to serve multiple Fortune 500 companies across North America, according to the startup. The figure doesn’t include additional vehicles being tested in California.

Gatik expects to name new partners and operations in U.S. and Canada this year.

The box trucks, which range in size between 11 and 20-feet long, can deliver ambient, cold and frozen goods. Each vehicle completes between six to 15 runs a day. Gatik has used its box trucks to deliver more than 15,000 orders for multiple customers since operations began.

The shift to autonomous box trucks taps into a trend among major retailers to use micro distribution centers to help meet increasing demand from consumers ordering goods online. Class 8 semi trucks, which once went directly to a retail store, now hauls goods to the MDCs. This allows retailers like Walmart to store more goods closer to its retail locations to meet demand for online orders.

“Micro fulfillment or distribution centers are all the rage right now — that’s basically the wave that we’re riding,” Narang said. “Companies are targeting warehouse automation for micro fulfillment centers. They’re automating the warehouses, and we’re automating the on-road logistics.”

Grocery chains were struggling to keep up with the growing demand of online grocery pickup and delivery even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But Narang expects demand for online grocery pickup and delivery to increase twofold. Gatik has already seen a 30% to 35% uptick in the number of runs it completes each day in order to meet demand.

“I think this is going to last because the crisis is shaping how consumers do their shopping,” Narang said.

Eventually, Gatik will pull the human safety driver out of the vehicle. It’s an achievable goal, Narang added, because the company has focused on repeatable pre-determined routes and has introduced constraints that simplify the technical challenge. For instance, Gatik vehicles don’t make multiple lane changes and only make right turns.

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The storm carved a destructive path across six states on Sunday and Monday, causing widespread damage and cutting power to tens of thousands of customers.

#arkansas, #georgia, #north-carolina, #power-failures-and-blackouts, #south-carolina, #southern-states-us, #tornadoes, #weather

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Why Congress isn’t working remotely due to COVID-19

As COVID-19 forces much of America to work from home, the United States Congress — whose 535 members have an average age of 60 — is still operating from Capitol Hill.

Why this population (deemed high-risk to the coronavirus) isn’t yet doing legislative business remotely comes down to process, tech and political will.

“The House rules and the Senate rules require voting in person. And it would require a change in those rules to do that,” California Congressman Eric Swalwell told TechCrunch on a call from his Washington, D.C., office.

Swalwell has a plan for Congress to work away from the Hill. He recently reintroduced a resolution with Arizona Representative Rick Crawford (R-AZ) that would allow members to participate virtually in hearings and vote remotely, under special circumstances.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have nixed that option, at least for the near-term, reportedly telling her caucus last week, “We are the captains of the ship. We are last to leave.”

A priority for Congress is finalizing emergency COVID-19 legislation to provide trillions of dollars in resources to combat the virus and stem the economic havoc it’s wreaking across the U.S.

Without a rule-change and clear plan for members to legislate and vote outside from Capitol Hill, passing that legislation requires lawmakers be present on the building’s floor.

Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

There are mixed messages on who makes the call for Congress to go to a remote-work scenario and what kind of digital contingency would kick in to perform legislative duties at a distance. 

In a subsequent scrum to her “last to leave” comments, Pelosi gave an unequivocal “no” to reporters’ questions on Congress closing due to COVID-19. But she added, the ultimate call was not hers. “That’s a health and security decision up to the Capitol physician [and] Sergeant at Arms,” the Speaker said.

TechCrunch sought input on the matter from the House Office of the Sergeant at Arms. That inquiry referred us to the Chief Administrative Office, which has not yet responded.

Even after the first congressional staffers have tested positive for COVID-19, the majority of Capitol Hill’s high-risk members continue to work on-site and in their office buildings.

Representative Swalwell’s MOBILE (Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone) resolution proposes to change that.

He’s introduced the measure every year since 2013, but believes it carries extra weight now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Swalwell reintroduced it again on March 9.

MOBILE would “mandate the development of a secure remote voting system which members could use to vote remotely on suspension bills, generally non-controversial bills that require a two-thirds vote to pass,” according to a statement on the resolution provided by Swalwell’s office.

“It’s bi-partisan, introduced by me and Representative Rick Crawford from Arkansas and we’ve had dozens of members join us in support,” Swalwell told TechCrunch.

“I don’t mean to have this substitute us meeting in person,” the California Democrat said. But Swalwell believes there needs to be tech provisions in Congress, comparable to contingency plans in the private sector, for members to operate virtually outside of Capitol Hill.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin echoed this on Tuesday, underscoring the need for virtual committee hearings and the ability to vote away from Congress in times of national emergency.

As millions of Americans shift from physical work spaces to platforms such as Zoom, Slack or Google Hangouts during the COVID-19 crisis, detail is lacking on the software, apps and security for Congress to operate under a measure such as MOBILE.

There’s still little in the way of tech in the voting process on Capitol Hill, where the Senate still makes decisions by recording verbal “Yeas” and “Nays” on a tally sheet.

“I’m not offering myself as the technical expert,” Swalwell said on the implementation of his suggested remote voting and convening resolution.

He explained that the House Administration Committee and House Rules Committee would be the subject matter experts to determine how the Congress would secure voting and meetings remotely.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

“We have smart members on those committees and capable staffers who could give us a tech solution today…and the solution that we ultimately use down the road,” he said.

While the business of Congress still remains a present and in-person affair, the body is taking cautionary measures to protect staff. This week several members, including representative Swalwell and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, instructed employees to work from home.

There’s more capability for congressional staff, compared to members, to work remotely, according to Frederick Hill, a Managing Director at FTI Consulting — who spent 17 years as a staffer in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

“The technology is in place to support much of the work that goes on in the background at the staff level,” Hill told TechCrunch.

“They have VPN networks, shared drives for off-site work, devices and smartphones to keep them in contact and help draft legislation.” The September 11 attacks and 2001 Anthrax attacks forced a number of these contingencies for congressional staff members.

Hill explained that when it comes to the most official congressional activity, such as voting on the floor, “there really are no provisions [currently] to use technology.”

Part of that has to do with ensuring those elected to represent constituencies are genuinely present to vote.

But similar to so many previously in-person functions that have shifted to apps paired with security measures, such as multi-factor authentication, decision-making on Capitol Hill could also move to remote and digital options.

An extenuating circumstance, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, could be what finally moves America’s chief legislating body in the direction of being able to vote remotely.

“It certainly has provoked the conversation,” Swalwell said. “I think it is a needed conversation. I wish it were under different circumstances.”

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