18 May, 2017

Paytm gets $1.4 billion funding from SoftBank; largest round from a single investor in India

Paytm's parent company One97Communications Limited just received $1.4 billion funding from Japan's leading Internet and telecom major SoftBank.
This is the largest round from a single investor in India. Paytm said the investment will help it grow its leadership in the online payment system.
"It will also complement our plan to invest Rs 10,000 Cr (approx $1.6 Bn) over the next three to five years towards our commitment to enable half a billion Indians to join the mainstream economy," Paytm stated in a blog.
Paytm said it will continue to innovate and expand into new online and offline use-cases.
Meanwhile, Paytm Payments Bank is also becoming operational from next week and will be headed by CEO Renu Satti.
Meanwhile, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma will hold the majority share in Paytm Payments Bank, with the rest being held by One97 Communications.

Israel Tests Wireless Charging Roads for Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles have long been a promising option for sustainable transportation. They come with practical headaches like expensive, bulky batteries that often need recharging, however. Israel is tackling those hurdles by investing in roads that power electric buses—as they ride down the street. The government is collaborating with Israeli start-up ElectRoad to install a public bus route in Tel Aviv, using an under-the-pavement wireless technology that eliminates the need for plug-in recharging stations.
Although still in its infancy, the technology could clear the three biggest hurdles—cost, weight and range—that have held back the widespread adoption of battery-powered vehicles for more than a century. First, though, ElectRoad will have to demonstrate that its “inductive charging” technology can be scaled up cheaply enough to be adopted on roadways worldwide. “It’s exciting because it’s charging without wires,” says Tim Cleary, director of BATTERY, an energy-storage research laboratory at The Pennsylvania State University, who is not involved in the project. “But unless it’s affordable and cost-effective it’s not going to take off.”
You can read the complete article here

20 April, 2017

Google Earth just rolled out its biggest update yet - here's what's new

If you've ever wanted to go on a bar crawl through Europe to visit all of Ernest Hemingway's favorite haunts, Google Earth has you covered.
In a massive update , the virtual globe has introduced a feature called "Voyager." No longer will you be limited to only exploring places you've heard about, nor will you have to resort to randomly clicking on areas of the planet in hopes of finding a gem. Instead, "Voyager" presents you with dozens of curated journeys around the globe.
Each voyage is centered around a theme. " Museums Around the World " will take you to a Street View of 28 museums in every corner of the globe, ranging from the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. If natural formations are more your speed, " Earth View " will show you "the most striking and enigmatic landscapes available in Google Earth."
Each location in a voyage comes with a blurb explaining the landmark on your screen. Some also have  360° video content, while others have YouTube videos embedded - the " Beautiful Birds of Paradise " voyage employs clips from "Planet Earth" narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
If you're planning a trip, Google Earth has itineraries that will show you all the best spots to visit in cities like Tokyo, London, and Mexico City.
The update also introduces an "I'm Feeling Lucky" feature. When clicked, it will take you to a random location or landmark on the globe and give you a description from Wikipedia.
Also of note is that Google Earth is no longer a download-only program - it can now be accessed from any computer with Google Chrome installed, with support for the other big browsers coming soon.
Watch Google's visually stunning announcement video

19 April, 2017

Facebook's next big thing is augmented reality.

At the company's developer conference on Tuesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the wraps off his plans to "mix the physical and digital in whole new ways" using AR, the nascent technology being worked on by Apple, Microsoft, Snapchat Magic Leap, and more.
Starting Tuesday, Facebook will give developers the ability to build their own AR effects for the Facebook app's camera. The move is a direct attack on Snapchat, which pioneered AR camera effects but has yet to open its technology up to developers.
"Even if we were a little slow to add cameras to our apps, I'm confident that we're going to be the ones to push this augmented reality platform forward," said Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg said he eventually envisions glasses that display virtual objects in the real world, like the technology being worked on by Magic Leap and Apple.

09 April, 2017

SpaceX spent ‘less than half’ the cost of a new first stage on Falcon 9 relaunch

Just how much is SpaceX actually saving with its reused Falcon 9 rockets? You might expect it to not be much, given that the SES-10 launch is the first time they’ve reused a rocket thus far. But SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told the Space Symposium conference that the cost of refurbishing the Falcon 9 rocket that originally flew the CRS-8 Space Station resupply mission last year for SES-10 was “substantially less than half” what it would have cost to build a brand new one.

That’s despite doing a lot to bring the recovered rocket back to operational condition, Shotwell said, according to Space News. Which means cost savings should only go up, since SpaceX did “way more on this one than we’re doing on future ones” in terms of refurbishment activities, she told the annual space industry conference.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean drastically cheaper launches compared to what SpaceX charges now (around $62 million, according to the company’s published figures). Elon Musk has discussed previously how much money SpaceX has spent to date on developing its reusable rocket tests, costs which will have to be recouped even as the expense associated with individual launches goes down over time.
Shotwell also talks about how SpaceX will attempt to recover the payload fairing used on launches, too. This is the housing used to protect whatever the rocket is delivering to space (satellites, supplies, etc.) from forces during launch, including aerodynamic heating. SpaceX recovered one section of the two-piece fairing during the SES-10 launch, and found that it was actually in pretty good shape. Each fairing is a $6 million expense, so reuse of that component would help decrease launch costs further still.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said after the successful launch that the next goal for the company is to get its reuse window down to 24 hours for following one launch with another using the same rocket.

07 April, 2017

Twitter is getting rid of the egg avatar (because that will totally fix the abuse problem)

Everyone knows that Twitter has a harassment problem. And while the service has tried things like banning abusive users (both on a temporary and permanent basis) it hasn’t really fixed the problem.
Today, they’re announcing another sweeping change that fails to address the real problem: they’re cracking the egg.
In a long-winded post the service announced they are replacing the default egg with a unisex profile picture resembling a head and shoulders silhouette.
Beginning in 2010, all new accounts started with their default profile picture as an egg. Since then it has become an integral part of the Twitter brand. Everyone, even non-hardcore Twitter users, know the egg. Even CNN frequently features the egg when they show tweets from politicians and other celebrities.
Twitter gave a bunch of reasons for the switch. Some, like the fact that a more generic profile picture should encourage new users to actually upload a real profile picture of themselves, make sense.
But one reason for the switch was related to harassment.
Specifically, Twitter said that since abusive accounts often have the egg as a profile picture, there is now “an association between the default egg profile photo and negative behavior.”
Gee, ya think?
What Twitter isn’t understanding is that abusive tweets sent from an egg account will now just be abusive tweets sent from a silhouette account. Switching up the profile picture may be putting a band-aid on the problem, but it does nothing to fix harassment in the long run.
An abusive tweet is an abusive tweet, whether it’s next to an egg, a silhouette or a real person’s avatar.
Plus, as a byproduct, Twitter is killing off yet another part of Twitter’s unique internal language and identity — just like they did with @replies and favorites.

06 April, 2017

Twitter launches a ‘lite’ mobile web app that’s optimized for emerging markets

Twitter has taken the wraps off a new data-optimized version of its service that it hopes will be a hit among emerging.

It’s called Twitter Lite and, unlike similar ‘Lite’ apps from Facebook and others, it is browser-based — living at mobile.twitter.com. It is essentially a data-optimized version of the regular Twitter service that, the company said, loads fast and will work well on limited internet connections. It added that, already, “hundreds of millions” visit the mobile app each month but now it wants to expand that reach.

A web app isn’t as powerful as a native app, but Twitter said it had opted for this approach because it believes it can make its service accessible to new users. “It works on most smartphones and tablets without an App Store or Google Play account. You won’t need an email account or credit card either,” it said.
The app also comes in at less than 1MB — making it well-sized for cheaper handset that don’t have a lot of storage — while on Android phones it includes notifications and alerts, offline access and the potential for a home screen app.