Techonomy http://techonomy.com Thu, 24 Apr 2014 18:30:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Tesla Drives into China http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tesla-drives-china/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tesla-drives-china/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:34:33 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16198 Tesla has created the kind of buzz and excitement this week that only names like Apple and smartphone sensation Xiaomi have typically been able to muster. In the last two days, the company and its charismatic founder Elon Musk were all over the Chinese headlines as Tesla delivered its first electric vehicles (EVs) in China on the sidelines of the nation’s biggest annual auto show happening this week in Beijing. Tesla has done an incredible job of launching its first vehicle sales in China. This kind of media frenzy and hype surrounding a product launch hasn't been seen for at least a year or two, back when Apple was still at the height of coolness in China.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

I have to give my congratulations to new energy car maker Tesla for creating the kind of buzz and excitement this week that only names like Apple and smartphone sensation Xiaomi have typically been able to muster. In the last two days, the company and its charismatic founder Elon Musk were all over the Chinese headlines as Tesla delivered its first electric vehicles (EVs) in China on the sidelines of the nation’s biggest annual auto show happening this week in Beijing. Musk seems to have done interviews with nearly all of the major publications I regularly read, leading me to wonder if the man ever sleeps.

But all joking aside, Tesla really has done an incredible job of launching its first vehicle sales in China. I honestly haven’t seen this kind of media frenzy and hype surrounding a product launch for at least a year or two, back when Apple was still at the height of coolness in China. Tesla has also made all the right moves in terms of associations, getting its name connected with a number of big-name companies, projects, and people as Musk hinted his company could consider building a plant in China.

All this buzz comes after a rocky start in China for the company, following a tussle with a trademark squatter and some initially difficulties getting its first shop set up in Beijing. What’s more, the company is at a slight disadvantage to domestic rivals like BYD and Chery because its cars don’t quality for the generous subsidies being offered by Beijing to jump-start electric car sales. And yet despite all that, Tesla has managed to generate lots of buzz these last few months and has set an aggressive target of selling as many as 8,000 cars in China this year.

It officially delivered the first of those this week, as it handed over the keys to eight of its Model S electric cars to an A-list of high-profile buyers that included the president of the Lifan soccer team and the founder of Autohome, the nation’s leading car information website.

Musk has also managed to get his company’s name associated with a number of major Chinese companies as he tries to send the message that Tesla will support clean energy as it helps to build the necessary charging infrastructure to support EV development. According to the various reports, Tesla’s list of potential corporate partners runs the range from Sinopec, one of China’s top oil refiners; to State Grid, operator of China’s national electric grid; to JA Solar, one of the nation’s leading makers of solar panels.

Tesla discussed its potential local partnerships as it also revealed it is preparing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help build charging stations to make electric vehicles practical in China. But perhaps most tantalizing to officials in Beijing was Musk’s hints that he could consider building an EV manufacturing plant in China, which could become the company’s biggest global market as soon as next year.

Clearly Musk has done his homework and is hitting on all the right notes in China to create a well-oiled campaign as he enters the market. Of course it also doesn’t hurt that Tesla has a very good product to sell, and that it has cultivated an image as a very environmentally friendly status symbol in this very status-conscious country. If it continues to play its cards right, which looks likely, the company could stand a very strong chance of selling at least 4,000 or 5,000 cars this year in China, making it one of the company’s top global markets.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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Robot Meets Cow http://techonomy.com/2014/04/robot-meets-cow/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/robot-meets-cow/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:47:06 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16192 From the classroom to the battlefield, robots have been making their occupational debut in some of the unlikeliest of places. Now they're heading to the farm to take on jobs as cow milkers. Developed in Europe, the robotic milking technology is allowing cows to be milked any time they want, simply by walking up to a robot and letting the machine do its work. And because dairy cows are almost always pregnant (in order for them to lactate), the ability to be milked more frequently goes a long way in increasing their comfort. In addition to milking, the robotic milkers scan cows' stomachs, gauge milking rates, and monitor such stats as the amount of milk produced, how much a cow eats, and how many steps it takes. Read more at The New York Times

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From the classroom to the battlefield, robots have been making their occupational debut in some of the unlikeliest of places. Now they’re heading to the farm to take on jobs as cow milkers. Developed in Europe, the robotic milking technology is allowing cows to be milked any time they want, simply by walking up to a robot and letting the machine do its work. And because dairy cows are almost always pregnant (in order for them to lactate), the ability to be milked more frequently goes a long way in increasing their comfort.

In addition to milking, the robotic milkers scan cows’ stomachs, gauge milking rates, and monitor such stats as the amount of milk produced, how much a cow eats, and how many steps it takes. The technology is already catching on in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York, where farmers are offering positive feedback despite the robots’ hefty price tag. According to some satisfied farmers, the robotic milkers—priced at up to $250,000 for a single unit—are worth it because of their capacity to cut labor costs and make work schedules more flexible.
Read more at The New York Times

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This Emerging Markets Credit Card Is Backed by Facebook Friends http://techonomy.com/2014/04/lenddos-credit-card-will-enable-e-commerce-emerging-markets/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/lenddos-credit-card-will-enable-e-commerce-emerging-markets/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 20:06:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16181 Bogota might soon be home to thousands more online shoppers. That’s where Lenddo introduced a “social network” Visa card to 100,000 of its customers yesterday afternoon. By 3:00 p.m. yesterday in New York, where the online lender for developing countries is based, more than 1,000 Colombians had applied for the card. Lenddo CEO and co-founder Jeff Stewart calls it the first time ever, anywhere, that approval for a credit card is based on applicants’ reputations on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. In emerging markets, even a steady reliable income and good education are generally no guarantee of access to credit for members of the middle class.

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TarjetaColpatria_Alta

Bogota might soon be home to thousands more online shoppers. That’s where Lenddo introduced a “social network” Visa card to 100,000 of its customers yesterday afternoon. By 4:00 p.m. today in New York, where the online lender for developing countries is based, more than 1,000 Colombians had applied for the card.

Lenddo CEO and co-founder Jeff Stewart calls it the first time ever, anywhere, that approval for a credit card is based on applicants’ reputations on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. In emerging markets, even a steady reliable income and good education are generally no guarantee of access to credit for members of the middle class. The Lenddo-Scotiabank Visa card will thus enable many to make e-commerce transactions for the first time. Lenddo relies on data taken from consumers’ social graphs to minimize its own risk of fraud and default.

“E-commerce is really hard to do if you don’t have a credit card,” says Stewart, whose company Techonomy profiled in February. “A whole set of information and delivery resources are not available to people who can’t get credit. We believe this is an important step in fulfilling Lenddo’s mission to economically empower the middle classes of developing countries.”

Lenddo has previously operated its online lending businesses in the Philippines, Colombia, and Mexico. Stewart says that if consumers’ use of the new credit card is similar to loan recipients’ behavior, then he expects an average loan of $600 and that most debt will go toward education, home improvements, smartphones, healthcare, and medical emergencies. Those are the kinds of expenditures for which Lenddo has sought to lend. For many customers, Stewart suspects, just knowing they have access to credit will be more important than actually taking a loan. And for those who do need to take on debt, the card offers more flexibility than a typical Lenddo loan. “You don’t have to take out a fixed amount and it’s easier to pay it off early,” Stewart says.

Would-be cardholders complete online applications granting Lenddo permission to access their social media data. Stewart compares it to the way players of Candy Crush Saga or FarmVille allow algorithms to access their networks. “Whom you’re connected to and how you’re connected plays a role in how much credit you have and what rate you get,” he says. “And your good payment behavior increases the likelihood that people you’re connected to will get credit.”

Does it mean prospective applicants should start culling deadbeats from their Facebook friend networks? Not necessarily, Stewart says. Lenddo’s analysis is “much more sophisticated than that,” he says. “We look at who you interact with and how you interact. We weigh interactions. Everyone’s connected to some bad actors. We weigh the strength of your connections.”

Stewart says Lenddo loans have already proven that social networks “are a really powerful way to administer financial products and risk and to get the right products to the right person.” He adds, “This card is yet another example of the power of social networks.”

Another unique aspect of the Lenddo business model, according to Stewart, is its attention to the financial health of its customers. While credit card consumers in the U.S. are often discouraged from paying attention to effective use of credit (as in, “pay no attention to the small print!”), Lenddo intends to leverage its customers’ reliance on smartphones to deliver educational content to them at the right time so they are less likely to take on an undue debt burden. That’s good for Lenddo, Stewart says: “People who learn about financial health end up being better borrowers.”

Lenddo’s bet is that building trust and providing quality services will help it develop lifelong customers. “We look at this as a long-term relationship,” Stewart adds. “We should be able to help them for years to come get the right financial product.

This deeper implication of the success of Lenddo’s approach, Stewart says, “is that the financial services industry is about to have its Napster moment.” Once everyone in the world has access to social mobile lending, he asks: “Why do we need [bank] branches? We saw what social networks did to media and news and music. This card is just another example of that.”

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Tomorrow’s Sci-Fi Tech Excites Us … and Scares Us http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tomorrows-sci-fi-tech-excites-us-scares-us/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tomorrows-sci-fi-tech-excites-us-scares-us/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:09:31 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16176 For all the technological change Americans have witnessed in recent decades, from space travel to smartphones, we know much more is coming. And we’re only happy about some of it. A study by the Pew Research Center released last week finds that while Americans are generally optimistic about science and technology in the long term, we’re more pessimistic about in the short term. The report culled data from a survey of 1,001 adults, with questions that attempted to get at the heart of attitudes toward closer-term advances—like bioengineering and robotics—and longer-term possibilities like space colonization and teleportation.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

By John Grgrurich

For all the technological change Americans have witnessed in recent decades, from space travel to smartphones, we know much more is coming. And we’re only happy about some of it.

A study by the Pew Research Center released last week finds that while Americans are generally optimistic about science and technology in the long term, we’re more pessimistic about in the short term. The report culled data from a survey of 1,001 adults, with questions that attempted to get at the heart of attitudes toward closer-term advances—like bioengineering and robotics—and longer-term possibilities like space colonization and teleportation.

Per the study, 63 percent of Americans aren’t happy about the idea of commercial or personal drones flying around over their heads. And 53 percent of respondents don’t like the notion of wearing devices that stream information about the world around them. Only 20 percent of those polled find the idea of eating lab-grown meat palatable.

Of course, these technological developments are all already here or on the very near horizon. At the end of last year, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos floated the idea of using drones to deliver the online retail giant’s packages. Bezos maintains he’s serious about it, though the news was initially received with a great deal of skepticism and a few derisive laughs. But recent acquisitions of drone manufacturers by both Google and Facebook make it clear the prospect of a machine-filled sky is anything but a laughing matter for those concerned about it.

TFT_FINALA lab-grown hamburger has already been served to at least one adventurous taste tester in London, while most smartphone users seem eternally glued to their devices—capable of delivering as much news, weather data and social media goings on as the eyes can take.

Along these lines, 65 percent of Americans said they aren’t looking forward to the possibility they may be cared for by personal robots in their dotage, but in Japan the government is already promoting the use of nursing care robots for the sick and elderly.

The Future Will Be Great, So Long as It Stays “the Future”

Looking farther down the road, respondents turned much more optimistic and cheery about potential advances in science and technology.

“Overall, most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society,” the study states. Nearly 60 percent “are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better,” Pew reports, while 30 percent “think these changes will lead to a future in which people are worse off than they are today.”

Four out of five Americans surveyed think those in need of new organs will be able have them “custom grown” in a lab, while 51 percent of respondents think machines will be able to create art that is “indistinguishable from that produced by humans.” (Though no one seems to have asked whether computers being able to produce art on par with Beethoven, Shakespeare or Picasso is a sign of progress or a sign of the apocalypse.)

Men in general are more optimistic than women about what science and technology has in store for the human race, while men with a college degree are even more so: Fully 79 percent of respondents in this group expect that technology will lead to a brighter future. And while you might expect older people to have a more pessimistic outlook on the long-term effects of science and technology than the young, both groups are equally positive about its potential effects.

The public does temper its long-term cheeriness with doubts about technology’s limits. Only 39 percent of respondents believe that the ability to teleport objects—a la “Star Trek—will happen, and just 33 percent think humans will colonize other planets in the given time frame. Being able to control the weather is given even worse odds by respondents, with a mere 19 percent rating that as likely.

On the one-part good news, one-part bad news front, Google will have to live with the fact that Americans are split almost evenly on the notion of driverless cars, though both California and Nevada have already approved the use of such vehicles. Google’s driverless Prius and Lexus cars in general garner the most media attention in this space, though Audi and BMW are also part of the mix.

Finally, the possibility of owning a flying car, personal spacecraft, jet pack or hoverboard doesn’t get much traction with Americans, with positive responses for each registering only in the single digits. Maybe most amusingly, when it comes to this kind of cutting-edge tech, the study reveals that most Americans are comfortable with someone else being the guinea pig.

Brain implants that may improve memory? Sounds like a neat idea. You go first. 

This article originally appeared in The Fiscal Times. More from The Fiscal Times:

Surprising Foods of the Future

Everything You Wanted to Know About Drones

How to Squish the Heartbleed Bug and Keep Your Info Safe

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How Tencent Uses WeChat to Target Alibaba http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tencent-uses-wechat-target-alibaba/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tencent-uses-wechat-target-alibaba/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:19:03 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16169 Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s worries about the rapid rise of mobile instant messaging service WeChat appear to be well founded, with word that Tencent’s wildly popular platform will create an exclusive shopping channel for Alibaba’s chief rival JD.com. This kind of deal must certainly be Ma’s biggest nightmare, as it will instantly link JD, China’s second largest e-commerce company, with the hundreds of millions of young Chinese who regularly use WeChat to communicate. What’s more, WeChat has shown itself quite capable of converting its users into shoppers who could easily become JD customers.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s worries about the rapid rise of mobile instant messaging service WeChat appear to be well founded, with word that Tencent’s wildly popular platform will create an exclusive shopping channel for Alibaba’s chief rival JD.com. This kind of deal must certainly be Ma’s biggest nightmare, as it will instantly link JD, China’s second largest e-commerce company, with the hundreds of millions of young Chinese who regularly use WeChat to communicate. What’s more, WeChat has shown itself quite capable of converting its users into shoppers who could easily become JD customers.

Jack Ma probably didn’t envision this particular tie-up when he declared last year that WeChat posed a major threat and launched an aggressive promotion for Laiwang, Alibaba’s own rival mobile instant messaging service. That’s because Tencent and JD.com were still e-commerce rivals at that time, even though both trailed well behind Alibaba’s 50 percent share of China’s B2C e-commerce market.

Since then, however, Tencent and JD.com have become strategic partners with their signing of a deal last month that saw the former buy 15 percent of the latter. The two companies have recently pooled their e-commerce business into a single platform with about a quarter of the B2C market. Following that alliance, it was almost inevitable that the pair would form this kind of tie-up that will make JD.com WeChat’s main e-commerce partner.

According to the latest reports, JD will get high-level access to WeChat under their new agreement. That will allow JD to set up a shopping channel that will reside on one of WeChat’s 3 main home pages, alongside the highly popular “Moments” service, known in Chinese by its more common name of pengyouquan.

As a regular WeChat user, I can testify that Moments is one of WeChat’s most popular features, allowing friends to share photos, video clips and links to articles, similar to the News Feed feature on Facebook. Placement of the JD shopping channel in such a prominent place means that most of WeChat’s users are likely to see the new service, and many may be tempted to try it out.

Tencent already showed it can convert users to shoppers on WeChat when it launched a highly popular red packet promotion during the Chinese new year. That promotion allowed users to send virtual cash-filled envelopes or hongbao to friends and relatives over WeChat, and more than 5 million users input their credit and cash card data to use the service. I expect we’ll probably see more similar promotions on WeChat this year and next, as Tencent works hard to start making some money from the service.

I’ll be watching closely to see if and when the JD channel shows up on WeChat, but do expect we will probably see it appear within the next few weeks. I also expect we could hear an official announcement in the not-too-distant future, as JD gets set to make a New York IPO to raise up to $1.5 billion. JD will need this kind of positive news to stir up buzz, especially following the tepid performance last week of the IPO for Sina’s popular Weibo microblogging service.

This latest JD-Tencent tie-up on WeChat does indeed look like quite a positive development, and could rekindle some of the waning investor interest in Chinese Internet companies on Wall Street. Accordingly, I would expect to see JD announce this new WeChat tie-up and try to launch its public listing either this week or next before investor sentiment fades further still.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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eBay’s Devin Wenig on Tech’s Destruction … and Humanism http://techonomy.com/2014/04/ebays-devin-wenig-techs-destruction-humanism/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/ebays-devin-wenig-techs-destruction-humanism/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 14:26:25 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16165 "While tech is sometimes thought of as a sector or a niche, it's increasingly clear that tech is the economy and tech is the transformative force," says Devin Wenig, president of eBay's global e-commerce business. As tech reinvents industries, jobs, and processes, and changes how people work and act, companies that want to succeed must learn to accept creative destruction. "Any time you go through a disruption, you end up with winners and losers," said Wenig, who joined us at a Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. "But I do believe it's a positive-sum game," he added. And he says that in this game, humans, not just machines, are winning. "I don't think the world coming is all full of drones and robots.... It can be amazingly humanistic," Wenig said.

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“While tech is sometimes thought of as a sector or a niche, it’s increasingly clear that tech is the economy and tech is the transformative force,” says Devin Wenig, president of eBay’s global e-commerce business. As tech reinvents industries, jobs, and processes, and changes how people work and act, companies that want to succeed must learn to accept creative destruction. “Any time you go through a disruption, you end up with winners and losers,” said Wenig, who joined us at a Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. “But I do believe it’s a positive-sum game,” he added. And he says that in this game, humans, not just machines, are winning. “I don’t think the world coming is all full of drones and robots…. It can be amazingly humanistic,” Wenig said. “It’s about connection; it’s about allowing people around the globe to get closer; it’s about allowing people on opposite sides of supply and demand to meet each other, who never would have had the opportunity.”

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63 Companies Bent on Transforming Healthcare http://techonomy.com/2014/04/63-companies-bent-transforming-healthcare/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/63-companies-bent-transforming-healthcare/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:31:59 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16144 When serial entrepreneurs Unity Stoakes and Steven Krein set out to build a digital health company, they quickly discovered that entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector face a unique set of challenges: daunting regulations, privacy issues, long sales cycles, and industry-wide resistance to change. So they shifted their attention to creating a platform that lets healthcare entrepreneurs innovate more easily. With support from former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin and other high-powered investors including Esther Dyson and Mark Cuban, in partnership with Steve Case’s Startup America, and with applause from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Stoakes and Krein established StartUp Health in 2011. Stoakes describes the company as part community, part knowledge base, and part academy offering a structured curriculum to help CEOs and founders, calling his audience “Healthcare Transformers.”

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StartUp Health co-founder Unity Stoakes.

StartUp Health co-founder Unity Stoakes.

Serial entrepreneurs Unity Stoakes and Steven Krein were bit by the Health 2.0 bug after successfully launching dot-coms and Internet technology companies for more than a decade. But when they set out to build a digital health company, they quickly discovered that “being an entrepreneur in the healthcare sector is different than being an entrepreneur in any other sector,” Krein says in an online video.

Their idea was to create digital offices for health professionals. But their venture, Organized Wisdom, faced daunting regulations, privacy challenges, long sales cycles, and industry-wide resistance to change. The process that was necessary to create pilot programs, establish partnerships, and raise capital was painfully slow compared to their dot-com past. “We discovered that it’s incredibly difficult to innovate and build a modern health tech company,” Stoakes says.

Four years into the endeavor, board chairman Jerry Levin, the former Time Warner CEO, “challenged us with a big question,” Stoakes says. It was “How could we be much more disruptive and help the whole healthcare ecosystem evolve?”

He and Krein proposed building for other startups something they would have liked to have had access to themselves. It would be a platform that would have let them innovate more easily when they came to the healthcare industry as new entrepreneurs. The model that incubators and accelerators use to help other tech startups doesn’t work in health tech, Stoakes says: “Those are all short-term programs offering low levels of capital.” Here, he says, startups require much more funding and support to survive a longer sales cycle.

With support from Levin and other high-powered investors including Esther Dyson and Mark Cuban, in partnership with Steve Case’s Startup America, and with applause from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they established StartUp Health in 2011. Stoakes describes the private company as part community, part knowledge base, and part academy offering a structured curriculum to help CEOs and founders. He calls his audience “Healthcare Transformers.”

The long-term coaching program now helps enrollees scale their businesses, develop leadership skills, and gain access to investors, customers, talent, and partners committed to healthcare innovation. Up to 20 applicants are accepted each quarter to the 3-year program and StartUp Health takes between 2 and 10 percent equity in each company it accepts.

Declares the StartUp Health website: “The best way to improve healthcare in America is to provide health and wellness entrepreneurs with ongoing inspiration, education, and access to customers, capital, and other critical resources so that startups can innovate more quickly.” The goal? “To help 1,000 Health Transformers build sustainable-growth businesses over the next decade,” the statement continues.

The first 3-year term is still underway, but of 63 companies in the portfolio, Stoakes says 75 percent have raised seed funding of at least $500,000. That’s a total of $130 million. And three have already been acquired. Gene by Gene bought genome sequence analysis startup Arpeggi a few months after it became one of the first 13 StartUp Health enrollees; WebMD bought patient management software company Avado in November 2013; and last month Intel acquired Basis Science, maker of a $200 wearable fitness tracker, for a rumored $100 million. Now, Basis’s newly wealthy and unoccupied founder, Nadeem Kassam, is serving as StartUp Health’s first Healthcare Transformer in Residence. “We’re seeing early signs that the model is working,” says Stoakes proudly.

What did it take for those 63 to win entry to the program, when more than 2,000 applicants from 22 countries tried? Stoakes says StartUp Health seeks out innovative teams as much as ideas. “We want entrepreneurs who have the passion and perseverance to make it through the months and years it takes to build” a healthcare company, he says.

Among the 16-member class announced on April 10 is StartUp Health’s first India-based enrollee—SmartRx, a customer-relationship management platform for healthcare businesses; Galway, Ireland, startup Pocket Anatomy, which offers visual patient education software; Toronto-based Shift Health, in the “low literacy healthcare communication” sub-sector; and 13 U.S. companies offering everything from wearable sensors to cloud-based genome analysis.

Stoakes says the program accelerates theses companies’ growth in part by enabling them to cross-pollinate globally. “We partner with industry, government, and key stakeholders in healthcare to give access to young companies and help them find partners and great investors early,” he says. Member companies who have been out for Series A or B rounds of financing share what they’ve seen, what terms they’re being offered, and which investors are most helpful. “Everyone in the network helps each other. It becomes really powerful to share this information as a group,” Stoakes says.

StartUp Health also gives its entrepreneurs access to a database that tracks $8 billion in digital health funding. A 24-person staff maintains it, categorizing every investment by sector and investor.

Though StartUp Health was born of the challenges he and Krein faced just four years ago, “the game has changed since then,” Stoakes says. He points to four “macro conditions” that are creating a global phenomenon, and that make his investors confident the next decade is going to be huge: “Health reform is changing business models; high costs and an aging population are creating demand; a digital revolution means that iPads, sensors, genetics, and big data are making things possible that once were not; and a new golden age of entrepreneurship is drawing the best entrepreneurs into healthcare.” That is good news for all of us, given how much room there is for improvement in the sector.

Learn more about the 16 healthcare companies accepted this week into the StartUp Health program here.

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How You Are Hurt by FDA Genetic Test Restrictions http://techonomy.com/2014/04/hurt-fda-genetic-test-restrictions/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/hurt-fda-genetic-test-restrictions/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:43:42 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16121 These are boom times for progress in genetic testing, but restrictions limiting access are delaying benefits we could all be experiencing right now. The National Institutes of Health maintains a Genetic Testing Registry, which currently lists some 15,000 available genetic tests. Together, they can single out 2,800 genes for some 4,000 medical conditions—and that’s not factoring in the rapidly growing exome or genome sequencing tests that look at all known genes. With so many tests out there, there’s a good chance that one exists to scan for whatever diseases may run in your family. But you may not be able to get those tests. Direct consumer access has always been tricky in U.S. medicine, and the FDA’s crackdown on consumer genetic testing firm 23andMe last year has providers running scared.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

These are boom times for progress in genetic testing, but restrictions limiting access are delaying benefits we could all be experiencing right now.

The National Institutes of Health maintains a Genetic Testing Registry, which currently lists some 15,000 available genetic tests. Together, they can single out 2,800 genes for some 4,000 medical conditions—and that’s not factoring in the rapidly growing exome or genome sequencing tests that look at all known genes. With so many tests out there, there’s a good chance that one exists to scan for whatever diseases may run in your family.

But you may not be able to get those tests. Direct consumer access has always been tricky in U.S. medicine, and the FDA’s crackdown on consumer genetic testing firm 23andMe last year has providers running scared. The way such companies protect themselves from FDA pushback is by requiring a physician to serve as an intermediary between you and the test. This expert will, in theory, ensure that the right test is taken by the right patient and then explain the results in a clear and digestible way.

There are a few problems with this approach. The first is the assumption that your physician actually is an expert in ordering and reviewing genetic tests. In fact, many independent surveys of doctors—including primary care physicians and specialists—reveal that the vast majority are not confident in their own knowledge about genetic testing and in their ability to recommend it when appropriate. (In study after study, less than 20 percent rank themselves “highly confident.”) When it comes to their confidence in understanding and explaining results of such tests, those numbers get even worse.

That’s not the fault of physicians. Most doctors today were educated before genomics really took off, and the details of these often-complex tests were simply not part of their medical school curriculum. Even among those who are well versed in genomics, none could be an expert in all 15,000 tests, or the new ones that launch daily.

The onus has landed on patients, who must learn about the availability of a genetic test and then lobby their doctors to order it on their behalf. But that’s not a sure thing. Your opinion of the need for a test and your doctor’s might be different, and many physicians will resist administering a test if they believe it will not result in medically-actionable information. Meanwhile, insurance companies, wary of a flood of unnecessary and expensive genetic testing, are implementing restrictions of their own. Some will not cover genetic tests ordered by primary care physicians; they insist on prescriptions from medical geneticists, who are in such short supply that it can take months for patients to even get an appointment.

The mandatory requirement for a physician to participate in the testing process is based on a proven fallacy: the idea that consumers will be so baffled or panicked by results that they may, in effect, jump off a building (or at least seriously overreact). Scientists have carefully examined reactions by people to, say, results of a test for risk of Alzheimer’s disease—one of the scariest conditions associated with a current test. The research found that people react pretty much the same whether they get extensive genetic counseling or just a sheet of paper with their results. And in general, people in these studies have shown themselves to be remarkably resilient, shaking off even very bad news with virtually no long-term change to their state of mind.

Indeed, tests such as the one for Alzheimer’s can be useful to people in their estate planning and in other ways that physicians and insurance companies would not consider medically useful. There is a rapidly growing market of people who are interested in these tests and even willing to pay for them out of pocket, but because of the FDA-imposed physician requirement these people have few places to turn.

Until this gets sorted out, the current situation is likely to produce some bad outcomes.

One is that genetic testing companies may increasingly choose to locate in other countries with different medical requirements. Paralleling the growing trend for “medical tourism,” wealthier people may skirt US restrictions by traveling abroad for tests. This will exacerbate the access inequality that is already a serious problem in US healthcare.

Another likely scenario is that current restrictions will throttle growth of the genetic testing industry. Under a direct-to-consumer model, testing companies would quickly gather enough information on how people choose tests, whether their choices make sense, how much they will pay, and what they do with the results. Such data is crucial for insurance companies, medical centers, and even FDA to sort out best practices and policies.

To be sure, we have reached a point where certain genetic tests are now mainstream. Testing is routine for breast cancer risk in a woman with a family history, as is prenatal testing for chromosomal abnormalities. But don’t expect to be able to order such tests without the supervision of a physician anytime soon. And also don’t expect you’ll be able to learn much more about the health risk secrets stored in your genome until more progressive American thinking prevails.

 

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Is Inequality an Unavoidable Consequence of Innovation? http://techonomy.com/2014/04/innovation-always-good-thing/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/innovation-always-good-thing/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 18:20:08 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16102 The economics of innovation and its impact on society was the theme of the annual economists' pow-wow in Toronto last weekend, the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference. And there was no presumption that it is, on the whole, a plus. Authoritative speakers at the three-day conference included former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and James Heckman, former co-CEO of Research In Motion Jim Balsillie, and Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane. But the event's opening keynote featured a panel of experts who explored the duality inherent in innovations that create new inventions, products, sources of demand, and markets while simultaneously imposing job losses and "significant distributional consequences for society." Read more at TIME

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

The economics of innovation and its impact on society was the theme of the annual economists’ pow-wow in Toronto last weekend, the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference. And there was no presumption that it is, on the whole, a plus.

Authoritative speakers at the three-day conference included former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and James Heckman, former co-CEO of Research In Motion Jim Balsillie, and Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane. But the event’s opening keynote featured a panel of experts who explored the duality inherent in innovations that create new inventions, products, sources of demand, and markets while simultaneously imposing job losses and “significant distributional consequences for society.”

Reporting from Toronto for Time Magazine, Rana Foroohar noted that among the issues the economists sought to address was: “…how can we make sure that the benefits of the digital economy–which currently accrue mostly to the top quarter of society–are more equally shared?”

By way of demonstrating the way innovation is widening the gap, Foroohar writes:

“People who make their living interacting with technology and the digital world make a median salary of $74,000 a year. Those that don’t make $34,000. Women and minorities (with the exception of Asians) lag behind. Seventy percent of people in the ‘innovation economy’ are non-Hispanic whites. And even for women with technology degrees, there’s a big pay differential. Men in the innovation economy make $80,000 per year and women make $53,000, in part because they tend to be concentrated in areas like life sciences, which pay less than physics or engineering or computer science.”

Also last week, in a conversation about the fallout of the Heartbleed bug on WNYC’s Money Talking, Foroohar shared a stat gleaned from the Toronto meeting:

“It’s only the top quarter of the socioeconomic ladder that really believes in technology and trusts it. And it’s no surprise, because that’s the group of people who are receiving the most benefits from it. These are the people who are part of the innovation economy that are seeing their wages and jobs improving because of the Internet,” she said.

For the majority of society that is feeling crunched by technology, she said, “Innovations can produce a sense of dread and despair and fear.”

Read more at TIME

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U.S. Intelligence Community Supports Sharper Satellite Images http://techonomy.com/2014/04/u-s-intelligence-community-supports-sharper-satellite-images/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/u-s-intelligence-community-supports-sharper-satellite-images/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:51:49 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16100 In the increasingly competitive business of satellite imaging, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe is getting a welcome boost from some powerful friends. U.S. government agencies, particularly those in the intelligence sector, have traditionally worried that allowing private companies such as DigitalGlobe to sell increasingly high-resolution images could undermine one of the government’s key strategic advantages on the geopolitical scene. However, in light of advances made by non-U.S. satellite imaging companies, the intelligence community is now supporting DigitalGlobe’s push to make those higher resolution images publicly available on the open market. Why? Market share and global competitiveness. Read more at Reuters

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DigitalGlobe offers a range of high-resolution satellite images.

DigitalGlobe offers a range of high-resolution satellite images.

In the increasingly competitive business of satellite imaging, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe is getting a welcome boost from some powerful friends. U.S. government agencies, particularly those in the intelligence sector, have traditionally worried that allowing private companies such as DigitalGlobe to sell increasingly high-resolution images could undermine one of the government’s key strategic advantages on the geopolitical scene. However, in light of advances made by non-U.S. satellite imaging companies, the intelligence community is now supporting DigitalGlobe’s push to make those higher resolution images publicly available on the open market. Why? Market share and global competitiveness. Walter Scott, DigitalGlobe’s founder and CTO and a participant at Techonomy’s 2013 conference, was quoted as saying, “DigitalGlobe appreciates the intelligence community’s support for reforms to the current U.S. regulations…. We are hopeful that the administration will act promptly on this issue to advance the nation’s commanding lead in this strategically important industry.” If approved, the new resolutions made available could allow images in which users could not only see a vehicle from space but identify what specific make of vehicle it was.

Read more at Reuters

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Kirkpatrick: Amazon Smartphone Move “Brilliant” http://techonomy.com/2014/04/kirkpatrick-amazon-smartphone-move-brilliant/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/kirkpatrick-amazon-smartphone-move-brilliant/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 21:42:11 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16088 Come September, the hottest phone on the market might not be the iPhone, Galaxy, or Nexus, but a new 3D-capable smartphone developed by none other than Amazon. The Internet behemoth has been considering making a foray into the smartphone market, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, and is likely to publicly announce plans in June and go to market as early as September. Techonomy's David Kirkpatrick spoke on Bloomberg Surveillance on Monday about Amazon's possible push into smartphones, calling the move "brilliant" and noting its potential for connecting customer relations with mobile payments. "If you were trying to keep an ongoing relationship for all kinds of commercial relationships with everybody, you have to have a phone," Kirkpatrick said. And for companies hoping to get a return from consumers, transactions are paramount.

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Come September, the hottest phone on the market might not be the iPhone, Galaxy, or Nexus, but a new 3D-capable smartphone developed by none other than Amazon. The Internet behemoth has been considering making a foray into the smartphone market, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, and is likely to publicly announce plans in June and go to market as early as September.
Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick spoke on Bloomberg Surveillance on Monday about Amazon’s possible push into smartphones, calling the move “brilliant” and noting its potential for connecting customer relations with mobile payments. ”If you were trying to keep an ongoing relationship for all kinds of commercial relationships with everybody, you have to have a phone,” Kirkpatrick, who is also a Bloomberg contributing editor, said. And for companies hoping to get a return from consumers, transactions are paramount. ”You want to be in the position where you get into the transaction because that’s where money is,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s much bigger than putting ads in front of people’s faces.”

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McKinsey’s Michael Chui on How Tech Transforms the Economy http://techonomy.com/2014/04/mckinseys-michael-chui-tech-transforms-economy/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/mckinseys-michael-chui-tech-transforms-economy/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:35:12 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16085 For insight into big emerging tech trends, look beyond Silicon Valley and Alley, said McKinsey's Michael Chui at a recent Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. The developing world is about to jump into the innovation economy. "Only half of the people that we can possibly connect in the world are actually connected." Once those people get connected, he believes, the world will see double the innovation it sees today, as potential innovators in now-developing countries get online. This expansion of connectivity will be enabled by the global mobile revolution, or what Chui called "the proliferation of form factors"—ranging from tablets and phablets to appliances and cars. Chui pointed to education, healthcare, and public services as sectors of the economy with the greatest potential to gain efficiency as they are transformed by tech.

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For insight into big emerging tech trends, look beyond Silicon Valley and Alley, said McKinsey’s Michael Chui at a recent Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. The developing world is about to jump into the innovation economy. “Only half of the people that we can possibly connect in the world are actually connected.” Once those people get connected, he believes, the world will see double the innovation it sees today, as potential innovators in now-developing countries get online. This expansion of connectivity will be enabled by the global mobile revolution, or what Chui called “the proliferation of form factors”—ranging from tablets and phablets to appliances and cars. Chui pointed to education, healthcare, and public services as sectors of the economy with the greatest potential to gain efficiency as they are transformed by tech.

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Legislation a Top Priority in Cybersecurity Fight Says RSA’s Coviello http://techonomy.com/2014/04/legislation-top-priority-cybersecurity-fight-says-rsas-coviello/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/legislation-top-priority-cybersecurity-fight-says-rsas-coviello/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:36:47 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16076 Cybersecurity expert and RSA executive chairman Art Coviello says it's crucial for privacy advocates and industry leaders to come together to create modern laws to protect society from cybercrime. But the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, also known as CISPA and the Rogers-Ruppersberger Bill, was introduced in Congress in 2011. And while the House of Representatives has passed it twice, the bill still languishes in the Senate. In part two of a conversation recorded at Techonomy's recent Data Security Lab, Coviello talks about the responsibilities both of the government and of private companies that have suffered security breaches.

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Cybersecurity expert and RSA executive chairman Art Coviello says it’s crucial for privacy advocates and industry leaders to come together to create modern laws to protect society from cybercrime. But the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, also known as CISPA and the Rogers-Ruppersberger Bill, was introduced in Congress in 2011. And while the House of Representatives has passed it twice, the bill still languishes in the Senate. In part two of a conversation recorded at Techonomy’s recent Data Security Lab, Coviello talks about the responsibilities both of the government and of private companies that have suffered security breaches.

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Can Mobile Apps Heal American Healthcare? http://techonomy.com/2014/04/can-mobile-apps-heal-american-healthcare/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/can-mobile-apps-heal-american-healthcare/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:26:24 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16034 What do smartphones have to do with medical care? Ask any doctor who has called in pharmacy prescriptions from a golf course, reviewed brain-imaging results in a taxi, or video-chatted with emergency room physicians in another city. Or ask PointClear Solutions, an Atlanta-headquartered custom healthcare software development company that recently acquired NYC-based app developer, Worry Free Labs (profiled here last summer). We did, when we spoke with PointClear CEO David Karabinos about the acquisition and the future of mobile apps for patient care.

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PC_David_KarabinosWhat do smartphones have to do with medical care? Ask any doctor who has called in pharmacy prescriptions from a golf course, reviewed brain-imaging results in a taxi, or video-chatted with emergency room physicians in another city. Or ask PointClear Solutions, an Atlanta-headquartered custom healthcare software development company that recently acquired NYC-based app developer, Worry Free Labs (profiled here last summer). We did, when we spoke with PointClear CEO David Karabinos about the acquisition and the future of mobile apps for patient care.

Why does a healthcare software company acquire a mobile app developer?

We develop enterprise and web applications for clients like Walgreens, the Centers for Disease Control, and Greenway Medical Technologies. We especially seek to work with VC-backed companies that are trying to innovate healthcare. All of them want to provide mobile experiences for patient care. We’ve done some of that in-house, but the demand is so strong that I felt we needed to develop that competency through an acquisition.

If you look at mobile apps on a continuum left to right, on the left side are intensely high-touch consumer apps like Angry Birds or apps that are very much business-to-consumer. These apps are consumer driven, and you’ve got to get it right. On the other end of the continuum, all industries are developing mobile apps defensively, just to say they have one. Frankly, many of those are not very good; companies are just throwing them out there.

One thing we really liked about Worry Free Labs is that they have developed apps for Disney and Apple—very discerning clients. We want to take Worry Free Labs’ experience developing high-touch user experience apps and apply that to healthcare, around patient and consumer engagement in healthcare.

We’re not trying to sell mobile apps commercially. Our strategy is to continue being a services company that develops apps for small, medium, and large companies.

Yours is a rare software company that employs nurses.

We apply a heavy dose of user experience and clinical skill set knowledge and competency. The team includes people with patient-care experience, including nurses who got involved in technology products during their careers and jumped the fence to focus on technology instead of healthcare delivery.

(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

What do you think the future holds for consumer experience in healthcare technologies?

In the last 5 years there’s been a wave of tech adoption in healthcare, primarily forced by public policy and laws such as the Affordable Care Act and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

There’s been a big gulp of technology adoption by the healthcare provider community. This wave of forced adoption is going to end in 2017 because the HITECH law says that’s when doctors must have adopted electronic health records or their Medicare benefits will be cut.

The healthcare industry has been a laggard. So the question is, how is the industry going to react? Are they going to say, “we’re good, we’re done with this,” or will they say, “we want more innovation; we’re going to continue on this journey”?

We believe healthcare innovation will be among the top five areas where venture capital will be applied—in particular around healthcare consumers and doctors and clinicians. I’m a VC guy, and I ping my network all the time to cultivate their opinions, so this is a somewhat informed opinion.

On the consumer side you hear about patient empowerment and engagement. It’s been lip service, but these things take time. The big game changer is going to be the advent and deployment of really good mobile apps to help consumers in purchasing and managing health insurance and healthcare.

Obamacare is forcing consumers to be more engaged in purchasing health insurance. Over the next several years, employers are going to abandon the existing model and force employees to go buy their own insurance. This is a sea change. Consumers are going to have the tools and access to go shopping for insurance, to make choices.

My thesis is that mobile apps are going to overtake web apps over time. As a consumer, I want to engage with my healthcare provider, make appointments, renew subscriptions, and see lab results through my mobile device. Those are transactional things that matter to me. I don’t want to go to a website, log in and wade through a complicated set of screens. I think mobile apps are going to have a huge impact on how patients as consumers take more responsibility and get more engaged with their health care.

What are some examples of apps you see PointClear developing?

We’re already developing them. Our client Walgreens bought Take Care Health Systems a few years ago. They run employer-based clinics. Companies including Intel, Microsoft, and HP are outsourcing to systems like Take Care Health to provide healthcare to employees at clinics on their own campuses. PointClear has developed portals for all of that to work.

Walgreens is strategically shifting from being a retail pharmacy to a healthcare provider. They’re not only putting these clinics inside their stores, but they’re providing family and chronic care. We’ve developed apps for that business, such as mobile appointment reminders.

Other apps we’re developing are around doctors and clinicians at medical practices and hospitals. These apps won’t be just inside the healthcare facility, but helpful in the delivery of healthcare around the clock. Here’s one example: I play golf, and a lot of my buddies are doctors. On a Saturday morning I cannot tell you how many times we’re walking down the fairway and one of them is on the phone, texting, or calling in a prescription to a pharmacy. Mobile apps are going to replace that analog experience with a digital experience where the doctor can click a few buttons and be engaged with a patient through the app on the golf course.

We’ve also developed apps that interface with a lot of devices and fitness applications. At PointClear we target anybody interested in innovation, and that comes in small, medium, and large flavors.

We do have clients that are taking quantum leaps or creating destructive innovation. An example of that is a client that has developed groundbreaking 3D scanning technology and is applying it to the hearing-aid market, which, by the way, is huge.

Traditionally, if you need a custom hearing aid, you have a mold of your ear cast and sent off to have the device made. The process takes weeks and when you get it back it may or may not be the right fit.

Our client has developed a scanner called Otoscan. They put it next to your ear and it creates a 3D rendering of the inside of your ear. We’ve developed the technology to take that through to order fulfillment. The cycle time becomes hours, not weeks. It’s going to be disruptive. It will be brought to market by United Sciences, the largest distributor of hearing aids, and will be in doctors’ offices in the next six months.

As an investor in this space, as well as a CEO, what else excites you?

I really like the Healthcare Unbound segment of healthcare, and Health 2.0, where communities of companies and investors are looking at technology for delivering care outside of traditional facilities.

Telehealth is a big one, and adoption of that is finally accelerating. The insurance industry now says telehealth has proven itself, so they’ll start paying for it. It took off originally in rural settings, but now it’s taking off even in urban areas. The main apps there are not only for doctor-patient engagement, but to enable doctor-to-doctor consultations about patients.

[Ed. Note: To learn more about what Karabinos and other investors are looking for in healthcare technology companies, check out a free webinar panel discussion he will host on Wednesday, April 16, at 2:00 pm EDT, with three healthcare technology venture capitalists.] 

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Programming Trees to Self-Destruct Could Save Energy http://techonomy.com/2014/04/programming-trees-self-destruct-save-energy/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/programming-trees-self-destruct-save-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 20:18:25 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16070 Mother Earth could benefit from the degradation of, oddly enough, one of her own, as scientists search for ways to deteriorate trees in order to improve industrial processes. New research shows that by weakening the walls of plant cells we can render them more susceptible to deconstruction during industrial processing, making procedures like pulping, paper-making, and biofuel production less wasteful and more energy efficient. To degrade plant structures, researchers redesigned the polymer that fortifies plant cell walls, lignin, using high heat and alkaline treatments to weaken bonds between molecules. Read more at Science

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Mother Earth could benefit from the degradation of, oddly enough, one of her own, as scientists search for ways to deteriorate trees in order to improve industrial processes. New research shows that by weakening the walls of plant cells we can render them more susceptible to deconstruction during industrial processing, making procedures like pulping, paper-making, and biofuel production less wasteful and more energy efficient. To degrade plant structures, researchers redesigned the polymer that fortifies plant cell walls, lignin, using high heat and alkaline treatments to weaken bonds between molecules. The study, published last week in Science magazine, was a joint project of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, and the University of British Columbia-Vancouver.

Read more at Science

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We’re One Step Closer to Robots on the Battlefield http://techonomy.com/2014/04/one-step-closer-robots-battlefield/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/one-step-closer-robots-battlefield/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:39:27 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16062 Last week, the robotics industry made a huge leap forward, with the Navy announcing that it planned to test a humanoid robot built to fight fires at sea this August. The robot, called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) and developed by a team of scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory, Virginia Tech, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most advanced robotic machines ever developed.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

By David Francis

Last week, the robotics industry made a huge leap forward, with the Navy announcing that it planned to test a humanoid robot built to fight fires at sea this August.

The robot, called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) and developed by a team of scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory, Virginia Tech, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most advanced robotic machines ever developed. There are two versions of the robot—one that stands five feet tall was a simple legs and control mechanisms. Its six-foot tall brother is more advanced, capable of complicated locomotion.

During the test, to be conducted at a ship graveyard in Alabama, the robots are expected to keep its balance on a moving boat; turn valves; pick up, haul and turn on a hose, and then turn the water toward a fire. Sensors that allow the robots to essentially see through smoke using a combination of laser, stereo and infrared sensors will also be tested. The Navy also said it would test a small drone that can fly through a sub, looking for victims.

“Its upper body will be capable of manipulating fire suppressors and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades,” the Navy announced. “It is battery powered and holds enough energy for 30 minutes of firefighting. Like a sure-footed sailor, the robot will also be capable of walking in all directions, balancing in sea conditions, and traversing obstacles.”

The robots are also capable of making some autonomous decisions, including how to move their joints and where to step. A human is expected to supervise the test and will have the ability to manipulate the robot.

TFT_FINALThe Navy said the use of these robots is still years away. But their ability to perform tasks like hauling a fire hose and turning valves is not far from the skills required by a soldier on the battlefield, raising questions about the ethics of the military use of robots.

SAFFiR is just one of many robots currently being developed, and many of the projects are funded by DARPA, the secretive defense research branch of the U.S. military. DARPA is also offering a $2 million prize for companies and universities to develop robot technology.

DOD is not the only one developing robot technology, of course. Boston Dynamics, which was recently acquired by Google, is working on its own humanoid robot, and has developed a robotic mule designed to haul gear on the battlefield.

A Fine Line

The blistering pace of robotic technology development scares some within the defense and ethics communities. Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have already launched campaigns to create prohibitions against the militarization of robots.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, said in a November 2012 statement announcing the release of a study, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” He said, “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

Michael Gennert, the director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s robotics engineering program, said DOD funding of technological advances has led to amazing consumer products and services.

“A lot of technologies that DARPA funded have fabulous uses. The Internet, GPS systems, cell phones, all of this tech that was developed by DOD and used for defense purposes have great applications beyond that. This is a huge technology investment,” Gennert said.

Gennert and a team of scientists are competing in DARPA’s challenge with Atlas, a six-foot-tall, 330-pound humanoid robot, meant to respond to disasters. He said that robots like this can save lives.

“If you had that kind of robot for Fukushima, you could prevent a huge loss of life,” he said, referring to the number of sick first responders to the disaster. “In robotics, you have the same technology that might appear on the battlefield that could appear in disaster recovery.”

Building Ethics into Robotic Technology

The potential use of robots on the battlefield is certainly a concern, Gennert said. “Is it possible to weaponize a robot? It’s conceivable. Right now, and hopefully for the future, you have to have a person making decisions about firing weapons.”

Gennert said he considers robo-ethics so important that he requires all of his undergraduate robotic students to take a course on social issues connected to robotics. “It’s a university’s role … to develop the wisdom in our students and beyond to use that technology for humankind’s benefit. That’s part of our mission,” he said.

Gennert also cautioned that the use of autonomous humanoid robots is more than five years away. In the near future, he envisions the use of robotic assistants for first responders.

“It’s not hard to imagine having a robot assistant that could help [firefighters], carry a hose and extra air. It’s a bit closer in time,” he said. “You can imagine that a smoke jumping firefighting crew could carry a small reconnaissance robot, a little UAV. If they’re fighting the fire and they lost contact with it, you launch your robot, get over the trees, and you can find the fire.”

This article originally appeared in The Fiscal Times. More from The Fiscal Times:

World’s Most Lethal Drone Just Flew over Florida

Killer Robots: If No One Pulls the Trigger, Who’s to Blame?

Scramjet: DOD’s New Screaming Fast Hypersonic Weapon

Lifelong Pensions for Vets Could Be Whacked Under Pentagon Proposal

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E-Services Help Tame Manila’s Traffic Mess http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tech-helps-tame-manilas-traffic-mess/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/tech-helps-tame-manilas-traffic-mess/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:38:56 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16005 Traffic problems are acute in many of Asia’s teeming megacities. Millions in Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, and elsewhere endure commutes that can last hours each way. In Manila, where many people travel in open-air vehicles called jeepneys, the pollution can be especially evident. It will take years and many billions of pesos to fix Manila’s infrastructure, but in the meantime, new apps and websites are emerging there that can reduce strain on the city’s transit networks. They can even liberate people from the burdens of commuting altogether.

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(Photo courtesy Tigercub Digital)

Open-air jeepneys contribute to Manila’s thick pollution. (Photo courtesy Tigercub Digital)

Like many of the world’s largest and most densely populated megacities, Manila faces grinding traffic problems. The city’s overloaded highways and public transit networks subject countless people to indignities each day. Many see the situation as hopeless, but new technologies and online services may help ease the burden.

Traffic problems are acute in many of Asia’s teeming megacities. Millions in Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, and elsewhere endure commutes that can last hours each way. Rapid urbanization, poor city planning, inadequate traffic enforcement, and other factors compound the problem.

Endless gridlock poses environmental and public health risks as well. Aging cars and buses crowd the roads, spewing emissions that pollute the air and damage lungs. In Manila, where many people travel in open-air vehicles called jeepneys, the pollution can be especially evident. It’s not uncommon to see jeepney passengers holding pieces of cloth over their faces when stuck in traffic in an effort to avoid breathing the thick clouds of exhaust.

It will take years and many billions of pesos to fix Manila’s infrastructure, but in the meantime, new apps and websites are emerging there that can reduce strain on the city’s transit networks. They can even liberate people from the burdens of commuting altogether.

Tripid, a ride-sharing app funded by mobile carrier company Globe Telecom’s Kickstart Ventures, offers one potential solution. The app encourages carpooling by letting drivers earn extra cash while providing passengers a low-cost alternative to taxis and public transport. It also helps match drivers with like-minded passengers so that the driving experience can be more social and enjoyable.

A slew of taxi-booking apps that launched in Manila last year also grease the wheels of the transit system. Services like Grabtaxi, Easy Taxi, and various others make it easier to find a taxi in a city where many drivers routinely turn down passengers or force them to haggle over fares. The sites tap into unused capacity in vehicles that might otherwise be circling aimlessly for passengers.

Another set of online services enables Filipinos to find remote work, eliminating the need to commute altogether. For those living inside major cities, these services help keep people off the roads at busy hours. For those outside cities, they provide a viable alternative to urban migration, easing the strain that growing populations put on Manila and other cities.

Many digital technologies and services facilitate telecommuting, but freelance job websites have garnered special attention in the Philippines. Due to strong English-language skills, high levels of digital engagement, and other qualities, Filipinos make great hires for the kind of independent contract work that more and more companies need today. Freelance websites are expanding quickly in the country as both global employers and local job seekers wake up to the opportunity.

Most of the world’s leading freelance sites now host large virtual workforces in the Philippines. Freelancer.com, the biggest in the country, counts roughly 500,000 Filipinos onboard. Elance.com, another leading platform that is currently merging with oDesk, had more than 150,000 in 2013. A growing number of niche services, such as 199jobs and Virtual Staff Finder, also help people find freelancing gigs and let them work from anywhere.

At this point, services like Tripid and the taxi-booking apps can dramatically improve an individual’s transport experience, but add only marginal efficiencies to the broader transit system. Freelance sites keep potential commuters off the roads, but not enough to prevent traffic from turning Manila’s highways into parking lots every day.

Over time, however, tech-enabled efficiencies in transport networks might snowball. Even for perpetually gridlocked cities like Manila, traffic could eventually become just an annoying memory.

Will Greene is a writer and digital strategist whose blog, TigerMine Research, covers economic development in Southeast Asia today. He recently co-authored Perfect Digital Storm: Philippines, a new study on digital, social, and mobile trends in the Philippines today. 

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Educating Executives to Disrupt, Not Be Disrupted http://techonomy.com/2014/04/educating-executives-disrupt-disrupted/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/educating-executives-disrupt-disrupted/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:00:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16009 Much has been written about how technology is transforming education. Still more has been written about how technology is driving disruption in business. Less explored is a question posed by the intersection of those ideas: how can technology help business leaders to educate themselves about potentially disruptive opportunities and threats? The MOOC model is ripe for adaptation to deliver structured courses to business leaders, helping them to think about potentially transformational combinations of ideas at the periphery of their industries. The Forum Academy, launching this month with a course on global technology leadership, is a foray into this space. The World Economic Forum is partnering with edX to use its education delivery platform for expanding access to the kind of conversations that happen at Davos.

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The Drugs Dilemma: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business: Overview

The Forum Academy adapts the MOOC model to expand access to discussions held at WEF annual meetings.

Much has been written about how technology is transforming education. Still more has been written about how technology is driving disruption in business. Less explored is a question posed by the intersection of those ideas: how can technology help business leaders to educate themselves about potentially disruptive opportunities and threats?

Executives have always needed to keep abreast of what’s on the horizon in their industry, a need becoming more acute as technology prompts ever faster change. Traditionally, industry-specific media and corporate training met this need, focusing by their nature on an industry’s core more than on its periphery. Increasingly, though, disruption comes from the periphery. Business leaders need new mechanisms to keep on top of trends that emerge on the edges of their industries, or that cross over from different sectors altogether.

For example, start with the sharing economy. Specifically, take Airbnb, which was founded in 2008 and is now valued at about $10 billion. Airbnb connects people who possess rentable property, from spare rooms to second homes, with travellers seeking short-term accommodation. While not an exact substitute for hotel hospitality, it certainly competes. So where might a hotel executive have looked, in 2008, to be alerted to such a potential competitor?

Part of the answer: eBay. By then the auction site had popularized the idea of mutual peer-to-peer ratings of individuals’ trustworthiness as buyers and sellers. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the model could also be applied to rate the trustworthiness of individuals as guests and hosts—and that this element of trust could unlock people’s natural reticence about handing over their house keys to a stranger.

Likewise, the implications of Airbnb’s success should by now be clear to executives in, say, the car hire or tool hire industries. But these are straightforward examples of applying a model directly from one sector to another, while the most interesting and unexpectedly disruptive change often comes from combinations of diverse ideas.

So take a totally different example, such as Tesla’s rejection of the outsourcing trend in the automotive sector. It opted instead to vertically integrate by producing components in-house. In your own industry, what might happen if you combine the idea of the sharing economy with the idea of vertical integration? Possibly nothing. The point is that this is the kind of question executives need to be thinking about.

How can executives most efficiently structure their thinking about possible intersections of ideas? Encouraging discussion about emerging trends in diverse sectors is one aim of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meetings in Davos, but participation there is limited.

And that’s where the ongoing technological revolution in education comes in.

Most discussions of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, focus on their disruption of the higher education sector by offering students from around the world free access to lectures and course materials. Much less attention has been paid to the implications for lifelong learning, including in the corporate sector, though these are just as profound.

It’s not difficult to see why students might prefer to listen virtually to lectures from the best minds in the field, rather than listening in person to lectures at their local institution. The same dynamic is applicable to corporate training.

Online platforms for education have the potential to revolutionize the idea of continuous learning for executives. The MOOC model is ripe for adaptation to deliver structured courses to business leaders, helping them to think about potentially transformational combinations of ideas at the periphery of their industries.

The Forum Academy, launching this month with a course on global technology leadership, is a foray into this space. The World Economic Forum is partnering with edX to use its education delivery platform for expanding access to the kind of conversations that happen at Davos.

With time, there is potential for technology to deliver highly personalized continuous education to individual leaders. In a growing range of fields, machine learning is increasingly able to anticipate users’ needs before the users themselves are aware of them. The same principle could be harnessed to profile an executive’s learning needs and tailor an online course accordingly.

Technological change is intensifying the need for lifelong learning among executives. Fortunately, it also promises to help executives to access the learning they need.

Jeremy Jurgens is Managing Director, Chief Information and Interaction Officer, at the World Economic Forum.

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Is There a Hacker Hiding in Your Air Conditioner? http://techonomy.com/2014/04/hacker-hiding-air-conditioner/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/hacker-hiding-air-conditioner/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:29:45 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16044 Hackers will try any point of entry they can find to access private data. In a recent interview with Techonomy, RSA Security’s Art Coviello said that the number of vulnerable access points—or what he calls the “attack surface”—is growing rapidly, with the number of digitally controlled devices connected to the Internet expected to reach 200 billion by the end of this decade. The New York Times reports that hackers recently breached the computer networks of a large oil company by implanting malware in the online menu of a Chinese restaurant favored by the company’s employees. With increasingly sophisticated hackers targeting a proliferating volume of corporate data, our pervasive connectivity—through everything from heating and cooling systems to accounting software and even vending machines—presents a constant challenge to security experts. Read more at The New York Times

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Hackers will try any point of entry they can find to access private data. In a recent interview with Techonomy, RSA Security’s Art Coviello said that the number of vulnerable access points—or what he calls the “attack surface”—is growing rapidly, with the number of digitally controlled devices connected to the Internet expected to reach 200 billion by the end of this decade. The New York Times reports that hackers recently breached the computer networks of a large oil company by implanting malware in the online menu of a Chinese restaurant favored by the company’s employees.

With increasingly sophisticated hackers targeting a proliferating volume of corporate data, our pervasive connectivity—through everything from heating and cooling systems to accounting software and even vending machines—presents a constant challenge to security experts. A tiny chink in a company’s data-security armor—often through a third-party system, as in the Chinese menu case—can give hackers a huge level of access. “We constantly run into situations where outside service providers connected remotely have the keys to the castle,” Vincent Berk, chief executive at network security firm FlowTraq, told the Times. Negligence and a failure to stay up-to-date lie at the core of such vulnerabilities. Hackers target companies that run older software and fail to update the default security settings on mundane devices like videoconferencing equipment and printers.

Read more at The New York Times

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The Quantified Farm: How Fields Yield Big Data http://techonomy.com/2014/04/quantified-farm-big-data-changing-big-agriculture/ http://techonomy.com/2014/04/quantified-farm-big-data-changing-big-agriculture/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:45:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=16018 U.S. farmers working with a Minnesota company called Farm Intelligence have been harvesting more than corn and soybeans lately. Their fields, comprising about 1 million acres, have yielded close to a petabyte of data that they hope will inform smarter decisions throughout the growing season. Farm Intelligence CTO Steve Kickert tells Gigaom this week that his company "analyzes sensor data, data from other precision agriculture tools, aerial images, government data, and weather data to try and figure out what’s going on in the field." The tools provide early warnings of disease, pests, or other troubling crop conditions that farmers can act quickly on. Read more at Gigaom

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photo: The United Soybean Board

(Photo: The United Soybean Board)

U.S. farmers working with a Minnesota company called Farm Intelligence have been harvesting more than corn and soybeans lately. Their fields, comprising about 1 million acres, have yielded close to a petabyte of data that they hope will inform smarter decisions throughout the growing season.

Farm Intelligence CTO Steve Kickert tells Gigaom this week that his company “analyzes sensor data, data from other precision agriculture tools, aerial images, government data, and weather data to try and figure out what’s going on in the field.” The tools provide early warnings of disease, pests, or other troubling crop conditions that farmers can act quickly on.

On its website, Farm Intelligence asks customers: “What if you could add 30-50 bushels per acre in your corn product? Where would you look to for an opportunity to increase your soybean yields by an additional 6-10 bushels per acre? How could you identify the best opportunities for action?”

The company has trademarked the term “Decision Agriculture,” one-upping “precision agriculture,” the phrase that describes how farming operations large enough to have their own IT infrastructures have been using sensors, satellites, and drones to optimize not just crop planting and harvesting, but product distribution.

Farm Intelligence customers don’t need an internal IT team. The data are analyzed by the company’s proprietary WingScan software, stored on the cloud, and delivered to farmers’ smartphones or iPads. Kickert tells Gigaom: “Our primary and, frankly, only goal is to help the farmer … increase the yield they’re getting on their crops.”

Read more at Gigaom

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