07.22.21

Martech event is coming to South Africa

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

“Software is eating the world” as Marc Andreessen once said. This time around it’s eating the marketing world. In response to this development Vibe Martech Fest, the oldest and biggest marketing and technology event in the Middle East, has announced a special virtual edition for South Africa on the 3rd and 4th August, 2021.

Vibe Martech Fest (VMF) has been the flag-bearer of the evolution of marketing in the Middle East driven by technology. Bringing the successful franchise to South Africa aims to lead the discussion on MarTech and set the agenda for its future region.

VMF South Africa edition will present cutting-edge MarTech solutions with a practical approach. Addressing the needs and concerns of marketers at every stage of MarTech maturity. Over 300 top marketing and technology experts from South Africa are expected to attend this virtual event.

Speaking about the VMF South Africa, Ravi Raman, the editorial director had this to say “technology is changing marketing, marketers have data and they are able to turn it into insights and turn those insights into actions. These developments have inspired the martech event to close the information gap for marketers “

As in the rest of the world, the ongoing pandemic has also changed customer needs in the country, prompting new strategies of engaging with consumers. Rapid digital transformation, often led by global alignment and empowered by local consumer behaviour, has spurred on the desire to invest in MarTech.

According to media reports, in the last few years, South Africa’s investment in Artificial Intelligence has also been significant with $1.6 billion invested. Local businesses can gain significant financial benefits by using AI solutions to optimise their operations.

South Africa is the 37th largest market for eCommerce, with a revenue of $4 billion in 2020. With an increase of 24 per cent, the South African eCommerce market contributed to the worldwide growth rate of 26 per cent in 2020.

The increase in online shopping in South Africa also presents an exciting growth opportunity for retailers. To accelerate digital commerce, research indicates that it will become increasingly important to design offerings that solve specific consumer concerns and use consumer insights to strengthen differentiation. The scope for the South African Martech platform is growing, at least in the next few years, as a result the need to drive Martech transformation has never been greater.

The agenda includes:

Has the CMO’s role transformed forever?

Winning in the Experience Economy

Role of AI in accelerating recovery

Tealium, Salesforce, TalkWalker and Emakina are the Gold Sponsors, and Terragon is the Platinum Sponsor of VMF South Africa.

Click here to register https://za.vibemartechfest.com/

07.21.21

Valenture Institute partners with UCT for High School Edu

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

The University of Cape Town has partnered with Valenture Institute, an edutech startup to start an online high school. As a number of top Universities, such as Stanford’s Online High School, have now proven, the academic excellence of universities can be extended to high school students, and create new opportunities for a diverse group of learners to join an aspirational school.

On the announcement of this new initiative, UCT’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said that “The University of Cape Town is committed to playing our part in addressing the systemic challenges facing our education system. As a result, we have taken the bold step to launch an innovative online high school in January 2022, where the academic excellence of UCT can be extended to high school learners across the country. The UCT Online High School will create a new opportunity for learners across South Africa to choose an aspirational school and unleash their potential.”

Valentine’s proprietary learning technology, analytics, and learner support model will be used in delivering the UCT Online High school platform. Valentine’s CEO, Robert Paddock had this to say about the partnership

“We’re delighted and humbled to partner with UCT on this ground-breaking initiative”.

This is not the first time an entity managed by Paddock partners with UCT. Before starting Valenture Institute, an online high school, Paddock started Get Smarter with UCT as one of the initial partners. Get Smarter was later acquired by one of the world’s leading online education providers. Recently Valenture Institute launched a brick-and-mortar to enhance its online high school experience to make it a hybrid education provider.

The UCT Online High School ecosystem has been designed to service South African learners from a broad range of socioeconomic means. The UCT Online High School offers a CAPS-aligned curriculum and enables learners in grades 8 – 12 in any corner of the globe the opportunity to study at a monthly fee of R2,095 per month, making it one of the most affordable private schools in the country.

Admissions for the UCT Online High School open on 21 July 2021, with classes commencing in January 2022, after which learners will be able to enrol at any time, from wherever they are in the world. Learners will benefit from the UCT Online High School’s supported self-discipline model, which allows learners to pace their own learning and get high quality 1:1 tutoring from expert teachers and support coaches whenever they need it. Learners will also be prepared with a unique range of university and career preparation services and offerings.

In addition, the entire curriculum will be made available for free in an interactive online platform called the Open UCT Online High School. Users of the free content will be issued a learner number to save their unique learning path and data, with unlimited logins permitted. Learners have full access to a self-paced curriculum where they can progress at their own pace through expert designed interactive notes, videos, animations, simulations, practise assignments, quizzes and more. The interactive content is intuitively organised, and easily searchable, making it an excellent resource for teachers and learners around the country to benefit from.

For more information on the UCT Online High School, please visit www.uctonlinehighschool.com.

AYO Scaling Africa Series announces 5 qualifying startups

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

After months of searching, screening, and careful selection, the final five qualifying businesses for the next round of the AYO Scaling Africa Series have been selected. In partnership with the SA Innovation Summit, the series looks to assist tech entrepreneurs in taking their Series A businesses to the next level.

These five finalists have been chosen for their standout proposition within the landscape of tech business in South Africa, as well as for clearly articulating and demonstrating their potential for rapid growth and sustainability.

The founders, and their teams, will now test their mettle against one another with the overall winner claiming the R100 000 cash prize from investment group AYO Technology Solutions (AYO). However, the AYO Scaling Africa Series goes beyond a single cash injection, as these businesses will also be considered for more in-depth investment funding and support from AYO and its experienced management team.

Jeni Kostova, Group Marketing Executive at AYO, explained that: “The technology space has always been a competitive landscape. Even more so now, given the rate of innovation that we are experiencing since the COVID-19 related lockdown-induced high-speed shift to digital in 2020.

“As an investment group, we are always on the lookout for businesses that are on the brink of greatness and that solve a particular socio-economic need using technology, who require the development capital to get them there. That’s why this competition is such a good fit for AYO and judging from the quality of entries we have reviewed, the future for South Africa looks bright.”

Dr. Audrey Verhaeghe, SA Innovations Summit’s founder, and Chairman, also added, “This is one competition that goes beyond the prize money to include not only the potential for real investment funding but also the investment into skills, experience, and new markets that the investor can offer the winner.”

The Demo Day will be held on 28 July 2021 from 18h00 to 20h00. Attendees can find the registration link to the event on the AYO Scaling Africa Series webpage.

The audience can also invest mock money in their favourite start-up using the pre® app. The audience member with the highest return on investment will receive a complimentary ticket to the upcoming SA Innovation Summit taking place from 21 to 23 September. The pre® app is available in the App Store and the Play Store.

Register to Attend here: https://innovationsummit.co.za/ayo-scaling-africa-series/

TOP 5 BUSINESSES TO PITCH:

Dove Air provides instant access to urgent medical supplies to those across the world through advanced drone technology and has serviced over 2000 hospitals, helping local communities with vital services.

Co-Founder & CEO: Francisco Martins

LiquidGold Africa offers solutions for sanitation waste with globally designed, patented, and manufactured dry toilets for both male and females. The company’s focus is to save precious water resources and create new products from toilet resources (human waste) in a simple and cost-effective manner, as the by-products contains all the important nutrients that agriculture needs for healthy plant growth.

Founder & CEO: Orion Herman

The Marking App is a data free mobile and web application that automatically marks school assessments while giving learners access to immediate feedback, online support, and study material. Teachers are given a detailed analysis of results, reducing time, and increasing the quality of assessment and support given to the learners. Learners can form virtual study groups and discuss any schoolwork that they need to.

Founder & Managing Director: Kabelo Mahlobogwane

Memeza Shout is the first black-woman-owned company to provide South Africa’s first, patented Public Alarm system, combining physical alarms, neighbours, community safety groups and the South Africa Police Services to collectively fight crime. Memeza’s value add is bringing Private and Public Partners together through technology to fight crime, using technology can improve response times.

Founder & CEO: Thulile Mthetwa & Elmarie Pereira

The Red Cup Village medical respirator is SAHPRA approved 3D printed medical devices with 2 valves for changeable use. The devices are customised to an individual’s face structure and have the ability to monitor a user’s health condition through an application that sends an alert when they are running out of oxygen. The products are manufactured 100% locally using recycled material and biodegradable material.

Founder & CEO: Luvuyo Ndiki

07.19.21

These drivers built an alternative to Uber

BY Fast Company 10 MINUTE READ

Erik Forman doesn’t claim he was the first person to have the idea of starting a driver-owned alternative to Uber. “The idea for a co-op belongs to everyone and no one,” he says. Drivers in New York City say they have always yearned for an alternative to Uber, since it first came to the five boroughs in 2011. It was in the ether, Forman says, mentioned in conversations between rideshare drivers and labor organizers.

But together with Ken Lewis, a black car driver, and Alissa Orlando, former head of operations for Uber’s business in East Africa, Forman took that nebulous idea and turned it into something tangible: the Drivers Cooperative, which has now been operating its own rideshare app, called Co-op Ride, since May 30.

When Uber first launched, the flexibility in choosing when and where to work—versus a cab, with set hours and the high startup costs of getting a medallion, serving as a barrier to entry—attracted drivers in droves, spurring the growth of the gig economy. But cracks soon showed in that promise of freedom: Drivers were independent contractors and not employees, so were not eligible for benefits; they became burdened with vehicle maintenance, expenses like gas, and loans for higher-end cars that were supposed to lead to better rider ratings and pay. Additionally, Uber’s and Lyft’s cutthroat political actions across the country began to make clear that there were no solutions coming from the company. “There was a honeymoon period…and then the honeymoon ended,” Forman says, “and the reality is drivers were stuck with vehicle expenses and variable pay.”

Attempts to fix those cracks soon faltered. In. 2018, New York City set the nation’s first minimum pay rate for Uber and Lyft drivers; at the time, Uber warned that the move would lead to “higher than necessary fare increases.” Fares did go up, but it didn’t discourage rides, and drivers did earn more—but Forman says that because the law stipulates a “minimum,” the company doesn’t pay above that. Now, fares are skyrocketing again amid a driver shortage, but drivers aren’t getting a bigger share, in some cases making less per trip.

Co-op Ride, the app from the Drivers Cooperative, takes the freedom and independence that Uber and Lyft promised rideshare drivers, and adds in worker ownership. Each driver is also a member who owns one share of the company, with one vote toward leadership and business decisions. And importantly, profits will be shared among all those driver-owners. The co-op upends the traditional model where the profits generated by workers accrue to executives and shareholders, instead redistributing them back to the drivers. Now, after the founders went through a complicated path to bring the co-op to life, the question is whether they can attract enough drivers—and riders—to make the effort worthwhile for its worker-owners.

WHAT MAKES THE CO-OP RUN

Co-op Ride says that drivers earn more on each trip—8 to 10% more than Uber and Lyft rides, according to the cooperative, because it takes a smaller commission—and all profits go back to the drivers in the form of annual dividends, based on how much labor they contributed; the more trips they complete, the bigger their share of profit. The Drivers Cooperative takes a 15% commission for operating costs, which will go toward driver onboarding, licensing, customer service, engineering, and so on. Uber, in contrast, claims to take a 25% fee on all fares (though research has found additional fees often make that cut even higher; some drivers claim it’s up to 40%).

Currently, the co-op is led by its founders—though they weren’t elected. The current board, which includes staff and drivers and is in its first term, was also appointed. Forman describes the trickiness of electing leadership without first organizing as a “chicken-or-egg situation that was somewhat of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation.” But that board will serve a two-year term, and elections will take place from then on.

The co-op also has a driver board, for which there will be elections this year. Those representatives will have control over the things that affect drivers most in their day-to-day work, including adjudicating customer complaints. If there is a customer complaint, there will be a hearing. “No driver gets disciplined without being able to tell their story to a jury of their peers,” Forman says. (Uber drivers have reportedly been dropped from the app after fake DUI complaints, with drivers claiming passengers abuse the report feature in order to get free rides.)

There are more benefits to the co-op, too. It partnered with the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union in order to help drivers refinance their car loans, which could cut some of those overwhelming expenses. More than 90% of drivers are immigrants who don’t have a history of credit, or don’t have good credit for various reasons, and then get stuck in predatory financing situations. By partnering with the credit union, which is a member-owned bank, Forman says they’ve been able to help drivers refinance to lower rates; one member, he says, went from paying $1,900 a month for his car to $500 a month. It’s an example of the way the cooperative’s members can pull its purchasing power together to get better prices on all sorts of expenses.

The promise of sharing profits is surely alluring, but how profitable can a rideshare company be, especially considering how many years Uber and Lyft operated in the red? To Forman, there’s a clear path to profitability, particularly if it doesn’t spend millions on legislation, like Uber and Lyft have. “If you’re not trying to bankroll an assault on workers rights in the United States, it turns out you save a lot of money,” he says. To break even, he says, they need to complete about 1,300 trips a day. In New York City, there are more than 400,000 rideshare trips daily. “We only need to claim a small sliver of the market to have a self-sustaining operation.”

HOW TO BUILD A CO-OP

Forman didn’t come to the idea of a cooperative from personal experience as a driver, though he’s heard firsthand from many. His background is in labour organizing. He helped organize unions for about 15 years, from the fast food industry to his own school, when he was a high school teacher in New York. From there he became a labor educator, working with the Independent Drivers Guild, a union that represents more than 80,000 for-hire vehicle drivers across the city (and receives some funding from Uber.) IDG, which was founded in 2016 by the Machinists Union, led the campaign for that minimum pay rate in New York City and pushed for Uber to offer in-app tipping. Currently, it’s working on addressing driver issues from carjackings to lower insurance policies.

IDG followed the typical union strategy, fighting for collective bargaining agreements with the big, established employers—and has won some concessions like tips and a minimum pay. But hearing from drivers, Forman noticed that what resonated most deeply with many was the idea of ownership. “I decided to look for ways to help workers make their dreams come true,” he says. In May 2019, he applied for and won, a co-op innovation grant from Capital Impact Partners, a nonprofit that provides financial services to community development; and the Workers Lab, an organization that funds experiments to build worker power. To run a workshop for drivers at IDG, as Forman says, “imagine how worker-ownership could transform the industry.”

That effort had a specific focus on the expenses that so burdened drivers, and which often weren’t addressed by bargaining agreements. Unions often focus on the top line of pay, but in the rideshare industry, “that’s only half the battle,” Forman says. “Half of every dollar drivers make is eaten by vehicle expenses. If we’re looking to increase pay, it makes sense to focus on both sides of the problem.” The grant funded research into what impact worker-owned co-ops could have on drivers—co-ops in all sectors of the driving ecosystem like gas stations, car washes, insurance, and so on.

Though that workshop looked at all the ancillary sectors to rideshare, the drivers who participated were “so adamant,” Forman says, that the most important way to reduce costs and expenses was to get control of their own rideshare app. “A lot of drivers were saying, ‘Can we do this? This doesn’t seem impossible; all we need is someone to organize it,” says Lewis, who was involved with the class and IDG. “[The idea] everyone came up with was: ‘If we only had an app, we can do this.’”

Eventually the class ended, and Forman ran into a roadblock with what next steps he could take at IDG. Though the roots of the co-op are in IDG, Forman had to start a co-op on his own. (IDG is a “firm believer in worker co-ops,” Brendan Sexton, the guild’s executive director, says in a statement. “Mr. Forman did excellent work in educating drivers about the meaningful impact of worker co-ops, and through IDG resources he was able to expand on that work. We are excited to see the co-op taking the next step with so many IDG members involved.”)

To help them launch in New York City, Forman began working with Eva, a Montreal-based company that franchises out its car-dispatch app to co-ops. (Eva currently has franchises in Montreal, Québec City, and Calgary). He incorporated Drive Eva NYC in April 2020, paying the incorporation cost out of pocket—but couldn’t raise capital or get grants, and it fizzled out. He tried to leverage a buyout of Juno, another rideshare service, that went under in November 2019. Juno initially pitched itself as a driver-friendly cooperative of sorts, promising drivers equity in the company, but ultimately did not deliver on that promise. He couldn’t get investors on board to raise the money needed for that purchase.

“YOU DON’T NEED TO EXPLOIT PEOPLE TO SURVIVE AS A BUSINESS”

The idea for a co-op became a “nights and weekends” project for Forman and Lewis, who nearly gave up by summer 2020, Forman says. That’s when they met Orlando, who joined their efforts in August, after graduating from Stanford Business School in June. Orlando had worked for Uber as its operations manager in East Africa, after which she co-founded a portable-benefits company that would have allowed rideshare businesses to pay for benefits without actually having to reclassify drivers as full-time employees. The companies could just pay a percentage of a workers’ gross wage into an account, and the driver would then use it to buy, say, health insurance.

But it became clear after meetings with gig companies, she says, that they wouldn’t pay for portable benefits without regulatory changes. Her feelings were confirmed by the passage of Proposition 22, a California ballot measure. Underwritten by Uber, Lyft, and the food delivery app Doordash, it cemented drivers as independent contract workers instead of employees, overturning a state law known as AB5. That law would have forced gig companies to hire their workers full time and offer them benefits, including health insurance and paid sick leave. Prop 22, on the other hand, requires these companies to offer some benefits, like a stipend to buy health insurance, but doesn’t classify them as employees. In the wake of its passing, drivers saw their pay fall even as fares increased, and many found out they didn’t meet the thresholds to qualify for the new benefits.

Uber, Lyft, and Doordash ultimately spent more than $200 million to support Prop 22, and its passage was a breaking point for many in the industry. To drivers who wanted benefits and labor activists pushing for workers rights, that passage seemed to show Uber and Lyft could not be reasoned with. A path to better conditions for drivers would not be through those companies, but through something else entirely. “For us, it was a realization that we need to explore new and creative strategies to advance workers rights,” Forman says. “We’re hoping one thing our company can do is show that you don’t need to exploit people to survive as a business.”

Seeing how hard Uber and Lyft worked to avoid offering benefits and restrict paid leave “made me really believe benefits weren’t the answer,” says Orlando, “and we need a more radical approach.” In her eyes, her business school professors had earned their wealth off the labor of other people. Spreading that wealth around, and ensuring those doing the labor had direct access to profits, seemed like the solution. Orlando reached out to institutions that build cooperatives, asking how she could help contribute with her background in the rideshare space—eventually connecting with Forman and Lewis.

Now officially separate from Eva, Forman and Lewis converted their business into a Worker Cooperative Corporation, relaunching as the Drivers Cooperative. With Orlando’s help, they were able to secure the financing that had been eluding them. So far, they’ve raised more than $350,000. That includes grants from the Workers Lab and the Emergent Fund, a rapid response fund for social justice movements; and support from the Lower East Side People’s Credit Union; a nonprofit called the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund; and a business accelerator called Start.coop. They also received $25,000 in donations from the crowdfunding platform Ioby. The biggest share of their funding came from Shared Capital Cooperative, a community development financial institution—basically a “credit union for co-ops,” Forman says—that invested $200,000. (These were all in the form of loans, grants, or donations; none of the investors have voting rights, only the workers do.) Now they’re also opening up investments to the general public on WeFunder; the shares can generate a return but also don’t offer any voting power over the co-op’s decisions.

To hear Forman say it, the hard work was over. The next step, getting drivers on board, was the easy part. “Word travels fast,” he says, “and people have been wanting for this for quite some time.” The pandemic spurred some of the sign ups; many initial drivers, Orlando says, came from black car businesses that shuttered during lockdown, due to losing steady work like shuttling business travelers to the airport.

THE RIDES BEGIN

The Co-op Ride app officially began offering rides in New York City on May 30. More than 3,000 drivers are currently on board (all are licensed through the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, for which they have to go through a background check), and more than 2,000 rides are completed. “We’ve been shocked by the scale of demand,” Orlando says, though she notes the co-op is still trying to strike a balance between supply and demand, so as not to overload the market and to find a price that works well for both drivers and riders. (Along with being a better deal for drivers, Co-op Ride says it’s about 5% cheaper for passengers, too. At the time of publication, a ride from Fast Company’s offices at 7 World Trade Center to Grand Central was $31.04 on Co-op Ride, including an automatic 20% tip; on Uber, it was $31.58 without tip.)

Eventually, the founders see this co-op expanding. “We want to make this available any place where drivers are struggling for a better life,” Forman says. (There is another recently-launched driver-owned cooperative that mainly operates in Denver, Portland, and Los Angeles; called the Driver’s Seat Cooperative, it’s not a separate rideshare company from Uber and Lyft but a collective that allows drivers to share their trip data, so they can maximize their earnings and better understand what factors affect their income.)

And to them, the co-op is about more than helping drivers earn more money on each trip. The Drivers Cooperative has also earmarked 10% of profits to a community grant program and is in the process of developing relationships with nonprofits and arts organizations. “Our goal here is not just to put more money in drivers pockets but to keep more money in our community in general,” Forman says. Another ideal is to help drivers transition to electric vehicles and help build out the EV infrastructure in the city, which would help both the planet and driver expenses, since electric cars are cheaper to maintain.

But that’s for the future—and will need to be put to vote before they can embark on that path. Right now, they’re focused on New York City, and a different kind of success than expanding cross the country. “If it even moves the needle so other rideshares can be fairer to drivers, we would have had some success,” Lewis says. “Yes, we would like it to expand, but it’s also a movement that’s going to be positive on the lives of drivers.”

07.14.21

This robot can help the elderly people get dressed

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a robotic arm that can slide one arm of a vest onto a person. And that’s more impressive than it may initially sound.

A few years ago, I was eating in a retirement home cafeteria when a woman in her eighties called me over and asked me to help put on her cardigan. I said no problem, then grabbed a sleeve and tried to get it on her arm. That’s when I realized that her body had stiffened over the years, and her back was hunched. I didn’t know how to line up the geometry between her arm and the sleeve without injuring her.

“You’re not gonna break me!” she quipped, reading my indecision. And so I bent her limbs and shoulders harder than I would have thought safe. After a minute of nervous coaxing, her cardigan was on, and she returned to her lunch.

This job was far more difficult than I anticipated and makes the latest research out of MIT that much more meaningful. The MIT team has trained a robot to safely slide a vest onto a human arm, which is an early but important step in creating a robot that could completely dress an aging or disabled person.

Robots have actually been able to dress themselves for a decade now. Such an achievement is possible only because a robot knows the dimensions of its own body and exactly what it intends to do next. For a robot to dress someone else is an entirely different challenge because it requires it to intuit someone else’s next move, lest the robot make an error that might twist a wrist or dislocate an elbow.

“In this work, we focus on a planning technique,” explains Shen Li, a PhD candidate in the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT and the author of the new paper published for Science and Systems. “Robots predict human motion, then design a plan that’s safe based upon the prediction. If I dress a kid or adult, they might have different reactions. So you have to predict what they’ll do.”

This prediction, in the human brain, is an invisible process. We don’t fully understand how a person approaches a situation like sliding a shirtsleeve onto another human.

Li and his collaborators took a stock robot arm and fit it with a 3D tracker, which can see the movement of the person waiting to be dressed. Their breakthrough is in the software, which not only recognizes someone’s position in the moment, but considers how they might move next—in order to both successfully get them dressed, and not injure them in the process.

To anticipate one of, say, 100 different possible movements, the system has to predict the 100 possible movements first, and create a path that ensures a person’s safety, no matter how they actually move.

“We’re not only predicting the most likely human movement, but the entire uncertain human set of the future,” Li says, noting that this is an especially conservative approach that can mean you are getting dressed at a snail’s pace.

However, over time, the software learns from the person getting dressed. It can slowly disregard movements a person never makes, editing down the possible list to something more probable and practical.

“In the beginning the robot might be very conservative, very slow,” Li says. “After the robot is more certain about the human [it’s faster].” Even as the robot speeds up, it’s never using a level of force that might injure someone, and the software is trained to respond to surprising movements at any moment, like if you picked up a TV remote and started flipping the channels while being dressed.

For the next steps of research, Li would like to add a full sleeve to the vest, and develop the software to accommodate for the extra friction of pulling a garment onto an appendage. After that step is figured out, pulling on a second sleeve, or a pair of pants, will be easier.

The other big shortcoming in this research is that the current robot starts with a human fist already pulled through a sleeve hole, so the team would like to solve that issue, too, dressing a human from the earliest steps in the process. Li notes that nurses will often take a person’s hand and stick it through a sleeve, hinting that ultimately, a second robot arm could make this task a lot easier.

These may sound like baby steps of development, in a world where machine learning models seem to solve massive problems like computer vision and object recognition overnight. Li doesn’t balk when I suggest we might be a decade from training a robot to dress and undress someone in their entirety, but notes that it’s remarkably hard to work with humans rather than things.

“How do you develop an algorithm to learn [human behavior] efficiently?” Li asks. “You can’t just have a human there doing the task [a million times].’”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach.

07.12.21

Human Pilots (not AI) behind a Driverless car sharing service

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

T-Mobile is announcing a collaboration with a 5G-powered driverless car service that doesn’t actually use autonomous vehicles or require 5G mobile broadband. But Halo still merits a look for its odds of making Las Vegas traffic less of a losing bet.

The Vegas startup aims to use remote human driving to make car sharing more efficient—an issue that the pioneering car-share service Car2go couldn’t solve. You use Halo’s app to summon a Kia Niroelectric vehicle. It arrives empty but under the control of a remote driver. You drive it to your destination. Then a remote driver takes over again and the car is no longer your problem.

“You simply just hop off and go away, and the car disappears,” says Halo founder and CEO Anand Nandakumar. The company plans to launch with five cars later this year, operating at first “in urban parts of the Las Vegas Valley.”

Halo (no relation to the Halo concept car Cadillac unveiled at CES 2021, Amazon’s Halo health-tracking wristband, or Microsoft’s Halo series of games) opted to use 5G to keep a human in the loop instead of trying to make fully autonomous mobility work (a challenge even for slow delivery robots) and hoping the public will trust 40-mph software.

In Halo’s system, nine cameras feed video to a remote driver—whom Halo calls a pilot—with radar and ultrasonic sensors as a backup. The cars omit the expensive lidar sensors in most autonomous vehicles.

“You have better vision as a remote pilot than actually sitting inside the car,” Nandakumar says. “It’s significantly cheaper than any other autonomous vehicle company.”

The startup joined the 5G Open Innovation Lab T-Mobile helped found last year, allowing the wireless carrier to offer technical advice. The two companies aren’t saying if T-Mobile invested in Halo.

John Saw, T-Mobile’s executive vice president of advanced and emerging technologies, says that the company’s 5G brings significantly lower latency, especially on the faster mid-band spectrum that constitutes the heart of T-Mobile’s 5G sales pitch and dominates its coverage around Vegas.

But, Saw added, 5G isn’t quite as important as ensuring that a Halo car doesn’t have to fall back to 4G too often and risk interrupting the data stream during the transition.

“The car will actually work fine on LTE,” he said. But “each time you do a mode switch, you do have the potential to cause frame loss.”

Anshel Sag, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy whom T-Mobile and Halo briefed, says that faster uploads on 5G also matter.

“When the pilot is driving the vehicle between customers, they need to have a solid uplink more than a downlink, so that they can see what the car sees,” Sag said Wednesday.

Las Vegas also appealed to Halo because of local government’s openness to autonomous-vehicle experimentation. Halo’s press release quotes Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission vice chair Justin Jones as saying its service will “offer an intelligent transition between where we are today and where we want to go in the coming years.”

As for the traditionally-driven part of a Halo journey, the service will require a customer to be at least 25 years old and submit scans of the front and back of their driver’s license.

The system is prepared for the possibility that a customer in Sin City might not be okay to drive.

“When we actually get to a customer, we make sure that they’re not inebriated,” Nandakumar said. For instance, erratic steering, braking, or acceleration will trigger the car’s software to pull over.

CHEAP, CONVENIENT, AND REALISTIC

Nandakumar didn’t answer questions about possible rates beyond saying “it’s going to be very, very affordable.” (Halo’s site touts an unspecified “upfront daily fee.”) Nandakumar added that the Niro’s 260-mile range helped make the concept work: “We keep the car running all day long, it comes back with another 50 miles left.”

Sag believes that not having to find a car before a ride or a parking spot afterwards could elevate this above earlier car-sharing services. “It’s a unique solution, in that the car comes to you,” he says. “That does alleviate some of the concerns around car sharing.”

Halo intends to make its cars slightly more autonomous, but its goals only extend to Level 3 of 5 on the Society of Automotive Engineers scale. Level 5 means fully driverless operation in all conditions, while 3 covers “conditional driving automation”—sufficient to serve as a “traffic jam chauffeur,” an SAE chart suggests.

Sag gave Halo credit for a level of realism that such firms as Tesla have not shown in aggressive autonomous-driving ambitions that they may now regret.

“I think of this approach as the opposite of what Elon Musk has been suggesting, going from Level 2 to Level 5,” he said. “They’re taking a much more pragmatic approach.”

Source: FastCompany.com

07.07.21

Didi in trouble over data issues in China

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

A major regulatory body in China said Friday it was investigating domestic ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, just two days after its blockbuster public debut on the U.S. stock market.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, an internet watchdog group, said it would review Didi’s cybersecurity risks in the interest of safeguarding national data security. It did not say how long the review would last, and Didi will not be able to register any new users throughout the course of it.

Didi’s stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, tumbled more than 8% midday Friday following the news.

Didi’s IPO was one of the biggest and most-hyped of the year, debuting Wednesday at a valuation of nearly $70 billion. However, its success was tempered by concerns that it could face a crackdown from Chinese regulators, who have begun to target domestic internet titans in the past year. In April, Didi was among nearly three dozen tech companies hauled in by the government to reaffirm anti-monopoly rules and pledge to “put the nation first.”

Now it’s possible that some of those fears are being realized. Last month, Reuters reported that China’s State Administration for Market Regulation was investigating whether Didi employed anti-competitive practices, as part of a broad antitrust probe spanning major platforms including Tencent and Alibaba.

Amid the current events, the specter of Jack Ma’s behemoth Ant Group looms large; the financial services company was set to raise $34 billion as the world’s biggest IPO in October 2020, until Chinese president Xi Jinping personally scuttled the listing over Ma’s criticisms of state regulation, the Wall Street Journal reported. After several months in limbo, it was revealed earlier this year that Ant Group would be morphed into a financial holding company supervised by China’s central bank.

“DiDi will fully cooperate with the relevant government authority during the review,” the company said when reached for comment. “We plan to conduct comprehensive examination of cybersecurity risks, and continuously improve on our cybersecurity systems and technology capacities.”

It currently operates in 17 countries and has expressed aspirations to become a “truly global” company. Per its most recent figures, more than 90% of its sales are made in China.

Inside AirBnB CEO plans to conquer a reopened world

BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

Times Square was mostly vacant on the morning of Airbnb’s public offering, save for the dozen or so mask-clad photographers gathered in front of the Nasdaq building to document Brian Chesky’s enormous face, stretched across 9,000 square feet of LEDs. It was December 10, 2020, and Chesky, the high-spirited CEO of the world’s most highly valued hospitality company, wasn’t live from New York for the opening bell, but alone in his attic in San Francisco. Joe Gebbia and Nate Blecharczyk, his cofounders, appeared in dual video feeds below him.

A small group of Airbnb employees and alumni, huddled nearby, high-fived when the clock struck 9:30, the starting gun for Wall Street. “I think the stock market is thoroughly detached from reality,” one of them admitted, shrugging at the screwball logic of investing in a travel company in the middle of a pandemic.

It was a staggering public debut, even by the reality-­defying standards of Silicon Valley. Eleven months earlier, the company had realized that it was facing serious trouble: In mainland China, where Airbnb has a sizable beachhead, “We started noticing bookings dropping. And, of course, we knew that was corresponding with the coronavirus,” Chesky recalls. As the virus ripped across the globe, reservations plunged 72% in April, from about 31 million a year before. After a decade of vertiginous growth, it was like nothing Chesky had ever seen. “A company dropping by 80% in eight weeks is like a car driving 100 miles an hour, and then hitting the brakes. There’s no safe way to do that. Things are going to break.”

In the second week of March, as major cities went into lockdown, Chesky convened an emergency meeting of the board to map out a strategy. He had written down a number of principles to guide his response to the crisis: Be decisive, preserve cash, act with all stakeholders in mind, play to win. “To manage a crisis, you need to be optimistic and you need to have imagination,” Chesky says. “Optimism is the most important criteria because the psychology of a leader often becomes the psychology of an organization. If you think you’re doomed, you probably are.”

Read more via print version of Fast Company (SA) magazine currently at Exclusive Books

What Amazon won’t sell, gets destroyed

BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

A recent undercover investigation in an Amazon warehouse in Dunfermline, Scotland, reported the disposal of more than 130,000 “new or lightly used” objects in a single week in just that one location. Public outrage was clear. Questions were asked about how Amazon could be so wasteful and why weren’t the usable objects sent to those in need?

Amazon responded to the ITV investigation by saying it is “working towards a goal of zero product disposal,” and that “no items are sent to landfill in the UK.” UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng responded to the warehouse story with “surprise” implying that this waste was unexpected (both Amazon and the Scottish government have circular economy strategies designed to limit waste to landfill). The Amazon whistleblower behind the story claimed “there’s no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed” suggesting this “surprise” waste was the consequence of a disorganized system.

But waste doesn’t just happen. Trash is the result of socio-cultural acts of classification in which objects are considered valueless within a particular context. Organizations classify objects within financial accounts. From an accounting perspective, the waste in the Amazon warehouse was neither disorganized nor unexpected but rather was a predictable consequence of accounting designed for a linear economy.

Most objects in financial accounts are classified as stock, a type of asset. Stocks depreciate in value over time, until ultimately – when cost of storage outweighs potential return – that unsold stock becomes a liability. Organizations can choose how to dispose of their liabilities but, in balance-book terms, the stock has become waste: worthless objects to be discarded (in the cheapest possible way).

Society is producing more waste every year and yet, for most of us, that waste remains out of sight. Most wealthy countries have designed waste management systems that remove perceived worthless objects from our economy quickly and cheaply.

The efficiency of these hidden waste management systems is reflected in financial accounts. Traditional waste infrastructure (landfill and materials recovery facilities) is accessible and reliable enough to still be the cheapest disposal option for many organizations, despite landfill taxes designed to encourage alternative paths for unwanted objects.

What makes the Amazon case particularly alarming is the volumes of waste involved (several million tonnes a year by some estimates). Importantly most of this waste is not from Amazon’s own retail business, but rather the unwanted stock from some of the thousands of smaller organisations that use Amazon as a retail platform and distributor. The waste generated by financial accounting is a systemic problem.

The low cost of landfill disposal is another example of the now well-recognized failure of financial accounts to capture negative environmental consequences. However, in the case of waste disposal, it is not necessarily that alternatives to landfill or recycling cost more. Rather, the associated costs (such as the markets for reuse) are unknown and so difficult to include within financial accounts.

ACCOUNTING IN A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

We should encourage a transition from a linear to more circular economy, in which resources are reused and the need for landfill largely eliminated. To do this, we must begin to understand the financial costs associated with recycling and reuse, how objects retain some value beyond an individual organisational context and how this value might be reported within accounts. We need to envisage a system of accounting for circularity.

Accounting for circularity will inevitably require organizations to produce social and environmental reports in addition to financial accounts, and a recognition that organizations cannot become circular on their own. Accounting in a circular economy requires collaborative accounts between organizations that transcend traditional boundaries and extend across supply chains to consider value in production and consumption systems.

Through these accounts we can begin to make waste visible, identify ecological limits to consumption and challenge those organizations and organizational practices that test those limits. In the case of Amazon, this might involve both the platform (Amazon) and its sellers collaborating on publicly available accounts that capture the material value of excess stock.

Efforts to account for the material flow within our production and consumption system are being pursued and Scotland, where I work and the Amazon warehouse is located, is leading the way. This week Zero Waste Scotland publicised its report which found that the total weight of resources used in 2017 by individual Scots (18.4 metric tonnes) was more than double predicted sustainable levels (8 tonnes). Work is still required to understand the contribution of organizational practices to this national material flow.

Scotland’s proposed Circular Economy Bill – including mandatory reporting of business waste – was put on hold indefinitely in light of the pandemic. However, the Amazon warehouse exposé reinforces that accounting for waste should be put back on the legislative agenda.

Lucy Wishart, Associate Lecturer, University of St Andrews. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

07.05.21

Africa’s first Nobel Prize Dialogue on the future of work

BY Fast Company < 1 MINUTE READ

The University of Pretoria recently hosted Africa’s first Nobel Prize Dialogue, the theme of which was ‘The Future of Work’.

The University of Pretoria recently hosted Africa’s first Nobel Prize Dialogue, the theme of which was ‘The Future of Work’.

Broadcast online from the university’s Future Africa campus, the event featured five Nobel Prize laureates. It aimed to bring science and

society closer, and stimulate creative thinking by gathering a unique group of laureates, opinion leaders, policymakers, students, researchers

and the general public. Three Economic Sciences laureates – Christopher Pissarides, Joseph Stiglitz and Abhijit Banerjee – were joined by

Physics laureate Brian Schmidt and Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.

In his opening remarks, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said the discussion was an important one, especially in the

face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘’Discussing the future of work is one of the most important dialogues of our time,’’ he said. ‘’To be able to host this Nobel Prize Dialogue for

the first time in Africa is enormously important. It means Africa has joined critical conversations on current major issues that are both local and global. It also means Africa’s voices will be part of the discourses shaping the choices that will influence the future of work.’’