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Main article: Energy

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 110

After VCs spend millions Nigeria restricts ride-hail motorbike taxis

08:39 | 12 February

Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos has shaken up its transportation order.

At the center are the West African country’s motorcycle taxis — referred to locally as okadas — which face newly enforced regulatory restrictions on their movement.

That’s creating speedbumps for Nigeria’s two-wheel ride-hail startups, operating in Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy.

Ventures Max .ng, ORide, and Gokada have received millions from American, Japanese, and Chinese investors to shift the continent’s motorcycle-taxi markets to on-demand mobility.

The three startups have been in a race for capital and market share — with the streets of Lagos serving as a competition course for developing platforms that can scale in Africa.

Gokada raised $5.3 million in May. Max.ng raised a $7 million Series A round in June 2019, with Yamaha on board, to pilot renewable energy powered e-motos in Africa.

Motorcycle-taxi business ORide rattled competitors in Nigeria in 2019 when its Chinese owned parent — Opera — rallied $170 million in VC for Opera’s digital service verticals in Nigeria, including ORide.

Fueled by fresh capital, the bright colored helmets of these ride-hail startups buzzing through Lagos traffic have become a backdrop in the city of 21 million.

That flow of motorcycle taxis (and traffic at large) slowed on February 1, when the municipality that governs Lagos — Lagos State — began enforcement of its 2018 Transit Sector Reform Law.

Source: Google Maps

The legislation is actually meant to improve multiple facets of transportation in Lagos, which is notorious for gridlock, but may have done the inverse — particularly around okadas.

TechCrunch reached out to Lagos State Government for clarification on the Transit Sector Reform Law, but hasn’t heard back.

The Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, invoked safety and security concerns as a reason for the okada restrictions at an event to launch more water-boat taxis in Lagos on February 5.

In a statement via email, ORide’s Senior Director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”

ORide posted a map of the restrictions

with an explanation the company was complying with the rules and would cease operations in the designated areas. Reps from Max.ng and Gokada also confirmed they had followed suit.

Per local news, and Nigerian

, the motorcycle taxi limitations have thrown off some inherent order in Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes(such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work.

For the country’s ride-hail startups, the regulatory constraints are weighing on operations and revenues, according to Max.ng CTO Guy-Bertrand Njoya.

“Are we highly concerned? Yes, we are,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

“We haven’t shut down operations, but because the drivers can’t operate in the main commercial areas, their income generation ability is significantly reduced…and our business depends on the success of our drivers,” said Bertrand.

Gokada CEO Fahim Saleh confirmed the company is still operating passenger services, but may transition its business away from ride-hailing, depending on the outcome of the regulatory process.

“If the transport option is no longer available to our drivers, we’ll go full on to logistics,” he said, noting shifting to more goods delivery has always been a part of Gokada’s long-term strategy.

Saleh recognized the concerns Lagos State regulators have for motorbike-taxi safety. “To the government’s credit, the informal sector is pretty risky with their habits and there’s no oversight,” he said.

But Gokada’s CEO underscored ride-hail startups — with mandatory driver training, new motorcycles, helmet requirements and an ability to track data — are making motorcycle passenger taxis safer in Nigeria.

“The government has good intentions, but they need the private sector to really bring in innovative ideas and technology to this market,” Saleh said.

The sudden regulatory enforcement and downturn in business has forced some unity among the Nigeria’s ride-hail competitors. Max .NG, ORide, and Gokada have formed an industry association to engage Lagos State on motorcycle-taxi regulations.

“We are hopeful that government remains supportive of companies like ours in a manner that addresses their key policy focus, while supporting entrepreneurs,” said Max.ng CFO Guy-Bertrand Njoya.

The situation between the Lagos State Government and motorcycle-taxis could have ramifications for Nigeria’s tech sector beyond Lagos’s ride-hail sector and transit grid.

The affair could serve as a test for startups in the country on engaging government effectively toward their interests. It could also demonstrate the ability (or inability) of regulators in Nigeria to support fledgling digital markets.

It’s worth noting that Lagos State is Nigeria’s largest commercial region, responsible for roughly a third of the country’s GDP. A greater share of Nigeria’s economy is being driven by tech-related industries — with much of the country’s startup activity occurring in Lagos — and Nigeria becoming Africa’s unofficial tech capital.

Even with the recent upswing in VC to Nigeria’s startups, founders still speak of the tough sell they face convincing global investors to back them.

If Lagos State — viewed as the most tech friendly region in Nigeria — squashes the country’s well-funded okada ride-hail sector, VC pitches for the country’s founders could become more difficult.

 


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Deep data running wearable NURVV closes $9M Series A led by Hiro Capital

05:08 | 7 February

Launched at CES 2020, NURVV, a biomechanics startup, has closed a $9m Series A round, led by Hiro Capital, the sports/Esports VC fund, along with co-investment from Ian Livingstone CBE (Games Workshop co-founder) and Cherry Freeman (co-founder of LoveCrafts).

It turns out that if you can figure out how to protect a smartphone from smashing, you can also work out how high a basketball player can jump.

Jason Roberts founded Tech21, one of the world’s leading smartphone case manufacturers. He and his co-founder and wife Ulrica have now used that knowledge to launch new wearable tech product, which, when inserted into the sole of a shoe, can measure the strike of a foot on the ground, or the leap of its wearer.

The wearable uses 32 sensors fitted inside lightweight insoles to capture data from the feet at 1,000 times per second, per sensor.

The money will be used to bring NURVV’s debut product, NURVV Run, to a global market and fund further R&D.

Featured among the best lists of Wired, CNET and Gear Patrol, the wearable has also been tested by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory over the past three years,

It can measure running metrics such as cadence, step length, footstrike, pronation and balance, feeding the data into the NURVV Run coaching app to show a picture of the wearer’s running technique, and thus helping runners improve their technique and pace.

While runners are already able to collect a huge amount of data about their run, the data is always after the run. Jason Roberts, founder and CEO, says NURVV Run captures a runner’s metrics “directly from the point of action at the foot, before using live coaching to help them improve in a simple, easy-to-understand way.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, Jason Roberts told me that the technology built into the sole is more “accurate than watches for steps, strides or energy dissipated. It will even detect when you are injured.”

He said “you could even broadcast a player’s live steps. Imagine if you could see that data from basketball?”

Co-founder Ulrica Roberts (pictured) added: “We kept coming back to the same question: ‘Why is running measured from the wrist, when most of the important metrics happen at the feet?… We sought out the expertise to make it happen.”

Luke Alvarez, managing Partner of Hiro, said in a statement: “Hiro is delighted to be investing in NURVV as our Fund’s fourth deal and our first Sports tech investment. NURVV’s success comes from putting the athlete’s body at the heart of everything they do. Nurvv is based on fundamental patented sensor technologies combined with deep biomechanics and data science that have revolutionary potential across sports, gaming, VR/AR and wellness.  Jason and Ulrica are extraordinary entrepreneurs and we are excited to be working with them and their team to take NURVV to the next level.”

 


0

NASA reveals the payloads for the first commercial Moon cargo deliveries

16:18 | 23 January

NASA has finalized the payloads for its first cargo deliveries scheduled to be carried by commercial lunar landers, vehicles created by companies the agency selected to take part in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. In total, there are 16 different payloads, which consist of a number of difference science experiments and technology experiments, that will be carried by landers built by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines. Both of these landers are scheduled to launch next year, carrying their cargo to the Moon’s surface and helping prepare the way for NASA’s mission to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine is set to launch aboard a rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), while Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander will make its own lunar trip aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Both landers will carry two of the payloads on the list, including a Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA) that is basically a mirror-based precision location device for situating the lander itself; and a Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL) – a laser-based sensor that can provide precision navigation during descent and touchdown. Both of these payloads are being developed by NASA to ensure safe, controlled and specifically targeted landing of spacecraft on the Moon’s surface, and their use here be crucial in building robust lunar landing systems to support Artemis through the return of human astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

Besides those two payloads, everything else on either lander is unique to one vehicle or the other. Astrobotic is carrying more, but its Peregrine lander can hold more cargo – its payload capacity tops out at around 585 lbs, whereas the Nova-C can carry a maximum of 220 lbs. The full list of what each lander will have on board is available below, as detailed by NASA.

Overall, NASA has 14 total contractors that could potentially provide lunar payload delivery services through its CLPS program. That basically amounts to a list of approved vendors, who then bid on whatever contracts the agency has available for this specific need. Other companies on the CLPS list include Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and more. Starting with these two landers next year, NASA hopes to fly around two missions per year each year through the CLPS program.

Astrobotic Payloads

  • Surface Exosphere Alterations by Landers (SEAL): SEAL will investigate the chemical response of lunar regolith to the thermal, physical and chemical disturbances generated during a landing, and evaluate contaminants injected into the regolith by the landing itself. It will give scientists insight into the how a spacecraft landing might affect the composition of samples collected nearby. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.
  • Photovoltaic Investigation on Lunar Surface (PILS): PILS is a technology demonstration that is based on an International Space Station test platform for validating solar cells that convert light to electricity. It will demonstrate advanced photovoltaic high-voltage use for lunar surface solar arrays useful for longer mission durations. It is being developed at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
  • Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): The LETS radiation sensor will collect information about the lunar radiation environment and relies on flight-proven hardware that flew in space on the Orion spacecraft’s inaugural uncrewed flight in 2014. It is being developed at NASA Johnson.
  • Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS): NIRVSS will measure surface and subsurface hydration, carbon dioxide and methane – all resources that could potentially be mined from the Moon — while also mapping surface temperature and changes at the landing site. It is being developed at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
  • Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo): MSolo will identify low-molecular weight volatiles. It can be installed to either measure the lunar exosphere or the spacecraft outgassing and contamination. Data gathered from MSolo will help determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources. It is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) for Lunar Surface Volatiles: PITMS will characterize the lunar exosphere after descent and landing and throughout the lunar day to understand the release and movement of volatiles. It was previously developed for ESA’s (European Space Agency) Rosetta mission and is being modified for this mission by NASA Goddard and ESA.
  • Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS): NSS will search for indications of water-ice near the lunar surface by measuring how much hydrogen-bearing materials are at the landing site as well as determine the overall bulk composition of the regolith there. NSS is being developed at NASA Ames.
  • Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface (NMLS): NMLS will use a neutron spectrometer to determine the amount of neutron radiation at the Moon’s surface, and also observe and detect the presence of water or other rare elements. The data will help inform scientists’ understanding of the radiation environment on the Moon. It’s based on an instrument that currently operates on the space station and is being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG): MAG will characterize certain magnetic fields to improve understanding of energy and particle pathways at the lunar surface. NASA Goddard is the lead development center for the MAG payload.

Intuitive Machines Payloads

  • Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1): LN-1 is a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations. It has flown on the space station and is being developed at NASA Marshall.
  • Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS): SCALPSS will capture video and still image data of the lander’s plume as the plume starts to impact the lunar surface until after engine shut off, which is critical for future lunar and Mars vehicle designs. It is being developed at NASA Langley, and also leverages camera technology used on the Mars 2020 rover.
  • Low-frequency Radio Observations for the Near Side Lunar Surface (ROLSES): ROLSES will use a low-frequency radio receiver system to determine photoelectron sheath density and scale height. These measurements will aide future exploration missions by demonstrating if there will be an effect on the antenna response or larger lunar radio observatories with antennas on the lunar surface. In addition, the ROLSES measurements will confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory could observe and image solar radio bursts. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.

 


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Google Cloud lands Lufthansa Group and Sabre as new customers

21:37 | 21 January

Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. It’s healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.

For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline,  hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.

When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.

“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”

The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.

“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, Member of the Executive Board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”

Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).

Delta recently launched a similar platform to help its employees.

 


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Disney’s Myth: A Frozen Tale should be a case study for anyone filmmaking in VR

19:03 | 21 January

This week, on my way to check out a little ride debuting at Disneyland in California, I stopped by Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank to check out Myth: A Frozen Tale. Myth is a new VR experience created by a team working at the studio that debuted with the movie but has not yet launched for the public.

It uses Frozen 2 as a jumping off point but is not a continuation of the story.  Instead, it builds off of the story of the movie and uses the tech to put the viewer into the world to experience the “spirits” of the film up close.

It’s incredibly effective, and an example of what can be done with VR when you have both expansive resources and full intellectual buy-in from an animation master foundry like WDAS.

I tried out Myth in the same building where Frozen 2 was made, the building itself is a living pipeline with story development on the top floor and departments working on animation and effects filling out the building in a cascade. The VR studio just off the main gathering space is right in the center of this activity and the team says that they used as much of the animation pipeline that was making Frozen 2 as was possible or effective.

MYTH: A FROZEN TALE – For the groundbreaking new VR short, “Myth: A Frozen Tale,” Walt Disney Animation Studios artists, technologists and engineers used stylized art direction to deliver a unique virtual and visceral experience. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Despite the Frozen 2 connection, Myth is not just a marketing stunt for the film, it’s a real animation title from a team that has already produced the lovely and touching Cycles VR short. A team backed by the most effective animation studio on the planet and with access to and integration to that apparatus.

Myth is an introduction to and encounter with the elemental spirits that play a large role in Frozen 2. We’re brought into the world through a family gathering around the fire for story time and are thrust quickly into another era where we see the spirits alive and active.

The project is presented as a sort of inverse theater in the round, with little movement required on the part of the audience. There are no interactive elements, but viewers will likely react to the scenes anyway as they’re quite effective. The spirits of fire, earth, air and water make an appearance and the sense of presence that is such a big part of VR’s innate appeal is put to real work here. Especially when it comes to earth and water.

Artist Brittney Lee served as Myth’s production designer and the impetus behind its 2D-in-3D aesthetic. If you’re familiar with Lee’s design work then you know the general look and feel of the fantasy landscape. But the surprise is exactly how well they nailed translating a sort of 2D multi-media look into three dimensional space.

If living illustrations in the vein of Mary Blair excites you, Myth is going to blow your shit.

The effectiveness of Myth has a lot to do with the set of affordances the team has built in. Audio, as always in VR, is an effective tool to guide the viewer’s attention around the space and through an unfolding narrative. But Myth uses a few additional tricks that I think would be wise for other creators to study.

As you watch, the focus gently and naturally moves around you in a circle (never quite making you turn a full circumference, which is important to avoid distraction for wired setups). There is also, quite deliberately, no aggressive changes in attention that would require a viewer to do a 180 degree turn. Even the surprising and impactful moments are carefully telegraphed to avoid VR whiplash.

“We talked about how much interactivity we wanted against how cinematic we needed it to be,” says Producer Nicholas Russel. “And, we make cinema, we make films and we wanted to make sure it felt like that.”

As that focus changes, the scene gradually desaturates in areas that are not currently in play and eventually will dim and darken. A sort of organic-feeling ‘hot or cold’ game that it plays with your eyes. This leads to the viewer getting the point pretty quickly that the action is taking place over there not over here.

And the potency of the short also has a lot to do with the music-driven narrative. Composer Joe Trapanese roughed out the score early for the project and was able to come to the studio as well, which meant that, very unlike most Disney features the team was able to animate to the music itself. Gipson says that this leads a lot of people to make a comparison to Fantasia or Peter and the Wolf, which I definitely think is valid.

I mentioned before that the team was able to use the animation pipeline of Frozen 2 to help them realize the spirit characters. One of the most visceral of these is the Nokk, the water horse that features heavily in the film.

As a part of my visit I got to talk to Svetla Radivoeva, Animation Supervisor and Marc Bryant, Effects Lead on the Nokk for Frozen 2. They worked for 7 months along with the 38 members of the Technical Animation, Tech Anim, team to make the Nokk happen. There were 8 technical artists working full time on the water Nokk and 7 on the ice Nokk alone.

MYTH: A FROZEN TALE – For the groundbreaking new VR short, “Myth: A Frozen Tale,” Walt Disney Animation Studios artists, technologists and engineers used stylized art direction to deliver a unique virtual and visceral experience. In this visual development piece, Disney Animation artist Brittney Lee creates a stylized look for the fire salamander character. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant says that robust communication, being in the same building together and continuous sharing of tools and strong simulation rigs allowed them to pull off such a complex character.

That intensely developed character was then brought into the world of Myth, adapting its design to one of living and moving illustration using Epic’s Unreal engine. Though the strength and beauty of the horse is one of the more technically impressive and emotive moments in the movie, actually being in its presence wasn’t something a Frozen fan could expect to happen.

Myth does that and it’s a testament to the interlinked way that the animation and VR teams worked on this project that it actually plays. It’s damn good, and so was Director Jeff Gipson’s previous title Cycles. Disney is doing some great filmmaking work that just happens to be in VR.

“What does it mean to have Disney animation in VR vs we have to make it for this reason or this purpose,” Gipson says, “instead it’s how do we continue to innovate [in filmmaking].”

“It wasn’t a marketing study,” notes VR Technology Supervisor Jose Luis Gomez Diaz, “because we’d say oh let’s use Olaf who everybody loves. We could have done something with those characters, but this is more the story that Jeff wanted to tell and it’s a good companion to the movie.”

The short is designed, they say, to transmit that feeling of what it’s like to be Elsa in front of the Nokk. And it works. You feel that intense sense of presence.

After Cycles and A Kite’s Tale, Myth is a strong new entry into Disney’s canon of VR productions, and it’s a clear bright spot in the landscape of virtual filmmaking. Cycles will debut on Disney+ on January 24th after premiering in the US at NYFF 2018, but the VR version isn’t out there yet. It’s a real emotional gut punch of a short and I hope it hits in VR soon.

The eventual viewers of Myth will not have to intellectually appreciate the energy and cleverness with which this project was tackled, but they will feel it emotionally. It’s quite simply one of the best VR presentations like this I’ve ever seen executed and it should be studied by anyone trying to execute a non-interactive cinematic story in VR.

Myth: A Frozen Tale is showing in VR at Sundance next week but Disney says is still exploring different ways to bring it to audiences.

 


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At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

23:23 | 8 January

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial, and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are a few startups that are looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

 

 


0

Pachama launches to support global reforestation through carbon markets

00:20 | 4 January

The world’s forests are ablaze, under threat from illegal logging, and disappearing due to the less dramatic environmental degradation wrought by drought and other signs of climate change.

It’s part of the negative feedback loop that seems to be accelerating climate change as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, but one startup company is trying to facilitate reforestation by supporting carbon offsets that specifically target the world’s flora.

Pachama has raised $4.1 million to create a marketplace where companies can support carbon offset projects. The company is backed by some big names in tech investment like former Uber executive Ryan Graves, through his private investment firm, Saltwater, and Chris Sacca, a prominent early investor in Uber, through his Lowercase Capital firm.

Founded by Diego Saez Gil, a serial entrepreneur whose last company was a startup selling a “smart-suitcase”, Pachama is aiming to bring reforestation projects to the carbon markets whose impacts can be independently verified by the company’s monitoring software to ensure their ability to offset emissions.

“We were making a smart connected suitcase which got banned,” says Saez-Gil. “After that I decided to take some time off and I was quite burnt out. I wanted to do some soul searching and tried to decide what i wanted to put my efforts.” 

He traveled to South America and did a trip through Amazon rainforest in Peru. It was there that Saez-Gil saw the effects of deforestation in an area that represents a huge carbon dioxide offset for the planet.

“There are about 1 billion hectares on the planet that could be reforested,” says Saez Gil.

That opportunity — to contribute to the perpetuation of independently validated carbon markets around the world is what convinced investors like Paul Graham, Justin Kan and Daniel Kan, Gustaf Alströmer, Peter Reinhardt, Jason Jacobs, Chris Sacca from Lowercase Capital, as well as funds such as Social+Capital, Global Founders Capital, and Atomico to contribute to the company’s $4.1 million funding.

It’s a pretty big consortium to finance what amounts to a small capital commitment (given the size of the funds under management that these investors have at their disposal), but investors are right to be a little wary.

Carbon markets are driven by policy and policymakers have been reluctant to draft legislation that would put a high enough price on carbon emissions to make those markets viable.

“Pachama’s carbon credit marketplace is launching at a pivotal moment when awareness of the climate crisis is reaching an all-time high, and businesses are increasingly looking to become carbon neutral,” said Ryan Graves, Pachama’s lead investor and new director said in a statement. “What attracted me to Pachama was the company’s use of technology to bring trust to an industry that desperately needs it, and gives the verifiable results to the purchasers of carbon credits.”

Awareness doesn’t equal political action however, and Pachama needs the political will of both governments and consumers to move the needle on creating viable carbon trading markets.

Pachama’s business becomes profitable only when the price of carbon moves beyond $15 per-ton of carbon dioxide (or similar emissions) offset. Currently, there are only two markets in the world where that threshold has been reached — the California market and Europe, according to Saez-Gil.

For Pachama’s founder, forest preservation and reforestation projects can have outsized benefits. “There are only 500 forest projects that are certified today… we need tens of thousands,” says Saez-Gil. “There are one billion hectares on the planet is available for reforestation without competing with agriculture.”

The restoration of native forests can contribute to replenishing global biodiversity and captures more carbon than cultivating forests for industrial use, but both are better than destruction to grow row crops or support animal husbandry, Saez-Gil says.  

Pachama sources projects that are approved by existing certification bodies, but offers its customers monitoring and management services through access to satellite imagery and sensors that provide information on emissions and carbon capture on reforested land.

It’s a potential solution to the problem of deforestation that’s plaguing countries like Brazil. “The government in Brazil they want to generate income for the country,” says Saez-Gil. If carbon markets paid as much as ranching, it would reduce the need for animal husbandry and plantation farming in Brazil, Indonesia, or place like Peru. 

Today, most investments in reforestation projects are done through middlemen, which increases opacity and the chance that projects are being double-counted or sold, according to Saez-Gil. Pachama has a person who is contacting forest project developers so that they can list the projects independently. Then the company verifies the offsets with satellite imaging systems.

The company currently has 23 forest projects — three in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Peru and projects in the U.S. in California, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine .

Saez-Gil has high hopes for the future of carbon markets based on demand coming, in part, from new regulations like those imposed on the airline industry.

“Airlines will have to offset part of their emissions as part of CORSIA,”  says Saez-il. That’s an offset of 160 million tons of emission per year. “There is all this demand coming for different offsets for different  markets that will make the price go up.”

 


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Oceans of opportunity: surveying 2020’s seafaring startup potential

00:05 | 4 January

Space attracts a lot of attention as an area of frontier tech investment and entrepreneurship, but there’s another vast expanse that could actually be more addressable by the innovation economy — Earth’s oceans.

Seafaring startups aren’t attracting quite as much attention as their spacefaring cousins, but 2019 still saw a flurry of activity in this sector and 2020 could be an even big year for everything aquatic.

Sounding the depths of data collection

One big similarity between space tech and seafaring opportunities is that data collection represents a significant percent of the potential market. Data collection in and around Earth’s oceans has increased dramatically in recent years thanks to the availability, efficacy and cost of sensor technologies — in 2017, it was estimated that as much ocean data had been gathered in the past two years as in all of human history. But relatively speaking, that barely scratches the surface.

Ocean observation has largely been driven by scientific and research goals, which means there’s bound to be a pretty hard cap on available funding. But ocean data has value in all kinds of private’s sector pursuits, including the potential for autonomous commercial cargo transportation (more on that later), as well as predicting weather and climate conditions that impact shipping routes, agriculture and more.

Various methods exist for collecting data about Earth’s oceans, including space-based satellite observation. Startups like Terradepth, Saildrone and Promare have all proposed various autonomous seafaring data collection vehicle designs that could leverage robotics to bring ocean observation at scale closer to home. These firms are using technology that’s been made affordable for startup budgets through miniaturization and efficiency gains evolved through the progress of the smartphone and other computing industries.

This past year, Xprize awarded millions in prize money to teams that competed in the Ocean Discovery competition for autonomous ocean floor mapping, which is resulting in spin-out ventures that have a head start on success.

As in space, data collection and observation can take many forms, so we can expect to see many industry-specific approaches emerge to capitalize on what are surprisingly large market opportunities, even for seemingly narrow types of data. Continued efforts to refine and improve robotics technologies like sensing and vision should drive even more growth in autonomous ocean observation in 2020.

Autonomous logistics

Oceanfaring drones aren’t just about data collection, however; a huge portion of the global logistics market still relies on giant cargo vessels. The drive to automate container ships is nothing new, but it’s reaching a point where we’re actually starting to see autonomous cargo vehicles embark, including this Chinese cargo ship that set out from Guangdong at the end of this year and a ship called the Yara Birkeland has begun trials out of Rotterdam and expects to be operating fully autonomously by 2022.

 


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Nigeria’s Rensource raises $20M to power African markets by solar

10:30 | 18 December

Nigerian startup Rensource Energy has raised a $20 million Series A round co-led by CRE Venture Capital and the Omidyar network.

The renewable energy company builds and operates solar powered micro-utilities that provide electricity to commercial community structures, such as open-air trading bazaars.

Launched in 2016, the startup has shifted its operating strategy. “We’ve pivoted away from a residential focus…and we’re building much larger systems to become essentially the utility for these large urban markets we have a lot of in Nigeria,” Rensource co-founder Ademola Adesina told TechCrunch.

The company has a partnership with German manufacturer BOS AG, with whom its designs specialized panels for it use case. Rensource also has developer teams in Nigeria and Europe for its software related programs.

In addition to becoming a micro-energy provider to Nigeria’s robust SME classes, the startup aims to offer them B2B services. With the $20 million round Rensource is launching its Spaces Offline to Online platform for supply-chain services, including business-analytics and working capital options.

“It’s a mini-ERP tool. We’re trying bring a universe of people who are banked, but…still offline — their products are offline, they don’t track anything, and there’s no data behind their business — online,” said Adesina.

Rensource Africa Nigeria App

The benefit Rensource seeks to bring to Nigeria’s SMEs — at a profit for itself — is to lower overhead costs through better business practices and free them from the bane of generators.

Across marketplaces in West Africa, noisy, fuel-guzzling, and pollution producing generators are like an unwelcome, yet necessary business partner.

Lack of affordable and reliable electricity in Nigeria creates a massive real and opportunity cost to Africa’s largest economy.

For perspective, the West African country is roughly the size of Texas, with a 200 million population larger than Russia, and generates less gigawatt hours of electricity annually than the U.S. state of Connecticut.

Nigerian businesses (and citizens) adjust for these power deficiencies by spending on diesel fuel and generators.

The IMF’s 2019 Nigeria report quoted economic losses of $29 billion in Nigeria due to unreliable electricity supply. On global Doing Business rankings, Nigeria ranked 169 out of 190 countries in the category of “Getting Electricity”.

This difficulty and cost weighs particularly heavy on Nigeria (and the continent’s) SMEs, which often operate in Africa’s informal economy — projected to be one of the largest off-the grid commercial spaces in the world.

Rensource Solar Nigeria AfricaRensource’s micro-utility model deploys power clusters — made up of solar-panels, batteries, and a power management system — adjacent to markets and commercial hubs. The energy application isn’t totally clean, as the startup still uses its own diesel backup system.

Rensourse has used this model to become an off-grid energy provider in six states in Nigeria, and powers the Sabon Gari market — one of the the country’s largest, located in northern Kaduna state.

The company plans to expand to 100 markets within Nigeria and to additional African countries within 24 months, according to Adesina.

Rensource generates revenue from charging merchants daily, weekly, or monthly fees. “In 2017, we did a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Last year we did about $7 million in revenue, and this year we’ll do better than that,” CEO Ademola Adesina said.

The company doesn’t release official financials, but generated a small profit last year, according to Adesina. He named deploying more of its micro-utilities to new markets and diversifying services as the path to long-term profitability.

The company differentiates itself from many home-kit solar energy startups in Africa, such as M-Kopa, by becoming a renewable energy utility at scale.

ademola adesina rensourceRensource’s CEO sees the model as a classic leapfrog tech business, effectively bypassing Nigeria’s existing electricity grid and providing a less capital intensive alternative to large (and often complicated) energy infrastructure projects.

The company is also following a trend by some Nigeria based startups, such as trucking-logistics company Kobo360 and motorcycle ride-hail company Gokada, to shape a suite of additional services around the needs of core clients.

In Rensource’s case, those clients are SMEs and traders in the informal economy. “This informality of theirs is what we see as an opportunity in building this new business line and bringing these [merchants] into the online world,” said Adesina.

 

 


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Earth observation startup Capella Space will launch a seven satellite constellation in 2020

17:22 | 16 December

Capella Space is all set to begin commercial operations in 2020, with the launch of seven satellites that will provide synthetic aperture radar (SAR)-based imaging, which will provide its clients with extremely high-resolution imaging of Earth with extremely fast turnaround time, more power-efficient operation and higher quality than is currently available on the market from other small satellite-based solutions.

Backed by DCVC and Spark Capital, Capella says it has all the funding it needs to get its seven satellites launched and operational next year. The startup has also locked in deals with various U.S. government clients, including one with the U.S. Air Force. Its technology is a natural fit for defense applications, since it can capture high resolution data not only with greater quality than competitors, but also for longer spans – it can provide up to 10 minutes of active image capture per orbital path, which the company says is around 5x what its closest competitor can provide due to power consumption limitations.

In addition to government clients, Capella also has signed partnerships with key players in data delivery and ground-based relay, including Immarsat, Addvalue and AWS. These companies and the capabilities they provide will allow Capella to essentially offer real-time satellite tasking, which means that when a client asks it to point its imaging array at a specific location, that can do that immediately, “virtually latency free,” something it says it is unique in offering across the Easy observation industry. That’s an incredible competitive advantage – and it also says it’ll be able to actually collect and provide the resulting imaging from the satellites in as little as 30 minutes on average, which is also way below the industry average.

All told, Capella has lined up eight customers over the course of this past year, and they span a range of industries including not just defense, but also insurance, disaster relief, energy/oil and gas, urban development and maritime operations.

 


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