Fast Five from the Valley: Edition 38
Loss of talent signifying trouble in tech paradise
Tesla’s Vice President of Engineering, Doug Field, is taking a “six-week sabbatical” at a crucial time when the electric-car maker is struggling to boost production of the Model 3 sedan. This almost adds to the electric car-maker’s growing list of departing executives since 2016.
So what are the Tesla executive departure statistics? 8 in 2016, 14 in 2017, and now 7 in 2018. These numbers are a stark reminder of the issues the automaker is facing, mainly involving challenges ramping up assembly for its car models.
In other news, almost a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company’s decision to provide AI to Project Maven, a controversial military program aimed at accelerating the analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Aside from the clear ethical concerns over the use of AI in drone warfare, this also raises questions of Google’s historically open culture that encourages employees to challenge product decisions, and how seriously the tech giant’s leadership is taking this.
Cryptocurrencies here to stay? Blockchain phones and a Facebook coin on the horizon
HTC has recently announced a new piece of interesting hardware at the Consensus 2018 Blockchain conference in New York.
Yes, you guessed it, a Blockchain phone.
HTC’s upcoming Exodus handset has been labelled the first Blockchain phone, dedicated to decentralized applications, security, and cryptocurrency support. HTC has also outlined plans to create a native Blockchain network where cryptocurrencies can be traded amongst Exodus users.
Meanwhile, Facebook is reportedly planning to launch its own cryptocurrency, specifically aimed at facilitating payments on the platform. This could be the beginning signs of a dramatic shift of the social media platform, given its huge user base and existing marketplace section for buying and selling goods. Beyond this, there’s not much additional information, however, it seems HTC and Facebook might think cryptocurrencies are here to stay despite the widespread controversy surrounding the technology’s applications.
Government allows AT&T to test Flying COWs in San Diego and Virginia
Is it a bird, is it a plane… no, it’s a Flying COW. A Flying COW, which stands for Cell on Wings, is a cell site on a drone operating outside the line of sight, designed to beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disaster relief. AT&T have been granted the license to test their Flying COW technology in San Diego and Virginia (amongst other regions) as part of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems integration project. The U.S. Department of Transportation initiated this pilot to investigate how future drone use can be integrated in the already densely used airspace. In addition to AT&T, other companies including Apple and UBER have also been involved in testing drone operations beyond the line of sight. However, Amazon, who plans to operate a nationwide fleet of drones for parcel delivery, is not included in the list of private companies authorized to test their drones… for now.
Money doesn’t grow on trees…
… but it’s thrown at you by venture capitalists (VCs). At least when you own a startup in the transportation business. According to recent reports by Pitchbook, 5 of the 30 most valuable VC-backed startups are ride-hailing companies. UBER claims the top spot with a valuation of $69.6b, followed by Didi Chuxing at $56b, and with Lyft, Grab and Go Jek further down the line. Didi is even eying an IPO later this year, seeking a valuation in the high $80b range. This is far before UBER’s potential IPO date, and could re-heat the race between the American and Chinese ride-hailing giants.
It’s not only the ride-hailers that have dipped into the deep VC pockets, but also the shared electrical scooters that have developed the latest love-hate relationship with San Francisco. Scooter provider, Lime Bike, is reportedly seeking $500m in additional capital after their last investment round in February, where they successfully raised $70m. Competitors including Spin and Bird also have multiple offers from VCs on the table, with Bird recently closing their Series B with $100m in funding. Ultimately, it is likely that there will only be room for one of these companies to dominate the SF scene… only time will tell.
Cybersquatting is no laughing matter… at least not to Hershey
The Hershey Company, famous for its delicious chocolatey goodness, has filed a federal lawsuit against a Ukrainian chocolate maker for “cybersquatting” on its most famous trademark. Cybersquatting occurs when a business uses a domain name close to that of another, capitalizing on the reputation and good name of the “victim” business and subsequently misleading customers. In this case, the Ukrainian firm, AnyKiss, is the target in the US Middle District Court for cybersquatting on Hershey’s famous trademark. Hershey insists the cybersquatting involves AnyKiss’ use of the domain name ‘kisschocalaterie.com’. The domain name may seem obscurely linked to Hershey, however, the brand’s KISSES products total more than $480m annually with annual worldwide sales at $7b, so it’s clear how seriously Hersheys take this alleged infringement…