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Baidu Enters the Global Race for Driverless Car Domination

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Baidu

Wang Jing bought his first car, a Dodge Shadow, with $3,000 he scratched together working three part-time jobs in the U.S. as a postgraduate student in Florida. These days, the senior vice president in charge of Baidu Inc.’s autonomous driving efforts is far better paid. He’s also a man on a mission: To push China to the forefront of the coming driverless-car era.

Baidu joins a crowded field. Google Inc., which started developing autonomous cars in 2009, has tested self-driving vehicles for more than 2 million miles and is considering making its self-driving car unit a stand-alone business under the Alphabet Inc. corporate umbrella later this year. Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said his customers will be able to summon an electric car to drive autonomously from Los Angeles to New York within two years. General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are also in hot pursuit of this emerging market.

Undeterred, Wang, 51, sees a level playing field in the coming era of intelligent, autonomous cars–and one that China is capable of dominating.

“Chinese carmakers started making cars 100 years after others and a lot of the core technology aren’t in Chinese hands, such as engines” said Wang. “With electric cars, with intelligent cars, the core technology shifts from the engine and gearbox to artificial intelligence and that’s an area where China is very close to the U.S., giving China the chance to catch up and seize leadership.”

Robotic Brain

Robin Li, Baidu’s co-founder and chief executive officer, has invested heavily into a subfield of artificial intelligence known as deep learning, which aims to improve search results and computing tasks by training computers to work more like the human brain. The company hired Andrew Ng, a renowned computer scientist and expert in robotics and machine learning as Baidu’s chief scientist in May 2014.

Wang thinks the company can leverage its expertise in artificial intelligence, data mapping and Internet connectivity to excel in autonomous driving technology. Getting China into that game is a priority for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who sees digital technology as an opportunity for Chinese manufactures to become more innovative. At a global Internet forum last month, Xi made the point of visiting Baidu’s stand, where he listened to Baidu CEO Li discuss autonomous car development.

It may take time for Chinese companies to scale up in this business, according to Cao He, an analyst with Minzu Securities in Beijing. “There is a long way ahead for Baidu and other companies trying to mass produce and sell autonomous driving cars,” said Cao. “Given the wide diversity of road conditions from one place to another, it is unlikely for any company to come up with a sizable industry operation within five years.”

That said, there could be a lot of money at state. Baidu estimates that the Chinese market for car sales, buses, taxis and related transportation services is potentially worth more than $1.5 trillion a year in revenue. Getting a sliver of that could be a huge new revenue source for China’s biggest search engine company.

Bloomberg

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Fintech

Adebola Sanni: FinTech, Solution to Africa’s Financial Inclusion Problems

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Financial inclusion and provision of sustainable energy is at a turning point in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. With a population of over 200 million, about 50 per cent of the total population live in rural areas, and only 39 per cent of those living in rural communities have access to electricity. This is in addition to over 40 per cent of the entire population who are financially excluded or underserved.

However, the proliferation of digital financial services in Nigeria – powered largely by growth in fin-tech companies – has catalysed an unparalleled increase in the current number of people with access to formal financial services, while further opening up opportunities to address power supply challenges across rural communities; a major feat instrumental towards achieving the broad Sustainable Development Goal 7. With over 200 fin-tech companies in operation within its borders, Africa’s largest economy has found a way to target and capture over 40 per cent of its financially excluded or underserved population.

In a conversation with Adebola Sanni, co-founder, Infibranches Technologies and the Group Head, Business Development & Partnerships at Swifta Systems and Services, she highlighted the growing awareness of the transformative power of fin-tech and how if properly harnessed can help address both problems of financial inclusion and the more pressing sustainability challenges in the area of affordable and reliable power supply needed to drive the growth of local economies.

“Fintech has increasingly provided innovative ways to address existing gaps in the availability, accessibility and use of finance particularly among the unbanked population. By leveraging the proliferation of technology, agent banking and mobile money solutions now offer affordable, instant, and reliable transactions, savings, credit across rural communities where no bank had ever established a branch. Similarly, about 75 million Nigerians who mostly fall within the financially underserved or excluded demography live without reliable electricity access as the existing electrical grid serves largely the country’s urban population.”

“We understand how pivotal the provision of sustainable power is to driving growth of local economies in rural communities and by extension the need to boost financial services penetration across these communities. These are both enablers for catalysing positive transformation and driving sustainable economic progress across the country.”

Adebola, a leading business strategist and technology consultant also said, “To address these challenges, we believe distributed energy solutions that leverage digital payments will open up opportunities to reach the underserved market at low cost.”

We partnered NGOs, including Shell Foundation, USAID, to extend agent networks together with off grid energy providers in 2019 where we set up about 200 agent locations across Nigeria, identifying communities across the rural and peri-urban regions with needs for both power and financial services. We also partnered renewable energy companies such as Green Light Planet (Sun King), D.Light Solar, Sosai, PAS BBoxx, Konexa to set up payment points necessary to expand access to highly subsidized power for such communities.

“This solution provides affordable home solar systems to rural communities with an affordable and convenient payment structure where beneficiaries pay as low as N500 (less than $2 dollar a month) which allows for people to pay off the cost in a year to fully own the solar equipment.”

Till date, over 400,000 people have been impacted across 22 States and 108 local government areas in Nigeria through various initiatives supporting energy access especially in rural areas. The addition of the ‘Solar Power Naija project’ by the Federal government initiative under the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) and managed by REA, for off-grid communities, will further expand energy access to 25 million individuals through the provision of Solar Home Systems (SHS) or connection to a mini grid. This is a good initiative to help expand energy access faster.

One of the success stories underpinning how providing innovative energy solutions can transform communities is the Havenhills mini-grid project in Kigbe community located in Kwali Local Government Area Council, Abuja. Before executing the project, the Kigbe community with geographical limitations had no electricity as they were completely off-grid. The project upon completion delivered a 20KW solar enabled mini-grid through 3km 3-phases and 1-phase grid lines to 145 homes, enabling them to power basic electrical appliances such as light bulbs, fans and TVs. The project also supports 5 local businesses including a barbing salon, grocery store and viewing center.

As part of creating sustainable economic empowerment, Adebola Sanni, who has strong passion for financial inclusion and energy access, has facilitated the implementation of a pioneer digital infrastructure that supports micro insurance, pension and savings providers and the first API infrastructure that aggregates renewable energy products and services making them accessible to any payment service providers, banks and other financial and non-financial institutions.

She is vastly experienced in driving growth, creating market focused products and providing innovative solutions to businesses in Financial Technology, eCommerce, Telco and Private/Publics sectors as well creating partnership opportunities for growth.

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Jumia’s Gross Merchandise Value Drops 13 Percent in Q1 2021 Despite Lockdown

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Jumia, Africa’s leading online marketplace, recorded a 13 percent decline in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) from €189.6 million in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020 to €165.0 million in the first quarter of 2021.

This was despite Amazon, Alibaba and other global e-commerce companies posting high GMV due to the surge in online orders because of ongoing movement restrictions in most nations.

Annual Active Consumers rose by 6.9 percent to 6.9 million in the quarter under review, up from 6.4 million in the same quarter of 2020, the leading e-commerce stated in its financial statements.

Orders grew by 3 percent year on year to 6.6 million from 6.4 million posted in the corresponding quarter of 2021.

Gross profit expanded by 10.9 percent from €18.4 million in Q1 2020 to €20.4 million in Q1 2021. While gross profit after fulfillment expense rose by 149.5 percent to €6.2 million, up from €2.5 million achieved in Q1 2021.

Sales and advertising expense moderated to €8.1 million in the quarter under review, representing a decline of 9.1 percent from €8.9 million posted in Q1 2020.

Technology and content expense stood at €6.9 million in Q1 2021, below €7.2 million in Q1 2020. G&A expense, excluding SBC improved from €24.4 million decline posted in Q1 2020 to €20.3 million decline in Q1 2021.

Adjusted Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) also improved by 24.2 percent to a €27 million decline in Q1 2021 from €35.6 million.

Similarly, operating loss improved by 23 percent from €43.7 million posted in Q1 2020 to €33.7 million in Q1 2021.

Commenting on the company’s performance Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec, Co-Chief Executive Officers of Jumia, said “Our first quarter results reflect solid progress towards profitability. The drivers remain consistent: selective and disciplined usage growth, gradual monetization and continued cost discipline. The first quarter of 2021 was the sixth consecutive quarter of positive gross profit after fulfillment expense, which reached €6.2 million, more than doubling year-over-year, while Adjusted EBITDA loss contracted by 24% year-over-year, reaching €27.0 million”.

“Our strategy to increase our exposure to everyday product categories continues to yield positive results, enhancing the relevance of our marketplace for consumers. We are making further inroads in payment and fintech with 37% of Orders in the first quarter of 2021 completed using JumiaPay. Last but not least, we have raised over $570 million over the past six months, strengthening our balance sheet and increasing our strategic flexibility.

“We are confident we have all the right ingredients to continue to build a growing business across both our e-commerce and fintech activities.”

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Google Wins Cloud Deal From Elon Musk’s SpaceX for Starlink Internet Connectivity

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Google announced on Thursday its cloud unit has won a deal to supply computing and networking resources to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s privately held space-development company, to help deliver internet service through its Starlink satellites.

SpaceX will install ground stations at Google data centers that connect to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, with an eye toward providing fast internet service to enterprises in the second half of this year.

The deal represents a victory for Google as it works to take share from Amazon and Microsoft in the fast-growing cloud computing market.

Investors are counting on Google’s nascent cloud business to boost growth in the event that its advertising business slows down. While Google’s cloud business delivered only 7 percent of parent company Alphabet’s total revenue in the first quarter, it grew almost 46 percent year over year, compared with growth of 32 percent for Google’s advertising services.

It’s also an unusual type of deal for Google — or any other cloud provider — as it relies heavily on Google’s internal network that connects data centers, rather than simply outsourcing functions like computing power or data storage to these data centers.

“This is one of a kind. I don’t believe something like this has been done before,” said Bikash Koley, Google’s head of global networking. “The real potential of this technology became very obvious. The power of combining cloud with universal secure connectivity, it’s a very powerful combination.”

“They chose us because of the quality of our network and the distribution and reach of our network,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google’s cloud group.

In SpaceX’s case, there is no need for cell towers. Instead, customers’ devices will communicate to satellites, and then the satellites will link up to Google data centers. Inside those data centers, customers can run applications quickly using Google’s cloud services, or they can send the information on to other companies’ services that are geographically nearby, enabling low latency so there’s minimal lag. Data then comes right back through the Google data centers to satellites, and then down to end users.

The deal could last seven years, according to a person who declined to be named discussing confidential terms.

Starlink’s service might be valuable for consumers living in places with limited internet access, as well as businesses and government organizations running projects in remote areas, Kurian said. He anticipates that having Starlink draw on Google’s cloud network will lead organizations to deploy applications inside Google’s cloud to take advantage of high speeds.

Under the partnership, SpaceX will place its Starlink ground stations within Google data center properties, which can help the service support businesses requiring cloud-based applications.

Starlink is in the process of launching its satellite broadband internet service, which can reach customers without ground-based connections and is one of several space-based systems.

“Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” said SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell.

“We are proud to work with Google to deliver this access to businesses, public sector organizations, and many other groups operating around the world.”

Urs Hoelzle, senior vice president at Google Cloud, said the tie-up would help ensure “that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running.”

This new capability for enterprise customers is expected to be available in the second half of 2021, the companies said in a joint statement.

SpaceX is seeking regulatory approval for broadband service for both consumers and businesses around the world from thousands of satellites.

Google is not the only cloud provider to be working with Starlink. In October, Microsoft said it was working with SpaceX to bring Starlink internet connectivity to modular Azure cloud data centers that customers can deploy anywhere. SpaceX would still rely on Google data centers in that scenario, a person familiar with the matter said. (Data would travel from the customer’s Azure modular data center through the Starlink satellite to Google’s data center and then out to other cloud services — and return in the opposite direction. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Initially, SpaceX will deploy the ground stations at Google data centers in the U.S., but the company wants to expand internationally, the person said.

SpaceX is one of the world’s most valuable privately held start-ups, having raised money at a $74 billion valuation in February, CNBC reported. Google invested $900 million in SpaceX in 2015. SpaceX has launched over 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, and last week the company said more than 500,000 people have ordered or made a deposit for the internet service.

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