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Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

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A logo is pictured at Google's European Engineering Center in Zurich

The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf — then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology.

But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Robotics Push

Google acquired Boston Dynamics in late 2013 as part of a spree of acquisitions in the field of robotics. The deals were spearheaded by Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division, and brought about 300 robotics engineers into Google. Rubin left the company in October 2014. Over the following year, the robot initiative, dubbed Replicant, was plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader.

At the heart of Replicant’s trouble, said a person familiar with the group, was a reluctance by Boston Dynamics executives to work with Google’s other robot engineers in California and Tokyo and the unit’s failure to come up with products that could be released in the near term.

Tensions between Boston Dynamics and the rest of the Replicant group spilled into open view within Google, when written minutes of a Nov. 11 meeting and several subsequent e-mails were inadvertently published to an online forum that was accessible to other Google workers. These documents were made available to Bloomberg News by a Google employee who spotted them.

The November meeting was run by Jonathan Rosenberg, an adviser to Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and former Google senior vice president, who was temporarily in charge of the Replicant group. In the meeting, Rosenberg said, “we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years,” and that “there’s some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years.”

‘Brick Wall’

Aaron Edsinger, director of robotics at Google in San Francisco, said that he had been trying to work with Boston Dynamics to create a low-cost electric quadruped robot and felt “a bit of a brick wall” around the division, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Marc Raibert, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and the founder of Boston Dynamics, said that “I firmly believe the only way to get to a product is through the work we are doing in Boston. (I) don’t think we are the pie in the sky guys as much as everyone thinks we are,” the minutes show.

Raibert didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story.
Part of the challenge was that Alphabet, created in 2015, was geared toward making Google inviting to startup founders and entrepreneurial executives who wanted to join companies driving toward products and revenue, which could increase shareholder value for those subsidiaries. Page wanted to invite top-tier engineers to join the companies within Alphabet and entice them with equity.

In December, Google announced that Replicant had been folded into Google’s advanced research group, Google X. In a private all-hands meeting around that time, Astro Teller, the head of Google X, told Replicant employees that if robotics aren’t the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve, they would be reassigned to work on other things, according to a person who was at that meeting.

Distancing Google

Boston Dynamics, though, was never folded into Google X and was instead put up for sale. After the division’s latest robot video was posted to YouTube, in February, Google’s public-relations team expressed discomfort that Alphabet would be associated with a push into humanoid robotics. Their subsequent e-mails were also published to the internal online forum and became visible to all Google employees.

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X.

Hohne went on to ask her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

“We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers,” she wrote.

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.

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Flutterwave, 9PSB Partner to Boost Growth of Inclusive Financial Services in Nigeria

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Flutterwave and 9PSB

Flutterwave, Africa’s leading payments technology company and Nigeria’s very first payment service bank, 9PSB on Monday entered into a partnership agreement that will help facilitate seamless financial services for Nigerians.

In a joint statement issued by both companies, the partnership seeks to create a seamless payment ecosystem by aggregating and simplifying transactions for banking agents, merchants, and consumers.

The partnership will also support the drive for economic growth through empowerment of the SME sector, entrepreneurs in FinTech and other industries, as well as contribute to the transformation of the informal sector to formal.

Speaking at the MoU signing ceremony, held at the 9PSB head office in Lagos, the Chief Executive Officer, 9PSB, Branka Mracajac remarked that the collaboration between 9PSB and Flutterwave represents an important milestone in making banking services accessible to all.

According to her, the partnership supports both companies’ commitment to expand accessibility and serve as last-mile delivery of solutions to the unbanked, under-banked and underserved. She said, “9PSB, being focused on the presence in unserved, rural, and remote areas, has a unique business model that provides Agent Banking as a Service to our partners to drive financial inclusion. Expanding on our promise to deliver relevant products, with this partnership, our existing agents, partners, and customers will have a single point of entry to enjoy various products and services provided by Flutterwave.”

With this partnership, Flutterwave and 9PSB are jointly launching a suite of products to enable other corporate entities, FinTech, technology and other industries to take advantage of the robust end-to-end system available for payments, collections, and transactions for both the banked and financially excluded Nigerians.

Commenting on the choice of 9PSB as its settlement bank, Founder and CEO, Flutterwave, Olugbenga Agboola noted that both companies share the same vision and are committed to one goal of powering seamless financial services. “At Flutterwave, we believe in an ecosystem of shared value that transforms and impacts society. We are showcasing the power of strategic partnership and cross-sectoral collaboration in advancing Nigeria’s financial ecosystem,” he said.

A paper published by the CBN—Financial Inclusion in Nigeria; Issues and Challenges, admits that there is global consensus on the importance of financial inclusion due to its key role in bringing integrity and stability into an economy’s financial system as well as its role in fighting poverty in a sustainable manner. The partnership between 9PSB and Flutterwave keys into various calls for interconnectivity and interoperability amongst stakeholders in the financial sector in accelerating the country’s financial inclusion drive to create prosperity and grow the economy.

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HealthPlus Launches Digital ePharmacy and Access To Doctors

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Health Plus-InvestorsKing

HealthPlus Limited, the largest and fastest-growing pharmacy chain across West Africa is set to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry with the launch of Nigeria’s first ever e-Pharmacy. Nigerians can also now access a doctor or pharmacist instantly at a click.

Through the digitization of the Pharmacy and retail services, HealthPlus will now be transformed into a fully automated one-stop shop for Pharmacy Services Telemedicine Services Laboratory Services and, Beauty Consultation Services.

From the fully automated and interactive website, Nigerians can now access all the pharmacy services and consult a doctor right from the comfort of their homes or a click from their mobile phones.

According to Chidi Okoro, Chief Transformation Officer of HealthPlus Nigeria Limited, “we noticed a significant surge in online Pharmacy orders, and many customers organically resort to purchasing medicines online and getting them delivered at home. It is now considered not just the more convenient option, but the safer option as well.”

HealthPlus’ first-ever ePharmacy is in response to this shift and give Nigerians quicker access to the country’s best pharmaceutical care,

HealthPlus’ ePharmacy aims to deliver a user-friendly, all-inclusive online experience, that provides access to professional health care services using any device. HealthPlus ePharmacy is truly a ‘one-stop shop’ experience for health care services including telemedicine and laboratory services in partnership with healthcare providers such as MeCure.

In explaining the specialist nature of the ePharmacy platform, Chief Transformation Officer, Chidi Okoro also remarked that “our intention is to become the leading point of care for medicine use review, prescriptions management and pharmacist consultation services, by providing seamless end to end user experience. We will also be constantly updating our content with helpful information, articles, blogs, newsletters and company announcements.”

Amongst the new features, such as the “Speak To A Pharmacist” chat button on the site, the ePharmacy platform is interactive and gives better access to foster improved communication with our patients and customers. ‘

Afsane Jetha, CEO of Alta Semper Capital LLP, HealthPlus’s private equity investment partner, believes that this is another great stride in improving healthcare delivery in Nigeria by providing access to high-quality yet affordable medical and beauty supplies through a new and innovative platform. “We remain strongly committed to supporting the company strategically and financially in the years to come,” he assured.

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YouTube To Generate Over $280 Million From US Premium Subscribers In 2021

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Youtube - Investors King

YouTube Premium is starting to generate sustainable revenues from its paid ad-free subscription services. It took more than six years since relaunch to see significant growth. 

A recent report projects that with an estimated 23.6 million unique users by the end of 2021, revenues are expected to climb to $282.96 million in the US alone, representing an impressive +18% Year-Over-Year (YoY) growth.

Premium subscriptions are projected to top 25 million unique users by the end of next year, exceeding $300 million in revenues. By the end of 2024, totalling $334.52 million with nearly 28 million sign-ups. The projected revenues are expected to keep a steady growth after 2023.

Video streaming services are gaining popularity, growth accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic

In addition to promising growth in the US, YouTube Premium services reached 50 million subscribers globally since September, beating an important milestone. YouTube Premium’s recent success can be attributed to both Covid-related, as well as non-Covid-related factors.

The global video streaming market is expected to expand at a 21% growth rate between 2021 and 2028 – highly driven by the increase in smartphone and internet usage. Live-streaming, music streaming, the adoption of cloud-based solutions could all be contributing factors.

The HelpCenter app’s co-founder Ernestas Petkevicius commented on the continuous growth of YouTube Premium:

“YouTube is playing in its own category. I do not see any competition for user-generated content which is now the main driver of tutoring, know-how, and news/comments. YouTube has lots of quality content and an army of creators who rely on the platform as their main source of income. Music services and ad-free mode are only an extra catalyst for revenue growth. YouTube has no competitors when it comes to these services, therefore, the revenue numbers potentially could be much bigger.”

In terms of market shares, 39% of the video streaming market is found to be driven by the US and Canada, which would explain the US-driven revenue growth of 18% Year-over-Year (YoY). What is more, subscription-model accounted for 43% revenue share of the total video streaming services in 2020.

Music streaming is another possible factor for revenue growth from premium sign-ups. Music streaming market in isolation is expected to reach a good 9.8% growth between 2021 and 2027.

And even though video streaming was popular prior to the pandemic, the extreme acceleration in growth has been due to the COVID-19 crisis. As many countries declared nationwide lockdowns, people stayed home more, thus increasing the use of digital services like social media, as well as online video streaming. Consumer engagement on social media video sharing platforms like YouTube grew significantly.

Whether this growth is driven by the all-encompassing features (ad-free videos, YouTube TV, music streaming for $11.99), changes in the consumer behavior, or technological advancements, revenues from YouTube Premium subscriptions in the US are expected to keep growing at a steady rate.

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