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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

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Fintech

Flutterwave Hit by Another Security Breach, Billions of Naira Diverted to Multiple Bank Accounts

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In another blow to the financial technology sector, Flutterwave, a prominent player in Nigeria’s digital payment landscape, has been rocked by yet another security breach, resulting in the diversion of billions of naira to multiple undisclosed bank accounts.

This incident is the latest in a series of setbacks for the fintech company, raising concerns about the integrity of its systems and the safety of customer funds.

According to insider sources familiar with the matter, unauthorized transactions amounting to approximately ₦11 billion ($7 million) were illicitly transferred to several accounts during April 2024.

However, other sources suggest the figure could be as high as ₦20 billion ($13.5 million), underscoring the magnitude of the breach.

Flutterwave, responding to inquiries regarding the breach, acknowledged the unauthorized activities but stopped short of confirming the exact amount involved.

In a statement to TechCabal, the company assured the public that no customer funds were lost or compromised, and the confidentiality of customer data remained intact.

The modus operandi of the perpetrators involved transferring the stolen funds to various accounts across five financial institutions over a span of four days.

To evade detection, the transactions were carefully orchestrated to stay below thresholds that trigger fraud checks, highlighting the sophistication of the operation.

Law enforcement agencies have been notified of the breach, and investigations are underway to apprehend those responsible.

Flutterwave has also initiated measures to mitigate the impact of the incident, including temporarily restricting the accounts implicated in the unauthorized transfers.

Industry analysts note that this is not the first time Flutterwave has fallen victim to such security breaches. Over the past fourteen months, the company has grappled with multiple incidents of unauthorized transfers, raising serious concerns about the adequacy of its cybersecurity measures.

In October 2023, Flutterwave reported unauthorized transactions totaling ₦19 billion ($24 million), affecting thousands of account holders across 35 banks and financial institutions.

Subsequent breaches in March and February 2023 saw millions of naira diverted to numerous bank accounts, further exposing vulnerabilities in the company’s systems.

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Fintech

Moniepoint Inc Moniepoint Inc Named Africa’s Fastest-Growing Financial Institution by Financial Times

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Moniepoint

Moniepoint Inc, parent company of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions, Moniepoint MFB and TeamApt Ltd has been ranked by the Financial Times, one of the world’s leading business news organizations, recognized internationally for its authority, integrity, and accuracy as Africa’s fastest-growing financial institution.

The world’s leading financial publication confirmed Moniepoint Inc’s accolade in its annual “Africa’s Fastest Growing Companies” survey, released today. It is the second consecutive year Moniepoint has achieved both the fastest-growing fintech milestone, and, ranked in Africa’s top four fastest-growing companies overall.

The survey was compiled by Statista, a leading research company renowned for its insight into African companies’ actual performance, in a rigorous screening process. In this survey, companies are ranked based on 2019-2022 data by their absolute growth rate of revenues and their compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Moniepoint’s growth rates of 7,979% (absolute) and 332% (CAGR) ranked it ahead of hundreds of leading companies from diverse industries such as technology, telecoms, financial services, and healthcare.

Moniepoint Inc has long been one of Africa’s largest business payments platforms, processing over $182 billion for customers in 2023. It will be recalled that in August 2023, Moniepoint MFB entered the personal banking market offering reliable banking services to millions of individuals across Nigeria.  The holding group also doubled its global headcount, growing to over 1,800 employees by the end of 2023.

This recognition highlights Moniepoint’s success as Africa’s leading fintech, driving financial inclusion by empowering underserved businesses and individuals to access the formal financial system, contributing to a key goal of the Nigerian government.

Tosin Eniolorunda, Group CEO of Moniepoint Inc., said: “We are thrilled to be recognised by the Financial Times as Africa’s fastest growing fintech for the second consecutive year. Achieving rapid growth and scale is a fantastic achievement; maintaining that year-on-year is even better. The ranking is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the entire Moniepoint team, and the trust of millions of customers across Africa in the Company.

“2023 was a pivotal year for Moniepoint. Moniepoint has moved from being an agency-dominated institution to becoming merchant-dominated as we have seen a lot more people embrace more digital payment solutions. It is humbling to see that we have become a household name that people have come to know and trust, the bellwether for reliable transactions every time.

With our foray into the personal banking market, we have been able to deliver seamless and reliable payment solutions for Nigerians especially those in underserved communities as we continue to supercharge access to financial services and contribute to economic growth and wealth creation.  2024 is set to be even more exciting with continued growth, driving compliance and innovation, as we maintain our leading role within the African fintech sector, driving financial inclusion across Africa.”

According to David Pilling, FT Africa Editor, “The third year of our now expanded ranking of Africa’s Fastest Growing Companies comes against a background in which many economies are struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic. The FT-Statista list reveals the type of companies that, even in hard times, have managed to grow, often by disrupting markets…This year, our ranking has a wider geographical spread of companies than before. The big newcomer is Morocco, with 12 companies in the top 125 against just three last time. Mauritian-domiciled companies also did well with nine winners, against four in 2022. South Africa had 42 companies in the list, followed by Nigeria’s 25, while Kenya tied third at 12.”

Moniepoint Inc.’s technology powers over five million businesses and their customers, offering all the payment, banking, credit and business management tools they need to succeed.  Establishing itself as a market leader in Nigeria across various segments from commerce to health and hospitality amongst many others, Moniepoint’s transformational and positive strides has earned it local and international plaudits.

In 2023, for the second year running, Moniepoint Inc was named amongst the 100 most promising private fintech companies by CB Insights. Moniepoint MFB received the Rising Star Family Business Award at the Pwc/Businessday Family Business Summit; while bagging the Fintech Company of the Year award at the 16th edition of Leadership Newspapers Conference and Awards.

Industry analysts have averred that as a strongly embedded and systemic institution in the digital payment services segment, with an eye on the future, Moniepoint Inc is poised to continue to deliver innovative solutions that promote inclusivity, drive sustainability and create new vistas in the markets where they operate.

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E-commerce

Jumia Plans Warehouse Consolidation in Lagos Amid Nigeria Focus

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Jumia - Investors King

Jumia Technologies AG, the Nasdaq-listed e-commerce giant, has unveiled plans to consolidate its warehouses in Nigeria.

This decision is part of the company’s broader strategy to prioritize Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation as it endeavors to turn profitable amidst challenging market conditions.

The consolidation initiative will see Jumia merging its three existing warehouses in Nigeria into a single expansive depot spanning 30,000 square meters, strategically located in Lagos.

Francis Dufay, CEO of Jumia, emphasized the cost-cutting benefits associated with this move, highlighting the company’s commitment to optimizing its operational efficiency.

Speaking about the rationale behind the consolidation, Dufay expressed confidence in Nigeria’s potential to provide Jumia with the scale needed to achieve profitability.

Despite facing headwinds such as currency fluctuations and a challenging economic environment, Jumia views Nigeria as a key market for growth, anticipating positive developments in the medium term.

Jumia’s decision to streamline its operations in Nigeria comes against the backdrop of its ongoing efforts to navigate the complexities of the e-commerce landscape.

Despite reporting an operating loss of $8.33 million in the first quarter of the year, the company remains optimistic about its prospects in Nigeria, where it continues to witness steady revenue growth.

The e-commerce giant’s commitment to Nigeria underscores its long-term vision and determination to succeed in the region.

With plans to expand its footprint to additional cities across the country, Jumia aims to capitalize on Nigeria’s vast market potential and consumer demand.

However, Jumia’s journey to profitability in Nigeria is not without its challenges. The country’s economic landscape has been marred by currency devaluations, infrastructural deficiencies, and logistical hurdles.

Yet, amidst these obstacles, Jumia remains resilient, banking on Nigeria’s economic revival efforts and policy reforms to fuel its growth trajectory.

As part of its strategy to adapt to evolving market dynamics, Jumia has introduced innovative initiatives such as buy-now-pay-later financing options to cater to customers grappling with rising prices.

Also, the company remains vigilant in monitoring pricing dynamics, ensuring competitive pricing to meet the needs of price-conscious consumers.

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