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Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Cars

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  • Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Cars

In 2010, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center named Mark Moore published a white paper outlining the feasibility of electric aircrafts that could take off and land like helicopters but were smaller and quieter. The vehicles would be capable of providing a speedy alternative to the dreary morning commute.

Moore’s research (PDF) into so-called VTOL—short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars—inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology, Bloomberg Businessweek reported last summer.

Now Moore is leaving the confines of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google’s rivals: Uber Technologies Inc. Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying car initiative known as Uber Elevate. “I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” he says.

Uber isn’t constructing a flying car yet. In its own white paper published last October, the company laid out a radical vision for airborne commutes and identified technical challenges it said it wanted to help the nascent industry solve, like noise pollution, vehicle efficiency and limited battery life. Moore consulted on the paper and was impressed by the company’s vision and potential impact.

Nikhil Goel, Uber’s head of product for advanced programs, says the company wants to organize the industry to help spur development of flying cars. “Uber continues to see its role as an accelerant-catalyst to the entire ecosystem, and we are excited to have Mark joining us to work with manufacturers and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our whitepaper,” Goel wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Moore acknowledged that many obstacles stand in the way, and they’re not only technical. He says each flying car company would need to independently negotiate with suppliers to get prices down, and lobby regulators to certify aircrafts and relax air-traffic restrictions. But he says Uber, with its 55 million active riders, can uniquely demonstrate that there could be a massive, profitable and safe market. “If you don’t have a business case that makes economic sense, than all of this is just a wild tech game and not really a wise investment,” Moore says.

Uber’s vision is a seductive one, particularly for sci-fi fans. The ride-hailing company envisions people taking conventional Ubers from their homes to nearby “vertiports” that dot residential neighborhoods. Then they would zoom up into the air and across town to the vertiport closest to their offices. (“We don’t need stinking bridges!” says Moore.) These air taxis will only need ranges of between 50 to 100 miles, and Moore thinks that they can be at least partially recharged while passengers are boarding or exiting the aircraft. He also predicts we’ll see several well-engineered flying cars in the next one to three years and that there will be human pilots, at least managing the onboard computers, for the foreseeable future.

His move to Uber is a risky one. Moore says he’s leaving NASA one year before he’s eligible for retirement and walking away from a significant percentage of his pension and free health care for life “to be in the right place at the right time to make this market real.” (Though it’s probably safe to say that Uber, with some $11 billion on its balance sheet, is making it worth his while.) Moore seems to be disillusioned with NASA, saying the agency is leaving promising new aviation markets to the private industry. “It’s the federal government who is best positioned to overcome extremely high levels of risks,” he says.

While NASA is larded with layers of bureaucracy and management, Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick has been closely involved in hatching his company’s flying car plans, Moore says. That is, when he’s not distracted with his own political crises, such as his role on President Donald Trump’s advisory council, which he relinquished last week after criticism from customers, drivers and employees.

Kalanick’s bet on Uber Elevate is another indication that while Silicon Valley seems on the surface to be consumed with politics and protests these days, the march into the future continues apace.

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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Service Robots to Hit $30B in Sales by 2022, a 30% Increase in Two Years

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Unlike the industrial robotics sector, service robots have received a boost from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data presented by BuyShares, the entire market is expected to continue growing strongly and hit over $30bn in sales by 2022, a 30% increase in two years.

Americas Lead in the Use of Service Robots, Entire Market to Hit $12B Value in 2022

Recent years have witnessed a surge in the use of service robots, as they offer increased productivity and convenience in both professional and private settings. The entire market is divided into two main segments. Commercial robots are used to perform tasks in a business environment, like medical robots and automated guided vehicles used in warehouses.

Personal service robots include convenience robots, which perform tasks like cleaning and vacuuming, and entertainment robots, such as toys and photography drones.

In 2018, the entire market generated $13.7bn in sales volume, revealed the Statista survey. This figure surged by almost 70% in the next two years, reaching $23.1bn in 2020. The growing demand for service robots is expected to continue this year, with the sales value rising by another 17% YoY to $27bn. By the end of 2022, this figure is forecast to jump by another $3bn.

Statistics show the service robotics market is led by the Americas, with an estimated sales value of $10.8bn in 2021, up from $7.4bn before the pandemic. This figure is forecast to jump to over $12bn in 2022.

As the second-largest region, the Asia Pacific is expected to hit almost $7.4bn in sales volume in 2021, a 20% jump in a year. The European market follows with a $7.3bn value.

Medical Robots to Generate One-Third of Total Sales Value

Statistics show that most service robots are used in the medical industry, expected to generate almost $9bn or 33% of total sales value this year. In the next twelve months, this figure is set to jump to $10bn. Technical innovations and demographic developments drive the market growth of these robots.

Robotic technologies can be more precise and flexible than human surgeons, making robot-assisted surgery a popular option. Since they are immune to infectious diseases, medical robots have also been implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also widely used in diagnostic, rehabilitation, and nursing care.

Statistics show the Americas dominate the medical robot’s market. However, due to aging populations, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to witness the most significant growth in the future.

Convenience robots for domestic tasks ranked as the second-largest segment, with $6.7bn in sales value in 2021. This figure is set to reach almost $7.5bn next year. These robots are increasingly finding their way into households worldwide. Packed with different capabilities, they can make everyday life more comfortable. Statistics show the Asia-Pacific region is the leading market for convenience robots. However, the largest producer, iRobot, is headquartered in the United States.

As the fastest-growing segment of the commercial service robotics market, logistics is forecast to hit over $3.9bn in sales volume this year, up from $3.1bn in 2020. The pandemic fuelled eCommerce surge continues driving demand for logistics robots, as they help automate and optimize operations, enabling higher precision, lower costs, and faster delivery times.

The Asia-Pacific region is forecast to witness the biggest increase in sales volume. However, Europe is expected to maintain its position as the region with the most sales of logistics service robots.

Statistics show the entire logistics robots industry is set to continue growing and reach $4.5bn in sales by 2022.

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Global Investments into Fintech Companies Plunged by Almost 40% amid Pandemic

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The year 2020 was a challenging year for many fintechs. The global slowdown in funding caused by the COVID-19 led to a significant drop in the number of venture capital deals and brought uncertainty for many companies operating in this market.

According to data presented by AksjeBloggen.com, global investments into fintech companies hit $105.3bn in 2020, almost a 40% plunge amid pandemic.

US Fintechs Raised 75% of Total Investments

Fintech companies apply modern tech solutions in the financial services industry to offer digitally enhanced products and allow widespread access to financial products at a lower cost than traditional players. Over the years, these innovative startups transformed how people and businesses spend, invest, save, or borrow money.

Even before the pandemic, many fintechs found it difficult to access funding, as investors focused on established companies instead of early-stage businesses. Nevertheless, the total value of investments into fintech companies increased dramatically in the last decade.

In 2010, fintechs raised $9bn in funding, revealed the KPMG’s 2020 Pulse of Fintech report. By 2015, this figure grew more than seven times to $67.1bn. In 2018, the total investment value jumped to $145.9bn and continued rising to $168bn in 2019, as the record year for fintech investments.

After the COVID-19 pandemic brought many deals to a halt in the first half of 2020, H2’20 reversed the trend as investors and fintechs learned to do business in a new normal. Nevertheless, statistics show that last year witnessed 2,861 deals worth $105.3bn, almost $63bn less than before the pandemic.

The Americas were the region attracting the most investments in the sector, accounting for 75% of the total, or $79.2bn. Fintechs from the EMEA region raised $14.4bn last year. Asian fintechs followed with $11.2bn worth of investments.

The Number of Fintech Startups Doubled Since 2019

Although the COVID-19 affected the investment activity in the fintech sector, it also triggered a surge in the use of fintech solutions, creating a huge space for new companies.

The BCG data revealed the number of fintech startups worldwide more than doubled since the pandemic struck, rising from over 12,200 in 2019 to almost 26,500 this month.

As of April 2021, there were 10,738 fintech startups in North America as the leading region, up from 5,800 in 2019.

However, statistics show Europe, the Middle East, and Africa have witnessed even more impressive growth in the number of fintechs. In 2019, almost 3,600 companies were operating in this sector. Since then, the number of fintech startups in the EMEA region surged by 160% to more than 9,300.

Asia and the Pacific ranked third with nearly 6,200 fintech startups as of April, up from 2,850 in 2019.

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WeChat Brand Worth $68B, More than Three Major Chinese Banks

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As the leading social networking app in China and the fifth most widely used globally, WeChat saw impressive growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both in revenue and the number of users. The brand value of Tencent Holding’s mobile messaging app also surged in the last year, launching WeChat among the strongest brands globally.

According to data presented by StockApps.com, WeChat brand value hit almost $68bn in 2021, more than three major Chinese banks.

The World’s Strongest Brand

WeChat or also called China’s “app for everything,” offers services from messaging and banking to taxi services and online shopping. During the pandemic, the app also helped keep track of those traveling or in quarantine, providing access to real-time data on COVID-19, online consultations, and self-diagnosis services powered by artificial intelligence to more than 300 million users.

This diversity of services offered to its users, especially amid the pandemic, helped the WeChat brand value surge by 25% YoY, revealed the 2021 Brand Finance’s Global 500 survey. With a valuation of $67.8bn, WeChat jumped nine spots on the ranking to enter the top 10 for the first time, behind giants like Apple, Amazon, Google, Walmart, or Facebook.

Also, the popular app ranked higher than the three major banks in China. In comparison, China Construction Bank hit a $59.6bn brand value this year, $8.3bn less than WeChat. Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China also ranked below the popular messaging app, with $53.1bn and $48.6bn value, respectively.

The Brand Finance survey also revealed WeChat overtook Ferrari to become the world’s strongest brand with a top score of 95.4 out of 100 and an AAA+ brand strength rating. The relative strength of brands is measured through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity and business performance.

Statistics show the Chinese mobile app is one of merely 11 brands in the ranking to have been awarded the elite AAA+ brand strength rating.

More than Hit 1.2 Billion Active Monthly Users

WeChat has lots of popular messaging app features, including Moments. A majority of WeChat users access WeChat Moments every time they open the app. Voice and text messaging, group messaging, payment and games are other examples of WeChat services.

Tencent’s 2020 financial results revealed the number of WeChat active accounts has been multiplying over the past years.

Between 2011 and 2015, the number of monthly active accounts surged from 2.8 million to nearly 700 million. In the first quarter of 2018, WeChat`s user base hit the one-billion benchmark, and the number just kept rising.

Statistics show the popular social networking app had over 1.2 billion monthly active users in the last quarter of 2020, ranking as the fifth most widely used social networking app globally.

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