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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.

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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Starlink Pulls Plug on Ghana, South Africa, and Others

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Starlink, the satellite internet service operated by SpaceX, has announced the cessation of services in countries including Ghana and South Africa.

This decision comes as a significant blow to users who have come to rely on Starlink for their internet connectivity needs.

The decision, set to take effect by the end of April 2024, will disconnect all individuals and businesses in unauthorized locations across Africa, including Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

While subscribers in authorized countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Mauritius, and others can continue to use their kits without interruption, those in affected regions face imminent loss of access.

One of the reasons cited by Starlink for the discontinuation is the violation of its terms and conditions.

The company explained that its regional and global roaming plans were intended for temporary use by travelers and those in transit, not for permanent use in unauthorized areas. Users found in breach of these conditions face the termination of their service.

Furthermore, Starlink’s recent email to subscribers outlined stringent measures to enforce compliance.

Subscribers who use the roaming plan for more than two months outside authorized locations must either return home or update their account country to the current one. Failure to do so will result in limited service access.

The decision to discontinue services in certain countries raises questions about the future of internet connectivity in these regions.

Also, concerns have been raised about Starlink’s ability to enforce the new rules effectively. Reports indicate that the company has previously failed to enforce similar conditions for over a year, raising doubts about the efficacy of the current measures.

Starlink’s decision to pull the plug on Ghana, South Africa, and other nations underscores the complexities of providing satellite internet services in diverse regulatory environments.

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Nigeria’s Broadband Penetration Stalls at 42.53% Amid Connectivity Challenges

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Nigeria’s broadband penetration has stalled at 42.53% as of January, according to the latest report.

Subscriptions currently stand at 92.19 million, indicating a significant gap in connectivity, particularly in rural areas.

The Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 aims to increase broadband penetration to 70% by 2025, with the ultimate goal of achieving 96% mobile broadband coverage by 2030.

However, this ambitious target requires substantial investment—approximately $461 million, according to a recent report by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA).

While the country’s major telecommunications companies, such as MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa, have invested heavily in expanding their network infrastructure, much of this development has been concentrated in urban areas. Rural and underserved regions face a significant coverage gap, exacerbating the digital divide.

Despite these challenges, Nigeria has made progress in improving its broadband infrastructure. Since 2012, the mobile broadband coverage gap across Africa has decreased from 56% to 13% in 2022, due to significant investments in network capacity and new technologies.

Nonetheless, millions of Nigerians, particularly those in rural regions, remain without access to essential telecom services.

To address this issue, Nigeria’s government established the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) in 2006, aimed at bridging the connectivity gap and expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.

The fund provides resources for deploying telecommunications infrastructure in economically unviable regions.

The success of these initiatives, along with increased investments in broadband infrastructure and policies to incentivize internet expansion in remote areas, will be crucial in closing the connectivity gap and improving digital access for all Nigerians.

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iPhone Shipments Drop Amid Resurgence of Android Rivals

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Apple Inc. reported a significant drop in iPhone shipments during the March quarter, reflecting a downturn in sales across China amid the resurgence of competition from Android-powered rivals.

According to market tracker IDC, the tech giant shipped 50.1 million iPhones in the first three months of the year, a 9.6% year-on-year decline that fell short of the average analyst estimate of 51.7 million.

The steep decrease in iPhone sales marks Apple’s most significant quarterly dip since 2022, when Covid-19 lockdowns disrupted supply chains.

This time, the Cupertino-based company faces challenges from resurgent competitors such as Huawei Technologies Co. and Xiaomi Corp.

These firms have rebounded strongly in recent quarters, and their innovative product lines have begun to reclaim market share from Apple in China.

Samsung Electronics Co. regained its position as the top smartphone supplier globally, while Apple ranked second. Xiaomi closed the gap on Apple, shipping 40.8 million units, an impressive 33.8% increase year-on-year.

Transsion Holdings, another key player in the budget smartphone segment, nearly doubled its shipments, showcasing the competitive environment Apple faces.

Nabila Popal, research director at IDC, highlighted the broader shift in the smartphone market, which has recovered from the supply chain disruptions and challenges of recent years.

“While Apple has demonstrated resilience and growth in recent years, maintaining its pace and share in the market may prove challenging as Android manufacturers make strides,” Popal commented.

Apple has a strong brand and loyal customer base, yet its market position may be tested further by the aggressive pricing and innovative products offered by Chinese rivals.

The company’s efforts to sustain its premium pricing strategy may also be challenged as more customers consider switching to Android alternatives.

As the tech industry looks ahead to the rest of the year, Apple’s upcoming earnings report and strategic moves to address this competitive pressure will be closely watched by investors and industry observers alike.

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