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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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Nigeria’s Fintech Startups Raised $122 Million in 2019

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Fintech

Financial Technology Startups in Nigeria Raised $122 Million in 2019

Financial Technology (fintech) startups in Nigeria raised a combined $122 million in 2019, according to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

Mr. Olumide Bolumole, the Divisional Head of Listings Business, NSE, disclosed this while speaking on the fintech industry and its growth in recent years.

“The Fintech industry in Nigeria continues to gain increasing popularity after taking the lead in Africa and attracting $122 million in funds in 2019.

“At the exchange, we recognise the opportunity to provide a platform where players in the Fintech landscape can have easier access to right-sized capital to fulfil their organisational objectives.

“The NSE is, therefore, committed to developing multiple solutions to address the needs of the Fintech community in Nigeria such as the provision of the NSE Growth Board.

“The exchange will also prioritise collaborations with organisations such as FinTechNGR to ensure solutions from this webinar are implemented for the benefit of the sector,” he said.

However, with just about 200 fintech companies in Nigeria, the sector is still young and just emerging with room for growth, considering the fact that most Nigerians are still unbanked.

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Fintech Companies Raised $554 Million in Investment Last Week

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Financial Technology Firms Raised $554 Million Investment Capital Last Week

Financial Technology (Fintech) companies raised a combined $554.17 million from investment rounds last week.

A data compiled by Finbold showed the top 25 fintech firms were led by Razorpay and Wealthsimple.

Razorpay, a payment platform, raised $100 million to account for 18.04 percent of the total amount raised during the week. This was followed by Wealthsimple’s $87 million.

Deepwatch came third with $53 million while NYDIG and M1 Finance came fourth and fifth with $50 million and $45 million, respectively.

Other noteable fintechs include Extend $40 million; FOSSA $30.55 million; +Simple $23.75 million; Finexio $23 million; and Sonrai Security $20 million.

On the other hand, Evolve Credit was the last among the 25 companies. It raised $0.025 million while Upside Saving raised the second least fund at $0.42 million. Also, they were the two firms that raised below $1 million in the week under review.

Oliver Scott, a Finbold editor, who spoke on funding in the fintech sector, said “Notably, venture capital is still the primary source of funding for fintech startups. However, new trends indicate a high level of private equity and debt financing. Additionally, more funding activity is concentrated around later funding rounds. The sector is also witnessing a rise in IPOs and acquisitions. Such trends are pointing to a maturing market.”

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Snapchat Adds 39 Million Daily Active Users YoY Representing 18% Growth

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Snapchat Daily Users Increase by 39 Million YoY, a 18 Percent Increase

Data presented by Buy Shares indicates that Snapchat daily active users have grown by 39 million on a Year-Over- Year basis. The addition represents a growth of 18.57%.

Pandemic spurs Snapchat’s DAU growth

During Q3 2019 the daily active users stood at 210 million while the figure was 249 million as of Q3 2020. Between Q3 2018 and Q3 2020 Snapchat’s daily active users have grown by 33.87%.

After witnessing a rise in daily active users the numer slumped between Q1 2018 and Q4 2018 with a percentage drop of 2.61%.

The research also overviewed Snapchat’s number of daily active users based on regions. As of Q3 2020, North America recorded the highest number at 90 million, a growth of about 7% from a similar period last year.

Commenting on the recent surge in Snapchat’s daily active users, Buy Shares researcher Justinas Baltrusaitis said:

After taking a dip in users around 2018 Snapchat began witnessing a steady rise from the end of last year. The platform’s 2020 numbers have been boosted by the coronavirus pandemic.During the health crisis, most people were confined to their homes and turned to social platforms like Snapchat for entertainment.”

Europe has 72 million active daily users as of Q3 2020, a growth of 10% from Q3 2019. Elsewhere during Q3, 2020 the rest of the world had 87 million daily active users.

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