US Department of Energy to give Tesla a run for its money

The battery division of Musk's Tesla Motors turned a profit in the fourth quarter.A wing of the US Department of Energy focused on breakthrough technologies may soon give billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s most recent foray into energy storage a run for its money, the unit’s director said.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which funds projects meant to transform energy markets, has made huge strides over the last few years on next-generation batteries that could make electric cars and renewable energy cheaper and more accessible, Ellen Williams said in an interview this week.

The battery division of Musk’s Tesla Motors turned a profit in the fourth quarter, after the first shipments of its rechargeable products helped to reduce losses from the company’s auto business. Its Powerwall batteries store energy that homes and small businesses generate with solar panels. The Powerpack model is designed for large commercial facilities.

Williams said her agency has helped kickstart a dozen high-risk projects based on newer technologies that could soon outperform Tesla batteries.

“What Musk has done that is creative and important is drive the learning curve. He’s decided to take an existing, pretty powerful battery technology and start producing it on a very large scale,” she said.

“But it’s not technology innovation in the sense of creating new ways of doing it. We are pretty well convinced that some of our technologies have the potential to be significantly better,” Williams said.

Batteries are in a “Wild West” phase, said Colin Wessells, chief executive of Alveo Energy, a San Francisco area startup developing a high power, long lifecycle battery technology for renewable energy and microgrids, or localized groupings of energy providers.

Only five energy grid storage batteries have been commercialized as researchers and budding entrepreneurs race to bring new technologies to market, he noted.

Wessells, whose company has ARPA-E support, said huge manufacturing advances will speed up the commercialization of battery products.

“We are in a burst of innovation right now,” he said at his exhibition stand at the ARPA-E conference outside of Washington this week. “Five years from now there will be a few technologies out there that nobody saw coming.”

ARPA-E is set to get a huge boost after the United States and 19 other countries launched Mission Innovation at the United Nations climate summit in Paris late last year. The governments pledged to double spending on clean energy research and development over the next five years. The United States will boost its overall energy research and development budget to $12.8 billion by 2021.

ARPA-E was launched in 2009 with a budget of $400 million and a mandate to fund the most cutting edge technologies. President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2017 would increase its allocation to $1 billion in five years.

“With that increased budget we can definitely make a difference,” said Williams.

STAYING FOCUSED

ARPA-E funds projects for three years at a time, focusing on commercializing new and exciting ideas and training researchers to pitch them in ways investors can understand.

This differs from traditional academic research, which tends to take too long, Williams said, noting that scientists “always focus on the next problem.”

“What we do that is very different is we really set a target to get something specific done in a specific period of time,” she said.

Williams said ARPA-E aims to steer projects away from what Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates called a “valley of death” of failures between the early promise of a new energy concept and commercializing it into a viable technology that exists in the clean energy sector.

Gates, who launched a multibillion-dollar clean energy research initiative alongside Mission Innovation in Paris, said last week the money that he and other entrepreneurs will invest in clean energy R&D will “complement government research” to deliver “energy miracles.”

Some of these miracles may come out of ARPA-E supported labs and workshops, Williams said.

Besides energy storage, ARPA-E’s research projects include using robots and drones to help develop more sustainable sorghum-based biofuels, and using sensors to make heating and air conditioning systems more energy efficient.

The agency has funded projects in all 50 states.

“These concepts are way out-there now, but in a few years from now they may be the way things work,” she said.

Pet Tech offers to keep animals safe, healthy and connected

"Pet tech" entrepreneurs and investors see a big opportunity as pet ownership grows.Technology isn’t just for humans anymore. It’s also for their furry friends.

In Silicon Valley and beyond, a growing number of startups are selling devices to keep pets safe, healthy, entertained and connected when their owners are away.

“Pet tech” entrepreneurs and investors see a big opportunity as pet ownership grows and owners show a willingness to spend serious money on their four-legged companions.

Nearly two-thirds of US households, or 80 million homes, have pets, and Americans spent more than $60 billion on them last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“The number of pets in the world is growing extremely fast and that opens up the market,” said Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx, a technology market research firm. “I’m sure five years from now there will be all sorts of things we can’t imagine.”

Already, there are devices that let your pets call you (PetChatz), play games and win treats when they’re home alone (CleverPet) and even speak with a human voice (Petspeak).

But as more pet-tech gadgets come to market, experts caution owners against relying on them too much.

“The technology can be useful as an adjunct, a way of enriching your relationship with your pet, but certainly not a substitute for time spent with your dog,” said Pamela Wyman, who runs the DogEvolve training school in Oakland.

The Petzi Treatcam lets Anne Ryan check on her dogs Oscar and Reggie at her Berkeley home when she’s working in San Francisco or traveling out of state.

The Internet connected device lets her see her dogs, talk to them, take photos and even dispense treats — using an app on her phone.

“I turn it on, get to see them, get to talk to them and it changes my mood, and puts me back in a positive frame,” said Ryan said. “I didn’t know that I needed it, but now I don’t think that I could live without it.”

The TreatCam was created by San Jose-based Petzila, which was founded by two veteran technology executives who wanted to get their pets online. The startup also created a social media app that lets owners share pet photos.

“All of the most current crazes and fads in technology were touching everything but the pet,” said CEO David Clark.

Whistle, a San Francisco startup, sells a GPS-enabled Pet Tracker that alerts owners when their pets have left their ‘safe zone’ and helps find them if they get lost. The device also lets owners track how much exercise and sleep their animals are getting.

Ben Jacobs, Whistle’s CEO and co-founder, said the pet-tech market is expanding fast as pets move up the household hierarchy.

“From the yard to the home to the bed — the dog is no longer out as part of the farm, but they’re actually sleeping in bed with you as part of the family,” Jacobs said.

For owners who want their dogs and cats to be more active during the day, the Petcube Camera lets them see and speak to their pets, and play with them with a laser pointer.

Petcube’s Ukranian founders started the company in Kiev, but moved its headquarters to San Francisco to reach a global market.

“If we can connect all the pets to the Internet and basically digitize this space, it will be nothing short of disruption,” said Yaroslav Azhnyuk, Petcube CEO and co-founder. “It will be very big.”

Uber’s real estate footprint unmatched among SF Bay Area startupsand connected

Uber’s new Oakland headquarters is nearly 70% bigger than internet radio service Pandora Media’s office nearby and will house about five times the number of employees that ride-hailing competitor Lyft has at its headquarters.

The on-demand ride service paid $123.5 million for Oakland’s historic Sears building last year and so far has filed building permits to complete at least $2 million in renovations, according to BuildZoom, a startup that compiles construction and remodeling contractor data for homeowners.

Across the bay in San Francisco, Uber has so far initiated $130 million in construction on a bigger office in the Mission Bay neighborhood, BuildZoom’s data shows.

The new building permit data from BuildZoom, provided exclusively to Reuters, underscores the mammoth growth in Uber’s real estate footprint and associated costs, overshadowing most other tech startups in San Francisco and Oakland.

Remodeling on the old Sears building will take another year, and the Mission Bay campus is still two or three years out, so construction costs will rise. Uber said it was also repairing damage on the Oakland building caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Uber is the most highly valued venture-backed tech firm and has raised more than $7.4 billion from investors, a war chest that can help fund real estate purchases.

But its costly expansion in Oakland and San Francisco comes as the venture capital investing climate cools, with more investors wary that highly valued startups may not grow into their stratospheric valuation.

The iconic Oakland building, which opened in 1929 as a department store, will house between 2,000 and 3,000 Uber employees across 380,000 square feet.

By comparison, Ask.com, an Oakland-based search engine founded in the dot-com boom, has 200 employees in a 79,000-square-foot office it shares with other companies owned by parent IAC Publishing, spokeswoman Suraya Akbarzad said.

Sungevity, a solar design company that has raised close to $900 million from investors, occupies approximately 68,000 square feet in Oakland, spokesman John Ordona said.

In San Francisco, Uber partnered with a real estate firm to purchase land for $125 million and develop a 423,000-square-foot campus that will house between 3,000 and 4,000 employees. That space is in addition to Uber’s 500,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown San Francisco, according to BuildZoom.

Other highly valued, fast-growing tech companies don’t come close. Lyft said it has 66,000 square feet while online accommodations company Airbnb said it occupies 169,000 square feet in San Francisco.

Taxi drivers jam Costa Rica’s capital in

German cartel office probes Facebook for market abuse

Germany’s cartel office has opened an investigation into Facebook for suspected abuse of market power through breaches of data protection law, it said on Wednesday.

The watchdog said Facebook’s terms of service regarding its use of user data may abuse its possibly dominant position in the social network market.

“For advertising-financed internet services such as Facebook, user data are hugely important. For this reason it is essential to also examine under the aspect of abuse of market power whether the consumers are sufficiently informed about the type and extent of data collected,” Federal Cartel office president Andreas Mundt said in a statement.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network with 1.6 billion monthly users, makes its money from targeted advertising, thanks to the data it gathers about its users’ friends, opinions and activities from their postings.

It has faced strong criticism from politicians and regulators in Germany, where data protection is strongly regulated, over its privacy practices.

Co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Berlin on a charm offensive last week.

A Facebook spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “We are confident that we comply with the law and we look forward to working with the Federal Cartel Office to answer their questions.”

WhatsApp for Android gets document sharing feature

In order to share files, you need to tap the attachment icon on the top right of the screen in a chat window and select the ‘Document’ option. This opens a list of PDF files stored in the system, but the navigation does not let you open specific folders.A new WhatsApp update has added the document sharing feature, which many rivals of the messaging app already have, on Android smartphones.

The document sharing feature of WhatsApp allows users to only share PDF files for now. This means that there is no support for .doc, .xls and other commonly used file formats; there is no official word on when the company will start supporting these.

In order to share files, you need to tap the attachment icon on the top right of the screen in a chat window and select the ‘Document’ option. This opens a list of PDF files stored in the system, but the navigation does not let you open specific folders.

This update, however, has not been released to all Android users via Google Play. Those who are yet to receive the document sharing feature can click this linkand download the install file directly from the official website.

The new feature for Android comes just a day after WhatsApp added new features to its iPhone app, including cloud storage integration for sending photos and videos.

EquityZen helps Indian investors to invest in US companies

EquityZen helps Indian investors to invest in US companies
EquityZen, a 500 Startups company plans to enable Indian investors to invest in US-based tech firms, eyeing further opportunities in the country by 2016-end.

The startup, a marketplace for private secondary investments in companies connecting shareholders and investors, will focus on growth stage private investments in US-based companies that are typically out of reach for Indian investors. It also aims to bring in investments for India-specific firms. “We get access to deals through the company’s compliance, when current and former employees want to sell a certain percentage of their equity in the company, sometimes pooling sellers into one transaction,” said Atish Davda, cofounder of EquityZen.

“Deal volumes can be as small as $20,000 to over $1 million and Indian investors could get access to companies like Uber, Dropbox, Lyft amongst others. “Investors are charged a small one-time sales fee of 5% for all single-company opportunities on the platform.For investments over $500,000, the fee goes down. An ambassador programme by EquityZen will enable accredited investors to purchase equity, connecting them with existing shareholders of technology companies who are interested in selling.

Infosys to collaborate with Microsoft on analytics solutions

IT major Infosys has announced that it will collaborate with Microsoft to deploy advanced analytics solutions to support healthcare organizations in their digital transformation.

Infosys has developed healthcare analytics solutions to augment the current processes and make them more efficient using Microsoft Cortana Analytics Suite, the company said in a statement.

It said Infosys analytics healthcare solutions will enable healthcare professionals to unlock the potential of a wide range of datasets. Insights generated from this will help track population health trends, advance clinical effectiveness and enhance patient satisfaction.
They will also help providers improve operational effectiveness and financial and administrative performance. These solutions use the common healthcare reference architecture that is built on Microsoft technology, it added.
Infosys said through the use of different Microsoft analytics offerings such as Cortana Analytics Suite and SQL Server 2016, organizations will have a compelling and economical alternative to niche analytical products, without having to change their current enterprise storage solution.

These solutions will give enterprises the ability to integrate databases and publish layers with enterprise-grade security, it added.

Startup Skedool.it raises money from Kludein, redBus founder Phani Sama and others

Startup Skedool.it raises money from Kludein, redBus founder Phani Sama and others
Skedool.it, an artificial intelligence-based startup, has raised undisclosed seed funding round led by Kludein and from investors Phani Sama, founder of redBus, Narayan Ramachandran, former country head of Morgan Stanley India and Pranav Pai, investing on behalf of Mohandas Pai.

The money will be used to scale product development and operations. Alex — the smart assistant-can be used to automate repetitive everyday tasks for business executives, sales and recruiting professionals.

“Business professionals spend an inordinate amount of time on low value scheduling activities. We developed Skedool’s assistant as a blend of artificial and human intelligence that quickly and accurately handles all your B2B scheduling and calendar management needs for less than 5% of the cost of a full time executive assistant,” said Deepti Yenireddy, CEO of Skedool.it.

Skedool.it uses natural language processing, a method that facilitates human-computer interaction, and machine learning, wherein a machine self learns through previous data; supervised by humans to enable customers to communicate with the service via email. The offering is currently available for Gmail and Outlook365 and integrates with leading Customer relationship management (CRM), marketing and recruiting tools.

Bengaluru-based startup DriveU gets funding from Unitus Seed Fund

Bengaluru-based startup DriveU gets funding from Unitus Seed Fund
Bengaluru-based startup DriveU, which aggregates on-demand drivers for private-car owners, has raised an undisclosed amount from Unitus Seed Fund.

DriveU targets a growing section of car owners who are forced to choose alternative modes of conveyance owing to the hassle of driving and parking in cities, which are becoming more and more crowded.

As per an estimate, there are more than 15-lakh private cars in Bengaluru, with 30% of the car owners needing drivers.

“That is the kind of market gap we want to address,” said Ramprasad Rahm Shastry, who founded DriveU in July 2015 along with Ashok Shastry and Amulmeet Singh. Ramprasad Shastry was one of the first angel investors in TaxiForSure, while other cofounders Ashok Shastry and Amulmeet Singh were employees at Taxi For Sure and FreeCharge respectively.

DriveU is seeking to fulfil the demand for reliable, background verified drivers on demand. The company charges customers Rs 99 an hour. It competes with similar startups such as Noida-based DriveBud, which provides its services in Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and most recently, Delhi.

As of January, DriveU has provided more than 15,000 trips to over 6,000 customers, of which more than 60% are women.

Is your device getting the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update? Check this list

Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which got released by Google in October 2015, started rolling out to certain Nexus devices in the same month. Following this, Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge got the update to the new operating system in February. However, people using other smartphones and tablets had to wait.

But now the wait is almost over. We have listed the smartphones and tablets here that are scheduled to get the Marshmallow update. Check out the list below if your phone makes the cut.

Nexus devices:

Nexus 5
Nexus 6
Nexus 7 (2013) WLAN
Nexus 7 (2013) LTE
Nexus 9
Nexus Player

Asus devices:

Padfones PF500KL
Zenfone 2 ZE550ML/ZE551ML
Zenfone 2 Deluxe/Special edition ZE551ML
Zenfone 2 Laser ZE500KG/ZE500KL/ZE550KL/ZE551KL/ZE600KL/ZE601KL
Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL
Zenfone Max ZC550KL
Zenfone Zoom ZX551 ML

HTC devices:

HTC One M9
HTC One M8
HTC One M9+
HTC One E9+
HTC One E9
HTC One ME
HTC One E8
HTC One M8 EYE
HTC One Butterfly 3
HTC Desire 826
HTC One 820
HTC Desire 816

Huawei devices:

Honor 7
Honor 6+
Honor 6
Honor 4X
Honor 4C
Honor 7I/Huawei Shot X
Huawei P8
Huawei P8 Lite
Huawei Mate S
Huawei Mate 7
Huawei Ascend G7

LG devices:
G4
G3

Motorola devices:

Moto X Pure Edition
Moto X Play
Moto X Style
Moto X (2014)
Moto G (2015)
Moto G (2014)
Moto G (2014) LTE
Moto E (2015)

Samsung devices:

Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Samsung Galaxy S6 EDGE+ SM-G928F
Samsung Galaxy S6 EDGE SM-G925F
Samsung Galaxy S6 SM-G920F
Samsung Galaxy S5 SM-G900F
Samsung Galaxy S5 SM-G900H
Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A SM-G901
Samsung galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 SM- N910F
Samsung Galaxy Note EDGE
Samsung Galaxy Alpha
Samsung Galaxy Tab A

Sony devices:

Xperia Z5
Xperia Z5 Premium
Xperia Z5 compact
Xperia Z3+
Xperia Z3
Xperia Z3 Compact
Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
Xperia Z2
Xperia Z2 Tablet
Xperia M4 Aqua
Xperia C5 Ultra
Xperia C4

Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia M5