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05.13.16 | 12:45 pm

Could VR help with crippling social isolation?

It sounds counter-intuitive—using virtual reality, a technology that solo people wear on their heads, to help with crippling isolation.

But that's exactly what a new organization, the Balboa Foundation, is evangelizing VR for, given its ability to bring anyone anywhere on Earth. 

"For the elderly or disabled," UploadVR wrote about the foundation's launch, "virtual reality could allow them to escape to worlds not possible for them to explore otherwise. For the "Hikikomori" and agoraphobic, it could provide that valuable bridge to help them normalize an experience beyond isolation."

It's worth noting that the same case was made about virtual worlds like Second Life, another realm people sneered at because so many of its users are on computers by themselves. Those doing the sneering usually didn't realize the kinds of doors these technologies open for those who are locked in those rooms against their will.  

03.28.17 | an hour ago

Jack Dorsey’s Square expands into the U.K.

Square started offering its payments technology to small businesses in Canada in 2012, later adding Japan and then Australia to its geographic footprint. Now the Jack Dorsey-led company is looking to Europe: Today its signature credit card reader became available in the U.K., launching with a splash at a London bar. Square says it hopes to appeal to the 5 million U.K. businesses that don't yet accept card payments. 

03.28.17 | an hour ago

Payday loan rival Elevate Credit files for an IPO

Elevate Credit, a Texas-based online lender that serves non-prime borrowers, revived its IPO plans on Monday after a year of delays. The company had previously filed to go public last January, but abandoned the process, citing the souring market climate. 

Post-Snap, the public markets look much more inviting—and more rational. A strong showing on opening day would value Elevate at $487 million, over $100 million less than the valuation the lender was seeking last year.

Elevate plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange, offering 7.7 million shares at $12 to $14 each. 

03.28.17 | 2 hours ago

Uber’s diversity report highlights a resource group for its “Jewbers”

Uber has finally released its diversity numbers, something it had previously said it didn't want to do but has now acquiesced following weeks of scandal. There's a lot to dig into—most glaringly that the company is 63.9% male and 49.8% white. 

But there's another section of the diversity website that's a bit … bizarre. Uber highlights select resource groups for Uber employees who come from diverse backgrounds, writing a few sentences about each. There is "Women of Uber," which is self-explanatory; "UberVETERANs," again pretty clear cut; also "Los Ubers" for Hispanic and Latino employees. All that makes sense. 

Then there's "Shalom." Its goal is "to make the world a little smaller, by connecting Uberettos and Jewbers from all backgrounds."

There's also UberHUE for black employes. Both names seem like weird ways to broadcast the company's diversity efforts, especially since Urban Dictionary defines "uber jewber" as "someone that exudes extreme jew-like tendencies."

03.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Open Sesame: Google Home, Alexa, and Siri Can Open Smart Locks Now

Apple, Amazon, and Google are waging a war for voice assistant supremacy, but August, a leading maker of smart locks, is playing the role of Switzerland.

Today, August announced that by adding support for Google Assistant (after already supporting Apple HomeKit with Siri and Amazon Alexa) its lock is the first on the market to work with all three major voice control platforms. August lock owners can lock (or unlock) their doors or check their lock's status using Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri. 

03.28.17 | 11:22 am

Etsy and the future of home-based microbusinesses

Although Etsy isn't the largest platform for independent e-commerce sellers (1.7 million active users), it does attract a certain kind of person. And, as its 2017 U.S. Seller Census reveals, most of them are female, 97% run their shops from home, more than three quarters are one-person operations, and only 32% use it as a side hustle from their traditional jobs. These microbusinesses could be a significant driver of economic growth, and Etsy aims to foster that by announcing the creation of the first Congressional Microbusiness Caucus. It will be chaired by representatives from both parties with the hope of shaping public policy and clarifying the distinction between microbusinesses, which have fewer than 10 employees, and small businesses, which can have upwards of 500.

For more details, download the report – Crafting the Future of Work: The Big Impact of Microbusinesses.

03.28.17 | 10:59 am

Amazon’s drive-through grocery store gets a name, but still no date

Amazon's innovative grocery store concept, which we first reported about in February, is officially a real thing—it's called AmazonFresh Pickup. But there's still no date for a public grand opening.

Only available in Seattle for now (and initially for Amazon employees), the concept is simple but effective: You place an order online, drive to the store, pull into a parking space, and an employee loads the groceries into your car. The web page announcing AmazonFresh Pickup says that orders can be placed as little as 15 minutes prior to pickup.

Today's announcement comes on the heels of reports that the fully automated AmazonGo convenience store will delay its opening due to technical difficulties.

03.28.17 | 10:55 am

Here’s how much one industrial robot can affect U.S. employment

Researchers from M.I.T. and Boston University have released a report looking at the effect of industrial robots on wages and the U.S. workforce between 1990 and 2007. The results are rather disturbing. Per Bloomberg, industrial automation has had the most measurable impact on the lower half of the wage distribution and thus is probably contributing to income inequality in a real way. According to the researchers' estimates, one robot per 1,000 workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by about 0.25-0.5%.

The full report is behind a paywall on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research, or you can read Bloomberg's analysis here.

Photo: ICAPlants via Wikimedia Commons

03.28.17 | 9:45 am

Watch Spider-Man swing into Avengers action in the new “Homecoming” trailer

Although we got our first glimpse of Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man back in Captain America: Civil War last summer, and took in a teaser for his feature debut last December, today's trailer is the most insightful look so far at Spider-Man: Homecoming. The film's poster, unveiled yesterday, prominently featured the Avengers building in the New York skyline. As promised, the Avengers, and Tony Stark/Iron Man, in particular, figure heavily in the trailer and the eventual movie as well.

03.28.17 | 9:43 am

Get ready to see commercials before your Periscope videos

That's right: Twitter said today it's adding pre-roll ads on Periscope videos, which means content creators will have more options to monetize their videos and viewers will have more time to do whatever it is they do during commercial breaks. Per a blog post by Periscope's group product manager, Mike Folgner, the ads will play on live-broadcasted videos and replayed ones. So it really is just like TV.  

"For creators and publishers that use Periscope to go live on Twitter every day, these pre-roll ads present a new way to monetize their video content. For marketers, they have a new source of brand-safe video advertising beyond what was previously available, including ads during live streaming programs from select premium publishers, Promoted Tweets with Periscope video and custom Amplify campaigns with premium content creators."

Read the full post here

Image: Periscope/Twitter

03.28.17 | 9:13 am

Coach in talks to buy Kate Spade

There have been rumors that Coach is vying to be an American LVMH: a holding company for U.S. luxury brands. In 2015, Coach purchased Stuart Weitzman for $574 million. And today, Business of Fashion (paywall) reports that Coach intends to buy Kate Spade, according to sources inside both companies. Kate Spade, which was founded by Kate and Andy Spade, could be worth more than $2 billion. But the bigger question is whether there are other companies vying to purchase Kate Spade as well.

03.28.17 | 9:00 am

Shaky science? Gwyneth Paltrow defends her supplement business in the face of attacks

The movie star and newly appointed CEO of Goop has launched her most ambitious product yet: Goop Wellness is a collection of vitamin supplements created in collaboration with Paltrow-approved doctors. It might sound like a smart idea considering the nutritional supplements industry is worth $37 billion, but Goop is already under attack for what many call a sector full of shaky science.

"I just keep my nose to the grindstone and do what I'm doing and some of these things, people just like to talk shit and that's fine," Paltrow told me in a recent interview. "What we produce at Goop resonates. So I try to keep my eye on the prize and take the good out of it." 

Read my full interview with Paltrow here.

Photo: George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images

03.28.17 | 8:55 am

The Chinese tech company behind WeChat now owns 5% of Tesla 

Continuing its aggressive cross-sector investment spree, tech behemoth Tencent Holdings just took a 5% stake in Elon Musk's electric car company. The Chinese firm behind the WeChat mobile app has invested $1.78 billion in Tesla, worth 8 million shares as of last week, Tesla says. Read more from Reuters here.