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04.05.17 | 7:46 pm

Here’s why South America is getting helicopter ride-sharing before the U.S.

Dreams of flying over congested roadways often involve exotic technology like self-flying electric planes, but a startup called Voom doesn't want to wait. "We can do it now with existing platforms and technologies—today's helicopters, internet tech, apps, dispatch algorithms," says Voom's CEO Uma Subramanian. The startup, backed by aerospace giant Airbus, just began its flight-sharing service in Brazil's sprawling metropolis of São Paulo. At least for the people who can afford to. Even with the goal of reducing helicopter ride prices by 80%, a trip from São Paulo's city center to the airport will still cost from three to five times as much as a cab fare (500-750 Reals, $160 to $240), according to Subramanian. "Initially this is more of an executive product," she says, though claims that improved routing algorithms will allow more people to ride and keep bringing prices down. Depending on the model, helicopters can take three to five passengers at once. (Voom provides the software and services, not the choppers.)

Voom plans to expand to other Brazilian cities first, then to Latin American neighbors such as Mexico City, Bogotá, and Buenos Aires. The next step will be to similar cities in Asia, such as Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines. Los Angeles would be a good candidate, says Subramanian, but regulations over noise pollution will make it tougher to get started. By then, perhaps sci-fi autonomous craft (like Airbus's own Vahana) will be available. "When future technologies come about, we will be ready," says Subramanian.

07.28.17 | an hour ago

With Starbucks closing Teavana, maybe tea just isn’t the next craft coffee

Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. A few years back, "craft tea" was supposed to be just that. Boutique tea shops began popping up around the world, and it seemed to have a vibe similar to the rise of third-wave coffee. Kevin Rose, for example, has long been a lover and advocate for tea.

But yesterday Starbucks announced it was closing all of its 300-plus Teavana locations, which may be a harbinger for this niche market. In its earnings report, Starbucks explained that "mall-based Teavana retail stores have been persistently underperforming."

Despite the fact that business is booming for the coffee giant, the segment that accounts for the 300-plus Teavana stores saw a decrease in revenue compared to 2016, as well as a marked increase in operating loss. In short, tea isn't the hip moneymaker Starbucks thought it could be. While this case is specific to Starbucks, I myself have anecdotally noticed the decline of hip tea-only vendors, while a market report from September of last year warned that the specialty tea market in the U.S. and Canada was "sluggish."

Of course, it should be noted that the tea market is huge—in fact, it's global consumption numbers are much bigger than coffee, according to Statista. But the craft part of it, which has received much fanfare for years, may just not be the next big thing. At least not for Starbucks. 

[Photo: Starbucks]

07.28.17 | an hour ago

Watch an international team of astronauts get launched into space

Hopefully NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency like each other, because they are about to spend at least the next four months together living in very tight quarters on the International Space Station. The new roommates are getting launched into space at 11:41 a.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA reports, and we can watch the Real World: Space Station unfold live on NASA TV this morning. (Watch here.)

Before fighting over closet space and fridge shelves at the ISS, the trio will travel for six hours in the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft before docking to the space station's Rassvet module at 6 p.m. ET, with NASA TV coverage of the docking beginning at 5:15 p.m. They will be greeted by Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and NASA Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer (who probably already called dibs on the good bunks). 

07.28.17 | 2 hours ago

Microsoft has an AI-powered answer to Google Photos

Two years after the launch of Google Photos, Microsoft is building similar artificial intelligence features into its own Photos app for Windows 10. A preview version of the app, spotted by Windows Central, can show photos of specific people using facial recognition, and can also search for categories, colors, months, and other generic terms. Microsoft hasn't officially announced these features, but they'll likely arrive later this year with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update.

Even then, Microsoft will have more catching up to do. Last month, Google Photos added photo printing, suggestions on who to share photos with, and a way to automatically share all your photos with a trusted contact. And as of May, Google's service had reached 500 million users.

07.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Three things to watch for when the Tesla Model 3 launches tonight

In just a few short hours, the keys to the car industry's future will be handed over to the 30 customers who were first in line to buy Tesla's new Model 3. The car is Tesla's first foray into affordability, with the initial price point starting at about half the cost of Tesla's previous models, or around $35,000—although with an expected $7,500 U.S. tax credit, that price falls to $27,500. Tesla boss Elon Musk has made a few announcements about the new compact car that will seat five adults, but he may have a few surprises up his sleeve. Here are three things to watch for when the Tesla 3 launches tonight: 

1. Autopilot

Model 3s will come with the hardware for Autopilot—Tesla's partially self-driving system—already installed in its cars, but it's unclear when that feature will be fully functional and which features customers will have to pony up additional funds for. As Bloomberg notes, Musk has hinted that some of the most exciting self-driving features, like automatic lane changing, would be available around the time that the Model 3 was ready for launch (aka now). 

2. Impressive Efficiency

Some sleuths over at Electrek think they've found the average efficiency of Tesla's vehicles buried in its website coding—237 Wh per mile, which would make the Model 3 extremely efficient if not one of the most efficient electric vehicles in the U.S. The car has a range of 215 miles (346 kms) on a charge.

3. New Model S and Model X

Bloomberg thinks that Tesla might not only unveil its Model 3, but also roll out updated versions of its Model S and Model X cars. Adding new features to their more expensive models is a way for the company to make sure potential buyers are still drawn to their ultra-luxury cars. 

Setting up for Model 3 handover tomorrow night …

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

07.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Sir Patrick Stewart, I forgive you for being in the zero-rated “Emoji Movie”

To no one's surprise, Sony's animated Emoji Movie is being savaged by critics. It currently holds a zero rating on Rotten Tomatoes and will likely join the ranks of such box-office bombs as Monster Trucks. From the moment I first heard that Patrick Stewart lent his enviable voice to the film as a poop emoji, I was disappointed—so disappointed, in fact, there is no emoji to express it. 

But Patrick, I forgive you. I watched you explore the galaxy through seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, saw you bring the house down in Becket's Waiting for Godot, and respect the hell out of your Shakespearean chops. This a small blemish in an otherwise stellar career, and I know great things are on the horizon. Make it so, Patrick.   

[Photo: Maximilian Bühn, CC-BY-SA 4.0]

07.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Emerson Collective’s Laurene Powell Jobs takes a majority stake in the Atlantic

Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective, is buying a big chunk of the Atlantic magazine and website. Current owner David Bradley announced the change in a memo, which was obtained by Axios. The two will be co-leading for a while and then Powell Jobs will take the reins, according to the announcement. The deal affects only the Atlantic publication—Bradley will continue to lead other subsidiary properties, including Government Executive Media Group and Quartz.

07.28.17 | 4 hours ago

Uber CEO watch: GE’s Jeffrey Immelt is reportedly on the short list of candidates

With HP's Meg Whitman having publicly withdrawn herself from the Uber pool (pun intended), the list of people being considered to take over for Travis Kalanick is getting shorter. Per Bloomberg, that list includes fewer than six people at this point. Among them is Jeffrey Immelt, the current chief executive of General Electric, who said last month he is stepping down from the multinational conglomerate after 16 years.   

07.28.17 | 7:52 am

Hackers will try to infiltrate voting machines this weekend, but in a good way

The Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas will host its first "hacker voting village" event this weekend in which hackers will get their hands on more than 30 pieces of election equipment ranging from voting machines to digital poll books, reports Reuters. They'll then be able to do anything they want to the machines from trying to inject malicious code into them to literally tearing them apart to mess with the hardware inside. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about how elections can be manipulated through hacking.

07.28.17 | 5:27 am

Meg Whitman shoots down Uber CEO rumors

The HP CEO took to Twitter to make it clear she's not going anywhere.

07.28.17 | 2:24 am

Republicans fail at the one thing they absolutely had to succeed at

If you were a Republican in Washington, D.C., on the evening of November 8, thinking about the years ahead, glorying in Donald Trump's victory, and savoring the fact that you were now about to control both houses of Congress and the White House, you probably chuckled thinking about how you were finally going to get to take down Obamacare. You'd spent seven years promising to do so, and now you had the power. Your base was demanding it, your new president got elected (partly) on it, and your leadership had bloody well banked their political fortunes on it.

Well, you failed. Miserably. Despite all that control, you couldn't even get a "skinny" version of your repeal-and-replace bill through Congress. Tonight, as everyone knows by now, the Senate Republicans failed to pass Trumpcare, foiled by nay votes from Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and, surprisingly to many people, John McCain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scored a massive own goal on this one. If he'd done a proper count earlier in the week, he could have skipped the vote to move forward, and tonight, he could have avoided the final vote on the actual bill, and saved himself and his party the ignominy and the political fallout of failure on this singular, key issue. Meanwhile, Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, already facing a tough re-election 2018 bid, surely screwed himself this evening by voting yes in a lost cause. The safe money now is that he'll lose his seat next year. And for what? The bill failed. What in the hell does Sheldon Adelson have on him, anyway?

So, congratulations, Republicans. You bet it all on getting rid of Obamacare, even as every credible poll showed the American public supported it, in spite of all its warts. And, hey, Donald Trump: nice leadership. I'm sure you're quite tired of all the winning by now. Is it time to go play golf yet? 

[Photo: Flickr user Kevin Burkett]

07.27.17 | 9:27 pm

Social VR pioneer Altspace says it’s shutting down

AltspaceVR, the venture-backed Silicon Valley operation, which was among the first to build social VR environments, said this afternoon that it's closing down August 3 due to financial difficulties, despite 35,000 monthly users who visited for anything from business meetings, watching sports together, or hanging out with musicians like Reggie Watts–a respectable number given that consumer virtual reality is still a fairly nascent medium.

"It looked like we had a deal for our next round of funding, and it fell through," the company wrote in a statement. "Some combination of this deal falling through and the general slowness of VR market growth made most of our investors reluctant to fund us further. We've been out fundraising but have run out of time and money."

The company also said it's not clear what will happen now to its community. "The amazing people that worked at this company created some awesome technology–things that we think will be foundational to the future of social VR. We'd love to see this technology, if not the company, live on in some way, and we're working on that."

07.27.17 | 5:51 pm

Thinx appoints a Fab alum as its new CEO

Four months after former Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal left amid a firestorm of allegations about her management style and HR policies, the period underwear company has finally landed a new CEO. Maria Molland Selby will join Thinx on Monday.

Selby has previously held leadership roles at e-commerce startup Fab, which weathered a fair share of negative press back in its heyday, as well as Yahoo, Reuters, and Dow Jones. "This is a team that has gone through a lot, with the shadow of leadership changes and obviously the PR associated with that," Selby told Bloomberg. "I'm happy to see we were able to move forward relatively quickly."

Since Agrawal's departure, Thinx has increased salaries, tweaked its parental leave policy—increasing it to 12 weeks for employees who have been there for at least a year—and made healthcare free for most employees. Thinx also created an employee handbook outlining how to air workplace grievances. 

Through my reporting on Thinx, I've learned the company has struggled to find someone willing to tackle the role of HR head, which might explain why Selby vaguely told Bloomberg that Thinx will hire someone "in the next couple of months."