🔗 Coinbase cryptomania, ▶️ LOTR's pricey production, and 🛰️ Google's timelapse of Earth

Thomas's Innovation Wrap #65

Greetings!

Here's your weekly wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

🔗 Cryptocurrencies

Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, went public on Wednesday through a direct listing on the Nasdaq. The stock reached a high of $429 before closing the week at $342. At that price, the market is valuing Coinbase at $90 billion on a fully diluted basis, making it the most valuable exchange in the world.

Big winners include early investor Garry Tan who turned a $300,000 investment in 2012 into $2.4 billion. Big losers include these HackerNews users in 2012 replying to Brian Armstrong’s post looking for a cofounder (yes, yes, hindsight is 20/20).

Robinhood and Coinbase topped the Apple App Store rankings as trading increasingly becomes a source of entertainment.

It was a big week for underlying cryptocurrencies too. Bitcoin hit an all-time high ahead of the Coinbase listing (though its environmental footprint continues to be questioned), though it tumbled over the weekend.

Dogecoin spiked 400% in a week, which is a lot, but not so much in the context of its 145x return over the past year or its 1500x return over the past 5 years… which isn’t bad for a meme cryptocurrency…

The Wall Street Journal profiled “the vegan billionaire disrupting the crypto markets”, referring to Sam Bankman-Fried, who founded FTX. FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange that’s currently processing $10.7 billion in trades per day and has been pushing the boundary in offering new financial instruments like tokenized stocks.

For instance, FTX was the first major crypto exchange to offer tokenized stocks—digital coins that track the value of shares of companies like Tesla, GameStop Corp. or BioNTech SE. It also offers a popular spinoff product called pre-IPO contracts, which let overseas traders bet on the expected valuations of companies like Robinhood.

💲 Finance

Grab, Southeast Asia’s biggest startup, has agreed to go public via a SPAC that values the company at $40 billion.

Grab, ranked No. 16 on last year’s CNBC Disruptor 50 list, delivers an array of digital services such as transportation, food delivery, hotel bookings, online banking, mobile payments and insurance services from its app — thus the “super app” title. It operates in most of Southeast Asia, serving more than 187 million users in over 350 cities across eight countries.

🎮 Gaming

PlayStation 5 is the fastest-selling US console ever, according to March 2021 NPD data.

Epic Games raised another $1 billion to help them pursue their long-term vision for the Metaverse, which for now just seems like a fancy way of saying “hanging out with friends online”. The raising valued Epic Games at $28.7 billion.

“We are grateful to our new and existing investors who support our vision for Epic and the Metaverse,” said Sweeney in a statement. “Their investment will help accelerate our work around building connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys, while empowering game developers and creators with Unreal Engine, Epic Online Services, and the Epic Games Store.”

▶️ Streaming

38% of respondents think Netflix has the best original content of all the streaming services, according to a recent Morgan Stanley survey. Amazon Prime and Disney+ came in second and third with 12% and 7%, respectively.

Amazon is currently making a Lord of the Rings series and it’s bound to be the most expensive series ever made, costing at least $465 million for the first season. That’s serious money; by comparison, Game of Thrones cost around $100 million per season. Amazon spent $250 million for the rights to the Tolkien property in 2017 and is planning at least five seasons and possible spin-off series, so I hope it’s good! At the very least, it should help out the New Zealand economy until the 2030s.

New Zealand’s economic development minister, Stuart Nash, told RNZ that Amazon has spent a record-setting NZ$650 million on the show’s first season—though some of that money likely paid for sets, costumes, and props that will be used over the course of the show’s entire run.

“This will be the largest television series ever made,” Nash said.

Amazon spent $11 billion on video and music content in 2020, up from $7.8 billion in 2019.

🔋 Batteries and Electric Vehicles

Bloomberg wrote a feature on QuantumScape, the company working on “solid-state” electric batteries for Volkswagen.

The battery leap claimed by Singh and his team promises to extend the range of electric cars by as much as 50% over today’s lithium-ion technology, while reducing charge time for a long drive to just 15 minutes.

QuantumScape stock was down 22% over the week due to Scorpion Capital releasing a short report on the company that alleges it’s a pump-and-dump SPAC scam. It makes for an interesting read.

France is giving citizens $3,000 to get rid of their car and get an ebike.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled the EQS, an electric counterpart to its S-Class sedan.

The EQS has a range of 770 kilometers or about 480 miles, according to Mercedes. If that figure is confirmed by independent testing, the EQS would dethrone the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus as the production electric car that can travel the farthest between charges. The Tesla currently occupies the No. 1 spot with a range of just over 400 miles, according to rankings by Kelley Blue Book.

Washington State passed legislation banning gas cars by 2030, becoming the first US state to do so.

🌬️ Renewables

According to energy research and consultancy Wood Mackenzie, the oil price could drop to $10 a barrel by 2050 if the world succeeds in meeting Paris Agreement goals,

Wood Mackenzie forecast demand for oil would start to fall from 2023 under this scenario and this decline would quickly accelerate thereafter, with year-on-year falls of around 2 million barrels a day.

Wind experts expect onshore and offshore wind costs to decline 37-49% by 2050, according to a recent paper published in Nature Energy.

⚙️ Mobility

Xpeng Motors launched a new sedan with self-driving capabilities.

Xpeng’s XPILOT is an attempt to compete with Tesla’s own ADAS system called Autopilot as well as other rivals like Nio with its Nio Pilot.

Autonomous truck developer TuSimple plans to start testing its autonomous trucks on roads this year. The company raised $1 billion through an IPO last week.

Chief Executive Cheng Lu said the company is planning to conduct a “driver-out” pilot program without anyone at the wheel in the fourth quarter on a roughly 100-mile run between Tucson and Phoenix.

💊 Health

Facebook AI claims they have a new AI model that can successfully predict effective drug combinations to treat cancer. Finding new ways to repurpose drugs, or to combine existing drugs, has been a powerful tool to treat complex diseases (see the paper).

Such an approach could theoretically help tackle cancer tumours, which vary from person to person and react differently to the same treatment, says Eytan Ruppin at the US National Cancer Institute.

There may be a way to regenerate lost teeth (see the paper).

Experiments with this antibody revealed that BMP signaling is essential for determining the number of teeth in mice. Moreover, a single administration was enough to generate a whole tooth. Subsequent experiments showed the same benefits in ferrets.

A new study by researchers from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia identified 509 genes that are linked to depression and anxiety (see the paper).

🔬 Biology

Scientists have created early embryos that are part human, part monkey as part of research that could lead to growing new organs for transplantation (see the paper).

By slipping human stem cells into the embryos of other animals, we might someday grow new organs for people with faltering hearts or kidneys. In a step toward that goal, researchers have created the first embryos with a mixture of human and monkey cells. These chimeras could help scientists hone techniques for growing human tissue in species better suited for transplants, such as pigs.

🧱 Advanced Materials

White paint can be good for cooling, and a new ultra-white paint produced by academic researchers reflects 98% of sunlight and has cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature. That’s pretty cool. The researchers say it could be on the market in one or two years (see the paper).

Ruan said painting a roof of 93 sq metres (1,000 sq ft) would give a cooling power of 10 kilowatts: “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

🛰️ Space

Google Earth added a neat new feature: you can now see a timelapse of the last 37 years to see how the world has changed from 1984 to today. You can check out the impact of a warming planet, or the growth of a megacity like Shanghai, or how your local neighbourhood has changed over time. Check it out at https://g.co/Timelapse

SpaceX won a $2.89 billion NASA contract to develop the next spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon.

Northrop Grumman has successfully extended the life of a satellite for the second time.

The impressive feat in "in-space servicing" is another historic milestone for a company that's trying to extend the life of satellites already in orbit and, by extension, reduce the amount of space debris floating around Earth.

CNBC looked at what Starlink means for SpaceX.

⚡ Other Snippets

The pandemic is pushing robots into retail at an unprecedented pace, according to a new survey by RetailWire and Brain Corp.

Among the top line results, 64% of retailers believe it is important to have a clear, executable, and budgeted robotics automation strategy in place in 2021, including 77% of large retailers. That's striking considering robots in retail wasn't really a thing as recently as the 2010s. Now, nearly half of the respondents to the survey say they will be involved with an in-store robotics project within the next 18 months.

The European Union is set to ban using AI for mass surveillance or for ranking social behaviour.

“It’s important for us at a European level to pass a very strong message and set the standards in terms of how far these technologies should be allowed to go,” Dragos Tudorache, a liberal member of the European Parliament and head of the committee on artificial intelligence, said in an interview. “Putting a regulatory framework around them is a must and it’s good that the European Commission takes this direction.”

Paul Graham wrote about how people get rich now.

In 1982 the most common source of wealth was inheritance. Of the 100 richest people, 60 inherited from an ancestor. There were 10 du Pont heirs alone. By 2020 the number of heirs had been cut in half, accounting for only 27 of the biggest 100 fortunes.

Jeff Bezos published his 2020 Letter to Shareholders, his last letter to shareholders as CEO.

In Amazon’s 1997 letter to shareholders, our first, I talked about our hope to create an “enduring franchise,” one that would reinvent what it means to serve customers by unlocking the internet’s power. I noted that Amazon had grown from having 158 employees to 614, and that we had surpassed 1.5 million customer accounts. We had just gone public at a split-adjusted stock price of $1.50 per share. I wrote that it was Day 1.

Have a great week,

Thomas

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About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is a portfolio manager of a global equities fund focused on tech & innovation based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

🔬 Reversible CRISPR, 💊 life-extending young blood, and 💲 the rise of robo-advisors

Thomas's Innovation Wrap #64

Greetings!

Here's your weekly wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

🔬 Biology

Researchers have developed a new “reversible” CRISPR technique, CRISPRoff, that allows them to turn genes on and off (see the paper).

The technique, described in a paper published in Cell on April 9, is reversible unlike traditional CRISPR, and the introduced changes can even be passed down to future lines of cells. This nondestructive gene-editing protein acts as a simple off switch for genes, recreating the benefits of the widely used CRISPR-Cas9 system without damaging cells' genetic material. 

Researchers from the University of London have shown that animal DNA can be collected from air samples in a proof-of-concept study (see the paper and the 4-minute video abstract).

"We were interested in whether we could use this 'airDNA' as a way to assess what species were present in a burrow or a cave where we could not easily see or capture them," she added.

Human-like intelligence in animals is far more common than we thought, writes David Robson in New Scientist.

Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company, Neuralink, showcased a monkey playing Pong with its mind (see the 3-minute video).

Pager, a 9-year-old macaque monkey, had a Neuralink implanted about six weeks before the video was shot, the video’s unnamed narrator says.

A new paper explains the future ethical implications associated with lab-grown brains (see the paper).

While growing whole human brains inside animals is not under any serious consideration, transplanting brain organoids could give crucial insight on how diseases like dementia or schizophrenia form and treatments to cure them.

The New York Times wrote a wonderful profile of superstar scientist Dr Katalin Kariko. Dr Kariko languished in academic obscurity for decades while working on the mRNA delivery technology foundational to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. A great read.

“We talked to pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists. No one cared,” Dr. Weissman said. “We were screaming a lot, but no one would listen.”

Dr Kariko also featured heavily in this Bloomberg Quicktake video on how mRNA therapies could soon fight cancer (12 minutes).

🔗 Blockchain and Crypto

Coinbase estimates Q1 revenue increased 9x to $1.8 billion from one year ago, and net income was between $730 million and $800 million, up from $32 million a year ago. Coinbase plans to go public this Wednesday via a direct listing that could see the company valued at more than $100 billion.

Bitcoin exchange Kraken also saw record trading volumes in the first quarter and is considering going public in 2022.

Kraken saw four times as many new users sign up to its platform in the first quarter of this year than it did in the second half of 2020. Spot trading volumes in the first quarter were 1.5 times higher than in all of last year, reaching a record level of $160 billion.

The Eastern Caribbean became the first currency union to issue blockchain-based digital currency.

The system allows users even without bank accounts - but with a smartphone - to use a downloaded app and make payments via a QR code. Those without bank accounts would go to a previously approved agent or nonbanking financial institution who would verify a person’s information and then approve a DCash wallet.

Akon, the Senegalese-American singer, wants to run a Senegal city on a cryptocurrency called Akoin.

Akon is hoping the alternative models proposed by Akon City will help Senegal, a country dealing with mass protests in the wake of an economic crisis, tackle poverty and youth unemployment. Construction on the project is expected to start this year, and is expected to cost around $6 billion, pooled between Akon and outside investors. The singer this week also announced plans to build a “sister” Akon City in Uganda.

💊 Health

Newsweek looked at whether blood from young people can slow aging.

The results were exhilarating. They suggested that stem cells could be revitalized simply by reintroducing back into the blood stream the molecules, present in young blood, that could turn them on. The next step was finding the specific youth-promoting factors in the blood responsible for the change. But that would not be easy.

Researchers have developed a blood test for depression and bipolar disorder (see the paper).

💲 Finance

Investors have been borrowing heavily to buy stocks over the past year.

As of late February, investors had borrowed a record $814 billion against their portfolios, according to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-regulatory arm. That was up 49% from one year earlier, the fastest annual increase since 2007, during the frothy period before the 2008 financial crisis. Before that, the last time investor borrowings had grown so rapidly was during the dot-com bubble in 1999.

Aussie tech superstar Canva raised US$71 million at a US$15 billion valuation.

The capital comes from new investors including T. Rowe Price Global Technology Fund and Dragoneer Investment Group, as well as repeat backers such as Blackbird and Skip Capital.

The fresh funding and new valuation also comes off the back of a year of strong growth for the Aussie unicorn, which has seen a 130% increase in revenue, year-on-year.

OneStream, a corporate performance management (CPM) company, has raised $200 million at a valuation of $6 billion.

Sendbird has raised $100 million at a $1.05 billion valuation. The Korean API company helps others build text and video interactivity into their apps and services.

CNBC looked at whether robots will replace human financial advisors (11-minute video).

Today roboadvisors manage $460 billion, an increase of 30% compared to 2019, and the industry is expected to expand even further, with some analysts predicting it will become a $1.2 trillion industry by 2024.

👓 Virtual and Augmented Reality

Facebook, Apple, Niantic, and Snap are betting that people are ready for augmented reality glasses.

The AR push reflects a belief among many technologists that face-borne computers could be a transformational class of products, enabling people to look up directions on a map, scroll through text messages or call up a recipe right before their eyes—and without losing sight of the real world. Tech companies see AR glasses as an opportunity to drive consumers to spend more time in their ecosystems, where they can show ads, sell products and pursue other moneymaking opportunities.

The number of VR headsets used on gaming platform Steam was up 110% to 2.9 million in March.

🏠 Working from Home

A new survey by Robert Half finds that 34% of work-from-home workers say they’d rather quit than return to full-time office work.

The New York Times wrote about the shrinking need for office space.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private-sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, his bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

🌞 Renewables

Bitcoin mining emissions in China will hit 130 million tonnes by 2024, enough to threaten the country’s climate change targets, according to new research from researchers from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, Cornell University, and the University of Surrey (see the paper).

Researchers at Shinshu University have developed a two-step method that’s 100x more efficient at generating hydrogen from photocatalytic reactions (see the paper).

Still, despite the 100-fold efficiency jump, BaTaO2N isn’t quite ready for prime-time hydrogen production.

“We still need a similar jump in improvement of the efficiency to make this technology practically useful,” Hisatomi said

🔋 Batteries

Chemists at St Petersburg University have developed a new type of battery that can charge 10x faster than lithium-ion batteries (see the paper).

‘A battery manufactured using our polymer will charge in seconds – about ten times faster than a traditional lithium-ion battery. This has already been demonstrated through a series of experiments. However, at this stage, it is still lagging behind in terms of capacity – 30 to 40% lower than in lithium-ion batteries. We are currently working to improve this indicator while maintaining the charge-discharge rate,’ says Oleg Levin.

CNBC looked at how JB Straubel, the co-founder and ex-CTO of Tesla, is now tackling the battery recycling problem with an inside look at his startup Redwood Materials (18-minute video).

Redwood’s techniques recover 95% of a battery’s nickel, cobalt, aluminium, graphite, and more than 80% of a battery’s lithium.

💎 Artificial Intelligence

Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched Amazon Lookout for Equipment, a predictive maintenance service that uses machine learning and customer sensor data to predict when a machine will break down or start running suboptimally.

A US Government audit looking for algorithmic bias in an AI service provided by a company with ties to white supremacy found no AI.

💻 Chips and Computing

Quartz profiled ASML, “the company that modern capitalism couldn’t survive long without”.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that a single Dutch company sits at the very heart of this $439 billion industry. At its headquarters in Veldhoven, in the Netherlands, ASML assembles photolithography machines, which etch circuit patterns onto chip wafers using low-wavelength light. Other companies make such machines too, but ASML controls more than 60% of the market; in 2019, its revenue was 11.8 billion euros ($13.2 billion). It is also the only manufacturer of the latest, most precise generation of chip-making machines, which uses extreme ultraviolet light (EUV), with a wavelength of 13.5 nanometers—a ten-thousandth the width of a human hair.

Want to understand what a CPU is? Intel posted two helpful videos that explain the basics of modern CPU architectures (19 minutes and 25 minutes).

⚡ Other Snippets

A February 2021 report by Dutch environmental consultancy CE Delft suggests cultivated meat could be cheaper than conventional beef by 2030.

A pair of robot legs has been taught to walk using reinforcement learning (see the paper).

Researchers at RMIT in Australia have found a way to make drones less noisy when they fly without losing thrust (see the paper).

Procter & Gamble worked with a China trade group to try to bypass Apple’s new privacy tools.

The move is part of a broader effort by the consumer-goods giant to prepare for an era in which new rules and consumer preferences limit the amount of data available to marketers. P&G —among the world’s largest advertisers, with brands such as Gillette razors and Charmin toilet paper—is the biggest Western company involved in the effort, the people said.

xkcd on eradication:

According to the Pew Research Center, YouTube usage grew from 73% of US adults in 2019 to 81% of US adults in 2021, making it the social media app with the greatest growth during the pandemic. Reddit came in second with usage growing from 11% of US adults in 2019 to 18% in 2021.

San Francisco startup Embark has partnered with AB InBev, Warner Enterprises, and others to test their autonomous truck driving technology.

Have a great week,

Thomas

Share Thomas's Innovation Wrap


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is a portfolio manager of a global equities fund focused on tech & innovation based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

💊 How mRNA-based therapies could change the world, 🌞 Biden's renewables boost, and 💻 the semi shortage

Thomas’s Innovation Wrap #63

Greetings!

Hope you had a relaxing Easter break.

Here's your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

💊 Health

One fascinating area of healthcare right now is the potential development of mRNA-based therapies beyond the COVID-19 vaccines. The Atlantic explores how mRNA technology could change the world.

But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. In mouse trials, synthetic-mRNA therapies have been shown to slow and reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis.

“I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.”

A newly developed hydrogen successfully reverted cancer cells to cancer stem cells within 24 hours, in six different types of human cancer (see the paper).

This study paves the way for research into drugs that can target cancer stem cells. “In the future, the DN gel could be used to enhance cancer cell type diagnosis and to produce personalized medicines, which could improve the prognosis of cancer patients,” said Shinya Tanaka.

Researchers at BrainGate have, for the first time, demonstrated the use of a high-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface (see the paper).

🤖 Robotics

The organic xenobots from early in 2020 have been upgraded (see the paper).

The same team has now created life forms that self-assemble a body from single cells, do not require muscle cells to move, and even demonstrate the capability of recordable memory. The new generation Xenobots also move faster, navigate different environments, and have longer lifespans than the first edition, and they still have the ability to work together in groups and heal themselves if damaged.

Boston Dynamics gave 60 Minutes a rare look at how it created some of the most agile robots in the world (13-minute video).

Boston Dynamics also unveiled Stretch, a new warehouse robot that can shift 800 boxes per hour.

Also entering the warehouse robotics fray is Ambi Robotics, a robotics startup that emerged from stealth last week with a $6.1 million raise. Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg co-founded the startup.

“It's one thing to prove that you can empty the bin—that's interesting on one level,” says Goldberg. But it’s another thing to do it quickly and reliably. Goldberg says that Ambi Robotics’ system can do this sorting job twice as fast as humans. He adds that its products are not meant to replace human workers, but to supplement them. “This is just one piece of a pipeline that happens with packages,” Goldberg says. “And all throughout that pipeline, there's steps that need human intervention.” 

⚙️ Mobility

Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted at the company’s work on autonomous vehicles.

“The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view. If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does,” Cook said in an interview released Monday with Kara Swisher on the “Sway” podcast.

“We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not,” Cook added.

Waymo’s CEO has stepped down.

In a blog post explaining his decision to resign as CEO, but remain with Waymo as an advisor, Krafcik wrote, “now, with the fully autonomous Waymo One ride-hailing service open to all in our launch area of Metro Phoenix, and with the fifth generation of the Waymo Driver being prepared for deployment in ride-hailing and goods delivery, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to pass the baton to Tekedra and Dmitri as co-CEOs.”

Plus, a developer of autonomous truck technology, raised another $220 million on top of the $200 million they raised in February.

🔋 Batteries and EVs

Xiaomi is entering the electric car fray with a new $10 billion investment over the next ten years.

The Chinese technology firm, which is the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, is jumping into an incredibly competitive space in China.

Not only is Xiaomi competing with established automakers in the country, such a Geely and Warren Buffet-backed BYD, but also upstarts such as Nio and Xpeng Motors.

Apple announced it would build a grid-scale energy storage project in California capable of storing 240 megawatt-hours of energy.

The project is intended to store energy so that the energy produced by the solar farm can be used during the night as well as during the day, and Cupertino says the project will store enough energy to "power over 7,000 homes for one day." Apple plans to share some of what it learns from the project with other companies, executives have said.

🌞 Renewables

EVs and renewables are at the heart of Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure investment.

The Biden administration announced plans to vastly increase offshore wind power use along the East Coast.

The plan sets a goal of deploying 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines in coastal waters nationwide by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes.

The Biden administration also believes that nuclear energy should be part of the clean energy standard (uranium stocks rallied on the remarks).

The US Department of Energy wants to cut solar costs by more than half by 2030.

To that end, DOE is accelerating its utility-scale solar 2030 cost target by five years – setting a new goal of driving down the current cost of 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 3 cents/kWh by 2025 and 2 cents/kWh by 2030.

The world’s biggest solar company has joined the hydrogen market.

The Australia Institute’s new report suggests that renewables plus batteries offers Australia the same energy security as coal (see the report).

Cass said the latest research showed that renewable energy was capable of providing sufficient system security to support the grid and Australians were “ready for that transition to take place”.

“Batteries can deliver far more system security than a coal generator of the same power capacity.”

🔗 Blockchain and Crypto

One of the authors of the NFT protocol for Ethereum, William Entriken, says cryptocurrencies must tackle their carbon emissions.

Entriken contrasts cryptocurrencies with carbon offsetting, in which people pay to have carbon emissions removed from the atmosphere. “Bitcoin is the opposite of that. When you purchase bitcoin you’re purchasing carbon creation credits,” says Entriken. “When you purchase the $50,000 [of bitcoin] somebody else is directly putting that much carbon into the atmosphere. Ethereum is the same.”

He has called for Ethereum to switch from a proof of work (PoW) approach to a proof of stake (PoS) approach, which would remove the need for intense calculations by allowing the owners of existing coins to control the network, rather than the owners of the computing power. It is estimated this could cut the total energy demands of Ethereum by 99 per cent. “You have to switch to proof of stake. Proof of work should be illegal,” says Entriken.

💻 Chips and Computing

The CEO of GlobalFoundries, Tom Caulfield, says the semiconductor shortage could last through 2022.

But Caulfield says the industry shortages, specifically for the automotive world, aren’t because of demand for leading node chips. The shortages are for other parts cars need, like radar chips, which don’t necessarily require the most advanced manufacturing available at the time.

“The auto industry is not having a chip shortage because it doesn’t have CPUs. No one’s saying I can’t build enough computers, it’s all the other chips,” Caulfield said.

TSMC is investing $100 billion over the next three years to increase semiconductor output.

The planned investment is a record for the world’s largest contract chip maker as well as the broader industry, analysts said, at a time when chips are in short supply around the world. In a statement, the company said it expects strong demand over the next several years, a trend driven by growth in 5G and high computing capabilities and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Arm introduced Armv9, its first major architectural update in a decade.

In a press briefing, Arm CEO Simon Segars said Armv9 will be the base for the next 300 billion Arm-based chips. Arm’s customers have shipped more than 180 billion chips to date, and those chips touch more than 70% of the world’s population, Segars said.

🔒 Cybersecurity

A new report by Canalys suggests that 2020 was a record year for cybersecurity breaches and compromised records despite cybersecurity spending growing by 10%.

IBM thinks that fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) is nearly ready for prime time. FHE is a security process that allows data to be used in applications without it first being decrypted.

Companies are potentially interested in FHE because it would allow them to apply AI to data, such as from finance and health, while being able to promise users that the company has no way to actually view or access the underlying data.

💲 Finance

Looking to buy a house? You could be bidding against a pension fund searching for yield.

D.R. Horton Inc. built 124 houses in Conroe, Texas, rented them out and then put the whole community, Amber Pines at Fosters Ridge, on the block. A Who’s Who of investors and home-rental firms flocked to the December sale. The winning $32 million bid came from an online property-investing platform, Fundrise LLC, which manages more than $1 billion on behalf of about 150,000 individuals.

The country’s most prolific home builder booked roughly twice what it typically makes selling houses to the middle class—an encouraging debut in the business of selling entire neighborhoods to investors.

Individual investors have started to trade less.

The decline in enthusiasm marks a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, when individual investors’ frenetic activity took center stage in financial markets. As shares of “meme stocks” soared in January, millions of small investors piled in, kicking an already robust retail-investing trend into overdrive.

Deliveroo listed in London, and its shares subsequently tanked.

Deliveroo, which is backed by Amazon, saw its shares sink around 30% in early deals compared to the issue price, before trimming some losses. Shares were down 26% by the market close.

Coursera began trading on the NYSE and ended its first day up 36%.

🍔 Alternative Foods

The skeleton of spinach leaves could be used as a suitable scaffold for lab-grown meat (see the paper).

This time around, the team used the veiny, decellularized spinach leaves as a scaffold for cow precursor meat cells. In this environment, the cells remained viable for up to 14 days before differentiating into muscle mass. While still an early proof of concept, the scientists believe the demonstration of their edible, plant-based scaffold lays the groundwork for further study, and may help shape the future of lab-grown meat products down the track.

👓 Virtual and Augmented Reality

Microsoft will make augmented reality headsets for the US Army in a deal worth $21.9 billion over 10 years.

“The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”

Facebook says that Oculus Quest 2 has now outsold all of its predecessors combined.

📶 Wireless

A team from Georgia Tech have come up with a card that harvests electromagnetic energy from 5G signals for wireless charging.

⚡ Other Snippets

Mobile game spending was up 25% to $22.2bn in the 1st Quarter of 2021 according to Sensor Tower.

Virgin Galactic debuted its new spaceship, VSS Imagine.

A wearable “crown” boosts users’ productivity with brain analysis.

Apple has led a $50 million investment in UnitedMasters, which runs a distribution platform for independent music artists.

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” Apple executive Eddy Cue said in a statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs created the Amazon rain forest.

CNBC discusses whether Americans can be forced to get the Covid-19 vaccine (12-minute video).

Have a great week,

Thomas

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About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is a portfolio manager of a global equities fund focused on tech & innovation based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

🌞 Solar geoengineering, 💻 Intel's strategy update, and 🤖 breaking the blood-brain barrier

Thomas’s Innovation Wrap #62

Greetings!

Here's your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

🛰️ Space

A new picture of a black hole unveiled a swirling magnetic field (see the first paper and the second paper).

“This jet process is totally amazing – something the size of our solar system can shoot out a jet that pierces through entire galaxies and even galaxy neighborhoods,” says Issaoun. “Now we’re really seeing the magnetic field close to the black hole for the first time, and that’s connecting it to the jet, which is the most powerful process in the universe.”

NASA is getting ready for its first helicopter flight on Mars, which will take place on April 8th at the earliest.

“It will have 31 Earth days to attempt to be the first helicopter to fly on another planet,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division. “It isn’t intended to collect science, but because its mission is so focused, it is, at its core, innovative.”

Where did the water on Mars go? A recent paper suggests that most of it may still be there.

But most of the water, a new study concludes, went down, sucked into the red planet’s rocks. And there it remains, trapped within minerals and salts. Indeed, as much as 99 percent of the water that once flowed on Mars could still be there, the researchers estimated in a paper published this week in the journal Science.

It turns out a meteor shower over Portland wasn’t a meteor shower after all; it was space debris from a SpaceX rocket.

💻 Chips and Computing

The WSJ looks at the materials that could replace silicon in future tech.

Researchers on the bleeding edge of physics, chemistry and engineering are experimenting with exotic-sounding substances to be used in microchips. They include graphene, black phosphorus, transition metal dichalcogenides, and boron nitride nanosheets. Collectively, they’re known as 2-D materials, since they are flat sheets only an atom or two thick. Largely unknown just 20 years ago, they are now regularly fabricated in labs, using methods as mundane as a blender and as tricky as high-temperature vapor deposition.

Intel’s new CEO, Pat Gelsinger, delivered an excellent keynote outlining Intel’s strategy going forward — it’s 59 minutes long but worth the watch if you’re interested in semiconductors or computing. Stratechery’s breakdown is also worth a read.

🔗 Blockchain and Crypto

The New York Times article Buy This Column on the Blockchain! was indeed bought on the blockchain for $560,000.

The NFT, a unique bit of digital code that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain and refers to a 14 megabyte graphic of the column hosted on a decentralized file hosting service, cannot be duplicated or counterfeited, making it potentially valuable for collectors. Some NFTs have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, with one such sale — a collection of art by the digital artist Beeple — bringing in more than $69 million at auction.

Chainalysis, a start-up that sells blockchain data analytics tools, has doubled its valuation to $2 billion in a new investment round.

Founded in 2014, Chainalysis helps governments and private sector companies detect and prevent the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in illicit activities like money laundering with its investigations and compliance software.

Bitcoin is being increasingly used for money remittance by the millions of workers who send their earnings abroad.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Nigeria, where the central bank is so worried about Nigerians choosing cryptocurrencies over the naira for overseas remittance payments that it is now paying them to use official channels for those transfers instead.

🌞 Renewables

A report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends more investment into solar geoengineering research, where sunlight is reflected back to space to artificially cool the planet.

So far, it's a purely hypothetical idea — but scientists have proposed a number of ways it could be done.

The most common proposal suggests spraying reflective aerosols into the atmosphere, where they would beam sunlight away from the Earth. Other proposals involve making clouds brighter by injecting them with particles, or to help trap less heat beneath them.

They're contentious ideas. Experts have many concerns about the possibility of unintended consequences, such as unwanted effects on rainfall or other global weather patterns.

California scientists are looking into covering canals with solar panels.

Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

Bloomberg looked at community solar (9-minute video).

🔒 Cybersecurity

Google’s top security team has thwarted a nine-month hacking operation, however, it’s a counterterrorism hacking operation undertaken by a US ally, highlighting the complexity of balancing user security with national security concerns.

Instead of focusing on who was behind and targeted by a specific operation, Google decided to take broader action for everyone. The justification was that even if a Western government was the one exploiting those vulnerabilities today, it will eventually be used by others, and so the right choice is always to fix the flaw today.   

Facebook says it blocked hackers in China who were trying to spy on Uyghur Muslims abroad.

Facebook said it found websites designed to look like third-party Android app stores “where they published Uyghur-themed applications, including a keyboard app, prayer app, and dictionary app.” Any apps downloaded from these sites contained malicious software to infect devices.

A Florida student and her mother were arrested after hacking school records to steal the homecoming queen election.

🤖 Robotics

A New York lawmaker has proposed a law that will ban police use of armed robots in the future.

New York City councilmember Ben Kallos says he “watched in horror” last month when city police responded to a hostage situation in the Bronx using Boston Dynamics’ Digidog, a remotely operated robotic dog equipped with surveillance cameras. Pictures of the Digidog went viral on Twitter, in part due to their uncanny resemblance with world-ending machines in the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror.

Researchers in Japan have trained a robot to tie knots using only two fingers on each hand, which in theory will allow them to perform tasks with wires and cables (see the paper).

Microscopic drug-carrying robots broke the blood-brain barrier to reach brain tumours in mice (see the study).

Tiny microbots are nothing new. The same goes for disguising a robot as a bacteria or using magnets to move them through the bloodstream. But what makes this microbot design stand apart from the crowd is that it can cross one of the body’s toughest biological barriers: the blood-brain barrier (BBB.)

⚙️ Mobility

VentureBeat looks at how Yandex plans to expand its autonomous robot delivery service.

Yandex’s delivery fleet currently comprises about 35 robots, most of which are making deliveries from Yandex.Eats and Yandex.Lavka in four Moscow districts and the town of Innopolis. A few additional robots are being used for testing purposes and to map new delivery locations, Polishchuk says.

Nuro has added investors to its $500m Series C funding round it announced in November 0220, with Woven Capital and Chipotle Mexican Grill joining the round.

Australian Lidar company Baraja has raised a $31 million B round to continue the deployment and development of their unique imaging system. Investors in the round include previous backers Blackbird Ventures and Main Sequence Ventures, along with new investors HESTA, Regal Funds Management, Perennial Value Management, and InterValley Ventures.

🍔 Alternative Foods

A study by Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corporation called Food for Thought suggests that meat consumption will be in decline by 2025 in Europe as protein alternatives reach parity on price and quality.

Bloomberg explored the world of cultured meat (10-minute video).

💲 Finance

ViacomCBS, Discovery, and several Chinese internet ADRs tanked on Friday due to the forced liquidation of positions held by Archegos Capital. Ouch.

ViacomCBS and Discovery closed down more than 27% on Friday, with Viacom off more than 50% for the week while Discovery slid 45%. The companies have been heavily shorted amid investor skepticism about their long-term prospects in a crowded media landscape.

For the week, Baidu was down more than 18%, Tencent more than 33% and Vipshop more than 31%

Robotic automation firm UiPath has filed to go public (see the S-1).

Venture capitalists are backing European ecommerce startups hoping to take on Amazon, with Turkish startup Getir, German startup Gorillas, and Finnish startup Wolt all announcing funding rounds into the hundreds of millions this year.

While Amazon is huge in the U.S. and many other countries, it isn’t as well established in some corners of Europe and large swathes of Asia. In fact, the tech giant only has dedicated online stores for around 17 countries worldwide.

⚡ Other Snippets

Microsoft is in discussions to acquire popular communications app Discord.

Discord offers Microsoft a big and engaged community. Primarily used by gamers, it has become a Gen Z hub for socializing with friends, particularly during the pandemic. It consists predominantly of private communities, and Discord has 6.7 million active servers every single day. It’s a huge community, 75 percent of which are Discord users outside of North America.

CNBC discussed why China is beating the US in electric vehicles (17-minute video).

Have a great week,

Thomas

Share Thomas's Innovation Wrap


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is a portfolio manager of a global equities fund focused on tech & innovation based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

💲 GameStop turmoil, 🏠 Clubhouse growth, and 🔋 GM going electric

Thomas's Innovation Wrap #61

Greetings!

Here's your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

💲 Finance

GameStop stock has been on quite a ride — the stock rocketed up 400% last week as a stampede of retail investors (allegedly) pushed the stock up in an attempt to force short-sellers to buy back stock (allegedly), before the stock crashed 72% over the last 2 days. If you’re new to the GameStop drama, Matt Levine wrote a comprehensive summary last week (before the crash).

Keith Gill, an early investor in GameStop who goes by the online pseudonyms Roaring Kitty and DeepF***ingValue, managed to turn a $53,000 investment into $̶4̶6̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶l̶i̶o̶n̶ $̶36̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶l̶i̶o̶n̶ $22 million. He posted a very reasonable one-hour YouTube video in July 2020 that explained why he liked the stock back when the stock was at $4. It last closed at $90 after reaching a recent peak of $483. Sell-side analyst valuations range from $3.50 to $15.

While GameStop was rising, other heavily-shorted stocks were also rising (to a lesser extent) which hurt hedge fund short books in January. Melvin Capital, who was short GameStop, lost 53% for the month. The turmoil also forced a number of retail brokers to temporarily halt their customers from buying GameStop stock because the extra trading concentrated in a single name meant they were at risk of not being able to meet their clearinghouse cash collateral requirements. A retail broker at the centre of this storm, Robinhood, went on to raise $1 billion last week plus another $2.4 billion this week to meet their surging cash requirements.

🏠 Clubhouse

Clubhouse, an invite-only audio-based social networking app, is seeing explosive growth. The app added at least 1 million users added between January 30 and February 1, likely getting a boost from Elon Musk using the app to chat about Mars, Neuralink, and Dogecoin. He also interviewed Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev about why they stopped customers buying GameStop stock (see above).

Clubhouse recently raised money at a $1 billion valuation after previously raising money at a $100 million valuation in May 2020. The company was founded in March 2020.

Public market investors seeking to capitalise on this growth have bought Agora (API-US) shares, which are up 89% over the past month. Clubhouse was allegedly built on top of Agora’s API.

Clubhouse Media Group (CMGR-US) shares have also seen a boost, rising 196% over the past month, despite having nothing to do with the Clubhouse app — it does have a similar name though…

🛍️ Ecommerce

Boohoo bought the Debenhams brand name out of administration for £55m. The 242-year old UK department store brand will live on as an online-only store.

Debenhams has around 300 million visits to its website a year, making it a top 10 UK online retailer already.

Boohoo said it will rebuild and relaunch the site, opening it to third party fashion brands as a “marketplace” for fashion, beauty, sport and homeware.

In a similar offline-to-online transition, ASOS is set to buy Topshop and Miss Selfridge out of administration.

⚙️ Mobility

Driverless robotaxis from AutoX are now available in Shenzhen, China (video).

California has given Baidu a permit to test driverless vehicles on public roads in Sunnyvale, California.

According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), as of January 27, 2021, the agency has issued Autonomous Vehicle Driverless Testing Permits to six companies: Autox Technologies, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox.

Starship Technologies has raised $17 million to expand its fleet of autonomous delivery robots. It recently completed one million autonomous deliveries.

Starship, which was founded in 2014 by Skype veterans Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, offers a six-wheeled robot that packs a wealth of electronics, including nine cameras and ultrasonic sensors that afford a 360-degree view of its surroundings. The robot has a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and is capable of recharging, crossing streets, climbing curbs, traveling at night, and operating in rain and snow without human supervision. As a precaution, a team of teleoperators monitors the robot’s progress and can take control if need be.

🔋 Electric Vehicles

General Motors has pledged to go all-electric by 2035, making it the first of the big US automakers to make that commitment.

As part of its plan, GM — maker of Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Corvettes, among others — will manufacture about 30 types of electric vehicles. By late 2025, about 40 percent of the company’s U.S. models will be battery-powered electric vehicles, it said. And it pledged to make its factories and other facilities carbon neutral by 2040.

The Biden administration wants to go electric with the Government’s 645,000 vehicles.

Still, experts say the executive order is significant. It’s a sign that the Biden administration is serious about mitigating climate change—and that it’s committed to supporting the still-fledgling electric vehicle industry, which has collected plenty of Wall Street money but not yet convinced many Americans to buy its cars.

Harvard Business Review discussed the advantage Tesla derives from its proprietary charging network.

Yet, despite investments that add up to many billions of dollars, none of the major incumbent automakers seems to pose much of a threat to market leader Tesla, which has become nearly synonymous with EVs. This is surprising since one might reasonably have expected that once firms with annual revenues in excess of $100B, deep manufacturing expertise, and large market shares turned their attention to the electric vehicle market, the game would be up.

🛰️ Space

Astra Space, a maker of small rockets, intends to go public in the US via a SPAC transaction that would value it at $2.1 billion.

One of the features differentiating Astra from competitors is its plan to blast off weekly—and eventually daily—relying on a mobile launch system, a handful of technicians, and operations from remote locations if necessary. Bigger rockets typically have a much slower launch tempo and require significantly greater investment in ground facilities.

SpaceX plans to fly their first civilian crew to space later this year. There’s a public competition for two of the seats.

⚡ Other Snippets

MIT Technology Review launched the Green Future Index. Iceland was ranked #1 overall. Category winners were Ukraine (carbon emissions), Ethiopia (energy transition), Singapore (both green society and clean innovation), and New Zealand (climate policy).

There’s a big change at Amazon with Jeff Bezos stepping down as CEO (but he’ll remain Executive Chairman). His appointed successor, Andy Jassy, is a long-time company veteran who built and runs their AWS cloud business. The Washington Post wrote a profile on him back in September 2020.

Mice with Alzheimer’s disease may have a way to restore cognitive function thanks to a team of neuroscientists at New York University’s Center for Neural Science (see their paper).

Currently, treatments for Alzheimer's disease center on the reduction of phenomena linked to the affliction, such as amyloid plaque load, neurofibrillary tangles, and neuroinflammation; the Science Signaling study suggests that the addition of a pharmaceutical normalizing protein synthesis could aid in reviving normal brain activity.

Hotels are increasingly using cleaning robots armed with pathogen-zapping UV lights.

Claims about the rigor of robot cleaning routines have recently become rather surreal marketing campaigns. Take the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. The iconic hotel, famous for hosting the annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony, boasts in one promotional video that its Xenex robot staff “zaps every inch before your arrival,” leaving you a “pathogen-free sanctuary” where you’ll “rest assured you’re sleeping in the safest room possible.”

Hargol FoodTech is developing a new genetic line of edible grasshoppers.

“We have raised the fifth generation of grasshoppers fed by only dry feed, which means we found a way to teach the grasshoppers to eat only dry food. We expect to implement the dry feed in our commercial farms in 2022. This will make us much more efficient than any other insect producer and even more efficient than any other animal protein producer in the world,” he continued.

Have a great week,

Thomas

Share Thomas's Innovation Wrap


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. His personal website is at www.thomasrice.com and you can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

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