Thomas's Innovation Wrap #20

👓 Augmented reality in retail, 🤖 industrial inspection robots, and 💲 Shopify's strategy explained through StarCraft


Here’s your weekly wrap of technology, innovation, and finance news.

👓 Virtual and Augmented Reality

Bosch unveiled the smartglasses platform that manufacturers can use to add “smarts” to regular glasses. The teaser video shows a heads-up display that can support navigation, show notifications, and display select information.

L’Oréal is expanding its use of augmented reality after virtual try-on services prompted customers to buy more makeup and hair products over the past year.

Virtual reality is being used by some surgeons to train for difficult surgeries. “Surgical Theater” virtual reality visualisation software is now used by 15 US hospitals.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Levy practiced with Surgical Theater software dozens of times before operating on a newborn named Reef at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

The $10,000 mixed-reality XR-1 headset is apparently quite good and can blend reality and augmented reality seamlessly.

💲 Finance

Shopify stock has more than tripled in the past year. This is a great post that explains their strategy and how they’re fighting Amazon, told through the lens of StarCraft (you don’t need to be familiar with StarCraft to follow it).

China’s Alipay will give its users financial advice for the first time. The automated service will be provided through a partnership between Ant Financial, which operates Alipay, and US fund giant Vanguard.

💊 Health

Some companies are selling new tests that use epigenetics to guess how fast you’re ageing.

Larry Jia, founder and CEO of Zymo Research and Epimorphy, has been selling an epigenetic test that is a modified version of Horvath’s clock to researchers and consumers since 2017. He also took the test himself—and discovered that he is biologically a half-year older than his chronological age, which is 61. He began prioritizing sleep and cutting back on his hours to reduce his work stress, but the number didn’t budge—maybe, he says, because he can’t eliminate the stress of running a company. “Sometimes there are things you can’t control,” he says.

Xenotransplantations are one step closer to reality after scientists created the most extensively gene-edited pigs to date.

The Chinese company and its U.S. collaborators reported today that they have used the genome editor CRISPR to create the most extensively genetically engineered pigs to date—animals whose tissues, the researchers say, finally combine all the features necessary for a safe and successful transplant into humans.

A veteran NHS neurosurgeon believes the first human head transplant could be achieved by 2030. Apparently the trick is to keep the spinal cord intact…

🤖 Robotics

Gecko Robotics raised $40 million for scaling its industrial inspection robots. Their robots are designed to carry out regular inspections of industrial sites and equipment, and using the data gathered their software aims to predict when and where infrastructure failures are likely to occur.

Dusty Robotics closed a $5 million round that will help it scale its first product, FieldPrinter, an autonomous robot that takes layout plans created with building information modelling (BIM) software and prints those layouts out on the floor. Typically this job is done by a human crew using printed documents, measuring tools, and chalk.

Dusty Robotics

🎮 Gaming

Facebook apparently wants to get into game streaming too with the acquisition of PlayGiga for 70 million euros; the startup has been working with telcos to create game streaming technology for 5G.

Puma is now making gamer shoes, I mean, Active Gaming Footwear

The 2019 League of Legends World Championship finals hit record viewership with 44 million concurrent viewers. Earlier this month Bilibili acquired the exclusive rights to stream the finals in China for the next 3 years. They agreed to pay $113 million.

EA and Respawn unveiled the Apex Legends Global Series esports competition with $3 million in prizes.

⚙️ Mobility

California now allows driverless truck and cargo van testing on public roads.

Yandex, Russia’s leading internet company, is getting into the lidar sensor business.

Supersonic passenger planes could become a reality as new designs reduce the problem of sonic booms.

The X-59's very long pointed shape is intended to cut through the air more efficiently so the shock waves are minimized. In fact, the nose of the plane is so long, there isn't even a forward facing window. The pilot will rely on a 4k monitor to see ahead.

CNBC explores why we don’t have electric planes yet (15 minute video).

Skyryse raised $13 million to launch an autonomous helicopter platform. The platform is designed to work with existing commercially available helicopters.

🌬️ Renewables

The world’s largest offshore wind turbine has started generating power. GE Renewable Energy’s 260-metre tall Haliade-X 12 MW wind turbine was installed at the port of Maasvlakte-Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and produced 262 megawatts of energy across a 24 hour period, enough to power 30,000 households in the area.

The Houston Chronicle argues that battery storage is on the verge of changing the Texas power grid. Falling lithium-ion battery prices is driving investment in battery storage, which has the potential to turn renewable power from intermittent power sources into reliable generators of electricity.

By 2024, Lumbley projected, the costs for installing battery storage will fall low-enough for the technology to become widespread. At that point, batteries would begin to undercut one of the key roles for natural gas-fired power plants: filling in for renewables when the winds aren’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

“By adding storage,” Lumbley said, “there’s just no more air left in the room for new natural gas projects.”

🛰️ Space

Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending bill that included the launch of the US Space Force, the first new US military service since 1947.

CNBC explains why SpaceX and Amazon are launching 42,000+ satellites (to provide internet access).

⚡ Other Snippets

Facebook removed a network of 900 fake accounts that was deceptively spreading pro-Trump narratives to about 55 million users. What made the network unique is appears to be the first time a group of fake accounts have used AI-generated faces for their profile pictures in order to appear genuine.

two profile photos with analysis boxes pointing out disrepencies

A new technique potentially increases 3-D printing speed by 1,000 to 10,000 times.

What makes FP-TPL a disruptive technology is that it not only greatly improves the speed (approximately 10—100 mm^3/hour), but also improves the resolution (~140 nm / 175 nm in the lateral and axial directions) and reduces the cost (US$1.5/mm^3).

Adoption of smart home devices could rise after Amazon, Apple, and Google agreed to create an open-source standard that would lead to greater interoperability between devices made by different companies.

Intel acquired AI chip startup Habana Labs for $2 billion.

Habana offers two silicon products targeting workloads in AI and machine learning: the Gaudi AI Training Processor and the Goya AI Inference Processor. The former, which is optimized for “hyperscale” environments, is anticipated to power datacenters that deliver up to 4 times the throughput versus systems built with the equivalent number of graphics chips at half the energy per chip (140 watts). As for the Goya processor, which was unveiled in June and which is now commercially available, it offers up to 3 times the AI inferencing performance as Nvidia chips, where throughput and latency are concerned.

New mobile phone detection cameras in NSW, Australia caught more than 3300 people illegally using their phones while driving in its first week.

Atlassian is making supporting remote work a priority. Currently Atlassian has more than 300 remote employees, amounting to nearly 8% of their workforce.

“We think that by doing remote we can tap into a whole new workforce that our competitors aren’t tapping into,” Atlassian Co-CEO Scott Farquhar told CNBC.

Creditors are seeking to exhume the body of a dead crypto executive after he took at least $137 million in customer assets to the grave when he died without giving anyone the password to his encrypted laptop.

Have a great week and a great Christmas!


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About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.