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U.S. Approves Softbank's $2.25 Billion Cruise Investment

A U.S. national security panel has approved a $2.25 billion investment in GM Cruise by the Softbank Vision Fund, the self-driving company has said. The deal may have met scrutiny over concerns of Japan-based Softbank's ties to Chinese firms amid a growing trade war between the U.S. and China. The Softbank Vision Fund has backed several Chinese companies, to name some; ZhongAn Insurance, Didi Chuxing, OneConnect, Full Truck Alliance and Guazi.

Softbank's investment in GM Cruise was cleared by Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a regulatory body that reviews foreign investments in U.S. companies. For Softbank's investment to go through, an assurance that Cruise's tech will be off limits to Softbank had to be made, Reuters reports.

“Today’s news is another important step toward achieving our goal to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles at massive scale,” Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said in a statement to Reuters. The approval of  Softbank's i…

Apple Says It Has Fixed FaceTime Bug, With Update To Be Released Next Week

image : Apple

Apple has said it has fixed a privacy bug in its FaceTime video chat app that allowed users to listen to the audio of a person they were dialing before that person picked up the call. The issue in the FaceTime group chat feature which was blocked by Apple will be turned on again next week, the company says.

The bug was discovered by 14-year-old Grant Thompson, An Arizona teen, who, along with his mother, Michele, tried to get Apple aware but said they struggled to get its attention until the issue went viral on social media. Thompson discovered it while trying to chat with his friend when he was playing a video game, Fortnite in particular.

An Apple customer holding up two iPhone Xs boxes with an Apple team member

image : Apple

“We want to assure our customers that as soon as our engineering team became aware of the details necessary to reproduce the bug, they quickly disabled Group FaceTime and began work on the fix,” Apple said in a statement. “We are committed to improving the process by which we receive and escalate these reports, in order to get them to the right people as fast as possible.”

The state of New York is probing whether Apple was too slow to warn consumers of the FaceTime bug. "New Yorkers deserve to know that their phones are safe and cannot be used against them," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

image : Diana Robinson on Flickr 

"This FaceTime breach is a serious threat to the security and privacy of the millions of New Yorkers who have put their trust in Apple and its products over the years." Attorney General Letitia James also said.


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James Murdoch Said To Bet On VR Company

According to a new Bloomberg piece, James Murdoch -- a long-time media executive and heir to media mogul Rupert Murdoch -- has invested $20 million in The Void, a Lindon, Utah-based virtual reality company that offers immersive experiences at some 11 cities globally. Bloomberg reports Murdoch has also taken a board seat at the company.

Murdoch runs a VC fund called Lupa Systems that makes bets on tech and entertainment businesses. A $20 million investment would count as the largest yet for that fund, although Murdoch is said to be working on a potentially larger investment in Zee Entertainment Enterprises, an Indian publicly traded television network.

To state The Void's business in clear terms; the company lets customers participate in virtual interactive worlds for a roughly $35 fee. The Void combines VR technology, physical stages and multi-sensory effects to achieve this. The company has collaborated with top animation companies including Walt Disney Animation Studios and Mar…

N26 Raises $300 Million Series D At $2.7 Billion Valuation

Berlin based fintech N26 has raised $300 million Series D funding led by New York based VC Insight Venture Partners with participation from Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, GIC and several existing investors. This rounds brings the total raised by the 5 year old company to more than $500 million and values it at $2.7 billion.

The $300 million round represents the largest private equity round for an European fintech company in recent years, shooting N26 operating in 24 markets across Europe with over 2.3 million customers into the unicorn club.

The company which says it has tripled its customer base in the last 12 months will make use of this investment to drive global expansion, starting with a launch of its mobile banking product in the U.S. in the first half of this year. It says it aims to reach over 100 million customers in the coming years.

“Around the world, millions of people still suffer from bad banking experiences and high fees. With Insight Venture Partners and GIC j…

Lidar Startup Luminar Scores $100 Million

Luminar -- a Palo Alto, California-based lidar startup that has formed partnerships with automakers including Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen -- has raised $100 million in new funding, pushing its total raised to date to more than $250 million. Investors in this round include G2VP, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, 1517 Fund / Peter Thiel, The Westly Group, Canvas Ventures, Volvo, Octave Ventures, Corning Incorporated, Cornes and Moore Strategic Ventures.

As part of this investment, G2VP's founding partner Ben Kortlang alongside former Broadcom CEO Scott McGregor will join Luminar's board. Luminar says the new funding accelerates its swoop into the market for production vehicles. Alongside the investment, Luminar has announced a new lidar: the Iris. Luminar plans to put the Iris to work on production vehicles beginning 2022. The new lidar will cost as little as $500.

Luminar has also announced a new hire; Christoph Schroder, a self-driving tech veteran that'll now lead its software te…

Amazon Reportedly Working On Alexa Robot

According to a recent report from Bloomberg, Amazon is working on a wheeled robot that can be controlled by Alexa commands, alongside a new Echo Speaker. Bloomberg reports both devices are being developed at Amazon Lab126, an R&D team based in Sunnyvale, California. The report says Amazon originally planned to unveil the robot as early as this year but hasn't yet gotten to a point of mass production readiness for the machine.

Although Amazon could choose to axe the project, Bloomberg reports the company has courted engineers from other projects to work on it -- an indication the company plans to sell it at some point. It remains unclear what tasks the robot may be used for. Bloomberg reports [citing unnamed people familiar with the project] prototypes that are about waist-high and move around with the help of several computer-vision cameras. An Amazon engineer was said to have summoned the machine with his voice at an internal demonstration.

Amazon has not made any public sta…

Argo AI Now On Par With Self-Driving Competitors

Volkswagen recently announced a $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI, Ford's self-driving unit. The investment consists of $1 billion in cash commitments and the transfer of Volkswagen's $1.6 billion valued self-driving unit. With this investment, Argo AI now stands on par with other self-driving competitors including Alphabet's Waymo, GM Cruise and Uber ATG, three self-driving companies backed by billions of dollars in funding.

Argo AI's first known funding was a $1 billion commitment [over five years] by Ford in 2017. Ford has so far put in $400 million as agreed, and will invest the remaining $600 million atop Volkswagen's $1 billion cash commitment. Volkswagen's funding and the addition of its self-driving unit adds fuel to Argo's operations in a capital and talent intensive area.

Other self-driving companies have raised huge funding to maintain operations even without operational businesses. To note a few; a $2.25 billion investment in GM Cruise from So…

Meet goPuff, A Low-key Delivery Company Worth $1 Billion

The food-delivery market is one with intense competition. The likes of DoorDash, Uber Eats, Postmates, Deliveroo, Swiggy, Just Eat, Yelp Eat 24, and more are steadily competing for global market share while also raising huge funding. Just recently, Deliveroo raised $575 million in a round led by Amazon. DoorDash has also raised $600 million Series G funding at a $12.6 billion valuation.

Amid the intense battle, it turns out there's one hot startup that has stayed low key to avoid the eye of rivals, but it seems word is getting out. That low-key hot startup is goPuff, on-demand convenience store delivery app that was valued at $1 billion last November after a financing round, according to regulatory filings reviewed by The Information. goPuff ships products to customers from centrally located facilities -- as opposed to direct pickup from stores -- in 81 U.S. cities.

The company -- based in Philadelphia -- stocks more than 3,000 products at its facilities which it then ships to cu…

US Army To Test Armed Robotic Vehicles Next Year

The U.S. Army has said it'll begin testing the use of robotic combat vehicles (RCVs) by next year. A month-long operational test has been scheduled for March next year at Fort Carson, Colorado. The U.S. army says the test will provide input on next steps to take with the use of autonomous vehicles in military operations.

The next year test will be the first phase, with two more scheduled for late fiscal 2021 and mid-fiscal 2023. The RCVs [built on an M113 armored personal carrier] will be controlled from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Next year's test will involve two of such modified vehicles and four RCVs. Each modified vehicle will have a driver, gunner and four soldiers in its rear that'll control a pair of RCVs to conduct platoon-level maneuvers. The RCVs will be equipped with 360-degree cameras and a remote turret, which crew members will control with touchscreens.

There are three RCV variants adopted by the U.S. Army for this purpose -- light, medi…

Nissan Unveils New EV, The Leaf Plus

Nissan has unveiled a new electric vehicle, an addition to its Leaf lineup dubbed the Leaf Plus (or e+) which will become available for purchase at dealerships late this month. The Leaf Plus comes with improved range by 40% than its predecessor and is equipped with technologies including Nissan's ProPilot semi-autonomous driving system and e-Pedal mode for one-pedal driving.

Other notable features of the new vehicle includes:

Door-to-Door Navigation (syncs the vehicle's navigation system with a compatible smartphone for walking and driving directions).A larger full-color 8-inch display.A reprogrammed the e-Pedal software.458 km driving range.70 kW (100 kW peak) Quick Charging system.High-capacity battery (160 kilowatts of power and 340 Nm of torque) (288 cells).25% increase in energy density than that of predecessor (Nissan Leaf).16-inch wheels andBattery limited warranty of 8 years/160,000 km.

Pricing of the Nissan Leaf Plus in Japan starts at ¥4,162,320 ($38,240), Pricing in…

Postmates Said To Have Held At Least 3 Acquisition Talks

Postmates confidentially filed for an IPO this February but there has been no follow-up after that. Conventionally, companies that confidentially file for IPO tend to unveil their official S-1 filing soon after. This occurred in the case of Slack, Uber and Lyft, which all went public this year. Postmates' case has been quite odd, with no official talks on an IPO even months after a confidential filing. But there might just be an explanation.

 A new report from Vox's Recode says Postmates has held acquisition talks with at least three suitors, including Walmart, Uber and DoorDash. The on-demand delivery company is said to have hired Qatalyst Partners to explore a sale. Qatalyst is a famed boutique investment bank that has been involved in several tech acquisitions, to name a few: Looker [recently acquired by Google for $2.6 billion], HotelTonight [purchased by Airbnb], Qualtrics [acquired by SAP for $8 billion], Duo Security [acquired by Cisco], PillPack [acquired by Amazon], …

Curve Valued At $250 Million With $55 Million Series B

Curve -- a London-based fintech startup that launched out of beta February last year -- has announced $55 million in Series B funding that values it at a quarter of a billion dollars ($250 million to be precise). Gauss Ventures led the funding, with participation from other investors including Santander InnoVentures, Creditease, IDC Venture, Seedcamp, Outward VC and more.

Curve says it's on track to hit 1 million customers by year end. The London-based startup operates an app that lets customers link all their bank accounts and cards into one single card. Curve customers can spend abroad without any fees, and get instant notifications and categorisation of what they spend.

Using Curve cards, customers can also swap spend to a different card they have linked to the app for up to two weeks after a purchase is made. There's also instant 1% cashback on some services including Amazon, Uber, Netflix and more.

Curve operates out of two offices in London and Bristol. The fintech star…