Silicon Valley Startup Peddles 3-D-printed Bike

After a career that included helping Alphabet’s Google build out data centers and speeding packages for Amazon.com to customers, Jim Miller is doing what many Silicon Valley executives do after stints at big companies: finding more time to ride his bike.

But this bike is a little different. Arevo, a startup with backing from the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency and where Miller recently took the helm, has produced what it says is the world’s first carbon fiber bicycle with 3-D-printed frame.

Arevo is using the bike to demonstrate its design software and printing technology, which it hopes to use to produce parts for bicycles, aircraft, space vehicles and other applications where designers prize the strength and lightness of so-called “composite” carbon fiber parts but are put off by the high-cost and labor-intensive process of making them.

Arevo on Thursday raised $12.5 million in venture funding from a unit of Japan’s Asahi Glass, Sumitomo’s Sumitomo Corp. of the Americas and Leslie Ventures. Previously, the company raised $7 million from Khosla Ventures, which also took part in Thursday’s funding, and an undisclosed sum from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital fund backed by the CIA.

Traditional carbon fiber bikes are expensive because workers lay individual layers of carbon fiber impregnated with resin around a mold of the frame by hand. The frame then gets baked in an oven to melt the resin and bind the carbon fiber sheets together.

Arevo’s technology uses a “deposition head” mounted on a robotic arm to print out the three-dimensional shape of the bicycle frame. The head lays down strands of carbon fiber and melts a thermoplastic material to bind the strands, all in one step.

The process involves almost no human labor, allowing Arevo to build bicycle frames for $300 in costs, even in pricey Silicon Valley.

“We’re right in line with what it costs to build a bicycle frame in Asia,” Miller said. “Because the labor costs are so much lower, we can re-shore the manufacturing of composites.”

While Miller said Arevo is in talks with several bike manufacturers, the company eventually hopes to supply aerospace parts. Arevo’s printing head could run along rails to print larger parts and would avoid the need to build huge ovens to bake them in.

“We can print as big as you want – the fuselage of an aircraft, the wing of an aircraft,” Miller said.

Cryptocurrency May Fast-Track Solar Power in Moldova

Moldova, a small, landlocked country in eastern Europe, imports three-quarters of its energy and has seen its energy costs rise by more than half in the past five years.

But that could soon change, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which this year will launch an innovative effort to power a Moldovan university with cryptocurrency-funded solar energy.

The initiative with Sun Exchange, a South African solar power marketplace, will allow people to buy solar cells using SolarCoin, a cryptocurrency launched by blockchain start-up ElectriCChain, and then lease them to the Technical University of Moldova, one of the country’s largest universities.

Crowd-fund project

The idea is to find new sources of finance to “help buildings go green overnight,” in this instance with rooftop solar panels, said Dumitru Vasilescu, a program manager with UNDP in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.

“One of the biggest obstacles to countries investing in renewable energy is a lack of finance, as you often have to wait 10 to 15 years before you get a return on your investment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But the university will get a full 1 megawatt of energy installed in the summer, he said, as a result of the crowd-funding effort.

Owners of the solar cells, in turn, will receive SolarCoins as soon as the university produces energy, earning interest of about 4 percent on their investment, Vasilescu added.

Moldova currently has more than 10,000 square meters of unused rooftop space on public buildings that could be potentially used for such efforts, he said.

Key technology

Blockchain, which first emerged as the system underpinning the virtual currency bitcoin, is a digital shared record of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet, without the need of a centralized authority.

It has become a key technology in both the public and private sectors, given its ability to record and keep track of assets or transactions without the need for middlemen.

Research firm IDC estimates global investment in blockchain will more than double in 2018 to $2.1 billion from $945 million last year, most of it for banking. IDC expects “strong, double-digit growth” in the energy space between 2016 and 2021.

Kevin Treco, an associate director at the Carbon Trust, an environmental consultancy, said blockchain-based technologies could significantly change energy use in countries striving to decentralize power and boost renewable sources.

Renewable energy fast

In Moldova, for example, cryptocurrency-funded renewable energy could reduce the country’s dependence on energy imports such as oil and gas from Russia, Vasilescu said.

Darius Nassiry, a senior research associate at the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank, predicted that most of the growth in cryptocurrency-funded energy would occur in the developing world.

“They have faster-growing energy needs — and a more accommodating legal and regulatory environment towards such innovations,” he said by email.

But a lack of understanding on how blockchain applications such as cryptocurrencies work could slow their growth in the energy sector, he added.

For Abraham Cambridge, the founder and CEO of Sun Exchange, the solar currency exchange system “has all the right incentives in place.”

“It reduces the costs of going solar dramatically for the end user and makes it easy for anyone in the world to own a solar cell anywhere in the world and, from it, make a steady source of sunlight-powered income,” he said in a statement.

Blockchain is also being used in the energy sector to facilitate carbon trading, with U.S. computing giant IBM announcing this week that it will partner with Veridium Labs, an environmental tech startup, to turn carbon credits into digital tokens.

If the Moldovan solar currency pilot is successful, UNDP plans to replicate it in neighboring countries, said Vasilescu, adding that it could “revolutionize the renewable energy market for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”

YouTube to Launch Music Streaming Service Next Week

Google’s YouTube will launch a music streaming service next week, it said on Thursday, looking to use its popular internet video brand to tap the growing market for paid music streaming.

YouTube Music, which will offer both ad-supported and $9.99-per-month versions, will compete directly with services from Spotify Technology, Pandora Media, Apple and Amazon.com.

YouTube Music will launch on May 22, and include features such as personalized playlists based on a user’s YouTube history. The service is expected to eventually replace Google Play Music, the Alphabet Inc unit’s existing music streaming brand.

The news sent stocks of music streaming companies Spotify and Pandora lower by about 2 percent on Thursday morning.

“Google has an advantage given YouTube’s more than a billion users and viewers. So, it has opportunities to convert some into YouTube Music listeners or premium subscribers,” said Ali Mogharabi, analyst at Morningstar Research.

The growing adoption of paid music streaming has helped wean a generation of music listeners away from free or pirated music, and has led to services such as Spotify and Apple Music becoming the recording industry’s single biggest revenue source.

Revenue from music streaming services overtook sales of CDs and digital downloads for the first time in 2017, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

YouTube Music will launch in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South Korea on May 22. It will roll out to more countries in the following weeks.

Separately on Thursday, YouTube also said it would revamp YouTube Red, the paid version of YouTube that comes with original programming, to include YouTube Music at an additional price of $2.

YouTube Premium, which will replace YouTube Red, will cost $11.99.

US Senate Votes to Restore Net Neutrality

The U.S. Senate voted 52-47 to overturn the FCC’s 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would undo the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to deregulate the broadband industry. If the CRA is approved by the House and signed by President Donald Trump, internet service providers would have to continue following rules that prohibit blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

The Republican-controlled FCC voted in December to repeal the rules, which require internet service providers to give equal footing to all web traffic.

Democrats argued that scrapping the rules would give ISPs free rein to suppress certain content or promote sites that pay them.

Republicans insist they, too, believe in net neutrality, but want to safeguard it by crafting forward-looking legislation rather than reimposing an outdated regulatory structure.

​’Political points’

“Democrats have decided to take the issue of net neutrality and make it partisan,” Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota said. “Instead of working with Republicans to develop permanent net neutrality legislation, they’ve decided to try to score political points with a partisan resolution that would do nothing to permanently secure net neutrality.”

Before the vote, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, urged fellow senators to disregard the “armies of lobbyists marching the halls of Congress on behalf of big internet service providers.”

Lobbyists tried to convince senators that net neutrality rules aren’t needed “because ISPs will self-regulate,” and that blocking, throttling and paid prioritization are just hypothetical harms, Markey said.

Lobby groups representing all the major cable companies, telecoms and mobile carriers urged senators to reject the attempt to restore net neutrality rules.

The resolution still faces tough odds in the House. It requires 218 votes to force a vote there, and only 160 House Democrats back the measure for now. The legislation would also require the signature of Trump, who has criticized the net neutrality rules.

While Democrats recognize they are unlikely to reverse the FCC’s rule, they see the issue as a key policy desire that energizes their base voters, a top priority ahead of the midterm elections.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg, EU Lawmakers to Discuss Data Privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is slated to meet privately in Brussels as soon as next week with key European lawmakers about the data protection controversy that has affected his company.

EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani confirmed the meeting Wednesday.

It will be Zuckerberg’s first visit with EU representatives since a whistle-blower alleged that British political consulting company Cambridge Analytica improperly collected information from millions of Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election in the United States. The collection affected about 87 million users and prompted apologies from Zuckerberg.

Facebook was largely unscathed by Zuckerberg’s 10 hours of testimony before U.S. legislators in April. The social media giant’s share price increased after his testimony, and some lawmakers apparently failed to grasp the technical details of the company’s operation and data privacy policies. 

Zuckerberg’s pending appearance in Brussels comes as new European data protection laws are set to take effect May 25.

Some critics say Zuckerberg’s meeting with the lawmakers should be public.

Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a liberal-centrist political group of the European Parliament, said he would not attend the meeting if it were held behind closed doors.

“It must be a public hearing,” he said. “Why not a Facebook Live?” he asked on Twitter.

FL Students Develop Anti-Skimming Detector to Stop ATM Hackers

While hackers steal credit card numbers online, other crooks do it directly from the card, at the point where a consumer exchanges the data with a cash or banking machine. The U.S. Secret Service says those crooks, called skimmers, steal more than a billion dollars annually. A group of students at the University of Florida is developing a device that may put a stop to this type of crime. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Afghan Immigrant Women Prosper in Male Dominated Tech World

The United States is a land of opportunity for many immigrants. But some who come to the US often face big hurdles. The challenges can be especially great for immigrant women trying to succeed in male dominated careers in STEM fields: for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. VOA spoke with three Afghan women, all of whom prove that where there is a will, there’s usually a way. Zheela Noori went to Silicon Valley to find out what drives them. Freshta Azizi narrates.

NY Times: US Investigating Cambridge Analytica

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry.

Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.

The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.

Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.

The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House on August 2017.

Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ Adapted for Video Game

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth — err, game.

 

Henry David Thoreau wrote those words — most of them — in his seminal book, “Walden.” They make up the objective of a video game that seeks to translate his exploits in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, into a playable digital reality.

 

“Walden, a Game” is adapted from the book and launches Tuesday on PlayStation 4. It has been available on computers for almost a year.

 

“Obviously it’s an odd or unique idea for a game,” said Tracy Fullerton, who conceived the idea and led the team that created it at the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab.

 

Fullerton told The Associated Press that “Walden” is one of her favorite books, and she thinks its meaning —  a tale of escaping technology to appreciate nature — is topical today.

 

“It seemed to be a kind of game that he was playing,” Fullerton said. So she created one to mimic it.

 

Fullerton acknowledges the irony of trumpeting nature in a video game but said she hopes the game will be more contemplative than others.

 

Players drop in with a half-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. From there, they can essentially decide everything they do over eight seasons (Thoreau thought a year was better divided into eight parts than four), which takes six hours of real time.

 

They can finish building the house and toil in the fields, or they can venture out into 70 acres of virtual nature.

 

The objective is to find the right balance between survival — players can’t die, but they can faint — and fulfillment. As players seek more inspiration from nature, interacting with animals and trees, the actual game world becomes more colorful and more physically beautiful, Fullerton said.

 

The team at USC spent more than a decade creating the game, she said. Team members consulted literature and history experts to ensure the accuracy of its portrayals, and the game’s sound designer recorded all of its audible elements in the real Walden woods.

 

It’s available for free for teachers, and a curriculum is available online, but Fullerton said the game’s primary purpose is entertainment.

 

Joseph Simpson, a software developer from Ohio, said he reads Walden every year and discovered the game while reading about Fullerton.

 

“I immediately, without hesitation, bought it and started playing it,” he said. Simpson said the essence of the book has been implemented into the game in a way that doesn’t corrupt it with too many objectives or missions.

 

“I may not have to read Walden this year because I can play the game,” he said.

 

Experts on the textual version of “Walden” also were intrigued.

 

Robert Hudspeth, a former president of the Thoreau Society and an English professor at the Claremont Graduate University in California, said he has heard of the game but hasn’t played it.

 

“I will say, however, that anything that might spark an interest in Thoreau’s writing is welcome,” Hudspeth said. “If playing a game stimulates the players to go to the books, then I’m all for it!”

US Senate Preps for Net Neutrality Vote

Senate Democrats are mounting a last-ditch campaign to preserve so-called “net neutrality” that has prevented certain content or users from being slowed on the internet in the United States — an effort most Republicans say is misguided and counterproductive.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s December decision to repeal Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from favoring certain users or material. All 49 Democrats and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, back the resolution in the 100-member chamber.

“All [net neutrality] does is protect the openness of the internet to competitors across the country,” said Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats. “I believe this resolution will restore us to a place where small businesses will be able to compete and blossom and prosper.”

Added Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts: “Net neutrality is our 21st century right, and we will fight to protect it. Eighty-three percent of Americans, in polling, say they want to protect net neutrality.”

Republicans insist they, too, believe in net neutrality, but want to safeguard it by crafting forward-looking legislation rather than re-imposing an outdated regulatory structure.

“Democrats have decided to take the issue of net neutrality and make it partisan,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota said. “Instead of working with Republicans to develop permanent net neutrality legislation, they’ve decided to try to score political points with a partisan resolution that would do nothing to permanently secure net neutrality.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, defended the commission’s decision at a recent telecommunications conference in Washington, saying antiquated and heavy-handed federal internet regulation slows innovation and discourages investment in cyberinfrastructure.

“If you want something to operate like a slow-moving utility [company], there is no better way to ensure that than by regulating it as such,” Pai said. “[The American people] want more access, they want competition. They want the internet to be better and faster and cheaper.”

The FCC chairman added that federal regulators retain the ability to crack down on any unfair practices regarding internet access, and that service providers are required to disclose whether they slow any content or offer paid so-called “fast lanes.”

Such assurances have not satisfied more than 20 U.S. states that sued to prevent the FCC’s decision from going into effect June 11. In Washington, Democrats say small-business owners are worried they will be at a disadvantage in reaching new customers if net neutrality disappears.

“It’s all about having equal access to the internet,” King said, pointing to Certify, a small Web-based company in Portland, Maine, as an example of what is at stake. “One hundred fifty employees. It has two million users around the globe — that’s because of the power of the internet. We don’t want that business to be choked off by a large competitor who can pay preferential rates [for internet access].”

America’s largest internet service providers have said they will not engage in “throttling” — dramatically slowing down certain content — once the new FCC rules go into effect next month.

The net neutrality resolution could pass in the Senate 50-49, given the absence of Arizona Republican John McCain. From there, it faces significant hurdles. Passage is seen as less likely in the Republican-led House of Representatives, and President Donald Trump is unlikely to sign a bill overriding a decision backed by the FCC chairman he selected.

Even so, Democrats see an opportunity to highlight an issue of concern to many Americans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

“This vote will allow senators to show once and for all where everyone stands on #NetNeutrality,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted.