All posts in “Australia”

Lime brings electric bike and scooter sharing to Australia

Electric scooter and bike sharing company Lime has rolled into Australia, launching in Sydney on Friday.

The Californian company’s bright green, dockless electric vehicles have been released into the streets, with 300 e-bikes distributed through Sydney to start and e-scooters to come soon.

Melbourne will be next, with preview electric scooter rides offered for locals heading to and from the Melbourne Cup horse race on Tuesday, and a three-month scooter pilot launched at Monash University in Melbourne earlier this week.

Although folks across the U.S. have endured Lime for over a year, Australians might not be familiar with how they work. The vehicles run on a replaceable lithium battery, which can be swapped out by one of 50 operations employees across the city every two days. The bikes can reach up to 23.8km/h, even on hilly terrain.

The service works through the Lime app, which allows you to scan the area for vehicles. As far as pricing goes, it’ll cost you $1 to unlock a vehicle and 30 cents per minute.

Pick your Lime vehicle.

Pick your Lime vehicle.

Image: mashable screenshot

Lime says it’s been working with local authorities in Sydney to make sure they can weave into the existing transport network.

“Lime’s electric bikes have become hugely popular in cities, similar to Sydney, such as Seattle, whose community is looking for cleaner, cheaper and more accessible transportation,” said Mitchell Price, director of government affairs and strategy in Australia and New Zealand, in a press statement.

“The advantage of our electric bikes is they work together with existing public transit by increasing the accessibility of public transport so people can rely less on personal cars.

“Sydney’s need for innovative transport solutions, which cater to the first and last mile, gives us confidence we will see high uptake of Lime electric bikes within the community,” he added.

Lime in New Zealand.

Lime in New Zealand.

Image: lime

Although it currently operates in more than 100 cities around the world, in Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and more, Lime’s Australian endeavor marks a further foray for the company into the Southern Hemisphere. Lime launched its e-scooters into the New Zealand cities of Auckland and Christchurch in October, as New Zealand’s first ever scooter program. Lime saw the cities cap scooter numbers in Auckland and Christchurch are 1,000 and 700 respectively.

Like other cities across the globe, including Sydney, Lime worked closely with the New Zealand Transport Agency, Christchurch City Council, and Auckland Transport to integrate the scooters into the existing transport system.

“It’s [the scooter program] exactly the kind of thing we want. Zero emissions, and a lot of fun.” Christchurch Councilwoman Vicki Buck said in a press statement.

The introduction of a new ride-share program may trigger some negative feelings for Australians

The introduction of a new ride-share program may trigger some negative feelings for Australians, who have watched cities around the country struggling to deal with mass dumpings of bike-share vehicles over the past 12 months — a terrible trend observed globally, but most notoriously in cities in China. Implementing scooter caps like New Zealand’s may alleviate some of these fears, and the fact that Lime is working with local authorities from the get-go is positive — local councils around the world, including those in Australia, had to clean up the bike-sharing mess after the fact. 

Lime itself has seen decent legislation implemented in some U.S. cities attempting to control scooter dumping. Some cities have identified geo-fenced areas as no-parking zones, and Lime is rolling out new screens on its Generation 3 e-scooters that will make it clearer to riders where these zones are. 

Australia seems to have implemented these no-parking zones, as the app shows areas in red where you can’t park the bikes and scooters.

Red means a no parking zone.

Red means a no parking zone.

Image: mashable screenshot

Aside from the well-worn bike-share path, there’s also the question of whether Australians will pick up the electric scooter trend, which has had a year to settle into the U.S with Lime, alongside competitors like San Francisco-based scooter-share startups Spin and Scoot, the Uber-owned Jump, Lyft-owned Motivate, and Santa Monica-based main player Bird.

Singaporean bike service oBike withdrew from the Australian market in June, with Chinese company Ofo following suit in July.

Whether they’re ready or not, however, Lime has landed.

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Where’s the accountability Facebook?

Facebook has yet again declined an invitation for its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer international politicians’ questions about how disinformation spreads on his platform and undermines democratic processes.

But policymakers aren’t giving up — and have upped the ante by issuing a fresh invitation signed by representatives from another three national parliaments. So the call for global accountability is getting louder.

Now representatives from a full five parliaments have signed up to an international grand committee calling for answers from Zuckerberg, with Argentina, Australia and Ireland joining the UK and Canada to try to pile political pressure on Facebook.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has been asking for Facebook’s CEO to attend its multi-month enquiry for the best part of this year, without success…

In its last request the twist was it came not just from the DCMS inquiry into online disinformation but also the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

This year policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have been digging down the rabbit hole of online disinformation — before and since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted into a major global scandal — announcing last week they will form an ‘international grand committee’ to further their enquiries.

The two committees will convene for a joint hearing in the UK parliament on November 27 — and they want Zuckerberg to join them to answer questions related to the “platform’s malign use in world affairs and democratic process”, as they put it in their invitation letter.

Facebook has previously despatched a number of less senior representatives to talk to policymakers probing damages caused by disinformation — including its CTO, Mike Schroepfer, who went before the DCMS committee in April.

But both Schroepfer and Zuckerberg have admitted the accountability buck stops with Facebook’s CEO.

The company’s nine-month-old ‘Privacy Principles‘ also makes the following claim:

We are accountable

In addition to comprehensive privacy reviews, we put products through rigorous data security testing. We also meet with regulators, legislators and privacy experts around the world to get input on our data practices and policies.

The increasingly pressing question, though, is to whom is Facebook actually accountable?

Zuckerberg went personally to the US House and Senate to face policymakers’ questions in April. He also attended a meeting of the EU parliament’s Conference of Presidents in May.

But the rest of the world continues being palmed off with minions. Despite some major, major harms.

Facebook’s 2BN+ user platform does not stop at the US border. And Zuckerberg himself has conceded the company probably wouldn’t be profitable without its international business.

Yet so far only the supranational EU parliament has managed to secure a public meeting with Facebook’s CEO.

“Facebook say that they remain “committed to working with our committees to provide any additional relevant information” that we require. Yet they offer no means of doing this,” tweeted DCMS chair Damian Collins reissuing the invitation for Zuckerberg. “The call for accountability is growing, with representatives from 5 parliaments now meeting on the 27th.”

The letter to Facebook’s CEO notes that the five nations represent 170 million Facebook users.

“We call on you once again to take up your responsibility to Facebook users, and speak in person to their elected representatives,” it adds.

The UK’s information commissioner said yesterday that Facebook needs to overhaul its business model, giving evidence to parliament on the “unprecedented” data investigation her office has been running which was triggered by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. She also urged policymakers to strengthen the rules on the use of people’s data for digital campaigning.

Last month the European parliament also called for Facebook to let in external auditors in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, to ensure users’ data is being properly protected — yet another invitation Facebook has declined.

Meanwhile an independent report assessing the company’s human rights impact in Myanmar — which Facebook commissioned but chose to release yesterday on the eve of the US midterms when most domestic eyeballs would be elsewhere — agreed with the UN’s damning assessment that Facebook did not do enough to prevent its platform from being used to incite ethical violence.

The report also said Facebook is still not doing enough in Myanmar.

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation.

The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared, and so on. Frequently these measurements must be made manually and painstakingly in dangerous circumstances.

One mining technique has ore being blasted from the vertical space between two tunnels; the resulting cavities, called “stopes,” have to be inspected regularly to watch for problems and note progress.

“The way they scan these stopes is pretty archaic,” said Hrabar. “These voids can be huge, like 40-50 meters horizontally. They have to go to the edge of this dangerous underground cliff and sort of poke this stick out into it and try to get a scan. It’s very sparse information and from only one point of view, there’s a lot of missing data.”

Emesent’s solution, Hovermap, involves equipping a standard DJI drone with a powerful lidar sensor and a powerful onboard computing rig that performs simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) work fast enough that the craft can fly using it. You put it down near the stope and it takes off and does its thing.

“The surveyors aren’t at risk and the data is orders of magnitude better. Everything is running onboard the drone in real time for path planning — that’s our core IP,” Hrabar said. “The dev team’s background is in drone autonomy, collision avoidance, terrain following — basically the drone sensing its environment and doing the right thing.”

As you can see in the video below, the drone can pilot itself through horizontal tunnels (imagine cave systems or transportation infrastructure) or vertical ones (stopes and sinkholes), slowly working its way along and returning minutes later with the data necessary to build a highly detailed map. I don’t know about you, but if I could send a drone ahead into the inky darkness to check for pits and other scary features, I wouldn’t think twice.

[embedded content]

The idea is to sell the whole stack to mining companies as a plug-and-play solution, but work on commercializing the SLAM software separately for those who want to license and customize it. A data play is also in the works, naturally:

“At the end of the day, mining companies don’t want a point cloud, they want a report. So it’s not just collecting the data but doing the analytics as well,” said Hrabar.

Emesent emerged from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, an Australian agency not unlike our national lab system. Hrabar worked there for over a decade on various autonomy projects, and three years ago started on what would become this company, eventually passing through the agency’s “ON” internal business accelerator.

Data collected from a pass through a cave system.

“Just last week, actually, is when we left the building,” Hrabar noted. “We’ve raised the funding we need for 18 months of runway with no revenue. We really are already generating revenue, though.”

The $3.5 million (Australian) round comes largely from a new $200M CSIRO Innovation fund managed by Main Sequence Ventures. Hrabar suggested that another round might be warranted in a year or two when the company decides to scale and expand into other verticals.

DARPA will be making its own contribution after a fashion through its Subterranean Challenge, should (as seemly likely) Emesent achieve success in it. Hrabar was confident. “It’s pretty fortuitous,” he said. “We’ve been doing underground autonomy for years, and then DARPA announces this challenge on exactly what we’re doing.”

We’ll be covering the challenge and its participants separately. You can read more about Emesent at its website.

‘This is a terrible part of our culture’: Google employees walk out in Australia

Google employees in Sydney joined the global walkout.
Google employees in Sydney joined the global walkout.

Image: mashable/johnny lieu

On blisteringly hot day in Sydney, Australia, Google employees joined their global counterparts in one of the final legs of a walkout against sexual harassment.

Around 200 employees met in a park beside the tech giant’s offices in the suburb of Pyrmont at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, where they listened to Googlers share anonymous stories from colleagues who had experienced misconduct at work.

People held signs saying “Don’t be evil,” a redux of Google’s mantra, “I walked out,” and “Execs will be held accountable for their actions.”

While there wasn’t the chanting that was present in San Francisco’s walkout, there was still anger at the company’s handling of harassers, not just at the top end of the company, but also present in the culture of the Sydney office.

“This is not a problem that only occurs for people interacting with a few executives on the other side of the world,” a Google employee said in a speech.

“As much as we would like to believe otherwise, this is a terrible part of our culture, a part that is present here in the Sydney office, and part of the broader Sydney tech community. This is a part of our culture that we need to change.”

Another employee, who had been part of Google for 13 years, said she’d “never thought she’d be on strike,” and especially because of a payout to harassers.

“I am fucking furious. I am really angry, because this is my home. I have been here and I have grown here,” she said.

“I am trans. I transitioned at Google. I have been a male manager of largely female employees, I’ve been a female manager of male employees. I know how complicated this gets. What we just saw, is not complicated.”

Google employees in Sydney shared the same demands made by their U.S. counterparts in a statement published on The Cut, asking for an “end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.”

As the walkout ended, Google executives were left with a final message: “We will judge you by your actions, not your words.”

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With $50M in fresh funding, Allbirds will open new stores in the US, UK and Asia

The quintessential venture capitalist’s uniform consists of a pair of designer jeans, a Patagonia fleece vest and $95 wool sneakers.

The company behind the shoes, Allbirds, entered the unicorn club this morning with the announcement of a $50 million Series C from late-stage players T. Rowe Price, which led the round, Tiger Global and Fidelity Investments. The 3-year-old startup founded by Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown has raised $75 million to date, including a $17.5 million Series B last year. Its backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Scooter Braun, Maveron, Lerer Hippeau and Elephant, the venture capital firm led by Warby Parker founder Andrew Hunt.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the round values Allbirds at $1.4 billion. The company would not confirm that figure to TechCrunch.

Like Warby Parker, San Francisco-based Allbirds began as a direct-to-consumer online retailer but has since expanded to brick-and-mortar, opening stores in San Francisco and New York. It currently ships to locations across the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Next week, the company plans to open its first storefront in the U.K. in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. It will begin shipping throughout the U.K. In 2019.

Using its latest investment, Allbirds will double down on its brick-and-mortar business. In addition to the U.K., the company says it will open even more locations in the U.S., as well as open doors in Asia in the coming months. Tiger Global, which has backed Allbirds since its Series B, may be of help. The firm has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as partners across Asia.

Allbirds makes eco-friendly wool shoes for men, women and kids via its kid’s line, aptly named Smallbirds. The shoes are made out of sustainable materials, including merino wool, a fabric made from eucalyptus fiber that the company has dubbed “Tree” and “SweetFoam,” a shoe sole made from sugarcane-based, carbon-negative foam rubber.

“Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it,” Zwillinger, Allbirds’ chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This injection of capital will help us bring our sustainable products to more people around the globe, demonstrating that comfort, design and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other.”

It’s been quite the year for venture investment in … shoes. Rothy’s, which makes sustainable ballet flats for women, has raised $7 million and launched a sneaker. Atoms, a maker of minimalist shoes, brought in $560,000 in seed funding from LinkedIn’s ex-head of growth Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital. And GOAT, the operator of an online sneaker marketplace, nabbed a $60 million Series C in February.