On the first Monday of April, we are back with the most important tech news of the past week. Tech startups are trying to find new ways to leverage technology in the fight against Covid-19, not only in Medtech but also in other sectors such as the travel industry that has been hit particularly hard because of the global lockdown restrictions. Meanwhile, the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union is the first one to introduce a central bank digital cash. In the U.S., the FCC urges for more bans on the Chinese tech giants, ransomware becomes the top online priority, and Robinhood drops its legendary feature after critique from the regulators. We will also look at several updates that were announced by the tech companies last week, including Apple targeting a new market, PayPal with a huge crypto announcement that may broaden the use of crypto in daily life, and Google Maps with more than 100 AI-powered updates.
Swiss Startup’s Ultraviolet Light Robot Tested On Airplanes
UVeya, a Swiss startup, started airplane tests with its ultraviolet light virus aimed at killing viruses. The trials are conducted in airplanes by the Swiss charter company Helvetic Airs with the Dubai-based airport services company Dnata.
The robots must be certified and the trials are aimed at showing the potential impact that the UV light may have on the airplane’s interior. However, the startup hopes that the successful trials could lead to quick implementation of the robot cleaners and the possibility to welcome more passengers on board without them fearing getting infected.
“This is a proven technology, it’s been used for over 50 years in hospitals and laboratories, it’s very efficient,” Jodoc Elmiger, the co-founder of UVeya said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t leave any trace or residue.”
So far, three prototype robots have been built. One robot can fully disinfect a single-aisle plane in just 13 minutes. Elmiger forecasts that the robots will sell for approximately $15,930.
“We were looking for a sustainable, and also environmentally friendly solution, to cope with those requests,” said Lukas Gyger, Dnata’s chief operating officer in Switzerland. “If our passengers, if our crew know our aircraft are safe — that there are no viruses or bacteria — it could help them to fly again.”
On Thursday, the Eastern Caribbean became the first currency union to launch a central bank digital cash. The DCash will be rolled out in half of the Eastern European Currency Union countries so far. The pilot includes Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Kitts, and Nevis, and Saint Lucia
While they are the first, they will most likely not be the last as the monetary authorities such as the European Central Bank also look at the possibility of launching their electronic cash. Official digital currencies have less risk that private electronic payments systems and cut out the middle man which decreases the transactions cost. That is why big central banks are looking at developing digital currencies.
Before launching the DCash, the Caribbean has already prepared last year by launching a central bank digital currency nationwide in the Bahamas.
The DCash is a blockchain-based version of the Eastern Caribbean dollar and is pegged to the U.S dollar at EC$2.70 to US$1
Since Thursday, merchants, consumers, and financial institutions can use the mobile phone DCash app to make transactions, as well as buy DCash from certified providers using traditional money, or convert the money from their bank account.
The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Governor, Timothy Antoine, said he conducted DCash’s first cross-border transactions on Wednesday.
“There is a payments revolution underway globally,” he wrote.
The ECCB wants to decrease the use of cash by 50% by 2025.
On Thursday, MobiKwik, the digital payments company, was ordered to prove allegations regarding a data leak of its 110 million users.
The order comes from India’s central bank that warned the startup that if any breach is found, the company will face hefty fines.
The Sequoia Capital and Bajaj Finance backed MobiKwik has been criticised widely as it has denied any leak of customer data, even though both customers and digital rights activists believe that the leak is connected to their database.
“The RBI has given MobiKwik an ultimatum and ordered them to retain an external auditor to conduct a forensic audit,” said a source asking for anonymity to Reuters.
MobiKwik and the Central Bank of India both refused to comment on the news.
On Wednesday, Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said that dealing with ransomware is a top priority for the U.S.
Mayorkas said that ransomware is “a particularly egregious type of malicious cyber activity” and said that his department views it as a top online priority.
The problem with many ransomware operators is that they work out of jurisdictions with the lack of appropriate cybercrime attitude and regulations. Mayorkas addressed it and said that his department will aim at holding accountable “governments that do not use the full extent of their authority to stop the culprits.”
He added that the U.S. will disrupt not only the operators of ransomware operations but also “the marketplaces that enable them.”
Robinhood Markets Inc announced that they will discontinue its signature confetti animation appearing when customers make their first trades.
The Robinhood was criticized in the past weeks, both by regulators and politicians for gamifying investing. During the Feb. 18 hearing that aimed primarily on explaining Robinhood’s role in the GameStop rally, lawmakers went strongly against what they called “gamification of stock trading on mobile phones through things such as virtual confetti celebrations following a big trade.”
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China’s tech giant, Huawei Technologies, has reported quite modest annual profit growth for 2020. At the same time, the overseas revenues saw a decline following the Trump administration’s decision to put the Chinese company on an export blacklist.
Net profit for 2020 came in at 64.6 billion yuan ($9.83 billion) which was a 3.2% growth. To compare, in 2019, the company had a 5.6% annual profit growth.
“Over the past year we’ve held strong in the face of adversity,” Ken Hu, Huawei’s rotating chairman, said. “In 2020 we saw a slowdown in the growth rate and life was not easy for us. The U.S. restrictions have impacted our consumer business, especially our mobile phone business.”
Capgemini, a French business IT service provided announced on Wednesday that it will raise its medium-term margin targets as it adjusts its focus towards AI and customer experience.
“The group is ideally positioned to take advantage of the fast-expanding use of technology across industries,” Chief Executive Aiman Ezzat said. “We aim to become the strategic partner of chief experience officers in our chosen industries.”
On Wednesday, Brendan Carr, the Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) urged the U.S. to adopt new steps that will ensure that the Huawei Technologies and ZTE equipment is barred from the U.S telecommunication networks.
Last year, the FCC adopted rules that require U.S. telecoms to remove and replace any equipment that is produced by Huawei or ZTE is the purchase was made with the $8.3 billion government fund. However, according to the rule, the telecoms could still purchase equipment from the banned techs as long as they did that using private funds.
Carr, a Republican, called for closing the “glaring loophole … It makes no sense to allow that exact same equipment to get purchased and inserted into our communication network as long as federal dollars are not involved.”
Huawei said in a statement that “extending the FCC’s evaluation and approval process to prohibit equipment that is already accredited by the FCC is misguided and costly to American companies.”
The Chinese tech giants added that blocking equipment based on where it was assembled is “discriminatory and will do nothing to protect the integrity of U.S. communications networks or supply chains.”
Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel “has long advocated for reforming the equipment authorization process to better ensure security in new network devices and is pleased to see growing support for this idea,” an agency spokesman said, adding that “the FCC is already working on addressing many of the issues Commissioner Carr spoke about.”
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On Tuesday, Apple launched its contactless payment service in South Africa. The service will be available via three South African banks – Absa Group, Needbank Group, and Discovery Bank.
Apple did not give any details apart from simply informing that the service has been launched.
However, the launch does not come as a surprise. The pandemic has drastically increase the mobile payments use in South Africa and it is expected that Apple (alongside other companies) will want to capitalize on a shift towards e-commerce and contactless payments.
PayPal Holdings announced on Tuesday that it now allows U.S users to use cryptocurrency holdings to pay at millions of its online merchants globally.
This move can significantly boost the use of digital assets in everyday commerce. The service will be available at all of PayPal’s 29 million merchants in the upcoming months.
“This is the first time you can seamlessly use cryptocurrencies in the same way as a credit card or a debit card inside your PayPal wallet,” President and CEO Dan Schulman told Reuters. “We think it is a transitional point where cryptocurrencies move from being predominantly an asset class that you buy, hold and or sell to now becoming a legitimate funding source to make transactions in the real world at millions of merchants,”
PayPal will not charge any transaction fee to checkout with crypto and only one type of digital coin can be used for each purchase.
On Tuesday, Google revealed the number of new AI-Powered features that will appear in its Google Maps app.
“This year, we’re on track to bring over 100 AI-powered improvements to Google Maps so you can get the most accurate, up-to-date information about the world, exactly when you need it,” Dane Glasgow, vice president of products at Google Maps, said. “Soon, Google Maps will default to the route with the lowest carbon footprint when it has approximately the same ETA (estimated time of arrival) as the fastest route.”
Apart from reducing carbon footprint, the new updates will also include weather conditions, improved navigation indoors, and a system to alert drivers when they enter a low-emission zone.
“Thanks to new advancements that help us understand the precise altitude and placement of objects inside a building, we’re now able to bring Live View to some of the trickiest-to-navigate places indoors: airports, transit stations, and malls,” Glasgow added.
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