How China’s first autonomous driving unicorn Momenta hunts for data

Cao Xudong turned up on the side of the road in jeans and a black T-shirt printed with the word “Momenta,” the name of his startup.

Before founding the company — which last year topped $1 billion in valuation to become China’s first autonomous driving “unicorn” — he’d already led an enviable life, but he was convinced that autonomous driving would be the next real big thing.

Cao isn’t just going for the moonshot of fully autonomous vehicles, which he says could be 20 years away. Instead, he’s taking a two-legged approach of selling semi-automated software while investing in research for next-gen self-driving tech.

Cao, pronounced ‘tsao’, was pursuing his PhD in engineering mechanics when an opportunity came up to work at Microsoft’s fundamental research arm in Asia, putatively the “West Point” for China’s first generation of artificial intelligence experts. He held out there for more than four years before quitting to put his hands on something more practical: a startup.

“Academic research for AI was getting quite mature at the time,” said now 33-year-old Cao in an interview with TechCrunch, reflecting on his decision to quit Microsoft. “But the industry that puts AI into application had just begun. I believed the industrial wave would be even more extensive and intense than the academic wave that lasted from 2012 to 2015.”

In 2015, Cao joined SenseTime, now the world’s highest-valued AI startup, thanks in part to the lucrative face-recognition technology it sells to the government. During his 17-month stint, Cao built the company’s research division from zero staff into a 100-people strong team.

Before long, Cao found himself craving a new adventure again. The founder said he doesn’t care about the result as much as the chance to “do something.” That tendency was already evident during his time … Read the rest

China opens Nasdaq-style board to lure tech firms back home

China’s much-anticipated Science and Technology Innovation board officially launched in Shanghai today, marking Beijing’s major step in drawing high-potential tech companies to list at home.

The new Star Market, first announced by President Xi Jinping in November, is expected to be a key fundraising avenue for tech companies from an array of stages, given its criteria (link in Chinese) are less stringent than other domestic boards. Beijing has over the past year encouraged local firms to become more self-reliant in producing chips and other core technologies as an escalating trade war threatens to cut China off the U.S. supply chain.

The new startup board began taking applications in late March and have so far received applications from 122 companies, according to information from the Shanghai Stock Exchange .

The tech bourse opened as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange next door got a big boost. China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba has filed confidentially for a second listing in Hong Kong, according to reports from Bloomberg and Reuters on Thursday, citing sources. A spokesperson for Alibaba declined to comment.

Rumors of Alibaba’s potential IPO have swirled for months, but the Hangzhou-based firm has recently accelerated its application process as the U.S.-China trade war intensifies, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Other Chinese firms that want to be closer to home now have another option to raise equity. Through the new tech board, China will allow loss-making companies to list on an exchange for the first time. This will likely draw promising pre-profit tech firms that would have otherwise chosen to list in New York for more lax regulations.

For example, unprofitable companies with an income of at least 300 million yuan ($43.43 million) from the previous year … Read the rest

India’s Zomato flies drone to deliver food in successful test

Zomato, one of India’s largest food delivery firms, may have figured out a faster way to crawl through dense populated routes: going air with drones.

The company, which has expanded its restaurant listing and booking service to about two-dozen markets in recent years, said today it has successfully tested a payload delivery from a hybrid drone.

The drone carried a payload of 5 kgs (11 pounds) and covered 5 kms (3.1 miles) in 10 mins, said Deepinder Goyal, CEO of Zomato, which aims to deliver food to customers in under 15 minutes some day. The drone hit a peak speed of 80 kmph (49.7 mph). It was a non-commercial delivery.

“Fifteen minutes is only possible if we take the aerial route – roads are not efficient for very fast delivery. While our biker fleet nowadays delivers in 30.5 minutes on an average (which is the fastest in the industry as far as we know), every incremental minute with our fleet becomes harder as it separates our users from their ordered food,” he said.

For Zomato, the drone test is more than a gimmick. The delivery firm, heavily backed by Ant Financial and Delivery Hero, acquired local drone startup TechEagle last year. Goyal said the company has finalized the design of its drone, which is lightweight and hosts an array of sensors to detect and avoid static and dynamic objects in its journey.

“Although being fully automated, each drone is currently being tested with (remote) pilot supervision to ensure … Read the rest

Luxembourg to get €100M investment from Chinese payments startup Pingpong

For financial services firms looking to enter Europe, Luxembourg has historically been a popular anchoring point for its political and economic stability as well as a favorable regulatory environment. Another bucketload of capital is coming to the country after Chinese fintech startup Pingpong announced to invest more than €100 million ($113 million) in Luxembourg in the coming years.

Founded in 2014, Pingpong has been celebrated by its home city Hangzhou — also Alibaba’s backyard — as a pioneer in the country’s booming cross-border ecommerce sector. Backed by one of China’s largest investment banks CICC, the startup collects payments for Chinese exporters selling through Amazon, Wish, Shopee, Newegg and some other 14 ecommerce platforms around the world, which means clearing local regulatory hurdles is key to its business.

Its European ambition does not stop with Luxembourg. Luo Yonglong, a partner at Pingpong, said at a Saturday event that within three years, the company’s accumulative investment on the continent will exceed 50 billion yuan (€6.39 billion or $7.21 billion).

Pingpong unveiled the proposed infusion at the weekend event centered around the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative, of which Luxembourg is a member. The financial injection provides clues to the role that private businesses play to help China link up more countries to BRI. It also seems like a timely boost to the alliance between the two countries, arriving just three months after Luxembourg agreed to join China’s ambitious global infrastructure program, and at a time when China’s trade tensions with the U.S. run high.

Pingpong’s tie-up with Luxembourg dates further back to 2017 when it secured a payments license in the putative financial gateway of Europe, thus giving it access to facilitate payment transactions between Chinese merchants and consumers throughout the continent.

“We are actively following the country’s Belt and Road … Read the rest

India’s largest video streaming service, owned by Disney, breaks Safari compatibility to fix security flaw

Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.

As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.

Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access and distribute Hotstar’s content — including the premium catalog.

Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.

The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India, maintains a strong lead in the local video streaming market (based on number of users and engagement). Last month, it claimed to set a new global record by drawing more than 18 million viewers to a live cricket match.

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