Apple expands self driving programme, nearly doubles fleet in California

Photo: istock

Registering 18 new vehicles since January, Apple has expanded its self-driving car programme rapidly and now has 45 autonomous vehicles registered with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

The company had 27 self-driving cars until late January.

“Apple has nearly doubled the number of self-driving cars in its California test fleet. The number of cars is more than companies like Google, Waymo, and Uber have and is second only to General Motors which performs tests with Cruise — its self-driving division,” the Financial Times reported late on Tuesday.

Behind Apple is Tesla which currently has 39 self-driving vehicles, and Uber which has 29 cars.

Codenamed “Project Titan”, Apple’s self-driving programme’s fleet is reportedly made up of Lexus RX450h SUVs each of which is fitted with huge racks of LIDAR and radar sensors as well as cameras.


Bayer clears EU hurdle for $62.5-bn takeover of Monsanto with BASF sale

Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the Bayer Healthcare subgroup production plant in Wuppertal, Germany

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for it’s $62.5 billion buys of US peer Monsanto, the last of a trio of mega-mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry.

The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market.

Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led the wave of consolidation in the sector.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms.

The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF confirming a Reuters story on February 28.

Tencent Q4 net profit nearly doubles to 20.8 bn yuan, beats estimates


Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd posted on Wednesday a 98 percent rise in quarterly net profit, beating expectations as it deepens monetisation of the growing traffic on its social networks.

Net profit for the three months ended December 31 rose to 20.8 billion yuan ($3.29 billion), China’s largest social media and gaming company said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

That was above an average estimate of 16.90 billion yuan from 9 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Revenue rose 51 percent to 66.39 billion yuan, compared with analysts’ average estimate of 69.5 billion yuan. Monthly active users of the social media mobile app WeChat exceeded 1 billion after the Chinese New Year in February, up from 980 million at the end of September.

Net profit for the full 2017 year rose 74 percent to 71.51 billion yuan. The company declared a final dividend of HK$0.88 per share.

China allows foreigners to enter $27 trn payments market

Chinese economy

China will permit foreign companies to access its $27 trillion payments market, further opening up the world’s second-largest economy.

Foreign players can start applying for payment licenses and will be treated the same as local firms, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement on Wednesday. Applicants must set up local units, establish payment infrastructure — including disaster recovery systems — and store client information domestically, the central bank said.

Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday promised to protect the intellectual property of foreigners investing in its economy, as China seeks to avoid a trade war with the U.

S. Any entrants to the Chinese market — apart from meeting stiff local regulations — will also have to compete with the more than 260 firms that have received payment licenses including Ant Financial Services Group’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings’s WeChat Pay.

“The domestic market is quite saturated with very strong domestic players, and it is relatively hard for foreign companies to get a piece of the pie,” said Iris Pang, a Hong Kong-based economist at ING Groep NV. “But there is a chance for them to compete in the cross-border payment market.”

Boko Haram free scores of abducted Dapchi schoolgirls in Nigeria

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) campaign react on the presentation of a banner which shows

Boko Haram jihadists have released 76 of the 110 schoolgirls who were abducted from the northeastern town of Dapchi in February, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said “the 76 are those who have been documented”, adding that the release of the abducted students “is ongoing”.

The schoolgirls were returned to Dapchi by Boko Haram early Wednesday morning following negotiations between the Nigerian government and the militant group.

“The girls were released around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country,” said Mohammed, without elaborating.

The number of freed girls may increase “because the girls were not handed over to anyone but dropped off in Dapchi,” he said.

Sixth FedEx parcel bomb blast in Austin, Texas: 2 dead, Trump terms it sick

Texas fedex explosion

Emergency teams rushed on Tuesday to another reported explosion in Austin — this one at a Goodwill store — but police and federal authorities said the blast wasn’t related to recent bombings that have killed and injured people and caused panic across Texas’ capital for weeks.

Police and emergency response teams said an “incendiary device” exploded, injuring a man in his 30s. Nearby stores, shopping centres and restaurants were evacuated. But police and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said a short time later that it was unrelated to the previous blasts.

Gary Davis, president and CEO of Goodwill Texas, stood outside a police barrier huddling with other Goodwill employees. He said the device was contained in a bag and detonated when a worker moved it.

“We put all the donations we get in a big cardboard box. He pulled something out in a bag, completely normal, and the device went off,” Davis said.


World’s last male northern white rhino dies; could spark extinction crisis


Researchers say the world’s last male northern white rhino, Sudan, has died after “age-related complications.” A statement from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya says the 45-year-old rhino was euthanized yesterday after his condition “worsened significantly” and he was no longer able to stand.

The rhino had been part of an ambitious effort to save the subspecies from extinction with the help of the two surviving females.

“He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raisConservancy’slobally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity,” said the conservancy’s CEO, Richard Vigne.

Sudan was something of a celebrity, attracting thousands of visitors.

Facebook data breach casts a doubtful shadow on WhatsApp Pay

digital wallet

Facebook on Tuesday gave Indian fintech experts 50 million reasons to doubt the safety of its ongoing experiment in India, WhatsApp Pay. The social media giant is caught in the middle of a data breach controversy. It allegedly shared data of up to 50 million users with a political data analytics company Cambridge Analytica. The data was allegedly used to tilt the results of US elections in favour of Donald Trump.

India’s industry experts as well as fintech firms are voicing their reservations around such company getting access to financial data via WhatsApp. Many believe that these firms should be regulated as well as held accountable.

The National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) had given its consent for the roll-out of WhatsApp BHIM unified payments interface (UPI) beta with limited user base of one million users and low per transaction limit.

Bill tabled in US Congress seeks call centre employees to disclose location

call centre

Legislation introduced in the US Congress could potentially curtail the competitiveness of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in India and other key offshore locations like the Philippines and Mexico.

Introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio, the piece of legislation, if passed, will require call centre employees to disclose their locations and give customers the right to ask to have their calls transferred to customer service agents in the US. The item of legislation also proposes the creation of a public list of companies that outsource call centre jobs and provide preference in federal contracts to firms that have not shipped these jobs overseas.

This, however is not the first time such a proposal has been introduced in the US. In 2013, a similar piece of legislation, which was introduced by Congressman Tim Bishop and supported by many senators, did not see the light of the day.

Facebook outraged over data breach of 50 mn users by Cambridge Analytica

Facebook outraged over data breach of 50 mn users by Cambridge Analytica

Facebook said on Tuesday the company was “outraged” after being “deceived” over the misuse of data by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which improperly harvested information on 50 million users.

A company statement appeared to place the blame for the incident on the British-based firm linked to President Donald Trump, which according to Facebook violated terms of the social network by misusing data from an academic researcher.

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived.

We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” the statement said.

It added that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and their teams “are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue.