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Can tiny satellites bring internet access to remote areas?
Last week, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced they’re leading an $13.5m investment in Astranis, a startup focused on building commercial telecommunications satellites.
In recent years, a “new space race” centered around satellite internet has emerged, with companies like SpaceX and Richard Branson-backed OneWeb competing to launch devices and establish networks capable of reaching areas where traditional broadband falls short.
So, what does tiny Astranis offer? Smaller, more affordable satellites.
Why are people interested in satellite internet?
There are still 4B people on Earth without internet access -- the majority of whom live in rural areas, where broadband service isn’t available.
Satellite internet has been touted as a solution to this since the mid-’90s, but the problem has always been latency (satellites have been too slow in responding to requests).
Part of this is a distance issue: These satellites traditionally operate 22k miles above Earth, in what’s called geosynchronous orbit. SpaceX, OneWeb, and others have tried to solve this by launching satellites into low Earth orbit, which, at only 100 to 1.2k miles above us, reduces latency.
But there’s a problem with that solution
Satellites in low Earth orbit are able to cover less territory, and companies have to launch a lot more of them to be effective. SpaceX, for instance, plans to launch 4k of them.
That’s insanely expensive, when considering that each satellite can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build…
And that’s where Astranis comes in
The company’s satellites are “only” about the size of a mini-fridge, compared to the average, bus-sized satellite. They can also be built for tens of millions of dollars -- a fraction of the cost of other models.
Unlike its competitors, Astranis will launch its satellites into geosynchronous orbit (farther away from Earth) and sell bandwidth to internet service providers, allowing it to reach users in more remote areas.
This won’t solve some of the long-standing latency issues, but it could provide a cheaper solution for making internet more readily available in previously out-of-range regions.
Putting the ‘lite’ in satellite
Angry Birds creator’s head of games flies the coop
Rovio, the Finnish mobile game and animation studio that created the hit Angry Birds franchise, have had a rough go as of late.
On Friday, they announced that their head of games, Wilhelm Taht, will leave the company effective immediately following a dramatic profit warning the week before.
To top it off, the company announced they will be closing their year-old London office.
The birds flew south during a cold Q4
In a statement, Rovio CEO Kati Levoranta said their new Angry Birds games and others “landed short of expectations,” but according to TechCrunch, “falling short” may be an understatement.
Angry Birds Evolution is currently ranked 562nd in the US App Store, and 451st in Google Play, while Match, one of their games separate from the AB franchise, is ranking in the 700s.
Their revenue for the quarter came in at only $90.7m, and the company’s stock dropped 50% from their $1B valuation the company received last year upon going public.
While the timing seems to fit, the company maintains that Taht’s exit is unrelated to their rough Q4, citing personal reasons for his move.
However, Levoranta went on to say in her statement that they’re using Taht’s departure as a way to “simplify” their company structure.
Toyota’s dropping $2.8B to develop its own self-driving software company
In a partnership with automotive suppliers Aisin Seiki and Denso, Toyota is launching a new company called TRI-AD (Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development) to create a self-driving car that’s built totally in-house -- software and all.
And, they’re putting some serious resources behind it: Toyota plans to hire close to 1k employees and invest $2.8B in the new company to develop their software.
“Another company making autonomous cars, big whoop”
Actually, it is a big whoop. Toyota is one of the only big car manufacturers tackling the software side of the equation on their own, rather than acquiring an outside tech startup to develop their self-driving line.
On the other side, there are the tech players trying to develop self-driving software they can sell to carmakers and suppliers, like Google’s Waymo (which is working with Fiat-Chrysler), Aurora (working with Volkswagen and Hyundai), or nuTonomy (acquired by auto supplier Delphi).
Everyone’s looking for a date to the self-driving dance
The web of self-driving partnerships grows denser by the day (here’s an illustration if you’re having trouble keeping it straight).
But, with more and more companies pairing off to launch their respective projects, a successful in-house venture could afford Toyota some valuable autonomy in the self-driving space.
AMSilk wants to make breast implants safer using modified E. coli bacteria
German biotech company AMSilk has developed a protein-based liquid-silk coating for medical and cosmetic implants that scientists believe could help the human body adapt more safely to implant surgeries.
The company is known for developing synthetic polymers that mimic natural substances, and has worked with companies like Adidas to create a line of biodegradable shoes. Now, they’re looking to get into the medical industry.
Synthetic in nature, silicone is often rejected by the surrounding tissues of the human body, which can lead to irritation and infection.
In 2015, nearly 106k breast cancer patients had reconstruction (often with an implant). Of that number, 46% underwent re-operation within 3 years -- and 25% of those with silicone had them removed altogether.
AMSilk’s product grows from genetically modified E. coli bacteria that becomes a silk-like protein after it’s fermented. Because the coating is a protein, the body recognizes it as a natural substance.
Time to partner up
According to Polytech Health & Aesthetics (the top manufacturer of silicone implants in the US), implants continue to be on the rise.
Starting this year, AMSilk is joining forces with the manufacturer to begin tests in Austria using their silk-coated implants, with the long-term goal of expanding beyond breast implants and distributing their product widely to their medical partners.
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