Rivian turned down GM investment so it could build EVs for others


Reports emerged last week that GM would not join Amazon in investing in electric vehicle startup Rivian, and now we have a little more clarity on why talks broke down. It seems GM wanted some exclusivity, but Rivian plans to build vehicles for other companies, as well as release up to six models under its own branding by 2025.

Founder RJ Scaringe said Rivian is working on something related to the Amazon investment, but hinted to Bloomberg that it may not be a vehicle. He’s open to selling his company’s technology (it has developed long-lasting batteries) to other businesses for various products, including stationary batteries. So perhaps Amazon is interested in using Rivian’s know-how for something other than vehicles, though it has also invested in a self-driving car startup.

Scaringe noted in the interview that tens of thousands of people have laid down a $1,000 deposit for Rivian’s EVs, just over half of which are for the R1T. That pickup and the R1S SUV are scheduled to go on sale next year.

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Sidewalk Labs' street signs alert people to data collection in use

Sidewalk Labs

As Sidewalk Labs builds its “smart city” in Toronto, there have been growing concerns that the sensor and camera-laden neighborhood may invade the privacy of citizens. To deal with some of those issues, the subsidiary of Alphabet announced today that it is working on creating icons that would help people better understand the technology they run into while navigating cities. The images would be displayed on hexagon-shaped signs that would highlight what type of data is being collected in an area and how it is being used.

The idea behind Sidewalk Labs’ icons is pretty simple. The company wants to create an image-based language that can quickly convey information to people the same way that street and traffic signs do. Icons on the signs would show if cameras or other devices are capturing video, images, audio or other information. Additionally, Sidewalk Labs plans to color-code the signs to highlight how the information is used. Yellow signs mean data being collected is identifiable while blue means it is de-identified before being used. Other colors could be introduced to convey any additional details.

The signs would also include a QR code that would display additional information about the data collection process in a given area. Citizens could scan the code and be presented with a detailed explanation of who is collecting data, the exact information they are sucking up from passersby and what they intend to use it for. It would also show how long the data is retained by the collector and how it is stored.

For Now, Sidewalk Labs’ signs are just a concept. The first draft has been made publicly available on GitHub, and the company is planning to make tweaks over time. The signage in its current format will get a test run at the Sidewalk Labs offices in Toronto, and digital marketing company Soofa has agreed to demo the icons in a number of cities where it operates.

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Researchers suggest 100 percent renewable energy isn’t very green

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In order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’ll need to rely on renewable energy, electric vehicles (EV) and battery storage. But creating that infrastructure will dramatically increase our need for metals like cobalt and lithium. A report released this week cautions that a spike in demand for those and other metals could drain the planet’s reserves and lead to dire social and environmental consequences.

The situation is especially urgent for the EV and battery industries, according to the researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Futures. Those industries are the main drivers of demand for cobalt, with each EV requiring between five to 10 kilograms of the metal for its lithium-ion batteries. As much as 60 percent of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has already been charged with using child labor in its mines.

The researchers looked at a total of 14 metals, including those used in solar panels and wind turbines. They estimate that converting to 100 percent renewable energy could increase demand for lithium and nickel by as much as 280 percent and 136 percent, respectively. As Grist reports, the rush to meet that demand would likely increase mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations.

According to the report, recycling is our best bet to reduce primary demand. Companies like Apple and Amazon are already working to develop closed-loop recycling systems, but that will only get us so far. As Payal Sampat of Earthworks, which published the study, told Grist, “We’re not going to tech fix our way out of this. It’s going to require more meaningful policy changes that fundamentally reduce the overall demand.”

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Soylent launches 100-calorie 'mini-meal' bar


Soylent, the drink of choice for Silicon Valley bros with no time to eat, is launching a new line of snack bars. Known as Soylent Squared, the 100-calorie “mini-meal” bars are the first solid food offerings from the company since the disastrous launch of its meal replacement bars in 2016. Soylent halted sales of the bars after reports emerged they were making people sick.

But given the fact that energy bars are a multi-million dollar industry and prime Instagram bait, it makes sense that Soylent would want to venture into the world of solid food again. The bars, which come in three flavors; chocolate brownie, salted caramel and citrus berry, are currently only available online. A pack of 30 snack bars costs $30.

The new Soylent Squared bars, unlike the company’s 14-ounce shakes, aren’t meant to replace a meal by themselves. In a press release, Soylent CEO Bryan Crowley said that Soylent Squared is meant to allow consumers to “portion out the nutrition they need.” Either consume one or two bars for a snack, or eat three or four for a meal replacement.

Nutritionally, the Soylent Squared bars are definitely a safer bet than your standard vending machine fare. Each contain five grams of plant-based protein (mostly from soy protein isolate) and two grams of sugar. Even if you eat a few Soylent Squared bars for a meal, it’s a far less sugary, more protein-filled option than scarfing down a Snickers bar. But unless you’re hiking, on a road trip, or on the go in some other capacity, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would prefer a Soylent Squared bar over actual food. You could easily make a snack of roughly 100 calories out of a small bowl of greek yogurt with blueberries, an apple slathered with peanut butter, or some string cheese.

But busy consumers will likely go for a Soylent Squared bar instead of yogurt for the same reason they go for a Soylent shake rather than an omelette or a salad. It’s easy, it’s portable and you can eat it in front of your laptop without making a mess. Yet given the litany of other energy bar options, healthy fast-casual food options and delivery options ranging from Postmates to UberEats, don’t be surprised if you’re tempted by more attractive options.

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Amazon will close its Chinese platform for third-party sellers in July


Amazon is pulling the plug on its e-commerce marketplace business in China. The decision follows a long struggle by American e-commerce companies in the country, who have fallen behind China’s faster shopping rivals.

According to a statement from Amazon, it will no longer operate its third-party online marketplace or provide seller services on Amazon.cn from July 18th. As such, domestic companies will no longer be able to sell products to Chinese consumers on the platform. However, the company did say it remains “committed to China” through its global stores, Kindle business and web services.

Further, The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon is in merger talks with Chinese competitor, NetEase Inc’s Kaola. A potential deal could see a stock-for-stock transaction, although neither company would comment on the status of those talks.

Amazon arrived in China in 2004 with the purchase of Joyo.com, where it was initially the largest vendor of books, music and video. But over time the platform came to be used predominantly for imported international goods, and despite its booming presence elsewhere, Amazon is now a very small player in China’s e-commerce market. In quarter four 2018, the company accounted for just six percent of gross merchandise volume in the cross-border e-commerce market, while NetEase Kaola and Alibaba commanded 25 percent and 32 percent respectively.

While it would be feasible for Amazon to continue its operations there, getting ahead would mean spending big to unseat its competitors, or dropping prices even further — evidently its executives have made the decision to quite while its ahead.

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