Posts tagged with "Airbnb"

‘Road of the future’ to link Detroit and Ann Arbor with 40 miles of self-driving cars and shuttles

August 17, 2020

Companies have poured tens of billions into self-driving vehicles, but they have yet to change how we get around: We continue to rely on ground transportation operated by humans.

Why? It could be a lack of vision. The self-driving vehicle industry has put all of its efforts into designing the driverless vehicles—and barely one cent into the roads that would carry them successfully.

But now, Fortune Magazine reports, we are about to see a quantum leap in transportation. An ambitious new project in Michigan is set to connect two of the state’s key cities—Detroit and Ann Arbor—with a new corridor dedicated just to autonomous vehicles.

The plan is being led by Cavnue, an infrastructure startup, and with the support of traditional car companies like Ford and GM as well as Alphabet’s driverless car subsidiary, Waymo.

The plan calls for new roads—or special Cavnue lanes for driverless vehicles—to be built alongside existing routes, including Interstate 94, with links to destinations such as the University of Michigan and Detroit Metropolitan airport.

The so-called road of the future, which was announced on Thursday, August 13, by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, amounts to an ambitious bid to reconceive both transportation and public transit. A press release describing the project hailed it as “the world’s most sophisticated roadway.”

A key feature of the plan is the development of a common software standard that will enable autonomous vehicles of all sorts—from cars to transport trucks to passenger shuttles—access the road. This will provide a revenue opportunity for governments, which can charge private companies for access to the road, using the funds to subsidize transit. For transit users, driverless shuttles could be an affordable new way to get around.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether all of this actually will come to fruition, Fortune notes. For now, the project calls for an initial 24-month planning phase, after which the State of Michigan and start-up Cavnue will decide whether to begin construction. Cavnue is a subsidiary of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP), a holding company partly backed by Google parent Alphabet.

According to Cavnue, the public sector will not have to finance any part of the first phase of the project, and if construction goes forward, the builders will explore a variety of funding options such as federal grants or fares from local businesses along the corridor.

In an interview with Fortune, Cavnue cofounder Jonathan Winer cited a “lot of nervousness” in the public sector over new technology and infrastructure projects. He said this stems from a shortage of funds—exacerbated by the pandemic—as well local governments’ experience with companies like Uber and Airbnb, which have been prone to flouting quality-of-life concerns.

In order to win the support of Michigan and local governments, Winer says Cavnue began by bringing together all manner of transportation interests—including road operators, public sector officials, and carmakers. At a convention in February, the various groups explored how dedicated routes for driverless cars could provide an alternative to light rail and other transit systems.

Winer adds that the occasion also underscored the challenge of finding practical uses for driverless vehicles—a challenge detailed in a recent Financial Times report that described “disillusionment” with the technology and “robotaxi failure.” The idea of “robotaxis” has been hyped for years as a new form of urban transportation, but companies have failed to develop autonomous cars capable of operating in cities.

“The general consensus is it’s harder than we thought,” he told the business news outlet. “If we’re spending billions on tech, we’ll need near-term commercial applications.”

In practice, Winer says, this means shifting the focus of the fledgling autonomous vehicle industry towards projects like the corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor, which can allow autonomous vehicles to operate without challenges like urban traffic.

The Detroit project is also getting a boost from the traditional titans of Motor City, including Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, who is the great-grandson of the company’s founder.

“Building out a connected corridor cements Michigan as a leader in creating a more connected, autonomous, and electrified future,” said Ford in a statement.

In addition to advisors from Ford, GM, and Waymo, Cavnue’s advisory board includes members from Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, and TuSimple. The University of Michigan and the City of Detroit are also lending support to the project.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Bloomberg: California and Massachusetts are the most innovative U.S. states

June 25, 2020

For the second consecutive year, California and Massachusetts have taken the first and second spots, respectively, in Bloomberg’s annual State Innovation Index.

According to a report by The Boston Globe, the ranking is based on six equally weighted metrics: research and development intensity, productivity, clusters of companies in technology, STEM jobs, residents with degrees in science and engineering, and patent activity.

California and Massachusetts’ success dates back more than 150 years ago with the creation of land-grant universities under the Morrill Act, according to New York University Stern School of Business economist Paul Romer.

The Morrill Land Grand Act of 1862 helped boost higher education in America by granting states public land. That land could be sold and the proceeds earned could be used to establish colleges. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was among the earliest recipients of the act, which served as the basis for many other institutions, including the University of California and Washington State University.

These schools “and their counterparts in every state created a new type of university—distinguished by a practical focus on problem solving that the world had never seen,” Romer, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, said in a telephone interview with The Boston Globe.. “The success of California and Massachusetts is a sign of the high level of investment that those states have made in their university and research systems.”

California ranked number-one in the Bloomberg index for patent activity and second for both technology-company density and concentration of science- and engineering-degree holders. Its state university system and pre-eminence in research—along with private Stanford University—have been influential in building Silicon Valley headquarters for established tech companies and budding startups.

Last year, entrepreneurs there received more than $67 billion in venture-capital funding, according to data from PitchBook. That’s more than three times New York, the second-highest state for deal flow.

According to a joint report from PwC and CB Insights, the top five highest-valued private U.S. tech companies are all California-based: JUUL Labs, Stripe, Airbnb, SpaceX and Palantir Technologies.

In addition, among U.S. companies that went public last year, the five reaping the highest year-to-date returns also are in California: Zoom Video Communications, IT-service provider Fastly and life-science specialty businesses Vir Biotechnology, Livongo Health and IDEAYA Biosciences.

Second place Massachusetts took the crown for tech-company density. General Electric, Raytheon, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Biogen are headquartered in the Northeastern state. Prior to the pandemic, Boston-based Toast—a restaurant-management platform— was a venture-capital favorite. The startup raised $400 million at a $4.9 billion valuation in February.

Rounding out the top five are number three, Washington State; number four, Connecticut; and Oregon, which jumped two spots to number five.

Research contact: @BostonGlobe

Move over, Airbnb: New home rental platform Golightly caters just to women

January 29, 2020

Traveling alone as a woman, or even in a group of women, shouldn’t be intimidating or dangerous—but it can be. Enter Golightly, a vacation rental platform exclusively for females, which launched this month.

All of the properties are owned or managed by women, and renters must be women, although men can travel with the, USA Today reports.

Victoria O’Connell launched the Austin, Texas-based company after she had  a bad experience renting out her own home in London—which was burglarized and destroyed by a group of men.

“I felt that I would never be comfortable renting out my home again, and I wanted to figure out a way to change that and feel safe again,” O’Connell told USA Today.  “I travel frequently and also stay in vacation rentals often, so I had to find a way to get back to it.”

The rental platform is invite-only and aims to build a community of women. Each member is given five invites to send to other women. But if women want to join and don’t have a referral code, they can fill in an online form to be vetted.

According to the website, “As a private club, Golightly carefully vets each member and property listing. Our goal is to provide a safer and more secure travel experience. Listings and member profiles are only available within the Golightly network to protect the privacy of our community.”

It costs $100 for a lifetime membership, but, the news outlet notes, that fee is being waived through the end of February as the platform aims to grow its membership and add more properties. There’s a 10% transaction fee for guests and a 5% fee for hosts on bookings.

For now the site has hundreds of home rentals, with the majority of them concentrated in the United States and Europe.

Research contact: @USATODAY

Hot romance: Couple poses for wildfire wedding photo during smoky ceremony at California winery

October 30, 2019

Elvis Presley may have sung about “a hunk, a hunk of burning love”—but he had nothing on this couple: An Illinois twosome who got married in Northern California’s Sonoma County on Saturday, October 26—with a massive wildfire raging nearby—posed for a dramatic wedding portrait wearing masks, Fox News reports with some help from the Associated Press..

Wedding photographer Karna Roa captured the photo of the bride and groom, who got married at the Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, California, even as the Kincade fire burned just miles away.

According to Fox,  the wildfire in Northern California’s wine country forced nearly 180,000 people to evacuate over the weekend as historic winds pushed the state’s largest utility to cut electricity for millions of people to try to prevent more fires.

Roa told the network news outlet that she did have some reservations showing up to the Chateau St. Jean vineyard in Sonoma County to photograph the wedding on Saturday, given the situation.

“The whole area, of course, was super smoky,” she said. “I would love to say this is the first time it has happened, but this is the third year in a row in October that wine country has experienced this.”

She said the couple, Katie and Curtis Ferland, from Chicago, are currently on their honeymoon, and not immediately available for an interview.

Curtis Ferland told Chicago’s WLS-TV (ABC) in an earlier interview that he thought the wedding would need to be canceled after learning of the widespread wildfires. “The first thing we see on TV when we turn it on is flames everywhere,” he said.

After arriving on the West Coast for their wedding, Katie and Curtis reportedly had to move to a hotel when their Airbnb rental lost power. The two also were forced to move the location of their rehearsal dinner because of the fire. WLS-TV reported that most of their vendors and staff were forced to evacuate on Saturday, but the ceremony still took place.

Sara Sugrue, the wedding planner, had to redesign the entire event the night before the nuptials, according to the news outlet. “We actually worked off a skeleton crew to make this happen,” she said.

Roa told Fox News it was the wedding planner who suggested the now-viral photo of Katie and Curtis in their masks.

“Because of all of the changes in the plans and all of the stress leading up to the wedding, the wedding planner suggested that they do at least one image with the masks on,” Roa told Fox News, adding that the masks were available to everyone who attended the wedding, but the guests were only outside for 20 minutes because of the smoke.

“When the couple put on the masks and it came time for this photo, I immediately thought of the American Gothic painting from 1930 and how that painting represented the normal for America of the time period,” Roa said. “All of a sudden this moment represented the new normal for wine country in October.”

After their wedding, early on Sunday morning, the Ferlands and all of their guests were reportedly forced to evacuate.

Research contact: @FoxNews

Going south: Apply to become one of five volunteers to join Antarctic Sabbatical

September 25, 2019

If you enjoy “chilling out,” Airbnb and Ocean Conservancy are offering just the experience you always have wanted: On September 24, the two organizations announced the Antarctic Sabbatical—an unprecedented opportunity for five passionate individuals to travel to Earth’s most remote continent and join Antarctic Scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams on a first-of-its-kind scientific research mission in December.

The five volunteer citizen scientists will collect snow samples and study the extent to which microplastics have made their way to the interior of Antarctica. The goal of the Antarctic Sabbatical is to bring greater awareness to humans’ impact on the climate in one of the world’s least understood and most isolated ecosystems. By understanding the impact of plastic pollution generated elsewhere in the world, the citizen scientists will deliver insights on how the global community can help protect both Antarctica and the planet.

“Most people think of Antarctica as a pristine and isolated continent, but recent evidence shows that even the most remote locations are affected by plastic pollution. This expedition will help us understand the pathways of microplastics to remote regions such as Antarctica and comes at a critical time to highlight our responsibility to protect our natural world,” said Jones-Williams in a press release. “This expedition will be hard work, with scientific rigour required during unforgiving wintery conditions. We are looking for passionate individuals, with a sense of global citizenship, who are excited to be a part of the team and to return home and share our findings with the world.”

On the month-long expedition, the citizen scientists will:

  • Attend an immersion training in Punta Arenas, Chile, where they will prepare themselves with courses on glaciology and field sampling as well as lab work and equipment practice.
  • Fly to Antarctica to begin their scientific mission, landing on a naturally formed blue-ice runway deep within the continent where the research will be conducted.
  • Collect snow samples from the interior of Antarctica and study them for foreign microfibers to determine how far waste and pollution has traveled across the world.
  • Visit the South Pole, where they can walk around the globe in just a few steps.
  • Get the chance to explore the beauty of Antarctic sites like the Drake Icefall, Charles Peak Windscoop, and Elephant’s Head to learn about the continent’s geography.
  • Return to Chile where they will continue to study their findings and work with Ocean Conservancy to become ambassadors for protecting the oceans. In this advocacy role, they will deliver insights on how the Airbnb community and others can help minimize their collective plastic footprint to support Ocean Conservancy’s mission.

“Partnering with Airbnb on the Antarctic Sabbatical is an incredible opportunity to continue our fight against ocean plastic and raise awareness of this issue,” said Janis Searles Jones, CEO of Ocean Conservancy. “Through our annual International Coastal Cleanup, where volunteers not only collect trash from beaches and waterways around the world but also log every item in our global database, Ocean Conservancy has a long history of working with citizen scientists, and we look forward to applying the results of this expedition to global solutions.”

“Together with Ocean Conservancy, we are highlighting the problem of microplastics to encourage a global audience to give great thought to the consequences of how we live and take collective action,” said Chris Lehane, SVP of Global Policy and Communications at Airbnb. “While Airbnb is inherently more eco-friendly than other forms of travel given that people are using spaces already built, we need to continue to find ways for the platform to contribute to reducing the impact of humans on the environment. There is far more we need to do and will be looking to do as we go forward.”

The Antarctic Sabbatical follows the Italian Sabbatical, which was an urban regeneration project by Airbnb and Wonder Grottole that offered the opportunity for five volunteers to spend three months living in the historic town of Grottole in southern Italy to help revitalize a community that was facing extinction.

The Sabbatical Program is designed to inspire people to take advantage of earned time off to give back to the people and places around them for a life-changing experience.

To apply for the Antarctic Sabbatical, visit airbnb.com/sabbatical and complete the application form. Apply by 11:59pm (EDT) on October 8. Candidates must be over the age of 18; available to travel to Chile and Antarctica for a month from November to December 2019 to conduct volunteer work as citizen scientists; and be able to speak conversational English. The final selection of five citizen scientists will be announced on October 30. Terms apply.

Research contact: @Airbnb

Airbnb’s Samara group to design and construct homes for communal living

December 3, 2018

Airbnb has already changed the way people travel. Now, the eight-year-old company is aiming to bring the peer-to-peer economy to housing, with the introduction of Backyard—described on a new website as “an initiative to protype new ways homes can be built and shared, guided by an ambition to realize more humanistic, future-oriented, and waste-conscious design.”

Airbnb’s design studio, Samara, announced the project on November 28, CNBC reports. The Backyard initiative will “investigate how building could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time.”

The goal: To test prototypes Backyard units as soon as the fall of 2019.

“We began with a simple question: What does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like?” Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia—who alo serves as the leader of the design and innovation studio Samara—said in a statement about Backyard. “The answer is not simple at all.

“Other questions quickly emerged,” said Gebbia. “Can a home respond to the needs of many inhabitants over a long period of time? Can it support and reflect the tremendous diversity of human experience? Can it keep up with the rate at which the world changes? Can we accomplish this without filling landfills with needless waste?

“It’s a tall order.”

While there are no details about what the homes might look like or how much they will cost, Gebbia told Fast Company that Backyard isn’t just about a house, it’s an “initiative to rethink the home.”

“We helped people activate underutilized space—from a spare bedroom or treehouse to your apartment while you’re away—and built a community that connected people around the world,” Gebbia said. “With Backyard, we’re using the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned—the potential of space—and applying it more broadly to architecture and construction.”

As The Washington Post points out, the project “could augment Airbnb’s home-rental marketplace, adding real estate development to its portfolio, as cities continue to limit the company’s short-term rentals.” Cities from New York to Washington, D.C., and Boston are passing regulations that have the effect of restricting Airbnb offerings.

Airbnb management started the initiative by surveying the construction industry for practical solutions—but quickly found that it would be “necessary to start from a blank slate.”

“If we’re truly going to reimagine the design of homes,” Gebbia remarked, “ we have to be holistic. We can’t approach Backyard solely from the point of view of design, architecture, urbanism, civic ordinance, sustainable materiality, or manufacturing. We have to grapple with the whole of it.”

He said, “For us, this goes beyond a business opportunity. It’s a social responsibility. The way buildings are made is outdated and generates a tremendous amount of waste. In order to meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve, to think forward.”

It’s a tall order—and, says CNBC, Airbnb is not the only company expanding into residential real estate and shared living space: In 2016, collaborative workspace startup WeWork launched WeLive— which currently has two apartment locations (one in New York City and the other in D.C.). Both have dorm-like living spaces and communal social spaces.

Research contact: @sarahelizberger

The social media site that job recruiters are raiding

May 9, 2018

A free website frequented by many college students has become a fertile hunting ground for job recruiters looking to hire computer and engineering professionals, based on a report posted by Bloomberg on May 7.

Silicon Valley-based Piazza Technologies. Is a private company that provides homework help for some 2.5 million students majoring in computers, engineering, math and science.

Largely unknown to the general public,.the site welcomes students to ask and answer one another’s questions — all under the supervision of their professors.

Seven years in, Piazza told Bloomberg that fully 98% of computer science students at the top 50 universities access its site; and students report using it on average for at least three hours a day. (Or, more likely, per night.)

Piazza fans abound in Palo Alto: “I have used Piazza extensively throughout my education,” Vickram Gidwani, a Stanford grad student in electrical engineering, wrote to Bloomberg in an email. “It provides a great forum for any topic in the course.”

Now, reports Bloomberg, the company is doing the obvious thing—monetizing all those eyeballs. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Pooja Nath Sankar says her site has become an ideal space for tech employers and students to meet.

In late 2016 the company launched Piazza Careers. Companies pay for access to students who opt in; they can see if a student was ranked a top participant in a class on the site—and they can narrow searches to, say, “Show me a Bio major who has taken an AI course.”

Their success rate is excellent. Piazza told Bloomberg that 90% of the messages companies send to students get opened. The career feature is particularly appealing to companies that need tech talent but aren’t necessarily on students’ radar. So far, 80 are on-board, including  WhirlpoolAirbnbNvidiaQuicken LoansBarclays, and Roche.

What’s next? Now that it’s ubiquitous among computer science majors at top colleges, Piazza is pitching itself to recruiters at less-sought-after companies as a way to find better candidates.

 Research contact: @petercoy