Posts tagged with "Fortune Magazine"

Returning to the office? Picture yourself in a ‘work tent’

March 24, 2021

Many employees are growing accustomed to the comforts of home amid a widespread shift to remote work. The current situation—impelled by the coronavirus pandemic—presents a challenge for businesses: figuring out how to best accommodate people when they return to the workplace, Fortune Magazine reports.

However, some companies are seeing a profitable new niche in the re-population of U.S. offices. Steelcase, the Michigan-based office furnisher, is rethinking the ubiquitous, open space layouts it has long promoted, for one. The firm recently tapped Chris Pottinger, an outdoor gear designer and former REI creative, to draw up ideas for a new, post-COVID working environment.

Priority No. 1 is attracting people back to headquarters. “As organizations begin to think about what they’ll need to do to create a safe return for their employees, they’re also thinking of how to create a compelling work experience to bring people back to,” says Markus McKenna, Steelcase’s director of Global Design and Workplace Innovation.

Enter the work tenta modern take on the classic cubicle that’s inspired by the great outdoors, a place many of us longed for during COVID-related shutdowns. The concept “is rooted in the human desire to seek shelter and protection from natural elements. For millennia tents have been structures that have done so much for humans, the biggest being protection—from bad weather, to hypothermia and other elements,” McKenna tells Fortune.

The designers created the work tent to limit distraction, increase privacy, and make the office more playful. The pop-up products “were designed to be flexible and change on demand for spaces that reimagine collaboration and create balance between team and individual work,” McKenna says.

Another element is just plain old-fashioned fun—and coziness. “When we’re young kids, we start making tentlike structures out of forts with cushions and blankets. There is this double duty that tents have in making us comfortable. When we use them as we sleep, we’re typically in our most vulnerable state or completely unconscious. Tents cocoon us and make us feel safe when we’re inside of them,” McKenna notes.

“When using tents, there’s this inherent memory that reminds us of our experiences in nature or our experiences when we were kids playing in the living room,” McKenna adds. “This feeling of safeness carries over to the office with work tents.”

Steelcase is introducing the work tent as part of a new product line featuring 46 items for sale. Other gear include the Boundary Tent, a lightweight, versatile freestanding screen, and the Table Tent, a covering that converts any desk, bench, or table into a private place to work.

The collection is inspired by Steelcase’s ongoing research into the work-from-home experience, McKenna says. The company believes employees want—and expect—their future offices to be shaped by this new normal.

“Many workers are office nomads who may not have a set place to go in the office. Work tents provide that flexible structure and sense of privacy wherever people need it. Work tents provide a sense of protection not necessarily against the elements or predators, but maybe a different kind of weather, whatever is happening inside the office,” McKenna says.

Steelcase is now shipping the Boundary Tent ($570) to buyers in North America. Pricing is yet to be determined for the Pod Tent, which will ship this summer. The Table Tent ($435) will ship in April.

“What’s been surprising is how strongly the pandemic has reshaped so many aspects of our lives, including where and how people want to work,” McKenna says. “[People] don’t want to go back to what they had before. They expect a better work experience moving forward.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

What’s Snoo? It’s a responsive bassinet that saves infants’ lives—in and out of the hospital

Febraury 17, 2021

Dr. Harvey Karp may not have been able to predict the pandemic, nor the extent to which it would complicate the usual challenges of parenting a newborn—but he is not surprised that his invention has been a tremendous source of relief during this time.

The Los-Angeles-based 70-year-old pediatrician, baby sleep expert—and founder of the Happiest Baby empire—is behind the Snoo, the world’s first responsive baby bed, which launched in 2016 to rave reviews, high-profile clients, and financial backing from two-time parents Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, Fortune reports.

Indeed, during the past five years, the Snoo Smart Sleeper Bassinet has become the most awarded baby product in history. Recently, it was accepted into the FDA’s Breakthrough Devices Program, where it is undergoing review as the first device to prevent the leading causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—nationwide annually.

While the smart bassinet is largely known as an at-home item used in the first months of a baby’s life, it also has become a critical tool for hospitals—particularly at understaffed maternity wards where nurses and doctors continue to be hit by record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Currently, more than 75 hospitals are using Snoo—including Boston Children’s, Mount Sinai, Jefferson Health, and UCSF medical centers—some as part of research trials; others, as a result of the company’s bed and appliance donations, worth more than $100,000, to alleviate the heavy burdens on medical workers, Fortune says.

The Snoo, which retails for $1,495 or $30 per month as a rental, automatically responds to a baby’s cries and excessive squirming by rocking and activating low-level white noise. When the baby quiets, the bed detects the change and slows to a swing.

The bed—itself a beautiful Wi-Fi–enabled object designed by Yves Béhar of Fuseproject with an organic cotton mesh outer layer, sleek wood paneling, and hairpin legs—is the physical application of the “5 S’s,” a series of cues outlined in Dr. Karp’s bestselling book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, to ensure quality sleep. A mix of swaddling, positioning the baby on her side or stomach, shushing, swinging, and sucking is key to replicating the calming trance babies experience in utero.

“Babies are exposed to a symphony of sensations in the womb. The sounds are louder than a vacuum cleaner, and there is constant movement,” Dr. Karp tells Fortune, adding that “newborns need rhythmic stimuli as much as they need calories. It soothes them to sleep.” And longer, better-quality sleep for babies means more rest for parents.

Dr. Lauren Pioppo, chief resident in Internal Medicine at Rutgers Health RWJ Medical Center, whose department has been participating in a research study for trainees and fellows, trialed the bed after the birth of her first child last May. She insists it’s nothing short of a game changer.

“As both physicians and parents, we tend to be on the paranoid side. It gave me a lot of peace of mind knowing that my daughter was strapped in and I didn’t have to worry about her rolling or flipping or potentially having her face against the side,” she says. Babies are secured safely on their backs in the Snoo’s swaddle, while their heads remain free to move. If the wings of the swaddle aren’t properly locked in, the bassinet will not turn on. “It really took the place of me in the middle of the night. After feedings, she would fall back to sleep in less than two minutes. I only had to worry about feeding and changing her; there was no anxiety around sleep and how it would impact my shifts at work.”

According to Dr. Karp, the data drawn from 42,000 infants using the Snoo demonstrate they will sleep an extra hour or two on average from their first days of life. Being able to rely on a tool that responds to an infant’s needs has proved invaluable during the pandemic, as hospitals have been forced to limit nurse exposure to newborns and mothers as well as forgo volunteer cuddle programs (which provide comfort and skin-to-skin contact to premature babies and drug-exposed infants), and new parents go without at-home caregivers owing to social distancing—an additional burden.

Based on a company survey of 56 nurses across nine hospitals conducted from April 2020 to June 2020, the Snoo saves nurses 1.7 hours per shift each day, allowing them to focus on other tasks. What’s more, it reduces the rate of infection as well as the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) required for a patient’s stay.

 “It’s true, you have to be a bit well-off to buy one,” Dr. Karp admits, adding that a night nurse would still cost more. “But that’s why we knew from the beginning that we’d go into rentals: to reach the largest number of people.” As of now, half of all Snoo consumers in the U.S. are renters, and more than 50 major companies subsidize the product as an employee benefit, including FacebookActivision Blizzard, and Snap, where it is considered a top new parent perk. The next step is getting insurance companies to cover the cost entirely.

“Babies are the same everywhere,” says Dr. Karp, matter-of-factly. “I truly believe this has the potential to change the world.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Trump supporters flee to MeWe, Gab, and Rumble after Parler goes offline

January 13, 2021

Now that the account of @realDonaldTrump has been banned from Twitter—and both Apple and Google have dropped Parler from their app stores—supporters are flocking to the social media sites MeWe, Gab, and Rumble, Fortune reports.

Gab, a service that claims to champion free speech, said it added 600,000 new users over the weekend. Meanwhile, MeWe, a similar service, said it has added 400,000 users every day since Saturday and now has more than 14 million members.

The gains follow Sunday’s shut down of conservative social network Parler, which went offline after Amazon web hosting service dumped Parler as a customer because of violent posts and threats in wake of the Capitol riot. Shortly beforehand, both Apple and Google had banned Parler from their app stores.

Adding to the increased interest in alternative social media sites are bans by Twitter and Facebook on President Trump and other high-profile conservative personalities..

On Monday, Fortune notes, Facebook went to the additional step of removing content containing the phrase “stop the steal” in hopes of preventing future violence. The phrase is a popular rallying call of Trump supporters who falsely believe there was widespread fraud in the presidential election.

“It’s almost like the perfect storm,” MeWe CEO Mark Weinstein told the news outlet, adding, “The melting pot of people coming to MeWe are coming from all directions.”

Weinstein hammered home the point that his goal is to be “more vigilant” in moderating content on his service, and that he does not want to be an “anything goes” app—a thinly veiled swipe at Parler’s lax approach.

He said that MeWe has just shy of 100 content moderators who review posts on its service, and that they actually adhere to “strict” terms of service that includes the possibility that they’ll alert authorities about any concerning posts. But on Monday, several QAnon and “patriot” private groups could be found, one of which called Patriots Unleashed asked users if they were “armed and ready” before allowing them to join.

Weinstein acknowledged that some of MeWe’s user growth has been due to Parler shutting down. But he added that the app was growing prior to the election and riots. As a result, he said MeWe’s users have a wide array of political views, and are not just Trumpists.

“Those other guys, they’re opinion chambers,” he said about Parler and Gab. “We’re a social network.”

The rise of alternative social media services began late last year after Facebook and Twitter began labeling and removing more posts on their services for election misinformation. Conservatives considered the crackdown to be evidence of bias against them and President Trump.

For example, Rumble, a little-known YouTube rival, suddenly soared in popularity. Over the weekend, users downloaded its app 162,000 times— a nearly 10-fold gain from last weekend, Fortune says.

But Mark Shmulik, analyst at investment bank AB Bernstein, said he doesn’t expect the latest rise in popularity of MeWe and Gab to be long-lasting. “It’s a fad,” he said. “There will be a little niche, but it won’t disrupt what we’re seeing on Twitter.”

Shmulik said Twitter and Facebook, though growing slower, are far larger and also attract a more diverse set of users with a diverse set of thoughts. That’s what makes big social media companies more engaging than the upstarts, he added, which he described as the “equivalent to Trump rallies.”

“You can continue that, but at some point you have to reach the masses,” Shmulik said.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Go with the Flowbee: George Clooney reveals how he cuts his hair

December 11, 2020

With salons largely closed, male grooming has been in freefall since the start of the spring lockdown—and DIY haircuts have proven less-than-successful for many who no longer cut a dashing profile.

However, one Hollywood star has shown that—even in a global pandemic and, in fact, even before that—bad hair is not the great equalizer we hoped it would be, The Guardian reports.

George Clooney, the 59-year-old actor and human rights activist, has admitted to successfully cutting his own hair at home using a device called a Flowbee—an electrically powered vacuum cleaner attachment for cutting hair that has been on the market since 1988,

“My hair’s really like straw, so it’s easy,” Clooney recently told CBS Sunday Morning.

According to Clooney—twice voted People magazine’s sexiest man alive—the $139.95 (£103) contraption is so reliable that he has been using it for more than 22 years—and not simply during 2020. “My haircuts take literally two minutes,” he said, adding that its speed and efficiency had afforded him time to stain the garage doors, mop the floors and do much of the family’s washing during lockdown in their Los Angeles home.

The Flowbee was a defining product of the 1980s infomercial boom in the US. It was designed in 1988 by Rick Hunts, a San Diego carpenter who was moved to invent the product after using his industrial vacuum cleaner to suck sawdust out of his hair. Hunts initially created and sold the gadget from his garage. But it was live demonstrations at a local county fair that edged him towards success, before global fame soon beckoned him, in the form of late-night TV demonstrations. By 2010, more than 2 million Americans had bought one.

But times have changed and, more recently, the product has needed a “spokesperson” like Clooney to remind Americans that it still exists: Google searches for Flowbee took off following Clooney’s weekend admission and the Flowbee website itself crashed, The Guardian reports.

But while his endorsement will no doubt lend invaluable celebrity cachet to the brand’s image, largely unchanged since the 1980s, the Clooney effect is not in fact wholly responsible for the product’s recent success: The lack of personal services during the pandemic and the sharp increase in bad hair days are two major factors.

As early as mid-March, the Flowbee had sold out on Walmart’s website and on Amazon. It is not available in the UK, according to Fortune magazine; and  Amazon says it doesn’t know when the item will be back in stock.

Research contact: @guardian

‘Double’ features: Warner Bros. to release all 2021 films concurrently on HBO Max and in theaters

December 7, 2020

Warner Bros., one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, plans to release all of its major films next year at the same time—both in theaters and on HBO Max—a dramatic indication of just how much the pandemic and streaming video have sapped the movie industry.

According to a report by Fortune Magazine, the 17 films affected by the shift include the new installment of the “Matrix” franchise, the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “In the Heights,” and the DC Comics superhero feature “The Suicide Squad.”

Each movie will run on the HBO Max streaming platform for one month at no additional charge—an approach that the AT&T streaming division of Warner already was planning for the debut of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day.

Such a move would have been considered unthinkable a year ago, but the pandemic has obliterated industry norms. Theaters traditionally have had exclusive rights to films for up to three months, an arrangement they’ve defended vociferously. Now—with COVID-19 still raging and theaters either shuttered or thinly attended—studios are taking increasingly dramatic steps to protect their investments in would-be blockbusters.

The announcement slammed shares of theater chains, including industry leader AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. Its stock dove 16% to $3.62 in its worst intraday slide since Oct. 14. Cinemark Holdings Inc. dropped as much as 16%.

“We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition,” said Ann Sarnoff, chief executive officer of WarnerMedia Studios. “But we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”

The new model could rapidly increase signups to HBO Max, a cornerstone of the long-term strategy for AT&T’s WarnerMedia. The platform launched this year, entering a crowded field that includes Netflix and Disney+. Although pandemic lockdowns have helped fuel industrywide growth for online services, AT&T is under pressure to show it can transition to the streaming era.

Warner was expected to compensate some of the larger cinema chains for their decision to put the new “Wonder Woman” film on HBO Max the same day it was released in theaters. It’s not yet clear what arrangement they could potentially strike for the 2021 films, but any deal will be important to their survival. Ticket sales year to date are down 78% to $2.2 billion, according to research firm Comscore Inc., leaving many cinemas teetering toward bankruptcy. That compares with more than $10 billion at this time a year ago.

Jason Kilar, WarnerMedia’s CEO, told Fortune that the important thing is to get movies out in front of audiences. “Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone,” he said in a statement. “We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

Research contact: FortuneMagazine

Prescription for profits: As sales dwindled during pandemic, some pharmacies also offered pet meds

October 26, 2020

When stay-at-home orders began to spread nationwide, Shantelle Brown, owner of Hope Pharmacy in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood in Virginia, saw a rush, she recently told Fortune magazine.

Regular customers stocked up on their medications as they prepared to wait out the coronavirus pandemic. By the beginning of April, though, business had dried up.

One of the greatest ironies of the pandemic is that fewer people are visiting health care professionals—and that has impacted many pharmacies across the country. An August study from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that the total number of filled prescriptions, as of late April, was down compared with January and February, but there were some signs of recent rebounding.

That initial gap was especially hard on small independent drugstores, including Brown’s.

Initially, Hope Pharmacy shifted to making hand sanitizer. The business distributed it to first responders at no charge and sold it to customers. The company vastly expanded its delivery business, as well, Fortune notes.

But as elective procedures were canceled, and apprehension grew about visiting the emergency room in that community, Brown knew she had to look for new ways to increase revenue.

One of the most successful initiatives has been adding pets to the patient list.

Before opening her own pharmacy, Brown worked at Sam’s Club, which included pet meds among its offerings while she was there. As she met with a strategic planning group during the early days of the pandemic, the idea popped into her head.

Getting access to the meds wasn’t hard. Many pets take the same medicines humans do for things like blood pressure and heart conditions. The trick was letting people know they had an option other than buying directly from their vet.

Brown’s not much for social media. She says she prefers a more “old-fashioned” way of attracting business, so she and her husband made up signs that people could put in their yards and flyers that accompanied deliveries. Before long, business picked up.

Hope Pharmacy, which opened at the end of April 2018, currently serves “800-something” people in the community, but since it began selling pet meds, it has been adding an average of two new patients per day. And while those aren’t numbers that would ping the radar at CVS, they’re huge for a small independent pharmacy.

“We had a couple of people advise us that we should partner with a vet,” says Brown. “I tried, but…I didn’t realize at the time how much vets were making off of pet meds. Our prices are so much cheaper, and we’re able to save patients quite a bit of money.”

The goal with this, as with the carrying of pet meds or other products that aren’t traditional pharmacy staples, is the same, though: build a closer relationship with the patient-customer to earn his or her loyalty. In the event that another substantial wave of COVID hits the country—or some other pandemic forces people back into their homes—those customers will be more apt to return quickly.

“In the pharmacy business, it takes a while to build a clientele because people are used to going where they go,” says Brown. “Our hope and goal is not to just get the animal—we want the whole family.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Singapore pays citizens to exercise with the Apple Watch

September 17, 2020

In its first-ever branding alliance with a sovereign nation, Apple has announced that it is partnering with the government of Singapore to launch an Apple Watch health initiative that offers cash rewards to participants, Fortune Magazine reports.

Starting in late October, Singapore citizens who own an Apple Watch (or want to buy one) can download an app called LumiHealth—which will challenge them each to participate in exercises such as swimming and yoga; as well as to complete health screenings and immunizations. By doing so, users can earn a maximum of $280 over the program’s two-year run.

The app assigns users tasks based on personal information such as age, gender, and weight. It was designed “with user privacy and security at its core,” according to Apple’s press release on the partnership.

“Even as all of us around the world are dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, we must keep investing in our future. And there is no better investment than in our own personal health,” Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Ministersaid in a statement.

Singapore’s government launched a similar initiative in 2019 when it partnered with Fitbit to provide Singapore residents with free fitness trackers, if they bought a premium subscription to the company’s coaching program. That program is ongoing.

The new program is a boon to Apple since it’s an added incentive for Singaporeans to purchase the brand’s watch. The watch is an increasingly vital part of Apple’s business. In January, Apple reported that revenue from “wearables” like the Apple Watch surpassed Mac revenue for the first time.

Singapore has a universal health care system often held up as a public health model for other countries; it also has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world. The Apple and Fitbit collaborations are two of many programs designed by Singapore’s Ministry of Health to promote public health.

The government is also using technology for its management of the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, Singapore began to distribute small “tokens,” which can be worn around the neck with a lanyard, that feature a QR code and a Bluetooth connection so that residents who don’t have smartphones—about 5% of the population—can participate in TraceTogether, the government’s Bluetooth tracking smartphone app for coronavirus cases that launched in March.

Currently, around 40% of Singapore’s population has downloaded the contact tracing app; the government is targeting a 70% participation rate.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Old Navy will pay employees to work at polling places on Election Day

September 3, 2020

Tuesday, September. 1, was  National Poll Worker Recruitment Day in the United States—and, the level of response among Americans nationwide will determine just how many of the 250,000 poll workers positions that remain open for the 2020 election will be filled, Fortune reports.

Poll workers will be desperately needed this year, as many at-risk individuals are opting out of serving because of health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To engage field employees across the country in the voting process and ensure that polling sites operate efficiently this year, Old Navy announced it will pay its store employees who wish to work the polls on Election Day in November.

The retailer is working with the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses encouraging voter turnout; and Power the Polls, a nonpartisan initiative to recruit poll workers for the 2020 U.S. presidential election to ensure a safe and fair election for all voters. The Civic Alliance is leading all corporate partnerships for Power the Polls in a national effort to enlist a new wave of poll workers.

“Voting is for everyone, regardless of beliefs or affiliations, and we believe we are all better when we engage in the process,” an Old Navy spokesperson recently told Fortune. “We felt this opportunity was a new and unique way to provide the opportunity and encouragement to our employees in stores across the country to become more involved in the democratic process without worrying about sacrificing a shift at work. This election has the potential for a[n] historic turnout, and our teams can help make a difference in our communities.”

The initiative is completely voluntary, and it is the first time the company has conducted an event like this. Old Navy field employees will be able to apply to join Power the Polls through internal communication channels. Upon completing the application, Power the Polls will connect individuals with their local counties to continue the process. Poll workers are ultimately selected by the election commissioner of each county, depending on the needs of the jurisdiction.

Old Navy says it will compensate associates who serve as poll workers with a day of pay, regardless of whether they are scheduled to work on Tuesday, November 3. Employees who serve at voting sites can also be paid by their county election commission, and it won’t conflict with wages paid out by Old Navy. (Local jurisdictions often pay poll workers a stipend via check for participation. In some cases, poll working may be voluntary and unpaid.)

Old Navy says all employees are welcome to apply to serve as poll workers in their communities, but pay coverage is available only for in-store, hourly employees, not employees on the corporate side of the company. The retailer is also offering shift coverage on Election Day for store employees who cannot or do not want to work at polling sites, but still need time to vote. Store managers will be directed to work with their teams to provide up to three hours of paid time off on Election Day to allow employees to cast their ballots in person.

And the company says November 3 will be designated as a “no meetings day” for employees who work in corporate functions to provide flexibility to vote in person and/or to serve locally, as best fits their schedules.

“As a company, we believe that participating in the democratic process is a vital right, and we are committed to removing roadblocks so employees don’t have to choose between serving or voting and work,” says a spokesperson for Old Navy.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

‘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

Study: Chances of catching COVID are reduced by 79% on flights with empty middle seats

July 20, 2020

While such carriers as American Airlines are booking full flights now, a new academic study has found that, if  you plan to fly during the pandemic, you’re better off choosing an airline with a policy of keeping the middle seat empty. Such a policy lowers the risk of contracting COVID from 1 in 4,400 to 1 in 7,300, Fortune reports.

That estimate comes from Arnold Barnett, a statistics professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His findings—which suggest a “no middle seats” flight reduces risk by 79%—also note that the risk of dying from catching COVID on a flight are less than 1 in 500,000.

Barnett’s conclusion on the risk of middle seats comes as U.S. airlines pursue different approaches. For instance, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest have chosen to keep middle seats empty; while, in addition to American, United and Spirit are filling them.

The new research should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as Barnett himself acknowledges. In his paper, he emphasizes that his findings are “rough conjecture” in light of the difficulties in calculating such a risk.

Barnett’s calculations are based on numerous assumptions, including that all passengers are wearing masks—a step he says reduces risks of catching COVID by 82%. He also assumes that someone is more likely to catch COVID from those in the same aisle rather than from those in rows behind or in front of them

The findings also disregard the risk of catching COVID from trips to the restroom, or from boarding or getting off the plane. But the latter situation may pose a significant risk according to The Wall Street Journal, which notes the close proximity of passengers waiting to board or scrambling to store luggage.

The Journal, which cited the Barnett study, suggested that flying is not especially dangerous overall, in part because planes frequently replace the air in the cabin.

For his part, Barnett concludes by noting that middle seat policy will also be informed by economic considerations facing the airlines.

“The calculations here, however rudimentary, do suggest a measurable reduction in COVID-19 risk when middle seats on aircraft are deliberately kept open,” he writes. “The question is whether relinquishing 1/3 of seating capacity is too high a price to pay for the added precaution.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine