Amazon begins running temperature checks and will provide surgical masks at warehouses

Amazon has detailed someone  measures its taking to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 at its warehouse facilities in the U.S. and Europe, according to Reuters, including taking temperature checks and distributing facemasks to employees at Amazon warehouses and Whole Foods stores. The commerce giant has seen a dramatic increase in demand as countries and regions globally have ordered lock-down and varying degrees of self-isolation and quarantine measures, and has also seen confirmed cases of COVID-19 among warehouse workers across the U.S.

Amazon has already described some precautions it’s been taking, including mandatory paid 14-day quarantines for employees who test positive, as well as increased cleaning and sanitization efforts of families and infrastructure. The new measures to be introduced next week include taking temperatures of employees at the entrances to warehouses, with any individuals wth a fever of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to be sent home, where they’ll have to have three consecutive days without fever to return to work. Employees will also be provided with surgical masks starting next week, the company says, once it receives shipments of orders of “millions” placed a few weeks ago.

In addition to these measures, Amazon will also be using machine-learning powered software to monitor footage from cameras in and around buildings to ensure that employees are maintaining the safe, recommended distances from one another during shifts.

There have been a number of employee actions in response to Amazon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, including a walkout at the company’s Staten Island warehouse, which led to the firing of the worker who led the action. Employees at a Detroit Amazon warehouse are also planning a walkout to protest what they cite as dangerous working conditions.

Meanwhile, Amazon is also staffing up to deal with the increased need for warehouse and fulfilment employees. The company previously announced a plan to hire as many as 100,000 new workers to handle the uptick, and told Reuters on Wednesday that it has already hired 80,000 since making that goal.

Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just on the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data trove in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LIP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra, originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium, today works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations — customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA, and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies, store it securely, and to run analytics and more.

These are all tools that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced. With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Scoutbee launches free tool to help organisations search for COVID-19 support-related supplies

Scoutbee, the supplier discovery platform, has rolled out a new free tool for organisations helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic and who are in need of critical supplies.

Targeting NGOs, public bodies, local and national governments and healthcare providers, the platform does real-time analysis of terabytes of global supply chain data to significantly speed up the “request for proposal” (RFP) process.

The idea is to help organizations find suppliers 75% faster for critically needed medical equipment and supplies, such as surgical masks, hazmat suits, swabs and tubes, hand sanitizers etc.

Scoutbee is able to do this because it has essentially mapped out the world’s global manufacturing supply chain, and claims that its AI-powered procurement solution understands capacity as it expands and contracts across different geographical locations and for different kinds of products.

“When coronavirus began to cause pharma and medical supply shortages, we knew we should help,” says Gregor Stűhler, co-founder and managing director of Scoutbee, revealing that the team were able to build a simple tool in only 48 hours.

“The problem many NGOs face right now is that the peak demand is concentrated on a handful of suppliers that can be found on Google. We work to spread the demand broadly to help ease the situation. AI can really help in such a crisis. Traditional procurement methods are not transparent and awfully slow. The search and validation for a supplier would often take two or three weeks. The COVID-19 crisis makes it clear how vulnerable the old system is when time is pressing”.

Since rolling out the tool, Stűhler says Scoutbee has already seen the impact it is having by enabling users to target the right suppliers at speed.

“For example, in a number of latest sourcing cases we can see that Chinese suppliers are now having capacity again and can readily deliver. On the same cases, we observe that more Indian suppliers are becoming unavailable. During the crisis, we have been able to facilitate the demand for several thousand breathing masks, protective suits and gloves, which were requested from us, within 48 hours”.

Encore’s musical messages let you commission a video performance to send to loved ones

Encore, the U.K. marketplace that lets you find and book a musician or band online for your event, is launching a new online product to help musicians find an additional revenue stream during the coronavirus pandemic, and bring a little joy to all of us.

Dubbed musical messages, the new offering lets you pay one of Encore’s musicians to create and send a personalised musical message to loved ones, or anyone you cannot be with in-person, whilst also supporting the U.K.’s national health service (NHS). That’s because, for every message commissioned, Encore is making a donation of £2.50 to the NHS.

At launch, videos cost from £15 and customers have the opportunity to support musicians further by adding a tip once they receive the video. Encore co-founder James McAulay tells me during the MVP tests carried out over the last week, some customers have tipped up to £50 per video, in a spirit of wanting to keep musicians in work.

“Coronavirus has caused thousands of events to be cancelled or postponed around the U.K., [and] musicians all over the U.K. are now stuck at home unable to earn money from performing,” McAulay explains. “In March alone, the Encore team had to process almost 500 gig cancellations, so we began brainstorming ways to help these musicians make money from home”.

He said the most obvious route to income for a musician right now is asking for donations on livestreams, “but we heard from our musicians that they’ve seen mixed results from this approach”. That’s likely because the internet is now awash with live streaming, and supply is perhaps outpacing demand.

“We wanted to go beyond this and develop a compelling product that didn’t rely on asking for donations,” says McAulay. “We also wanted to find a way to spread messages of love and hope throughout one of the darkest periods any of us have lived through, which led us to the idea of personalised music messages”.

In testing, Encore has already had almost 100 videos requested and filmed since last week, generating nearly £1,000 for a handful of musicians and donating hundreds of pounds to the NHS. But (hopefully) it’s just the start.

“The reactions from both the senders and recipients have been extremely heartwarming and musicians are having fun with it!” adds the Encore co-founder. “This is also reflected in the success of the tipping mechanism, with people sometimes tipping more than the original video amount”.

Meanwhile, examples of musical messages sent so far include birthday messages when people can’t celebrate in person, wedding anniversaries, messages to people in hospital or isolation, or something as simple as “We love you and miss you” requests.

“We’ve worked with 10 musicians over the last week to build the beta, and we’re about to release to all 20,000 musicians this week,” says McAulay.

Money transfer service Azimo partners with Siam Commercial Bank for faster payments to Thailand

Azimo, the London-headquartered international money transfer service, has partnered with Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) to deliver instant payments for its customers from Europe to SCB bank accounts in Thailand.

According to the World Bank, Thailand is one of the top remittance destinations globally, with $6.7 billion received from abroad each year, and Azimo says it remains one of the most expensive countries to send and receive money. That’s something the U.K. fintech wants to help change as it continues to expand to Asia as a key corridor.

Specifically, the SCB tie-in takes advantage of “PromptPay,” which comprises a real-time clearing and settlement infrastructure to enable instant transfers to Thai bank accounts. For reference, it is similar to the U.K.’s Faster Payments.

“More and more countries are going to instant payment,” Azimo co-founder and executive chairman Michael Kent tells me over WhatsApp. “Thailand recently launched theirs, and this partnership with the largest bank in the country allows us to get the time to settle payments down from around 24 hours to an average of 22 seconds. [It’s] faster to send money to Thailand than to someone else in U.K.”.

In addition, the new service uses RippleNet, the global payment network that harnesses blockchain to let users track funds, delivery time, and status.

“[RippleNet] provides a standardised protocol for the messaging that is much more accurate and hi-fidelity than what people have tended to use, which is SWIFT. It means we could do the integration faster and have more confidence that it’s enterprise grade from the time we go live,” says Kent.

Adds Arthit Sriumporn, Senior Vice President of Wholesale Banking Platform Department at SCB: “We are very pleased to partner with Azimo and expand our reach across Europe. With the service available 24×7 and instant payment to any Thai bank account within minutes, Azimo customers are able to send money to their loved ones back in Thailand fast, cheaply and with certainty. We are very excited about this launch and being part of helping to make people’s lives better”.

Meanwhile, the SCB partnership follows news in February that Azimo had secured €20 million in debt from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the lending arm of the European Union.

The financing is supported by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the financial pillar of the EU’s “Investment Plan for Europe.” At the time of the announcement, Azimo said the capital provided by EIB will be used to accelerate the company’s R&D and to “scale up” its proprietary payments platform. I gather the company continues to hire.

Azimo has raised $50 million of equity funding to date — investors include Rakuten, eVentures, Greycroft and Frog Capital — and in August the company said it was profitable. It offers low-cost international payments to 200+ countries and territories around the world and claims over 2 million registered customers.

Flux and Pleo partner to bring itemised digital receipts to Pleo’s ‘smart’ expense cards

When three former employees of Revolut founded Flux in 2016, the mission was clear: build a platform to bridge the gap between the itemised receipt data captured by a merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) system and what little information typically shows up in your bank statement or mobile banking app.

Off the back of this, the young fintech saw an opportunity to power loyalty schemes and card-linked offers, and provide merchants with deeper analytics. However, that was always intended to be just the start.

Once Flux had made fully itemised digital receipts a reality — which requires bank and merchant partnerships — it foresaw that there were a multitude of other use cases where automated digital receipts could be useful, including expense reports.

Today, that particular use case comes into focus with the announcement that Flux has partnered with Danish fintech Pleo, the “business spending platform” that lets companies easily issue employees with cards and help them manage expenditure.

The tie-in will provide what the two fintechs are describing as the U.K.’s first “paperless” and fully automated expensing solution for businesses and employees. This will see digital receipts automatically generated and, crucially, reconciled within Pleo’s expensing software.

Once activated — and presuming you are a user of both services — Flux will send real-time, itemised digital receipts direct to Pleo when cardholders shop online or in-store at Flux-supported retailers using a Pleo card. The process is described as automatic and invisible to the end-user.

Unlike other solutions, Flux does not require photos, QR codes or any use of OCR (optical character Rrecognition) technology to generate and deliver its digital receipts. “Pleo users will not need to photograph a paper receipt or upload an email,” say the two companies.

In other words, Flux is a fully digital solution — even if it is only as useful as the merchants it is supported by. They currently include Just Eat, chuh, KFC, itsu, Pure, Giraffe, Ed’s Easy Diner, Japan Centre and Sakagura, with several more retailers due to be announced this year. On the banking side, alongside Pleo, Flux has integrations with Barclays Launchpad, Monzo and Starling Bank.

Cue statement from Roisin Levine, Head of Banks at Flux: “Here at Flux we’re passionate about improving the experience for our customers. Expensing is a natural partnership for us as a digital receipts company – we’ve all experienced the pain of trying to manage expenses and reconcile accounts! We’re incredibly excited to be working with Pleo to bring the U.K. its first fully-automated, invisible expensing solution, and we look forward to rolling this out by Q4 2020 to the 7,000 companies using Pleo in the U.K.”

An EU coalition of techies is backing a “privacy-preserving” standard for COVID-19 contacts tracing

A European coalition of techies and scientists drawn from at least eight countries, and led by Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute for telecoms (HHI), is working on contacts-tracing proximity technology for COVID-19 that’s designed to comply with the region’s strict privacy rules — officially unveiling the effort today.

China-style individual-level location-tracking of people by states via their smartphones even for a public health purpose is hard to imagine in Europe — which has a long history of legal protection for individual privacy. However the coronavirus pandemic is applying pressure to the region’s data protection model, as governments turn to data and mobile technologies to seek help with tracking the spread of the virus, supporting their public health response and mitigating wider social and economic impacts.

Scores of apps are popping up across Europe aimed at attacking coronavirus from different angles. European privacy not-for-profit, noyb, is keeping an updated list of approaches, both led by governments and private sector projects, to use personal data to combat SARS-CoV-2 — with examples so far including contacts tracing, lockdown or quarantine enforcement and COVID-19 self-assessment.

The efficacy of such apps is unclear — but the demand for tech and data to fuel such efforts is coming from all over the place.

In the UK the government has been quick to call in tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Palantir, to help the National Health Service determine where resources need to be sent during the pandemic. While the European Commission has been leaning on regional telcos to hand over user location data to carry out coronavirus tracking — albeit in aggregated and anonymized form.

The newly unveiled Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) project is a response to the coronavirus pandemic generating a huge spike in demand for citizens’ data that’s intended to offer not just an another app — but what’s described as “a fully privacy-preserving approach” to COVID-19 contacts tracing.

The core idea is to leverage smartphone technology to help disrupt the next wave of infections by notifying individuals who have come into close contact with an infected person — via the proxy of their smartphones having been near enough to carry out a Bluetooth handshake. So far so standard. But the coalition behind the effort wants to steer developments in such a way that the EU response to COVID-19 doesn’t drift towards China-style state surveillance of citizens.

While, for the moment, strict quarantine measures remain in place across much of Europe there may be less imperative for governments to rip up the best practice rulebook to intrude on citizens’ privacy, given the majority of people are locked down at home. But the looming question is what happens when restrictions on daily life are lifted?

Contacts tracing — as a way to offer a chance for interventions that can break any new infection chains — is being touted as a key component of preventing a second wave of coronavirus infections by some, with examples such as Singapore’s TraceTogether app being eyed up by regional lawmakers.

Singapore does appear to have had some success in keeping a second wave of infections from turning into a major outbreak, via an aggressive testing and contacts-tracing regime. But what a small island city-state with a population of less than 6M can do vs a trading bloc of 27 different nations whose collective population exceeds 500M doesn’t necessarily seem immediately comparable.

Europe isn’t going to have a single coronavirus tracing app. It’s already got a patchwork. Hence the people behind PEPP-PT offering a set of “standards, technology, and services” to countries and developers to plug into to get a standardized COVID-19 contacts-tracing approach up and running across the bloc.

The other very European flavored piece here is privacy — and privacy law. “Enforcement of data protection, anonymization, GDPR [the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation] compliance, and security” are baked in, is the top-line claim.

“PEPP-PR was explicitly created to adhere to strong European privacy and data protection laws and principles,” the group writes in an online manifesto. “The idea is to make the technology available to as many countries, managers of infectious disease responses, and developers as quickly and as easily as possible.

“The technical mechanisms and standards provided by PEPP-PT fully protect privacy and leverage the possibilities and features of digital technology to maximize speed and real-time capability of any national pandemic response.”

Hans-Christian Boos, one of the project’s co-initiators — and the founder of an AI company called Arago –discussed the initiative with German newspaper Der Spiegel, telling it: “We collect no location data, no movement profiles, no contact information and no identifiable features of the end devices.”

The newspaper reports PEPP-PT’s approach means apps aligning to this standard would generate only temporary IDs — to avoid individuals being identified. Two or more smartphones running an app that uses the tech and has Bluetooth enabled when they come into proximity would exchange their respective IDs — saving them locally on the device in an encrypted form, according to the report.

Der Spiegel writes that should a user of the app subsequently be diagnosed with coronavirus their doctor would be able to ask them to transfer the contact list to a central server. The doctor would then be able to use the system to warn affected IDs they have had contact with a person who has since been diagnosed with the virus — meaning those at risk individuals could be proactively tested and/or self-isolate.

On its website PEPP-PT explains the approach thus:

Mode 1
If a user is not tested or has tested negative, the anonymous proximity history remains encrypted on the user’s phone and cannot be viewed or transmitted by anybody. At any point in time, only the proximity history that could be relevant for virus transmission is saved, and earlier history is continuously deleted.

Mode 2
If the user of phone A has been confirmed to be SARS-CoV-2 positive, the health authorities will contact user A and provide a TAN code to the user that ensures potential malware cannot inject incorrect infection information into the PEPP-PT system. The user uses this TAN code to voluntarily provide information to the national trust service that permits the notification of PEPP-PT apps recorded in the proximity history and hence potentially infected. Since this history contains anonymous identifiers, neither person can be aware of the other’s identity.

Providing further detail of what it envisages as “Country-dependent trust service operation”, it writes: “The anonymous IDs contain encrypted mechanisms to identify the country of each app that uses PEPP-PT. Using that information, anonymous IDs are handled in a country-specific manner.”

While on healthcare processing is suggests: “A process for how to inform and manage exposed contacts can be defined on a country by country basis.”

Among the other features of PEPP-PT’s mechanisms the group lists in its manifesto are:

  • Backend architecture and technology that can be deployed into local IT infrastructure and can handle hundreds of millions of devices and users per country instantly.
  • Managing the partner network of national initiatives and providing APIs for integration of PEPP-PT features and functionalities into national health processes (test, communication, …) and national system processes (health logistics, economy logistics, …) giving many local initiatives a local backbone architecture that enforces GDPR and ensures scalability.
  • Certification Service to test and approve local implementations to be using the PEPP-PT mechanisms as advertised and thus inheriting the privacy and security testing and approval PEPP-PT mechanisms offer.

Having a standardized approach that could be plugged into a variety of apps would allow for contacts tracing to work across borders — i.e. even if different apps are popular in different EU countries — an important consideration for the bloc, which has 27 Member States.

However there may be questions about the robustness of the privacy protection designed into the approach — if, for example, pseudonymized data is centralized on a server that doctors can access there could be a risk of it leaking and being re-identified. And identification of individual device holders would be legally risky.

Europe’s lead data regulator, the EDPS, recently made a point of tweeting to warn an MEP (and former EC digital commissioner) against the legality of applying Singapore-style Bluetooth-powered contacts tracing in the EU — writing: “Please be cautious comparing Singapore examples with European situation. Remember Singapore has a very specific legal regime on identification of device holder.”

A spokesman for the EDPS told us it’s in contact with data protection agencies of the Member States involved in the PEPP-PT project to collect “relevant information”.

“The general principles presented by EDPB on 20 March, and by EDPS on 24 March are still relevant in that context,” the spokesman added — referring to guidance issued by the privacy regulators last month in which they encouraged anonymization and aggregation should Member States want to use mobile location data for monitoring, containing or mitigating the spread of COVID-19. At least in the first instance.

“When it is not possible to only process anonymous data, the ePrivacy Directive enables Member States to introduce legislative measures to safeguard public security (Art. 15),” the EDPB further noted.

“If measures allowing for the processing of non-anonymised location data are introduced, a Member State is obliged to put in place adequate safeguards, such as providing individuals of electronic communication services the right to a judicial remedy.”

We reached out to the HHI with questions about the PEPP-PT project and were referred to Boos — but at the time of writing had been unable to speak to him.

“The PEPP-PT system is being created by a multi-national European team,” the HHI writes in a press release about the effort. “It is an anonymous and privacy-preserving digital contact tracing approach, which is in full compliance with GDPR and can also be used when traveling between countries through an anonymous multi-country exchange mechanism. No personal data, no location, no Mac-Id of any user is stored or transmitted. PEPP-PT is designed to be incorporated in national corona mobile phone apps as a contact tracing functionality and allows for the integration into the processes of national health services. The solution is offered to be shared openly with any country, given the commitment to achieve interoperability so that the anonymous multi-country exchange mechanism remains functional.”

“PEPP-PT’s international team consists of more than 130 members working across more than seven European countries and includes scientists, technologists, and experts from well-known research institutions and companies,” it adds.

“The result of the team’s work will be owned by a non-profit organization so that the technology and standards are available to all. Our priorities are the well being of world citizens today and the development of tools to limit the impact of future pandemics — all while conforming to European norms and standards.”

The PEPP-PT says its technology-focused efforts are being financed through donations. Per its website, it says it’s adopted the WHO standards for such financing — to “avoid any external influence”.

Of course for the effort to be useful it relies on EU citizens voluntarily downloading one of the aligned contacts tracing apps — and carrying their smartphone everywhere they go, with Bluetooth enabled.

Without substantial penetration of regional smartphones it’s questionable how much of an impact this initiative, or any contacts tracing technology, could have. Although if such tech were able to break even some infection chains people might argue it’s not wasted effort.

Notably, there are signs Europeans are willing to contribute to a public healthcare cause by doing their bit digitally — such as a self-reporting COVID-19 tracking app which last week racked up 750,000 downloads in the UK in 24 hours.

But, at the same time, contacts tracing apps are facing scepticism over their ability to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. Not everyone carries a smartphone, nor knows how to download an app, for instance. There’s plenty of people who would fall outside such a digital net.

Meanwhile, while there’s clearly been a big scramble across the region, at both government and grassroots level, to mobilize digital technology for a public health emergency cause there’s arguably greater imperative to direct effort and resources at scaling up coronavirus testing programs — an area where most European countries continue to lag.

Germany — where some of the key backers of the PEPP-PT are from — being the most notable exception.

Scaleway launches managed Kubernetes clusters

Cloud hosting company Scaleway has launched Kubernetes Kapsule, a new service that lets you manage Kubernetes clusters on Scaleway’s infrastructure. The service works with a wide-range of Scaleway instances and lets you create large clusters that scales depending on demand.

Kubernetes is an open-source platform to manage containers and the server infrastructure behind those containers. Building an application using containers lets you divide your application into multiple applications and services that you can deploy and upgrade individually without interacting with the main operating system of the server.

And thanks to Kubernetes, you can spin up more nodes (more servers) and containers to scale your infrastructure. This way, you always have enough resources to handle peaks. It can also scale down your cluster to save money.

Scaleway’s managed Kubernetes service is free of charge, which means you only have to pay for nodes that you use. Scaleway scales your cluster, checks that your nodes are working as expected every 15 minutes and gives you a web dashboard to monitor your cluster.

The company also says that there’s some redundancy for the control plane so that it remains available if your control plane fails (99.95% SLA). It supports 500 nodes at a time.

Kapsule supports Scaleway’s cloud instances, GPU-based instances, block storage and load balancers. The company also provides a container registry to store your container images. You could imagine building a cluster that looks like this:

Kapsule respects the Cloud Native Computing Foundation standards, which means that you can migrate existing CNCF clusters to Scaleway, or you could build a multi-cloud infrastructure.

A managed Kubernetes service could help Scaleway attract more enterprise and large-scale clients. It could be particularly useful for clients looking for another cloud hosting provider to add some redundancy.

Addionics, a startup creating ‘next-gen’ batteries for electric cars and more, raises $6M

Addionics, an Israeli/U.K. startup that is developed next-generation rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and other applications, has raised $6 million in funding. The round is led by Next Gear Ventures, and includes a $2.5 million grant as part of the European Union’s Horizon2020 innovation competition.

Founded by former Imperial College London academics, Addionics has created what it claims are improved rechargeable batteries through a redesign of chargeable battery architecture. It has developed a “patent-protected” and scalable 3D metal fabrication method that are said to enhance car battery performance, increase mileage and safety, and reduce cost and charging time.

Specifically, this new so-called “smart 3D structure” minimises internal resistance and improves the “mechanical longevity, thermal stability and other fundamental limitations and degradation factors” in standard batteries, says Addionics.

It also says its approach is different to other companies that are trying to improve batteries, which tend to focus on chemistry rather than on physics. Addionics’ chemistry agnostic approach means that it can still benefit from advances in chemistry, while bringing something additional to the table.

Addionics CTO Dr. Vladimir Yufit explains in a statement: “We are agnostic to the battery chemistry. Therefore, we can take existing or future batteries and enhance their performance by our smart 3D components. No matter what chemistry technology will win the electrification race, we will improve it even more”.

Or to put it more colourfully, Yufit says Addionics is “betting on the race, and not on the horse”.

To that end, the company is initially targeting the automotive market but also sees its technology finding a home in other products such as consumer electronics, medical devices, grid energy storage, drones, and more.

In terms of commercial traction, it’s still early days. However, Addionics says it is currently working with an unnamed tier-1 American automotive company on a proof-of-concept design and testing Addionics cells in vehicles.

Dr. Moshiel Biton, Addionics CEO, says that the goal is to have 3-4 major collaborations with “world-leading OEMs” over the next year.

VR chair startup raises funds, as pandemic boosts prospects for VR and gaming

Roto VR, startup which markets an interactive, ‘360 degree’ chair, has raised £1.5 million in a funding round led by Pembroke VCT. Others in the round include TVB Growth Fund, managed by The FSE Group.

The chair is designed to make VR more accessible to a mass audience, many of whom have turned to VR and gaming to while away the hours as much of the world is locked-down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in 2015 by video games industry veterans, Elliott Myers and Gavin Waxkirsh, Roto VR is an interactive chair that addresses the physical problems of consuming VR whilst seated, such as motion sickness and tangling cables, whilst also enhancing the immersive experience with haptic / vibration feedback in the chair.

The Roto chair is motorized and can auto-rotate to wherever the user is looking, allowing for 360-degree viewing, and thus allows the user to stay in the VR simulation for longer periods of time.

The inbuilt desktop also supports input devices such as a keyboard and mouse which means it can be used in 360-degree desktop computing.

“Most people sit down to watch movies, work, play games and browse the internet whilst seated and we see no reason why the exciting new medium of VR will be any different,” said Myers.

The product is compatible with most VR Head Mounted Displays and is also compatible with all movies and games, as well as additional accessories such as racing wheels and joysticks.

The company is due to launch the consumer and office version of Roto imminently. In addition, it will be marketed to cinemas and arcades.

Andrew Wolfson, CEO Pembroke Investment Managers LLP, said: “In Elliott we have found an entrepreneur who has solved a problem for the VR market with a solution that addresses the physical issues encountered whilst consuming VR content, as well as significantly enhancing the experience. We see future customers coming from both the B2B and B2C markets, in fields such as experiential attractions, home, cinemas and shopping centres.”