SoftBank Parts Ways with Dog-Walking Startup
Japanese company SoftBank has decided to give up its stake in Wag Labs, Inc., a US-based dog-walking startup.
In early 2018, SoftBank invested $300 million in Wag!, an app that matches dog owners with available dog walkers in the area. However, after a series of mishaps, the company decided to part ways with the startup.
Sources speculate that SoftBank will be selling its shares in Wag for much lower than $650 million, the valuation of Wag in 2018. Wag’s CEO Garrett Smallwood also announced that SoftBank will no longer have seats in Wag’s Board of Directors.
Wag’s operation uses an on-demand business model similar to that of Uber, a ride-hailing company. The startup was envisioned as an up-and-coming technology-based business, but some investors had greatly scrutinized SoftBank’s decision to invest such a large amount in a small startup.
Even with SoftBank’s investment, though, Wag struggled to keep up with its competitor, Rover Inc. Wag also underperformed financially, endured a series of layoffs, and even lost dogs. Eventually, the startup changed CEOs, but the new CEO disagreed with some of the startup’s strategies. Wag was also discussing a possible sale with two pet companies, but the discussions did not get far.
After SoftBank’s pullout, Wag decided to save its business by cutting jobs. Wag confirmed that it will be closing down one out of its three offices, in which around 90 employees will be affected. Smallwood claims that the layoffs are painful but necessary to secure a bright future for the company.
Google and Qualcomm to Create Digital ID in Mobile Phones
Tech giants Google and Qualcomm have partnered to make digitized IDs available in Android R, Google’s upcoming operating system.
Currently under development, the new feature will function using a system called Android Identity Credential API. This system will enable IDs like passports and driver's licenses to be stored in smartphones.
The new feature will eliminate the need of having physical ID cards since users can simply access their digitized IDs through their phones. The feature can also help users easily confirm their identities both offline and online and expedite the authentication process of users’ online purchases.
In a demo presented at the Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii last December, Google and Qualcomm showed how individuals can use their digitized ID, which is accessible through a QR code. A simple app installed on a different device can be used to scan the code, and the users’ credentials will appear. The users’ personal information is not stored in the QR code for confidentiality, and users can opt to show a restricted version of their credentials that just displays their name, age, and face.
Currently, there is limited information about how users’ credentials will be transferred to digital IDs since Google and Qualcomm have not yet provided a detailed explanation of how the system will work.
After the new feature was revealed, some users expressed concerns about the risks of storing more personal information in their smartphones considering the security issues. A senior executive from Qualcomm admitted that there might be difficulty in getting the approval and support of government agencies and businesses regarding the functionality of digitized IDs.
Reading Gap Existing among UK Children
A study by the National Literacy Trust, a charity that advocates children’s literacy, revealed that a reading gap exists among children in the United Kingdom.
According to the charity, over 380,000 children across the United Kingdom do not own a book. In a survey of more than 56,000 children and adolescents aged nine to 18, the charity found that over 50% of children with books enjoy reading, while only 18.4% of those without do. In addition, 22% of children who have books displayed higher reading proficiency compared to 3.6% who do not own any.
The results also showed that less privileged children were less likely to own a book than better-off children. According to National Literacy Trust Chief Executive Jonathan Douglas, books are essential to the development of children’s reading skills, and they also contribute to children’s happiness and well-being. He added that some children may find it difficult to maximize their potential simply because they do not have access to books.
To close the reading gap, the charity has distributed books to children and adolescents. This distribution is in addition to the over 340,000 books that the charity has given children in the last six years. The charity also released a book list curated by 24 authors and illustrators of children’s books to further improve children’s literacy.
Several organizations have jumped on the bandwagon and created their own campaigns to encourage more children to read. For one, UK newspaper The Sun will give out $16 million worth of books to schools that sign up for its campaign called “Books for Schools.” Registered schools must collect 3,500 tokens printed daily in the newspaper to qualify for the giveaway.
Study Suggests Music Is Universal
A study found that some songs originating from different cultures and societies share common patterns, suggesting that music is universal.
Samuel Mehr, the study’s lead author, said that he has encountered previous studies saying that music is universal but with no data to support the claim. So, his team decided to look for solid evidence. As an attempt to prove the universality of music as a human language, the researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of music around the world.
The researchers wondered whether musical pieces are influenced more by individual cultures, as many experts believe, or by the pieces’ intended function. In a span of five years, they looked for recordings from libraries and private archives from different societies and cultures worldwide. Throughout cultures, the researchers obtained musical pieces that were used for similar functions, which include dance, rituals, mourning, childcare, and expressions of love.
Upon comparing the recordings, the researchers found that songs that share the same social functions exhibit common musical characteristics. For instance, across all cultures, lullabies tend to sound slow and graceful. Dance songs, on the other hand, are usually lively and rhythmic. This finding challenges the notion that features of songs and other musical pieces primarily depend on the cultural background of the composers.
According to Mehr, the current study helps pave the way for answering many questions about music and how it evolved. After this study, Mehr’s team would like to delve into music theory and the universality of humans’ ability to create songs. They would like to test the belief that all people are capable of making music.
Long Space Travel Might Be Deadly for Astronauts, Study Says
A NASA study has revealed that prolonged exposure to zero gravity can affect how blood flows in astronauts’ bodies.
When astronauts complained about visual impairment after a few months on board the International Space Station (ISS), NASA decided to investigate. NASA looked at how zero gravity affected the circulation of upper body fluids by examining 11 healthy astronauts, aged around 46 years old, who have stayed on board the ISS for an average of 6 months.
Using ultrasound scanning, researchers monitored the astronauts’ left jugular vein, the blood vessel responsible for transporting blood from the head to the heart. Tests were done before the astronauts’ flight, 50 and 150 days since departure, and 40 days after returning to Earth.
Signs of stagnant or reversed blood flow were found in 7 out of the 11 astronauts. Test results also revealed that astronauts’ bodies had difficulty draining fluids normally without the pull of gravity. This could lead to blood clots, which block blood vessels or even lead to death.
Michael Stenger, Cardiovascular and Vision Laboratory manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, was surprised by the findings and the fact that the astronauts did not show any symptoms of blood clotting.
Some experts think that the findings could have serious implications on astronauts’ health and on the success of future space missions. Despite that, the researchers are positive that their study could lead to new developments and treatments to help astronauts in space. One such development is a lower-body vacuum suit currently being tested by NASA. The suit will help distribute blood from the head into the lower body, mirroring gravity’s effect.
Company Creates Smart Gadget that Reminds Patients to Take Medicine
Medical technology company Elucid Health has created a reliable smart pill bottle called Pill Connect, which reminds patients to take their medicine on time.
Studies in the United Kingdom revealed that a significant number of patients were not taking their medicine as prescribed by doctors. This puts patients’ health at risk and keeps them from managing their conditions properly. In addition to compromising patients’ health, failure to adhere to prescription also undermines the findings of drug trials. This is because the effects of drugs under trial might not be gauged accurately if patients take them incorrectly.
A medical expert from the University of Edinburgh said that patients’ non-compliance with prescription happens when their physicians do not have time to fully explain the benefits of proper medication.
Pill Connect helps solve this problem by letting users preset the number of pills or tablets to be taken and the schedule of intake through an app. At the scheduled time, the app will send a reminder to the patient. Once the patient responds to the reminder, the bottle will dispense the set number of pills or tablets. Afterward, the bottle will automatically lock. The app records if the dispensed medicine was taken or not. Then, it sends a report to a database that can help physicians monitor their patients’ medicine intake.
Pill Connect has been put through several trials. The team had tweaked the gadget a few times to fix some technical issues from earlier trials, but the most recent one yielded a 100% success rate. Following this success, Elucid Health plans to test the gadget with patients diagnosed with long-term illnesses.