A School Bus Tracking App, Robo Finance Advisor

India Funding Roundup: A School Bus Tracking App, Robo Finance Advisor, and More

Our latest funding roundup compiles seed stage investments in Indian startups engaged in vehicle tracking, on demand concierge services, healthcare, EdTech, FinTech, and more.

Gurgaon-based on demand concierge service Qlivery, run by invexGO Solutions Private Limited, has raised $230,000 (roughly Rs. 1.5 crores) from Hong Kong-based Swastika Company Limited. The startup plans to use the funds to expand the team, geographical reach and add customers. A substantial amount of current fundraise will be used to improve the technology stack, including implementation of artificial intelligence, said Rohit Pansari in an emailed statement.

School bus tracking app AppAlert has raised $900,000 (roughly Rs. 5.9 crores) in its seed round of funding, led by Narinder Singh, a US-based serial investor. The funding secured will be deployed to build and enhance the core application and to expand its service offerings in markets of Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, and Australia, the company said, adding that it has kicked off trials at more than 20 schools in NCR and Mumbai.

Pramati Care
New Delhi-based healthcare services startup Pramati HealthCare, which provides caretakers for patients at home has reportedly raised $200,000 (roughly Rs. 1.3 crores) in Pre Series A round of funding. The startup is currently offering services in Delhi NCR region.

Avagmah Bengaluru-based EdTech startup Avagmah reportedly raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-Founder and Former CEO of Infosys, and Atul Nishar, Founder of Hexaware, and existing investors. The startup provides a combination of cloud-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) technology to universities for increasing the reach and appeal of their programmes.

Mumbai-based healthcare player Healthenablr has reportedly secured $800,000 (roughly Rs. 5.3 crores) in a new round of funding from undisclosed investors. Currently operational in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, the startup provides apps for Android and iOS which can be used to chat or have a video consultation with a doctor, or even book an appointment.

Bengaluru-based Buildwealth Technologies has reportedly raised $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.65 crores) in angel funding from a group of angel investors. The robo advisor’s investment algorithm in mutual funds is based on a process called Capital Asset Pricing Model, proposed by Nobel Prize-winning economists.

Uber Said to Be Looking to Purchase Self-Driving Cars

Uber Said to Be Looking to Purchase Self-Driving Cars

Ride-hailing service Uber has sounded out car companies about placing a large order for self-driving cars, an auto industry source said on Friday.

“They wanted autonomous cars,” the source, who declined to be named, said. “It seemed like they were shopping around.”

Loss-making Uber would make drastic savings on its biggest cost drivers if it were able to incorporateself-driving cars into its fleet.

Volkswagen’s Audi, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, BMW and car industry suppliers Bosch and Continental are all working on technologies for autonomous or semi-autonomous cars.

Earlier on Friday, Germany’s Manager Magazin reported that Uber had placed an order for at least 100,000 Mercedes S-Class cars, citing sources at both companies.

The top-flight limousine, around 100,000 of which Mercedes-Benz sold last year, does not yet have fully autonomous driving functionality.

Another source familiar with the matter said no order had been placed with Mercedes-Benz. Daimler and Uber declined to comment.

Auto industry executives are wary of doing deals with newcomers from the technology and software business who threaten to upend established business models based on manufacturing and selling cars.

“We don’t want to end up like Nokia’s handset business, which was once hugely profitable…then disappeared,” a second auto industry source said about doing a deal with Uber.

Not so distant dream
So-called “autonomous vehicles” have for years been a distant dream but technology advances and a push by Google, with its huge financial resources, to introduce a prototype have shifted the race to build them up a gear.

Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas have said they see a $25 billion market for automated driving technology by 2020, with vehicle intelligence becoming “the key differentiating factor”. But the brokerage does not expect fully automated cars to hit the road until 2025 or 2030, in part due to regulatory hurdles.

In August 2013, Mercedes-Benz responded to the Google push by developing an S-class limousine that drove between the German towns of Mannheim and Pforzheim without any driver input. The 103 km stretch is known as the Bertha Benz route, named after the driver of the first ever car, around 130 years ago.

Earlier this week Mercedes rival BMW said it was considering launching its own ride hailing service in what would amount to a rival business to Uber.

“The value creation is shifting from the actual hardware toward software and services,” BMW’s new Chief Executive Harald Krueger said on Wednesday. That shift is expected to accelerate with the emergence of computer-driven autonomous vehicles, and BMW is investing in software and technology expertise as a result.

A key hurdle to driverless cars has been the question of liability in the event of an accident. Most countries are signatories to the 1968 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic which stipulates that a person, rather than a computer, must be in control of a vehicle.

In February this year, US vehicle safety regulators softened the rules to allow driverless cars, by saying an artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.

Individual states and some countries have granted permission to test self-driving cars. The US state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 to allow test drives of autonomous vehicles there.

Auto industry executives say regulators are likely to help pass legislation for self-driving cars if these help cut congestion and pollution.

Practo Online Healthcare Platform Enters the Brazilian Market

Practo Online Healthcare Platform Enters the Brazilian Market

Healthcare platform Practo Thursday announced the launch of its healthcare services in Brazil, where the company will start operating two of its products – Practo Search and Practo Ray, with Portuguese language support.

Launching first in Sao Paulo, Practo said it will list over 5,500 verified doctors, covering nearly 50 percent of all clinics in the city through its Practo’s app and website.

To make sure the data is reliable, Practo said it had combed through every street in the city to collect and verify information of healthcare professionals, adding that the listing of verified doctors was at no expense to the healthcare clinics. The company also launched Practo Ray, its cloud based hospital management solution, which will be made available in Brazil at a subscription of BRL 750 (roughly Rs. 13,600) per month.

In the second half of 2016, Practo plans to expand to Rio de Janeiro and eventually to all large cities in Brazil. Additionally, it will also expand its consumer offering to other healthcare segments like wellness, fitness, preventive, and curative segments, the company said.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to serve millions of consumers in Brazil and simplify healthcare experience for doctors and consumers simultaneously,” said Shashank ND, Founder and CEO, Practo in an emailed statement.

Practo said that it currently operates in 15 countries and over 50 cities around the world, and receives 10 million searches a month across its website and apps. Providing an update on its global expansion, Practo said over a million people or approximately 20 percent of the Singapore’s population have used its service, and that it currently has the largest doctor database in the Philippines.

WhatsApp for Android Gets Text Formatting, File Sharing via Google Drive

WhatsApp for Android Gets Text Formatting, File Sharing via Google Drive, and More

We have already seen WhatsApp Messenger bringing numerous features to its app, from sharing of pdf files, a redesigned Settings page, to showing end-to-end encryption notification. Well, the Facebook-owned messaging application has now received a new set of features as a part of the version 2.12.535 for Android.

The version at the time of writing is not available to download from the company website but is showing up as an OTA update on Google Play for beta testers (via Android Police). One can become a beta tester by visiting www.whatsapp.com/android. It is currently not available for iOS, regular Android users with app version number 2.12.510 or lower.

WhatsApp v2.12.535 for Android seems to be one of the major updates the app has received after document sharing. It now lets you format text inside messages as bold and italics. All you have to do is to put the text that you have to see as bold *inside asterisks* while typing and the phrase you need to italicise _between underscores_. The recipients can only see the text in bold and italics if they are on the same app version.

The text formatting is not only limited to messages but has reached to notification alerts as well. Users with the new WhatsApp version will see the name of the sender in bold inside the notification dropdown. In addition, if the sender has sent texts in bold or italics, it would show in the same format in the notification tray. Of course both parties should be on the same app version number 2.12.535.

whatsapp_update_gdrive_onedrive_file_share_ndtv.jpgWhatsApp recently started letting us send and receive pdf files over chats. Now with the latest version, it lets Android users send pdf files not only from the device storage but from Google Drive andMicrosoft OneDrive accounts as well. As a bonus, you can also send Docs, Sheets, and Slides files from Google Drive but they will be converted into a pdf format automatically before being sent.

Finally, the WhatsApp update v2.12.535 like before will still block the complete app when the scheduled backup starts, but will now display a progress bar, giving users some idea as to when they can get back to the app.

All these changes will be welcomed by users, as they can now do much more inside the app. The app version will probably see a rollout over the air soon via Google Play and also become available on the company’s site.

Uber to Give Drivers Option to Be Paid Instantly

Uber to Give Drivers Option to Be Paid Instantly

Uber is launching a pilot program intended to help the ride-hailing service’s drivers draw their pay faster, an effort that may also fend off emerging payday lenders who are targeting the service’s drivers.

Uber will allow drivers to deposit their earnings from each ride into an account with GoBank, a subsidiary of the pre-paid debit card company Green Dot. Uber won’t charge any fees for the service, and GoBank will not charge a monthly fee so long as drivers access their accounts at least once every six months. Should it go untouched for longer, drivers would face a monthly fee of $8.95 (roughly Rs. 600).

San Francisco-based Uber pays its drivers once a week, sometimes leading to financial stress for some members of its largely low-to-middle income workforce.

The pilot program, which Uber is launching in San Francisco and a few other cities, is a direct challenge to companies that offer drivers faster payment in exchange for high fees. Drivers have been increasingly vocal about the need for alternatives, Uber executives said.

“Our drivers should not have to pay for this technology,” said Wayne Ting, Uber’s general manager for the San Francisco Bay Area.

The lack of an option at Uber, by far the largest of the ride-hailing app companies, to pay drivers instantly has increasingly resulted in services going into the business of providing cash advances to Uber drivers and other members of the so-called “freelance economy.”

One recently launched service, known as Clearbanc, charges $2 (roughly Rs. 130) a day any time an Uber or Lyft driver wants to have money deposited into a Clearbanc account. If a driver works five days a week and wants to be paid at the end of each shift, Clearbanc’s current fee structure would cost a driver $10 (roughly Rs. 650) a week or roughly $40 (roughly Rs. 2,600) a month. That’s far more than any standard bank account or pre-paid debit card charges.

Uber competitor Lyft recently launched an instant pay program, but it requires drivers to deposit at least $50 (roughly Rs. 3,330) and charges a 50 cent fee for each deposit.

Uber’s program also has the potential to be a large new type of business for Green Dot Corp, which is based in Pasadena, California. Uber has 400,000 active drivers in the US, which could result in a large new swath of customers for Green Dot and millions of dollars in new deposits for Green Dot’s GoBank.

“The on-demand economy is super important for the future of this country, and is the fastest growing part of our economy. It’s what the world is coming to and we wanted to be part of this,” said Steve Streit, CEO of Green Dot.

Streit said Green Dot and GoBank will be looking at establishing partnerships with other companies like Uber. If the program is successful, Uber will expand it to other cities, Ting said.

Microsoft Goes After Evernote With Launch of OneNote Importer Tool

Microsoft Goes After Evernote With Launch of OneNote Importer Tool

Microsoft is going after Evernote, perhaps the biggest name in the note-taking services market. If you were on the fence about whether or not you want to ditch Evernote for OneNote, Microsoft’s newly released tool can help you make your decision. The Redmond, Washington-based company has released OneNote Importer tool that allows you to quickly migrate all of your content from Evernote to OneNote.

“OneNote and Evernote have a lot in common,” the company’s blog said, adding, “But we think you’re going to love OneNote’s standout features.” OneNote Importer tool allows you to move all your to-do lists and notes from Evernote and move to Microsoft’s note-taking service. Once imported, the data on your OneNote syncs across all your devices.

Prior to this importing tool, which is currently only available on Windows, if you wanted to move from Evernote to OneNote, there weren’t many ways to move your content seamlessly. Microsoft says it will release a OneNote Importer tool for Mac in the coming months. The OneNote Importer tool, Microsoft says, also takes care of preserving the tags and right format when moving your notes from Evernote.

The company is also trying to attract Evernote users with a range of premium note-taking features. OneNote, for instance, offers unlimited monthly uploads. To recall, Evernote only offers 60MB per month to free users. OneNote users can also save emails in their notes and digitise business cards without spending a dime.

Microsoft Research’s biggest area of investment is quantum computing

Peter Lee, left, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, speaks with Bloomberg's Jack Clark at the Structure Data conference in San Francisco on March 10.

Microsoft spends a lot of time and money developing many technologies that could end up being part of the company’s next products. For instance, the company has many researchers working on artificial intelligence, which powers real-time speech translation with Skype Translator. But one area stands out for Peter Lee, the corporate vice president of Microsoft Research.

That area is quantum computing, which works with quantum bits, or qubits — each of which can be zero or one or both — instead of the bits used by classical computers. The superposition of these qubits enable machines to make great numbers of computations simultaneously, making a quantum computer highly desirable for certain types of processes.

“Quantum computing is stupendously exciting right now. At least at my part of Microsoft Research, it’s the largest area of investment, and we just have the sense that we’re on the verge of major scientific achievements. … There’s just hope and optimism those scientific achievements will lead to practical outcomes. It’s hard to know when and where,” Lee said today in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jack Clark at the Structure Data conference in San Francisco.

Microsoft doesn’t talk very often about its progress in quantum computing. But in 2014 the company revealed its “Station Q” group located on the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus, which has focused on quantum computing since its establishment a decade ago.

That happened about a year after Google announced that it had partnered with the NASA Ames Research Center to buy and operate quantum computing hardware from D-Wave Systems. In December, Google shared research resultsshowing the machine could perform a computation 100 million times faster than a regular computer chip. But Microsoft has not said much about its progress in this area since then.

Today Lee said that he has explained quantum computing research to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella by comparing it with speech processing. In that field, Microsoft researchers worked “so hard for a decade with no practical improvement,” he said, but then, the ascent of deep learning — a type of artificial intelligence — brought about considerable leaps forward in speech recognition. (See for example Cortana and Skype Translator.)

And indeed, Microsoft seems to be also making progress in its research and development on quantum computing.

“With quantum, we’ve made just gigantic advancements making semiconductor interfacing, allowing semiconductor materials to operate as though they were superconducting,” Lee said. “What that means, just to boil it down, is the possibility of semiconductors that can operate at extremely high clock rates with very, very little or no heat dissipation. It’s just really spectacular.”