Chinese bike-sharing startup Ofo raises $866M in new financing led by Alibaba Group


Beijing-based bike-sharing startup Ofo has raised $866 million in new financing led by Alibaba Group to fuel its expensive competition with Mobike, which is backed by Tencent, one of Alibaba’s biggest rivals. Ofo and Mobike are the two largest bike-sharing companies in China.

Other participants in the round, which consists of equity and debt financing, included Ant Financial (Alibaba Group’s financial affiliate), Haofeng Group, Tianhe Capital and Junli Capital. Alibaba Group also led Ofo’s $700 million Series E round last year, which was announced one month after Mobike disclosed that it had received a $600 million Series E led by Tencent.

Both companies have reached valuations of more than a billion dollars and, combined, hold over 90{36b96a1f853ebc4400789db5a6750c1e4fd7f7ac668ceaf8c757e025080de237} of China’s bike-sharing market (and are also expanding into other countries). Each are reportedly suffering from cash issues, however, due largely to the high cost of sustaining their fierce rivalry with one another, as well as dozens of other bike-sharing startups that emerged over the past few years. But the market could not sustain so many competitors and China’s “bike-sharing bubble,” which at one point numbered about 60 startups, began collapsing last year.

Casulties included Bluegogo, whose operations were partly taken over by Didi, China’s largest ride-sharing company, after the startup ran out of cash at the end of last year. Didi’s presence in the bike-sharing market is another headache for Ofo and Mobike. Didi offers various bike-sharing services through its app from partners including Ofo, but that doesn’t necessarily help them. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell pointed out, that just means commuters use Didi’s app even more and don’t have to open or even bother installing any bike-sharing apps.

One solution would be for the two companies to merge, but Alibaba and Tencent are reportedly against the deal because each wants to gain control of China’s bike-sharing market.

Featured Image: mrfiza/Getty Images

India’s Ola takes its Uber rivalry to Australia with launch in Sydney


Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, has taken its first step overseas after its service officially went live in Australia via a launch in Sydney.

The company announced its plans to go Down Under at the end of January and in Sydney, which is its first full launch, Ola said it has signed up over 7,000 registered drivers. Initially, passengers will be able to enjoy free rides for a limited time with plans introduce other “new initiatives” — read: promotions — in a bid to keep its service competitive once it begins charging.

Uber was the first to launch ride-hailing services in Australia, and today it operates in over 20 cities across the country and New Zealand. Europe’s Taxify — which, like Ola, is backed by Chinese taxi app company Didi — moved into Australia via a Sydney launch in November. It has since expanded to Melbourne.

“We are excited to officially start operating on the east coast with the launch in Sydney. We’ve been very pleased with how the service has been received by customers, driver-partners and the community in Perth, and can’t wait to continue building on these experiences and learnings for our second city launch,” Chandra Nath, VP and head of international for Ola, said in a statement.

Ola’s first international foray comes at a particularly interesting time for ride-hailing services in Asia.

Since it raised money from SoftBank, Uber has been linked with consolidation movements in Asia that would theoretically shore up its finances by exiting loss-making markets ahead of a mooted IPO next year. That has focused on India and Southeast Asia, where Ola and Grab, respectively, are also backed by SoftBank and provide tough competition.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seemed to pour cold water on those rumors when, as part of a recent Asia tour, he said the company is committed spending aggressively in growth markets in Asia. Despite that, multiple publications — including Bloomberg — have speculated that a deal that would see Grab consume Uber’s Southeast Asia business in exchange for equity is close to being sealed.

There doesn’t appear to be an imminent deal in India. In fact, Ola itself is reported to be raising as much as $1 billion in fresh funding via an investment from Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. The company, which last raised $1.1 billion in November, declined to comment when we asked about the new funding.

Gillmor Gang: TV Dinner

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Denis Pombriant, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Saturday, March 10, 2018.

G3: Fear Factory — Mary Hodder, Elisa Camehort Page, Halley Suitt Tucker, Maria Ogneva, and Tina Chase Gillmor. Recorded live Thursday, March 8, 2018.

@stevegillmor, @kevinmarks, @kteare, @DenisPombriant, @fradice

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

G3: Fear Factory

G3 chat stream

G3 on Facebook

This robo-bug can improvise its walk like a real insect


There are plenty of projects out there attempting to replicate the locomotion of insects, but one thing that computers and logic aren’t so good at is improvising and adapting the way even the smallest, simplest bugs do. This project from Tokyo Tech is a step in that direction, producing gaits on the fly that the researchers never programmed in.

“Perhaps the most exciting moment in the research was when we observed the robot exhibit phenomena and gaits which we neither designed nor expected, and later found out also exist in biological insects,” enthused the lead researcher, Ludovico Minati, in a news release.

One could program an immensely complicated AI or pattern generator to respond instantly to any of a thousand situations. But if a bug with a brain the size of a grain of sand can adapt to new situations quickly and smoothly, there must be a simpler, more analog way.

Different gaits produced by different patterns — okay, they don’t look that different, but they definitely are.

That’s what Minati was looking into, and his hexapod robot is certainly a simpler approach. A central pattern generator produces a master signal, which is interpreted by analog arrays and sent to the oscillators that move the legs. All it takes is tweaking one of five basic parameters and the arrays reconfigure their circuits and produce a working gait.

“An important aspect of the controller is that it condenses so much complexity into only a small number of parameters. These can be considered high-level parameters, in that they explicitly set the gait, speed, posture, etc.,” said one of Minati’s colleagues, Yasaharu Koike.

Simplifying the hardware and software needed for adaptable, reliable locomotion could ease the creation of small robots and their deployment in unfamiliar terrain. The paper describing the project is published in IEEE Access.

Trump’s take on gaming and violence was wrong in the ’90s and it’s twice as wrong now


A cobbled-together meeting at the White House is the latest chapter in the long, misguided crusade against video games. It would be comical if the country were not in a bitter ongoing debate about gun control and the safety of children; but since we are, it’s frustrating that time is still being spent on this long-settled “debate” instead of on practical matters.

The administration invited, on rather short notice, several major game studios, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, Entertainment Software Association, and several groups that have worked to limit violent games. Ostensibly the meeting was to hear both sides of the argument, though as with so many other issues, the scientific consensus is considerably more one-sided.

No link between gaming and real-world violence, or deleterious emotional or cognitive effects, has been established by any credible study. And over and over again major groups publish peer-reviewed work showing the absence of any link. One 2014 study even went so far as to conclude that “videogame consumption is associated with a decline in youth violence rates.”

Far from being impartial, the position of the White House itself is clear from the sizzle reel it published, apparently cut from violent games shown or reviewed on popular YouTube channels.

[embedded content]

(I don’t expect it will stay up for long, since one of the creators of the footage is sure to issue a takedown notice.)

Trump said in February that “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” but did not say who those people were, or whether they had actually looked into the topic.

At the same event he said “You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”

There is, of course, a rating system for that: the ESRB. Every game shown in the reel above is age-restricted.

In a statement regarding the meeting today, the White House said:

During today’s meeting, the group spoke with the President about the effect that violent video games have on our youth, especially young males. The President acknowledged some studies have indicated there is a correlation between video game violence and real violence. The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence.

No word on whether the President acknowledged the many studies that indicated no correlation, or even a negative one.

The argument clearly espoused by the Trump administration was wrong in the ’90s, when it was first advanced, and it’s doubly wrong now. Video games have become the most popular and widespread hobby on Earth, yet we have not seen violence erupt among young people the way one would expect from pervasive effects on aggression and empathy.

We have, on the other hand, continued to witness endless violence in our own country that has nothing to do with games. It’s sad and embarrassing that this ridiculous argument is still underway at the highest levels while deliberately ignoring years of research.