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Yesterday — July 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

A vulnerability in some bitcoin wallets leads to double spend attacks and inflated balance

By Romain Dillet

ZenGo, a startup that is building a mobile cryptocurrency wallet, has discovered a vulnerability in some of the most popular cryptocurrency wallets, such as hardware wallet Ledger, BRD and Edge.

Named BigSpender, the vulnerability might lead to an incorrect balance on your wallet as unconfirmed transactions are taken into account in your total balance. The attacker could revoke the transaction before it is confirmed, which could lead to some confusion.

Even if you’re not familiar with cryptocurrencies, that type of attacks is quite popular on peer-to-peer marketplaces, such as Craigslist. Let’s say you’re trying to sell a phone. Somebody might tell you that they want to buy your device and send you a fake PayPal transaction email. If you just look at the email, you might think the buyer has already sent you the money. But if you load your PayPal account, you might notice that the buyer never sent you anything — it was a fake payment notification email.

BigSpender could be used in the same way, but with cryptocurrencies. The potential attacker leverages a feature in the bitcoin protocol called Replace-by-Fee. This feature lets you send some bitcoins with a low transaction fee and then send the same crypto assets but with a higher transaction fee.

The original transaction is canceled and replaced with the new one. This way, the new transaction should be confirmed more quickly as miners process transactions with higher transaction fees first.

But some cryptocurrency wallets take unconfirmed transactions for granted a bit too quickly. When you check your balance, it looks like you’ve receive some bitcoins, but the sender may have canceled it to replace that transaction with another one to another wallet — a wallet that they control. Even though the transaction has been canceled, the balance still reflects those fake transactions.

If the attacker is trying to fake-buy something really expensive, they can use the BigSpender attack multiple times even if they don’t have a lot of money. For instance, they could initiate ten transactions each worth 0.1 BTC, the recipient would see a balance of 1 BTC even though they received 0 BTC.

And because the wallet has miscalculated the balance, attackers could also leverage the BigSpender vulnerability to freeze your crypto assets using with a “denial-of-service” attack. When the victim tries to send some bitcoins after receiving a ton of fake transactions, the wallet might try to send crypto assets that never arrived. The transaction fails.

To be clear, your existing bitcoins remain safe. Usually, clearing the app cache and resyncing your wallet with the bitcoin blockchain solves that issue. But you might not understand why you can’t use your crypto assets.

BigSpender isn’t a vulnerability in the bitcoin protocol — it doesn’t let you steal bitcoins. But it can be used to confuse users. Going forward, wallets should clearly mark unconfirmed transactions with a big “pending” label without increasing the balance of the wallet. Transactions that have been replaced using Replace-by-Fee should also be identified as failed.

ZenGo has disclosed the vulnerability with Ledger, Edge and BRD 90 days ago. Ledger and BRD have handed bug bounty awards to ZenGo. BRD has released a fix already while BRD and Ledger are working on fixes. ZenGo also released an open-source tool to test your wallet against BigSpender to see the behavior.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Despite pandemic setbacks, the clean energy future is underway

By Walter Thompson
Roger Duncan Contributor
Roger Duncan is a former Research Fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and the former General Manager of Austin Energy. He is the co-author of the upcoming book, "The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power."

The economic lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate negative impact on renewable energy projects and electric vehicles sales, but the sustainable trends are still in place and may even be strengthened over the longer term.

For the first time in four decades, global installation of solar, wind and other renewable energy will be less than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency, which is projecting a 13% reduction in installations in 2020 compared to 2019. Woods Mackenzie projects an 18% reduction for global solar installations in 2020. Morgan Stanley is projecting declines in U.S. solar PV installations from 48% in second quarter to 17% in the fourth quarter of 2020.

This is due to a combination of construction delays, supply chain disruptions and a capital crunch.

Installation of rooftop solar has been hit particularly hard. Access to homes and businesses was generally halted in March 2020 for several months. Installers have indicated that as much as half the workforce had to be furloughed. The supply chain was also disrupted as PV manufacturing in China was temporarily suspended. Installations and the supply chain will resume, and most contracts are still in place, but the robust projected growth in rooftop PV for 2020 will not be met, and it may take more than a year to catch up. Also, some businesses that planned installations may have higher priorities for cash and investment now as they reopen. Many of the small businesses planning solar installations may not return at all.

On the other hand, utility scale electricity generation from renewable energy continues to grow and take market share. In the first part of this year, renewable energy has produced more electricity than coal for the first time since the late 19th century, when hydropower started the power industry. Wind and solar are the cheapest alternatives for new electric generation in the U.S. The pandemic and collapse in oil prices will not change that. The closure of coal plants has been accelerating this year, and wind and solar will continue to be competitive with gas.

Furthermore, most solar and wind farms were already financed and construction underway in rural areas not affected by the lockdown. About 30 GW of new solar capacity have already been contracted, and as long as interest rates remain low, financing should not be a problem. In fact, many solar and wind projects in the U.S and China are rushing to completion this year to qualify for government incentives.

But supply chains for utility scale renewables were still disrupted. Solar panel manufacturing in China was halted during the first quarter and has now reopened, but facing reduced orders. At one point, 18 wind turbine manufacturing facilities in Spain and Italy were stopped while social distancing and sanitation measures were put in place. Mining operations in Africa and other countries were also temporarily halted and now face reduced demand.

The replacement of oil and gas electricity generation with renewables in developing countries is not going to seem as attractive as a few years ago. Emerging economies need to expand electricity as cheaply as possible, which means coal, gas and even diesel plants. New fossil fuel plants in developing nations could lock in carbon emissions for years.

Electric vehicle sales globally have also been severely impacted. The transition to electric vehicles takes place as people purchase new vehicles. The price of oil has collapsed, used-car prices are dropping and unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Cheap gas, cheap cars and high unemployment will dramatically lower the expectations for multipassenger EV sales in 2020. Wood Mackenzie has projected a 43% global decline in EV sales in 2020 from 2019. Furthermore, many new electric models from the automakers are not expected until 2021.

However, the long-term transition to EVs will continue and may even accelerate. It still costs less to drive a mile on electricity compared to gasoline, and when the upfront cost of electric vehicles becomes competitive with internal combustion vehicles in a few years, the market should quickly move to EVs. Now that the battery range is adequate for the average driver, the last barrier seems to be the availability of fast charging stations between cities.

Before the collapse in oil demand this year, the oil majors were expecting peak oil demand to occur sometime during the 2040s. Now peak oil demand is expected earlier, perhaps in the mid-2020s. Some even think that 2019 might turn out to be the highest level of oil consumption historically. At any rate, it seems that it will be at least a few years until the 2019 levels are reached again, if ever.

However, the recent collapse in oil prices means the oil and gas industry will be able to supply fuel at very competitive prices for decades. This will at least make it more difficult for electric vehicles to take market share in the short term, and very difficult for alternative liquid fuels to be competitive. For biofuels and synthetic fuels, it seems to be a repeat of earlier decades when cheap oil crushed those industries. Replacing gas and diesel-powered cars is certainly going to be unattractive in the impoverished economies of developing nations.

But there are also bright spots for clean transportation alternatives emerging. Electric bicycles, for example, are a hot item. As people look for alternatives to mass transit and want something to move outdoors in the fresh air, electric-assisted bikes are a great solution and are no longer looked down upon as a vehicle for older (or lazy) cyclists.

Telecommuting struggled for years to take hold, but the pandemic seems to have finally changed that. The recent national lockdown has spurred many large businesses to set up their employees to work from home. They have found that it works fairly well, and many will not return to packed downtown offices.

Several experts have cited the potential for cleaner energy alternatives because the public is seeing cleaner air and the environmental benefits of a 30% reduction in daily oil consumption. Some consumer surveys have indicated a greater interest in electric vehicles.

There is certainly the hope that we will take the opportunity to revive the economy with cleaner technologies than before the lockdown. However, the reality is that workers and businesses need to start up again with the infrastructure they have, and investment in cleaner technology requires capital. Since many business operations are struggling to find cash and loans to just remain open, new clean technology may be delayed.

Yet the major infrastructure changes for a sustainable future are well underway. Solar and wind are rapidly replacing fossil fuels for electricity. Automakers and governments are committed to electrification of the transportation sector. The pandemic may be a near-term obstacle, but the transition to a sustainable economy is just delayed and may even be accelerated in the coming years.

Software will reshape our world in the next decade

By Walter Thompson
Alfred Chuang Contributor
Alfred Chuang is general partner at Race Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm.

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

How Grab adapted after COVID-19 hit its ride-hailing business

By Catherine Shu

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft. Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing company, has also been impacted, but the company has adapted by quickly transitioning many of its ride-hailing drivers to its on-demand delivery verticals and expanding services needed by customers during social distancing measures.

The company told TechCrunch that its ride-hailing drivers saw their incomes decrease by about a double-digit percentage in April 2020, compared to October 2019, in line with a double-digit drop in gross merchandise volume for Grab’s ride-hailing business in some markets. Between March and April, more than 149,000 Grab ride-hailing drivers switched to performing on-demand deliveries. In some markets, the transition was done very quickly. For example, in Malaysia, 18,000 drivers moved to delivery in a single day. The platform also saw an influx of new driver requests, many from people who had been laid off or furloughed, as well as merchants who needed a new way to make income.

Russell Cohen, Grab’s regional head of operations, told Extra Crunch that to redeploy driver capacity to delivery verticals, the company worked with governments in its eight markets to understand how different COVID-19 responses, including stay-at-home orders, affected on-demand logistics. Anticipating shifts in consumer behavior, it also started adding new services that will continue after the pandemic.

Quickly moving driver capacity from ride-hailing to on-demand delivery

Grab currently has about nine million “micro-entrepreneurs,” or what it calls the drivers, delivery, merchants and agents on its platform. Cohen says the company began to see an effect on ride-hailing and transportation patterns in January and February as flights out of China, and air travel in general, began to decrease. Then COVID-19 started to have a material impact on its ride-hailing business in March, with a sharp drop after countries began implementing stay-at-home orders.

Facebook rebrands Libra wallet Calibra to Novi

By Romain Dillet

When Facebook unveiled Libra, its cryptocurrency project, there were two distinct entities — the Libra Association, a not-for-profit that oversees all things Libra, and Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary that is building a Libra-based wallet with integrations in WhatsApp and Messenger. Today, Facebook announced that Calibra has a new name, Novi.

By rebranding Calibra to Novi, Facebook is trying to make it super clear that the Libra project isn’t a Facebook project per se. Facebook is just a member of the Libra Association with dozens of other members, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, Iliad, Lyft, Shopify, Spotify, Uber, etc.

The Libra blockchain is supposed to operate independently from Facebook, while Novi is a pure Facebook project headed by David Marcus. According to the company, Novi comes from the Latin words “novus” (new) and “via” (way).

Novi’s first product will be a cryptocurrency wallet. You’ll be able to download a standalone Novi app on your phone. While you don’t need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to create a Novi account, it will also be accessible directly in Messenger and WhatsApp — you’ll be able to tap on a button to launch a Novi menu to send and receive money through the Novi wallet.

The Facebook subsidiary wants to be reassuring when it comes to money laundering and know-your-customer regulation. When you sign up to Novi, you’ll have to take a photo of a government-issued ID. Novi isn’t a way to send money anonymously.

Instead, Novi promises instant transactions and “no hidden fees” for cross-border money transfers and local payments. It’s unclear whether Novi means there won’t be any fees or there will be fees but the company will be transparent about them.

The Libra Association recently updated its white paper to make important changes to the cryptocurrency protocol. The association is no longer building a global stablecoin tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities.

When Libra launches, there will be several stablecoins — each of them will be backed by a single fiat currency, such as USD, EUR, GBP or SGD. Novi users as well as people using other Libra-enabled wallets will be able to send and receive LibraUSD, LibraEUR, LibraGBP or LibraSGD. Novi will also act as a ramp to convert fiat money to crypto assets and cash out your cryptocurrencies to traditional fiat currencies.

Novi plans to launch its wallet when the Libra network goes live. Only a limited set of countries will be able to access the service at first.

ChromaCode’s tech to boost COVID-19 testing gets Bill Gates’s backing

By Jonathan Shieber

Boasting a technology that can dramatically increase the capacity of existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing used to identify people infected with COVID-19 and other illnesses, ChromaCode has attracted new funding from Bill Gates-backed Adjuvant Capital

“We want a good solution for a resource-limited environment,” says ChromaCode founder and executive chairman Alex Dickinson, a serial entrepreneur who has worked with Caltech researchers spinning out companies since the early 2000s.

The technology was based on research conducted by California Institute of Technology graduate student Aditya Rajagopal. A former researcher at Google[x] working on novel medical imaging methods, Rajagopal is the inventor of HDPCR, the tech at the heart of ChromaCode’s product.

With the help of Dickinson, Rajagopal spun out the technology he’d developed to form ChromaCode in 2012, according to Crunchbase, and raised its initial capital to develop a diagnostic tool that could use algorithms and new sensing technologies to increase the number of targets that can be analyzed by traditional PCR analysis.

The polymerase chain reaction tests were invented in 1985 by Kary Mullis, who was working as a chemist at the Cetus Corp., and use copies of very small amounts of DNA sequences that are amplified in a series of cycles of temperature changes. It’s one of the foundations of genetic analysis. 

While traditional PCR testing relies on differentiation of targets by color, the HDPCR technology developed by ChromaCode’s co-founder uses signal intensity to identify multiple different targets and signify them as curve signatures encoded into a single color channel. Think of the technology as using color gradients to identify multiple targets in a test instead of just one color.

“It’s like image compression,” Dickinson said.

For COVID-19 specifically, the use of ChromaCode’s technology could expand available testing capacity threefold, the company said.

“Right now the basic test looks at three different things,” said Dickinson. “These machines have wells and they can do 96 tests at a time. The challenge is that you would typically use three of those wells for each test. We let them do all of the test in one well, which would give you a three times multiple.”

That means instead of testing 32 individuals using existing PCR equipment, labs would be able to perform 96 tests at a time.

Even more significant is the ability for ChromaCode’s technology to identify other illnesses alongside COVID-19. “What we’re planning for is the fall when we will be taking the existing COVID test and layering in flu and other diseases,” says Dickinson.

The ability to test for multiple pathogens has important implications for the ability to adequately test, track and trace the spread of the disease in the low and medium income countries that are now undergoing their own outbreaks. “The problem in Africa is that someone has a fever and it might be COVID or that might be Dengue fever,” said Dickinson. Using ChromaCode’s technology, diagnosticians and physicians can tell the difference without having to use new machines.

It’s the ability to work on existing technology that sets ChromaCode apart from competitors like BioFire Diagnostics and Cepheid, according to Dickinson and his co-founder Greg Gosch.

“The supply chain on the tests will continue to be strained so people will be looking for more efficient mechanisms,” said Gosch.

Adjuvant Capital, the investment fund spun out from a collaboration between the Gates Foundation and JP Morgan Chase, had already identified ChromaCode as a potential investment target well before the pandemic hit, according to managing partner Jenny Yip.

The investment firm began speaking with ChromaCode in the summer of 2019, and was drawn to the company for its ability to expand testing capacity well before the COVID-19 outbreak brought the problems of adequate testing into stark relief.

From a global health perspective, ChromaCode’s technology ability to be installed in the existing technology base is very powerful,” said Yip. Given the low resource base in some of the countries where testing is needed the most, requiring the installation of an entirely new suite of hardware and software tools is untenable — let alone developing a supply chain that can service and maintain the technology.  

The lack of adequate testing in the United States remains the biggest obstacle to safely fully re-starting the country’s economy and ensuring that any future outbreaks of the disease can be managed successfully, according to experts.

“Testing is your first fundamental step in a plan to keep infected people from susceptible people,” Ashish Jha, the K. T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The Atlantic.

“There’s a strong sense that the White House knows the amount of testing we need is far more than we have right now,” he said. “It is really stunning and disappointing.”

Buzzy Ethereum wallet app Argent comes out of stealth

By Romain Dillet

Argent is launching the first public version of its Ethereum wallet for iOS and Android. The company has been available as a limited beta for a few months with a few thousand users. But it has already raised a seed and a Series A round with notable investors, such as Paradigm, Index Ventures, Creandum and Firstminute Capital. Overall, the company has raised $16 million.

I managed to get an invitation to the beta a few months ago and have been playing around with it. It’s a well-designed Ethereum wallet with some innovative security features. It also integrates really well with DeFi projects.

Many people leave their crypto assets on a cryptocurrency exchange, such as Coinbase or Binance. But it’s a centralized model — you don’t own the keys, which means that an exchange could get hacked and you’d lose all your crypto assets. Similarly, if there’s a vulnerability in the exchange API or login system, somebody could transfer all your crypto assets to their own wallets.

At heart, Argent is a non-custodial Ethereum wallet, like Coinbase Wallet or Trust Wallet. You’re in control of the keys. Argent can’t initiate a transaction without your authorization for instance.

But that level of control brings a lot of complexities. Hardware wallets, such as Ledger wallets, ask you to write down a seed phrase so that you can recover your wallet if you lose your device. It requires some discipline and it’s hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the concept of seed phrases.

Even Coinbase Wallet tells you to back up your seed phrase when you first create a wallet. “We see them as advanced tools for developers,” Argent co-founder and CEO Itamar Lesuisse told me.

That’s why a new generation of wallets tries to hide the complexity from the end user, such as ZenGo and Argent. Creating a wallet on Argent is one of the best experiences in the cryptocurrency space. Your wallet is secured by something called ‘guardians’.

Trust your friends

A guardian can be someone you know and trust, a hardware wallet (or another phone) or a MetaMask account. Argent also provides a guardian service, which requires you to confirm your identity with a text message and an email. If you lose your phone and you want to recover your wallet on another phone, you need to speak to your guardians and get a majority of confirmations. If they can all confirm that, yes, indeed, your phone doesn’t work anymore and you want to recover your crypto assets, the recovery process starts.

Let’s take an example. Here’s your list of guardians:

  • Argent’s own guardian service
  • Two friends who are also using Argent
  • A Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

In total, there are five different factors involved, you including. If you lose your phone, you can recover your wallet by downloading Argent on another phone (factor #1), asking Argent’s guardian service to send you a text and an email to confirm your identity (factor #2) and confirming your identity with the Ledger Nano S (factor #3).

You have reached a majority and the recovery process starts. You’ll get your funds in 36 hours so that you have enough time to cancel it it’s a hijacking attempt.

But you could also have downloaded the Argent app on another phone (factor #1) and pinged your two friends (factor #2 and #3) directly. If they can confirm the same sequence of characters (emojis in that case), the recovery process would start as well.

“I’m interested in social recovery, multi-key schemes,” Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin said in a TechCrunch interview in July 2018. It’s not a new concept as social media apps already use social recovery systems. On WeChat, if you lose your password, WeChat asks you to select people in your contact list within a big list of names.

In Argent’s case, social recovery adds an element of virality as well. The experience gets better as more people around you start using Argent.

In addition to wallet recovery, Argent uses guardians to put some limits. Just like you have some limits on your bank account, you can set a daily transaction limit to prevent attackers from grabbing all your crypto assets. You can ask your guardians to waive transactions above your daily limits.

Similarly, you can ask your guardians to lock your account for 5 days in case your phone gets stolen.

Betting on Ethereum

Argent is focused on the Ethereum blockchain and plans to support everything that Ethereum offers. Of course, you can send and receive ETH. And the startup wants to hide the complexity on this front as well as it covers transaction fees (gas) for you and gives you usernames. This way, you don’t have to set the transaction fees to make sure that it’ll go through.

The startup plans to integrate DeFi projects directly in the app. DeFi stands for decentralized finance. As the name suggests, DeFi aims to bridge the gap between decentralized blockchains and financial services. It looks like traditional financial services, but everything is coded in smart contracts.

There are dozens of DeFi projects. Some of them let you lend and borrow money — you can earn interest by locking some crypto assets in a lending pool for instance. Some of them let you exchange crypto assets in a decentralized way, with other users directly.

Argent lets you access TokenSets, Compound, Maker DSR, Aave, Uniswap V2 Liquidity, Kyber and Pool Together. And the company already has plans to roll out more DeFi features soon.

Overall, Argent is a polished app that manages to find the right balance between security and simplicity. Many cryptocurrency startups want to build the ‘Revolut of crypto’. And it feels like Argent has a real shot at doing just that with such a promising start.

Alternative assets are becoming mainstream

By Walter Thompson
Anthony Zhang Contributor
Anthony is co-founder and CEO of Vinovest, a platform for investing in fine wine. He has previously founded and sold two companies (EnvoyNow & Know Your VC), and is also a Thiel Fellow.

The way we invest is changing. Technology makes investing easy and more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z are gravitating away from public equity investments.

These changes have led to the rise of alternative assets. People are increasingly looking for new and innovative ways to approach investing. But are alternative assets truly the new frontier of modern investing?

What is an alternative asset?

As the name suggests, alternative assets are an alternative to traditional assets, like stock, bonds and cash. The term usually describes unconventional investments. That can include anything from a Honus Wagner baseball card to bottles of fine wine. However, it can also apply to more familiar investments, like real estate and private mortgages.

Simply put: alternative assets are the things that probably wouldn’t come up when you meet with your financial advisor. They are not easily categorizable, which makes them more difficult to manage. Often, people invest in alternative assets because of a passion for the asset rather than the immediate ROI.

What makes alternative assets an attractive investment?

Investors will go wherever there is money to be made. That includes alternative assets. In addition to higher potential returns, alternative assets have distinct characteristics from traditional assets. Here are a couple of factors to consider when looking at alternative assets:

Portfolio Diversification

Gatik adds autonomous box trucks to its ‘middle mile’ game plan

By Kirsten Korosec

Gatik, the autonomous vehicle startup focused on the ‘middle mile’ of logistics, has added box trucks to its fleet as Walmart and other customers look for ways to boost efficiency and shore up the supply chain amid surging demand from consumers ordering goods online.

Gatik came out of stealth nearly a year ago with a game plan — and Walmart as a customer — to haul goods short distances for retailers and distributors using self-driving commercial delivery vans. The self-driving vehicles still have a human safety operator behind the wheel.

CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang has previously told TechCrunch that the company can fulfill a need in the market through a variety of use cases, including partnering with third-party logistics giants like Amazon, FedEx  or even the U.S. Postal Service, auto part distributors, consumer goods, food and beverage distributors as well as medical and pharmaceutical companies.

The business plan hasn’t changed. But its fleet has. In July, the startup launched a commercial service with Walmart to deliver online grocery orders from the retailer’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. Initially, Gatik used light commercial trucks and vans — specifically Ford Transit Connect vans — that were outfitted with its self-driving system.

Customer feedback prompted the company to add bigger temperature-controlled vehicles. Gatik’s commercial fleet of more than 10 vehicles are used to serve multiple Fortune 500 companies across North America, according to the startup. The figure doesn’t include additional vehicles being tested in California.

Gatik expects to name new partners and operations in U.S. and Canada this year.

The box trucks, which range in size between 11 and 20-feet long, can deliver ambient, cold and frozen goods. Each vehicle completes between six to 15 runs a day. Gatik has used its box trucks to deliver more than 15,000 orders for multiple customers since operations began.

The shift to autonomous box trucks taps into a trend among major retailers to use micro distribution centers to help meet increasing demand from consumers ordering goods online. Class 8 semi trucks, which once went directly to a retail store, now hauls goods to the MDCs. This allows retailers like Walmart to store more goods closer to its retail locations to meet demand for online orders.

“Micro fulfillment or distribution centers are all the rage right now — that’s basically the wave that we’re riding,” Narang said. “Companies are targeting warehouse automation for micro fulfillment centers. They’re automating the warehouses, and we’re automating the on-road logistics.”

Grocery chains were struggling to keep up with the growing demand of online grocery pickup and delivery even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But Narang expects demand for online grocery pickup and delivery to increase twofold. Gatik has already seen a 30% to 35% uptick in the number of runs it completes each day in order to meet demand.

“I think this is going to last because the crisis is shaping how consumers do their shopping,” Narang said.

Eventually, Gatik will pull the human safety driver out of the vehicle. It’s an achievable goal, Narang added, because the company has focused on repeatable pre-determined routes and has introduced constraints that simplify the technical challenge. For instance, Gatik vehicles don’t make multiple lane changes and only make right turns.

NEAR Protocol raises $21.6M from A16Z and launches its MainNet, beating Ethereum 2.0

By Mike Butcher

It was only the other week that Andreesen Horowitz announced their second blockchain-focused fund of $515m. In the announcement, they said: “We are still early in this Web 3 build-out. High-performance programmable blockchains will make decentralized network development much more accessible. After years of R&D, we are excited that a number of next-gen programmable blockchains will begin rolling out in the near future.”

The firm obviously had something in mind when that was published, it’s emerged that it’s leading a $21.6M funding round for the NEAR Protocol project (a round which just closed in the middle of US COVID-19 lockdowns). Other investors remain unnamed at this point. Not only that but NEAR launches its “MainNet” (as in, ‘production-ready’) network today. The move is a black-eye for the much-vaunted Ethereum 2.0 release, which has yet to appear.

What’s the TL;DR for blockchain to date? Well, we know Bitcoin (worth $143Bn) created a digital currency but without much programmability. Ethereum (now worth $22Bn) used the same concepts to build a decentralized application platform on top of a cryptocurrency (Ether) and now has over $1Bn stored in financial applications on top of it. However, the race to create a blockchain that can compete with the existing speed of the world’s financial system, and gain the same amount of user adoption has so far fallen short of expectations. The Ethereum project has proven quite slow, expensive and pretty difficult to use for anything but niche financial applications.

NEAR is the new kid on the block. After almost 2 years in development, it now claims that its platform is more performant, more usable and less expensive than Ethereum, allowing developers to realize many of the original use cases which got people so excited about blockchain in the first place.

In fact, Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum founder, has been known to make statements to the effect that NEAR may represent a significant challenge to Ethereum at some point.

Technically speaking, the NEAR Protocol is a brand new public, proof-of-stake blockchain which is built using a novel consensus mechanism called “Nightshade”. NEAR Protocol uses a technique called “sharding” that splits the network into multiple pieces so that the computation is done in parallel, meaning there isn’t a theoretical limit on the network’s capacity.

Near is also drawing on a Silicon Valley culture of “ship it, and ship it fast!” where Blockchain culture, in general, has suffered from a great deal of theory, philosophical navel-gazing, and not a lot of ‘get shit done’.

Cofounder Alex Skidanov started his professional career at Microsoft in 2009, then joined MemSQL in 2011 as Engineer #1, where he worked for 5 years as Architect and Director of Engineering. The other cofounder is Illia Polosukhin, who has over 10 years of experience, including 3 years at Google where he was a major Tensor-Flow contributor and a manager of the team building question-answering capabilities for the core Google search.

Tinvio, a communication platform for supply chain merchants, gets $5.5 million seed round

By Catherine Shu

Being a supply chain merchant often means cobbling together different ways of keeping in touch with buyers, including emails, text messages and paper invoices. Tinvio wants to simplify the process with a communication and commerce platform designed especially for managing orders.

The Singapore-based startup announced today that it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding, led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge early-stage accelerator program, with participation from Global Founders Capital and Partech Partners.

Along with a pre-seed round from Rocket Internet, this brings Tinvio’s total raised so far to $6.5 million. The startup was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, who previously worked at Rocket Internet in Berlin. Before that, he was a fintech investment banker at Credit Suisse.

Since launching, Tinvio’s customer base has grown to over 1,000 businesses in more than 10 cities. Over the next 12 months, it plans to add more cities and languages, as well as digital financial services.

Tinvio is targeted at small-to mid-sized merchants, and many of its customers are in the food and beverage (F&B), retail and healthcare supply industries.

“At its core, Tinvio is a real-time messaging app. For every 10 orders placed on Tinvio, there’s an average of two messages sent, reinforcing that communication is critical in fragmented supply chains,” Gopal told TechCrunch.

One of Tinvio’s selling points is that merchants can continue to receive orders through their existing channels, including email, SMS or WhatsApp. By consolidating those orders in one app, Tinvio is also able to create a real-time digital ledger, making it easier for merchants to track invoices, fulfillment and finances.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, order volumes between merchants and suppliers on Tinvio have fallen about 30% to 50% in most cities, Gopal said, “though retention rates remain high, suggesting that many businesses are trying their best to stay open. We talk to them often, and we’re quite awed by their resilience to keep trying, keep finding a way to make it work.”

He added, “Our tech is designed to be fully customizable, so we’ve started organically supporting many of their new use cases.”

For example, some food and beverage merchants have started using Tinvio to manage group orders with consumers instead. Since many businesses have let go of staff, this means merchants have become more reliant on the app to keep track of orders and inbound/outbound deliveries. Tinvio has started expanding this into a new feature and also begun customizing soft-integrations for suppliers so they don’t have to manually add data to their ERP software.

Two weeks ago, Tinvio also launched a project called Save Our Nomnoms to help direct more orders to food and beverage merchants in Singapore, which is currently under partial lockdown. The project started with 40 brands, and has since grown to include more than 300 brands.

Germany’s COVID-19 contacts tracing app to link to labs for test result notification

By Natasha Lomas

A German research institute that’s involved in developing a COVID-19 contacts tracing app with the backing of the national government has released some new details about the work which suggests the app is being designed as more of a ‘one-stop shop’ to manage coronavirus impacts at an individual level, rather than having a sole function of alerting users to potential infection risk.

Work on the German app began at the start of March, per the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute, with initial funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry of Health funding a feasibility study.

In a PDF published today, the research organization reveals the government-backed app will include functionality for health authorities to directly notify users about a COVID-19 test result if they’ve opted in to get results this way.

It says the system must ensure only people who test positive for the virus make their measurement data available to avoid incorrect data being inputed. For the purposes of “this validation process”, it envisages “a digital connection to the existing diagnostic laboratories is implemented in the technical implementation”.

“App users can thus voluntarily activate this notification function and thus be informed more quickly and directly about their test results,” it writes in the press release (which we’ve translated from German with Google Translate) — arguing that such direct digital notification of tests results will mean that no “valuable time” is lost to curb the spread of the virus.

Governments across Europe are scrambling to get Bluetooth-powered contacts tracing apps off the ground, with apps also in the works from a number of other countries, including the UK and France, despite ongoing questions over the efficacy of digital contacts tracing vs such an infectious virus.

The great hope is that digital tools will offer a route out of economically crippling population lockdowns by providing a way to automate at least some contacts tracing — based on widespread smartphone penetration and the use of Bluetooth-powered device proximity as a proxy for coronavirus exposure.

Preventing a new wave of infections as lockdown restrictions are lifted is the near-term goal. Although — in line with Europe’s rights frameworks — use of contacts tracing apps looks set to be voluntary across most of the region, with governments wary about being seen to impose ‘health surveillance’ on citizens, as has essentially happened in China.

However if contacts tracing apps end up larded with features that are deep linking into national health systems that raises questions about how optional their use will really be.

An earlier proposal by a German consortium of medical device manufacturers, laboratories, clinics, clinical data management systems and blockchain solution providers — proposing a blockchain-based Digital Corona Health Certificate, which was touted as being able to generate “verifiable, certified test results that can be fed into any tracing app” to cut down on false positives — claimed to have backing from the City of Cologne’s public health department, as one example of potential function creep.

In March Der Spiegel also reported on a large-scale study being coordinated by the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, to examine antibody levels to try to determine immunity across the population. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was reportedly involved in that study — and has been a key operator in the national contacts tracing push.

Both RKI and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute are also involved in parallel German-led pan-EU standardization effort for COVID-19 contacts tracing apps (called PEPP-PT) that’s been the leading voice for apps to centralize proximity data with governments/health authorities, rather than storing it on users’ device and performing risk processing locally.

As we reported earlier, PEPP-PT and its government backers appear to be squaring up for a battle with Apple over iOS restrictions on Bluetooth.

PEPP-PT bases its claim of being a “privacy-preserving” standard on not backing protocols or apps that use location data or mobile phone numbers — with only arbitrary (but pseudonymized) proximity IDs shared for the purpose of tracking close encounters between devices and potential coronavirus infections.

It has claimed it’s agnostic between centralization of proximity data vs decentralization, though so far the only protocol it’s publicly committed to is a centralized one.

Yet, at the same time, regional privacy experts, the EU parliament and even the European Commission have urged national governments to practice data minimization and decentralized when it comes to COVID-19 contacts tracing in order to boost citizen trust by shrinking associated privacy risks. If apps are voluntary citizens’ trust must be earned not assumed, is the key point. Without substantial uptake the utility of digital contacts tracing seems doubtful.

Apple and Google have also come down on the decentralized side of this debate — outting a joint effort last week for an API and later opt-in system-wide contacts tracing.

Meanwhile a coalition of nearly 300 academics signed an open letter at the start of this week warning that centralized systems risked surveillance creep — voicing support for decentralized protocols, such as DP-3T: Another contact tracing protocol that’s being developed by a separate European coalition which has been highly critical of PEPP-PT.

And while PEPP-PT claimed recently to have seven governments signed up to its approach, and 40 more in the pipeline, at least two of the claimed EU supporters (Switzerland and Spain) had actually said they will use a decentralized approach.

The coalition has also been losing support from a number of key research institutions which had initially backed its push for a “privacy-preserving” standard, as controversy around the coalition’s intent and lack of transparency has grown.

Nonetheless the two biggest EU economies, Germany and France, appear to be digging in behind a push to centralize proximity data — putting Apple in their sights.

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the French government is pressurizing Apple to remove Bluetooth restrictions for its COVID-19 contacts tracing app which also relies on a ‘trusted authority’ running a central server (we’ve covered the French ROBERT protocol in detail here).

It’s possible Germany and France are sticking to their centralized guns because of wider plans to pack more into these contacts tracing apps than simply Bluetooth-powered alerts — as suggested by the Fraunhofer document.

Access to data is another likely motivator.

“Only if research can access sufficiently valid data it is possible to create forecasts that are the basis for planning further steps against are the spread of the virus,” the institute goes on. (Though, as we’ve written before, the DP-3T decentralized protocol sets out a path for users to opt in to share proximity data for research purposes.)

Another strand that’s evident from the Fraunhofer PDF is sovereignty.

“Overall, the approach is based on the conviction that the state healthcare system must have sovereignty over which criteria, risk calculations, recommendations for action and feedback are in one such system,” it writes, adding: “In order to achieve the greatest possible usability on end devices on the market, technical cooperation with the targeted operating system providers, Google and Apple, is necessary.”

Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment on whether they will be making any changes to their API as result of French and German pressure.

Fraunhofer further notes that “full compatibility” between the German app and the centralized one being developed by French research institutes Inria and Inserm was achieved in the “past few weeks” — underlining that the two nations are leading this particular contacts tracing push.

In related news this week, Europe’s Data Protection Board (EDPB) put out guidance for developers of contacts tracing apps which stressed an EU legal principle related to processing personal data that’s known as purpose limitation — warning that apps need to have purposes “specific enough to exclude further processing for purposes unrelated to the management of the COVID-19 health crisis (e.g., commercial or law enforcement purposes)”.

Which sounds a bit like the regulator drawing a line in the sand to warn states that might be tempted to turn contacts tracing apps into coronavirus immunity passports.

The EDPB also urged that “careful consideration” be given to data minimisation and data protection by design and by default — two other key legal principles baked into Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, albeit with some flex during a public health emergency.

However it took a pragmatic view on the centralization vs decentralization debate, saying both approaches are “viable” in a contacts tracing context — with the caveat that “adequate security measures” must be in place.

Tech for good during COVID-19: Children’s book, phone booths, and aperitifs

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht always had plans for Haus, their direct-to-consumer low-alcoholic drink, to land white-label partnerships with local restaurants. But when coronavirus spread across the country and hurt thousands of local restaurants, the Haus founders saw an opportunity to fast forward on that product plan and at the same time give back.

Haus recently announced its plans to work with restaurants across the country and co-create local digs-inspired apéritifs. For Mister Jiu’s, an upscale Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, the beverage will mix “warm black cardamom, smoky lapsang tea, spicy ginger, and floral osmanthus.” For JuneBaby, a southern fare restaurant in Seattle, the drink will have hints of elderflower and oranges. The entire profit will go to the restaurants themselves, Helena tells me. And Haus has already begun cutting five-figure checks to restaurants just from pre-orders of these Haus-powered beverages alone.

On this refreshing note, let’s get into other ways venture-backed startups are using their presence to help others struggling during this time.

1. A phone booth for COVID-19 tests. Room, which manufactures privacy-focused office phone booths, hasn’t had much of a customer base lately as COVID-19 limits people from going into the office. The company has pivoted its resources to deploy a new product: coronavirus test booths for use in hospitals. The booths allow healthcare professionals to conduct tests with a protective barrier. It has already donated the first group of test booths to hospitals around the world, and it has made the design files for the booths available for free download to encourage others to manufacture locally.

2.Mission critical deliveries for free. Onfleet is offering its delivery software free of charge for companies and organizations that have mobilized to do community building deliveries. The startup is notably focused on critical deliveries and institutions that have had to change to delivery operations overnight. It’s working with partners like SF-Marin Foodbank, The NYC Dept for the Aging, various farmers markets around the country and other PPE delivery organizations that have recently organized.

3. Code from home. Fullstack Academy, an online coding and career development bootcamp, is offering a bootcamp prep course for free for two upcoming cohorts. The course, which will be run remotely, will cover specific coding and JavaScript concepts.

4. A daily assessment as a civic duty. A small team at Stanford Medicine created a National Daily Health Survey to help identify the prevalence of symptoms associated with COVID-19 in different ZIP codes across the United States. This survey is aimed at individuals who want to do a small part every day to help predict surges and inform response efforts. The survey takes 2-3 minutes to complete the first day, and 1 minute to complete in the days after that. It is currently being translated into five languages for broader usage. The team says that it’s looking for people who will make a long-term commitment for the survey.

5. World Without COVID. Clara Health, along with tech folks like Raj Kapoor of Lyft and Vijay Chattha of VSC, are launching a free website to track the public health status of the sick and healthy alike. The site wants to draw COVID-19 treatment data for public health professionals, as well as connect people to clinical trials. The team says that it will also track immunity status to help surface individuals that can volunteer in healthcare efforts in the future.

6. Twilio -powered hotline. WhileAtHome.org is a website spun up by volunteers to provide resources on education, healthcare tips and concerts. Recently, the team launched a Twilio-powered hotline so people can be connected to local state hotlines. If you dial 478-29COVID, Twilio will automatically route you to the hotline that is in your state.

Hiring efforts for laid-off make-up artists. Il Makiage is hiring makeup artists who were recently laid off due to COVID-19 related reasons for virtual one-on-one makeup tutorials. The direct-to-consumer beauty brand is paying make-up artists $25 an hour.

7. A charitable Chrome extension. 4thwall wants to take all the TV binge-watching and put it toward a social good. First, users can sign up for a 4th wall Chrome extension. Then, once they activate the extension, they can stream Netflix or Hulu. After 250 minutes of streaming, a relief cause is unlocked and users can pick which COVID-19 specific charity they want to support. 4thwall will make a donation at no cost to the user. Per the website, the cost-free donations are possible because the company will send the viewer demographic metrics, anonymized, to other companies to see viewing trends and create content accordingly.  One of the creators, Andrew Schneider, says that the community has already raised $1,500 in the first two weeks, and the goal is to raise $40K in the next 10 weeks.

8. Bridal brand gives back. Online bridal brand Anomalie is delivering CDC-certified face masks to hospitals to help front-line healthcare workers. The company is using its supply chain and manufacturing relationships in China to make masks, instead of wedding dresses. The first two shipments of over 10,000 masks have been delivered and received.

9. Bedtime storytelling just got a glow up. Yumi, a science-based childhood meal delivery startup, has created a free children’s book to explain COVID-19 to your little ones. It is available for download, and Snoop Dogg tweeted about it.

Let's see 'em 🌈rainbow: Learn about my lil' homie Amos in "Rainbows in Windows," a free book by my friends at @Yumi, to talk to kids about #COVID19. Get it here: https://t.co/eqjC5hqPQu #RainbowsinWindows @MarthaStewart @TheEllenShow pic.twitter.com/AgMkax5isF

Snoop Dogg (@SnoopDogg) April 17, 2020

Curative received FDA emergency use authorization for its novel COVID-19 tests

By Jonathan Shieber

The diagnostics startup Curative has received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel test to determine COVID-19 infection.

The company says that its tests have already been used by the City of Los Angeles since late March and have tested over 53,000 city residents.

Curative’s tests use an oral-fluid sample collected by having the subject cough to produce sputum, which release the virus from deep in the lungs, according to a spokesperson.

Here’s how the letter digitally signed by the FDA’s chief science officer, Denise Hinton, describes the Rucative test:

To use your product, SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid is first extracted, isolated and purified from oropharyngeal (throat) swab, nasopharyngeal swab, nasal swab, and oral fluid specimens. The purified nucleic acid is then reverse transcribed into cDNA followed by PCR amplification and detection using an authorized real-time (RT) PCR instrument. The Curative-Korva SARS-Cov-2 Assay uses all commercially sourced materials or other authorized materials and authorized ancillary reagents commonly used in clinical laboratories as described in the authorized procedures submitted as part of the EUA request. 

Curative, which was first covered by DotLA, is processing the tests in conjunction with Korva Labs, a testing facility associated with UCLA.

These tests hope to get around the supply chain shortages that constrain the number of tests the US can conduct. Currently, the US is still experiencing a shortage of test kits because the supply chain for critical components used in test kits has been disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company said.

Curative is working to build alternatives to many of the sample collection and extraction kit components and what it calls more scalable RNA extraction methods that don’t rely on the use of magnetic silica beads.

The company was initially founded in January 2020 to focus on a novel test for sepsis, but pivoted to focus on COVID-19 testing as the disease swept across the globe.

“Our goal is to assemble an orthogonal supply chain to supply coronavirus test kits. Doing so will help us avoid buying materials that would constrain public health and CDC laboratories from ramping up production,” the company said on its website. “We are also working to partner with other operations looking to spin up testing facilities to help them source necessary reagents.”

Curative says that its test is better for two reasons. Its sampling method reduces the risk of exposure for healthcare workers and requires less Personal Protective Equipment and its use of an alternative supply chain means it can scale tests rapidly.

The company can already process roughly 5,000 tests per day and is manufacturing 20,000 test kits over the same period. Test results can be delivered in around 31 hours.

“Broad access to testing is critical to our nation’s response to COVID-19 and with this authorization, we can continue scaling and distributing our test nationwide,” said Fred Turner, the chief executive and founder of Curative Inc. “Our work with the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach has helped thousands of people access testing at drive-through facilities and we are fully equipped to expand that access to help thousands more across the country. At the same time, we are continuing to work with the FDA to validate our test for at-home collection, which would expand access even more.”

With the new authorization, the company is going to begin working with additional distributors around the country.

The Curative tests are already used by Los Angeles, Long Beach and through testing organized by LA County and the LA County Fire and Sherrif’s Department. The tests aren’t being sold directly to consumers and must be ordered by a physician, the company said.

Backed by the venture firm DCVC, Curative has already been the subject of some controversy when its investor sent a letter to limited partners indicating they’d be able to get access to the Curative tests upon request.

The firm wrote:

“… please let us know as soon as possible if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are unable to get tested. Through a unique relationship with one of our portfolio companies, we will expedite delivery of a test kit (simple, fast, safe saliva/cheek swab) that should provide results within 1-3 days via return by mail.”

In a subsequent blog post, the partners at DCVC explained their outreach.

With changes in regulations enabling telemedicine across state lines, we wanted to make sure everyone DCVC knows was aware of Carbon’s excellent care and full suite of testing. And yes, that includes people who work at our Limited Partners, who are making difficult decisions for themselves and their families in difficult times like the rest of us.

With Carbon moving at the pace they do with their fast, friendly electronic on-boarding, and with Curative’s testing capability likely ramping to 10,000+ tests a day in the next ten days, the combined health care firepower can indeed “expedite” care for everybody.

Was our language a little boastful? Yes, no excuses. And we’re sorry if folks got the wrong idea. No one is “jumping in line.” We will always strive to point out to our friends and community where they can get quick access to quality care as well as access to other cutting-edge technology in our portfolio.

Accurate testing remains the most important feature of any effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and a number of startup companies are working on novel diagnostics.

As Harvard University epidemiologist, William Hanage told Business Insider, “Figuring out what’s actually going on in the community is the key part of dealing with this pandemic.”

Ford partners with Thermo Fisher on COVID-19 test kits, expands production to face masks, gowns

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford has expanded its plan to make critical medical equipment and supplies, including a new effort to make reusable gowns from airbag materials as well as a partnership with scientific instrument provider Thermo Fisher Scientific to ramp up production of COVID-19 collection kits to test for the virus.

This broader plan highlights the latest effort by automakers and medical device manufacturers to help ease a shortage of equipment and supplies such as face shields, face masks, protective gowns and ventilators, a medical device that is used in the treatment of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.

Ford announced in March a partnership with 3M to build Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) as well as a separate effort to produce more than 3 million face shields at its factory in Plymouth, Mich.

On Monday, Ford provided an update on its 3M partnership and laid out new plans to produce other medical equipment. Ford will start Tuesday producing PAPRs — respirators used by healthcare workers that filter out contaminants in the air — at its Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Mich. Paid United Auto Worker volunteers will be working to assemble the PAPR devices. Ford said it expects to be able to make 100,000 PAPR devices.

Ford to make Powered Air-Purifying Respirator

Ford will start producing an all-new PAPR design to help protect health care professionals on the front lines fighting COVID-19.

“I think our immediate focus is on the surge need that is really at the end of April, May and June, so we’re focusing on that timeframe,” Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management said during a call with reporters Monday. “What I can also say is we have very clear signals working with our partners that three on that the demand is far outpacing the supply of this critical equipment. We know that there’s incredible demand, and need for this during this short time horizon.”

Ford engineers have also been working to increase the output of PAPRs and N95 respirators at 3M’s U.S.-based manufacturing facilities. 3M has doubled its N95 production to more than 1.1 billion annually and has plans to double that again in the next 12 months, according to Mike Kesti, the global technical director of the personal safety division at 3M.

In addition to its previously announced plans to make face shields, Ford outlined three additional efforts, including face mask and gown production as well as the partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The company has started to produce face masks for its own workers to use throughout its global operations. The face masks, which are being made at Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., were developed in collaboration with the UAW and are being made for internal use to lessen the burden on an already squeezed supply chain. Ford said it is looking to have the masks certified for medical use.

Ford has also tapped supplier Joyson Safety Systems to make reusable gowns from airbag material. The automaker worked with a local hospital in Michigan to develop a pattern for the gowns. The airbag material used for the gown is nylon based and has built in coating.

“This is really a great find that we could take something that we already knew how to produce and then turn that into isolation gowns, and they are washable,” said Marcy Fisher, Ford director of global body exterior and interior engineering.

Ford-supplier Joyson Safety Systems will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns by July 4. The gowns are self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times, according to Ford.

Finally, the company said it will help Thermo Fisher Scientific expand production of COVID-19 collection kits. Ford engineers at its Kansas City Assembly Plant are helping set up additional collection kit production machinery. These engineers are also helping Thermo Fisher adapt machinery that currently runs glass vials for other products to run plastic vials required in drive-through coronavirus test collection.

Free tool helps manufacturers map where COVID-19 impacts supply chain

By Ron Miller

Assent Compliance, a company that helps large manufacturers like GE and Rolls Royce manage complex supply chains through an online data exchange, announced a new tool this week that lets any company, whether they’re a customer or not, upload bills of materials and see on a map where COVID-19 is having an impact on their supply chain.

Company co-founder Matt Whitteker, says the Ottawa startup focuses on supply chain data management, which means it has the data and the tooling to develop a data-driven supply chain map based on WHO data identifying COVID hotspots. He believes that his is the only company to have done this.

“We’re the only ones that have taken supply chain data and applied it to this particular pandemic. And it’s something that’s really native to our platform. We have all that data on hand — we have location data for suppliers. So it’s just a matter of applying that with third-party data sources (like the WHO data), and then extracting valuable business intelligence from it,” he said.

If you want to participate, you simply go to the company website and fill out a form. A customer success employee will contact you and walk you through the process of uploading your data to the platform. Once they have your data, they generate a map showing the parts of the world where your supply chain is most likely to be disrupted, identifying the level of risk based on your individual data.

The company captures supply chain data as part of the act of doing business with 1,000 customers and 500,000 suppliers currently on their platform. “When companies are manufacturing products they have what’s called a bill of materials, kind of like a recipe. And companies upload their bill of materials that basically outlines all their parts, components and commodities, and who they get them from, which basically represents their supply chain,” Whitteker explained.

After the company uploads the bill of materials, Assent opens a portal for the companies to exchange data, which might be tax forms, proof of sourcing or any kind of information and documentation the manufacturer needs to comply with legal and regulatory rules around procurement of a given part.

They decided to start building the COVID-19 map application when they recognized that this was going to have the biggest supply chain disruption the world has seen since World War II. It took about a month to build it. It went into beta last week with customers and over 350 signed up in the first two hours. This week, they made the tool generally available to anyone, even non-customers, for free.

The company was founded in 2016 and has raised $220 million, according to Whitteker.

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