Uber not criminally liable in fatal 2018 Arizona self-driving crash: prosecutors

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc is not criminally liable in a March 2018 crash in Tempe, Arizona, in which one of the company’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators examine a self-driving Uber vehicle involved in a fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., March 20, 2018. National Transportation Safety Board/Handout via REUTERS

The Yavapai County Attorney said in a letter made public that there was “no basis” for criminal liability for Uber, but that the conduct of the back-up driver, Rafael Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional investigation.

Police said last year that Vasquez was streaming a television show on a phone until about the time of the crash and called the incident “entirely avoidable.”

An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.

Vasquez could face charges of vehicular manslaughter, according to a police report last June. Vasquez has not previously commented and could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.

The Maricopa County Attorney, whose jurisdiction includes Tempe, referred the case last year to another office because of a conflict. In Tuesday’s letter Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk said its investigation concluded that “the collision video, as it displays, likely does not accurately depict the events that occurred.”

The letter said an “expert analysis” is needed to “closely match what (and when) the person sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle would or should have seen that night given the vehicle’s speed, lighting conditions, and other relevant factors.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are still investigating the fatal crash.

The Uber car was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, but the company, like other self-driving car developers, requires a back-up driver inside to intervene when the autonomous system fails or a tricky driving situation occurs.

The Tempe police report said Vasquez repeatedly looked down and not at the road, glancing up a half second before the car hit Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was crossing the street at night.

Police obtained records from Hulu, an online service for streaming TV shows and movies, which showed Vasquez’s account was playing the TV talent show “The Voice” for about 42 minutes on the night of the crash, ending at 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision,” the report said.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office did not immediately comment on Tuesday.

In December, Uber resumed limited self-driving car testing on public roads in Pittsburgh, nine months after it suspended the program following the Arizona crash.

The company is now testing with two employees in the front seat and more strictly monitor safety employees. The company also said last year it made improvements to the vehicles’ self-driving software.

In March 2018, authorities in Arizona suspended Uber’s ability to test its self-driving cars. Uber also voluntarily halted its entire autonomous car testing program.

The NTSB has said Uber had disabled a manufacturer-installed automatic emergency braking system in the 2017 Volvo XC90 while the car was under computer control in order to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool

Electric scooter sharing firm VOI raises $30 million for European expansion

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Electric scooter sharing firm VOI Technology has raised $30 million in another fundraising round since being set up seven months ago for its European expansion and investment in research to fend off growing competition, it said on Monday.

Uber Technologies Inc, Alphabet and several other high-profile investors are betting scooter-sharing will rise rapidly in Europe thanks to large commuter populations and lower levels of car ownership than in the United States.

Having already put many scooters on European roads, domestic startups such as Tier and Dott and U.S. rivals Bird and Lime raised thousands of dollars in 2018 to expand further into the crowded marketplace.

VOI, backed by investors such as BlaBlaCar CEO Nicolas Brusson and venture fund Balderton Capital, believes it can beat rivals by building closer relationships with city authorities.

“Asking ‘permission’ before we enter new towns and cities, unlike some of our competitors, means we can work with the authorities on the ground to offer not only a viable alternative to cars,” CEO Fredrik Hjelm said.

This could also “help people to combine their e-scooter journeys with the existing public transport network,” he added.

People can locate nearby VOI scooters via its app or maps and then ride it by paying a 1 euro unlocking fee plus riding costs of 0.15 euro per minute.

Since its August launch, VOI has built up over 400,000 riders, taking more than 750,000 rides, and it said it would use the new funds to expand in Italy, Germany, Norway and France.

Critics warn operators could face similar issues as bike sharing firms. Forced into price wars due to competition and facing backlash from authorities over rules and vandalism, bike operators GoBee and Mobike have retreated from Europe.

Reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm; editing by David Evans

Tencent, Kakao among shortlisted bidders for South Korean gaming firm Nexon: Korea Economic Daily

FILE PHOTO: A sign of Tencent is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 3, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese tech giant Tencent and South Korea’s biggest chat operator Kakao Corp are among five bidders shortlisted to buy South Korean gaming firm Nexon, the Korea Economic Daily newspaper reported on Monday.

The newspaper said NXC Corp, the holding firm which controls Nexon, also had shortlisted private equity firms Bain Capital and MBK Partners, as well as an unidentified private equity firm.

South Korean publisher Netmarble Corp was not offered to join the preliminary bidding, but formed a consortium with MBK Partners to bid for Nexon, according to the report which cited investment banking sources.

The deal could worth as much as 15 trillion won ($13.3 billion) and the formal bid process was set to take place in early April, it added.

Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju has been exploring a sale of a 98.64 percent stake in NXC Corp that is held by him and related parties including his wife.

MBK Partners declined to comment on the report while Tencent, Kakao, Netmarble and Bain Capital were not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Stephen Coates

Qualcomm urges U.S. regulators to reverse course and ban some iPhones

(Reuters) – Qualcomm Inc is urging U.S. trade regulators to reverse a judge’s ruling and ban the import of some Apple Inc iPhones in a long-running patent fight between the two companies.

FILE PHOTO: A Qualcomm sign is seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Qualcomm is seeking the ban in hopes of dealing Apple a blow before the two begin a major trial in mid-April in San Diego over Qualcomm’s patent licensing practices. Qualcomm has sought to apply pressure to Apple with smaller legal challenges ahead of that trial and has won partial iPhone sales bans in China and Germany against Apple, forcing the iPhone maker to ship only phones with Qualcomm chips to some markets.

Any possible ban on iPhone imports to the United States could be short-lived because Apple last week for the first time disclosed that it has found a software fix to avoid infringing on one of Qualcomm’s patents. Apple asked regulators to give it as much as six months to prove that the fix works.

Qualcomm brought a case against Apple at the U.S International Trade Commission in 2017 alleging that some iPhones violated Qualcomm patents to help smart phones run well without draining their batteries. Qualcomm asked for an import ban on some older iPhone models containing Intel Corp chips.

In September, Thomas Pender, an administrative law judge at the ITC, found that Apple violated one of the patents in the case but declined to issue a ban. Pender reasoned that imposing a ban on Intel-chipped iPhones would hand Qualcomm an effective monopoly on the U.S. market for modem chips, which connect smart phones to wireless data networks.

Pender’s ruling said that preserving competition in the modem chip market was in the public interest as speedier 5G networks come online in the next few years.

Cases where the ITC finds patent violations but does not ban the import of products are rare. In December, the full ITC said it would review Pender’s decision and decide whether to uphold or reverse it by late March.

In filings that became public late last week ahead of the full commission’s decision, Apple for the first time said that it had developed a software fix to avoid running afoul of Qualcomm’s patent. Apple said it did not discover the fix until after the trial and that it implemented the new software “last fall.”

But Apple said that it would need six months to verify that the fix will satisfy regulators and to sell its existing inventory. Apple asked the full commission to delay any possible import ban by that long if the commission reverses the judge’s decisions.

In a filing late on Friday, Qualcomm argued that Apple’s disclosure of a fix undermined the reasoning in Pender’s decision and that the Intel-chipped phones should be banned while Apple deploys its fix.

“Pender recommended against a remedy on the assumption that the (Qualcomm) patent would preclude Apple from using Intel as a supplier for many years and that no redesign was feasible,” Qualcomm wrote. “Apple now admits—more than seven months after the hearing—that the alleged harm is entirely avoidable.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Germany to extend electric company car tax incentives: paper

FILE PHOTO: German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attends a media briefing during his visit to Beijing, China, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz plans to extend tax incentives for electric company cars, he told a newspaper on Saturday, the government’s latest attempt to boost demand for clean vehicles.

Germany is trying to increase electric car sales in the wake of a diesel emissions cheating scandal that has engulfed its auto industry in the last three years.

“Half of all cars sold in Germany are company cars,” Scholz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

“So I have decided that we will not end tax support for electric cars and plug-in hybrid company cars in 2021 but extend them maybe over the whole decade,” he said, adding that would help improve air quality and meet climate goals.

He added, however, that the rules for plug-in hybrids would be tightened, so that only cars that can travel on electric power further than they do today would be eligible.

Since January, drivers of electric company cars which they also use for private journeys pay less tax than they would for a vehicle with a combustion engine.

Government subsidy schemes have helped boost sales but even with rising demand, electric cars made up only 1 percent of new car registrations last year, according to the KBA motor vehicle authority.

The government has acknowledged it will miss its target of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 by two years.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones

How Amazon scrapped its plans for a New York headquarters

(Reuters) – More than a year of work to bring Amazon.com Inc’s headquarters and tens of thousands of jobs to New York City ended on Thursday with a couple of phone calls.

A delivery person pushes a cart full of Amazon boxes in New York City, U.S., February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Jay Carney, the company’s top policy executive, told New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the world’s biggest online retailer would not go ahead with plans to invest $2.5 billion to build a second head office in the New York City borough of Queens.

Carney, a former press secretary for President Barack Obama, told New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio the same shortly after.

Abruptly scuttling its Big Apple plans blindsided Amazon’s allies and opponents alike. The company said the decision came together only in the last 48 hours, made by its senior leadership team and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, chief executive and the richest person in the world.

Yet by some measures the decision was months in the making, as community opposition signaled to the company that it was not entirely welcome.

Seattle-based Amazon captivated elected officials across North America in September 2017 when it announced it would create more than 50,000 jobs in a second headquarters dubbed HQ2. Cities and states vied desperately for the economic stimulus, with New Jersey offering $7 billion in potential credits and the mayor of an Atlanta suburb promising to make Bezos mayor for life of a new city called “Amazon.”

A backlash began in earnest when Amazon announced two winners to split the offices last November: Arlington, Virginia, and New York’s Long Island City neighborhood, with New York offering incentives worth $1.53 billion to Amazon. The company could apply for $900 million more, too.

New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said that day that it was “unfathomable that we would sign a $3 billion check” to one of the world’s most valuable companies considering the city’s crumbling subways and overcrowded schools.

City Council meetings in December and January showed Amazon executives who showed up the stern opposition they could expect from some elected officials and labor organizers.

Protesters interrupted the meetings. A television report showed people unfurling signs saying, “Amazon delivers lies,” and “Amazon fuels ICE deportations” – a reference to the company’s cooperation with the U.S. Department in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Amazon felt that a small number of local and state officials had no desire to collaborate on a path forward, the company later said, despite what it said was strong popular support for its project.

RELATIVELY PAINLESS EXIT

Tension ratcheted up earlier this month, when Gianaris was nominated to a state panel set to vote in 2020 on whether to approve the financial terms for Amazon.

Days later, Amazon executives weighed the pros and cons of whether to follow through with its New York headquarters, two people briefed on talks inside the company said. Concerned that Amazon could be in limbo for more than a year ahead of the state panel’s vote, the growing consensus within the company was that it did not make sense to move ahead in the face of persistent opposition with a headquarters in New York City, where it already has 5,000 employees.

Amazon had no binding legal contracts to acquire or lease the land for the project. It could exit with relatively little pain, the people said.

Company officials also concluded Amazon could shift the jobs that would have been created in New York to other corporate centers it has across the United States, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Boston. Reopening talks with former HQ2 contestants did not make sense, the people said.

Gianaris blamed Amazon for the reversal.

“Amazon never showed willingness to look seriously at the concerns that were raised,” he said.

Still, up to the moment of the announcement, there were signs that the parties could work together.

One union leader said he and other labor organizers met on Wednesday with Cuomo and four Amazon officials, including Brian Huseman, its vice president of public policy.

“We had such a productive meeting yesterday. Everyone left happy,” said Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The group is trying to organize workers at an Amazon facility in Staten Island, another New York City borough, despite the company’s past opposition to unionization.

“It was a complete surprise that they would say they look forward to working with us, and we talked about next steps, and then they call it all off the next morning,” said Appelbaum.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, David Shepardson and Nandita Bose in Washington and Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Bill Rigby

It Might Be Time to Stop Assuming Hotels Are the Best Option for Business Travel

I travel about 75,000 miles a year for business, yet I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel. That may surprise many business travelers, but to me, it’s a relief. I suffered through years of expensive boutiquesor cookie cutter chains, uncomfortable mattresses and terrible breakfasts. Finally I gave up on hotels altogether, and I’ve never looked back.

For several years now, Airbnb has been the secret weaponto my business travel success. There’s an amazing variety of locations, types of lodging, and hosts. I’ve found wonderful places and fascinating people I never would have if I’d stayed in hotels.

1. Feels More Like Home

One of the biggest complaints about business travel is that you don’t have your stuff. It may sound silly, but the stuff and the people are what turns a house into a home. And if you can’t have the people while you’re traveling, at least you can have things more like your own stuff at home. Hotels can be so sterile – or worse yet, unsterile!

2. Cheaper than Hotels

I’ve saved a ton of moneyusing Airbnb instead of hotels. This is especially true for me because I’m willing to stay in a privatebedroom in a shared unit. Even if I weren’t into sharing, Airbnb-ing a fully private unit is often a huge savings over even a modest hotel. Don’t forget to consider a whole house rental for group business travel. It may be closer quarters with your colleagues than you’re used to, but think of it as bonding time. Everyone could still get their own bedroom, and you can save using group transportation and food options.

3. Healthier Eating

In the last 2 years, I’ve lost – and successfully kept off– 54 pounds. One of the benefits of Airbnb is that many units provide a fully functional kitchen, often including staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil. All I had to do was take a quick trip to the grocery store. Then instead of eating bad take out or overindulging at a restaurant, I could cook exactly what I wanted at exactly the calorie count I could afford. No more temptation for midnight room service. It saves calories and money – and you can multiply the savings by making your own lunch, too.

4. Often More Convenient

Business travel can be unpredictable, and often doesn’t leave flexibility for changingdates. So what can you do if you have to go visit a client at the same time as the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships, and every hotel room in Springfield, Illinois, is booked? Airbnb to the rescue. Just like hotels, Airbnb prices go up with demand, but I’ve never had a problemfinding an Airbnb that worked. Sometimes the Airbnb is considerably more convenient to where I need to spend time. I also often save money on parking by avoiding expensive hotel garages.

5. Opens Opportunities – and Eyes

One of the most fun and powerful reasons to use Airbnb is the amazing experience it can provide. While others are isolated in boring hotelsfilled with other businesspeople, you’ll be living among the local people. The hosts can share a great deal about the local way of life, which may be helpful in dealing with your client. The fellow guests, if you have them, often have wonderful stories to tell. For this and all the above reasons, Airbnb makes travel easier and more accessible, which means you can experience even more of this world!

7 Reasons To Start Your Own Company in Your 20s

The traditional narrative for entrepreneurs is a step-by-step process that generally looks something like this:

  1. Get a degree
  2. Get a job
  3. Build a network
  4. Save some “seed capital”
  5. Start your business

The assumption is that you’ll be ready to launch your startup in your 30s or 40s. Or maybe your 50s because, well…, kids.

Now, I don’t want to burst any happy bubbles for those of you who are already treading the traditional pathway, but that traditional narrative no longer makes much sense because over the past two decades, big corporations, big academia, and big corporatist government have rigged the business world so that the longer you wait to start your own company, the less likely you are to be successful. 

Because of this, young entrepreneurs (Millennials and Gen-Zers) should launch their startups immediately rather than waiting until they’ve got a degree and some experience. Here’s why:

1. College has become increasingly irrelevant.

If you already know you’re going to be an entrepreneurs, college is a waste of time. Business colleges are so out of touch that very few teach sales skills–the most important business skill for any entrepreneur. B-schools are also notorious repositories of wannabee entrepreneurs spouting clouds of fluffy biz-blab. Furthermore, colleges are always a decade behind the real world in technical skills and technology. Example: almost all computer animation college programs lack even a single class on real-time animation, the most important new technology in that industry.

2. College has become absurdly expensive.

How many thousands of times have you read about recent college graduates who can’t get a decent job in their field but are nonetheless saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt? By contrast, how many times have you heard successful entrepreneurs say: “wow, I’m sure glad I graduated from college…”? Like never, right? Look, if you’re going to spend yourself $50,000 into debt, do you want to end up with a useless, but largely symbolic degree? Or do you want to own a business that cost $50,000 to start?

3. College doesn’t impress recruiters anyway.

Let’s suppose you want to start your own business but you’re banking on your college degree as a backup plan… as in “I’ll give this startup my best shot but if I fail I can get use my degree to get a job.” Well, IMHO, if you’re thinking that way, you’re setting yourself up to fail as an entrepreneur, but whatever. Let’s suppose it’s a reasonable plan. Hate to tell you, but recruiters are far more impressed by an effort to start your own company than whatever cookie-cutter degree you managed to eke out of the college system. Even fancy Ivy League degrees don’t have much cachet any longer.

4. Employers hire contractors not employees.

According to a recent study conducted by Allison & Taylor Reference Checking, “the current growth of freelancing is estimated to be three times faster than that of the traditional workforce, with approximately 47% of working millennials now working in some freelance capacity.  At the current growth rate, the majority of the U.S. workforce will freelance by 2027.” Freelance positions lack benefits and pay less, thus making it more difficult to put aside the money you’ll need to start your business. Can you spell “dead end street,” boys and girls?

5. Employers legally limit your options.

You may think you’re gaining valuable experience and contacts that you can use to launch your own business, but chances are that your employee agreement or “work for hire” agreement vastly limits your ability to use whatever you’ve learned. You might launch your business and find yourself at the short end of a lawsuit, from a company that can afford an entire staff of lawyers to make sure you’re properly crushed.

6. Resumes don’t impress investors.

Investors don’t give a rodent’s posterior about your college experience. They also don’t value your work experience much more than that, unless what you were doing was directly relevant to building and running the company you’re envisioning. Investors want people who’ve successfully started their own businesses or, at the very least, somebody who’s gained the valuable experience of starting a business that didn’t pan out.

7. Exuberance is a limited resource.

You may think all those long hours and hard work working for somebody else is preparing you for the long hours and hard work you’ll need to make your startup successful. But you’d think wrong. Their plan is to burn through your youthful energy and enthusiasm until you’re an empty husk. Even if you keep your spirits up and your body in tip-top shape while they try to suck you dry, as you get older, you will INEVITABLY find it more difficult to summon extra oomph. Far better to expend your youthful exuberance making your own business a success, rather than lining someone else’s pockets, right?.

Tesla rolls out 'sentry mode' safety feature

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen at a groundbreaking ceremony of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory in Shanghai, China January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

(Reuters) – Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc on Wednesday launched a safety feature called “sentry mode” for its electric cars, as it attempts to make its vehicles more attractive to buyers.

The feature will be compatible with U.S. Model 3 vehicles, followed by Model S and Model X vehicles that were manufactured after August 2017, the electric carmaker said.

When enabled, the “sentry mode” monitors the environment around an unattended car and uses the vehicle’s external cameras to detect potential threats, according to Tesla’s blog here

A minimal threat will be detected if anyone leans on the car, triggering a message on the touchscreen and warning that its cameras are recording.

For a more severe threat, like someone breaking a window, the mode activates the car alarm, increases the brightness of the center display, plays loud music and alerts owners on their Tesla mobile app.

The United States had 773,139 motor vehicles stolen in 2017 – the highest since 2009, according to data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. here

Last week, Tesla lowered the price of its Model 3 sedan for the second time this year to make its cars more affordable for U.S. buyers. The Palo Alto, California-based company has been cutting costs as it looks to turn in profit this year.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

Cities Spurned By Amazon for HQ2 Renew Courtship After Winning New York Has Second Thoughts

As Amazon faces political obstacles in building a huge office in New York City, cities that were once candidates for the campus are courting the tech giant once again.

Cities including Miami, Chicago, and Newark, NJ have all recently talked to Amazon, brushing off their earlier rejections in hopes of landing thousands of jobs. Then Denver and Dallas said they never stopped speaking with Amazon.

Since announcing plans to build a new “second headquarters” in New York City three months ago, Amazon has encountered intense blowback. New York politicians are balking at a plan to hand over huge financial incentives to one of the biggest companies in the world while local residents complain about the impact of thousands of new workers on an already expensive and crowded neighborhood.

The opposition has Amazon second-guessing its move into the city, according to media reports, opening the door to former candidates to dust off their old proposals.

Last year, Amazon last year received 238 bids for the new headquarters, which originally was planned for one city. Candidate cities made big offers—like Maryland’s $8.5 billion incentive package—in hopes of landing the giant.

After going through the proposals, Amazon released a list of 20 finalists, which included Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and Columbus, OH—though very few of these cities publicly disclosed the incentives attached to their bids.

Ultimately, Amazon decided to change course and name two winning cities, but with only 25,000 job each. In addition to New York City, the company chose Crystal City, VA.

And while many losing cities were disappointed about being passed over, a few now are taking advantage of the tension in New York for a second chance with Amazon.

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who previously helped pitch Chicago, immediately jumped on the phone with Amazon.

“Governor Pritzker reached out to Amazon to make a full-throated pitch to attract these good-paying jobs to Illinois and assure them that they would have a strong partner in the governor’s office,” Jordan Abudayyeh, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, told Fortune in a statement.

Meanwhile, Newark, NJ contacted Amazon to let the company know the city and state still have incentive packages, approved before the city was rejected, waiting for Amazon. Officials hope the news will show Amazon that it can move in without any risk of second guessing.

Miami-Dade’s mayor Carlos Giménez told the Miami Herald that he’s ready to restart talks about bringing the Amazon to Miami or other South Florida sites that were included in an earlier joint bid. The mayor of Magic City, Fla., said he planned to reach out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to pitch him directly, according to the Herald.

A representative of the Dallas Regional Chamber said during a panel that that organization “never hung up the phone with Amazon,” according to media reports. The chamber declined to comment on whether Dallas planned to approach the company directly.

But Dallas mayoral candidate Jason Villalba was vocal about the matter on Twitter, saying, “Dallas can win this bid!” Undoubtedly, he also was using the issue as a way to highlight his experience in economic development to voters.

Similarly, The Dallas Morning News took the opportunity to write an op-ed titled, “Dear Amazon, New York doesn’t want you; Dallas does.” Mind you, the Morning News’ former headquarters is one of the potential sites for Amazon’s headquarters that Dallas listed in its proposal—a financial consideration that the News failed to mention.