Making way for new levels of American innovation

New fifth-generation “5G” network technology will equip the United States with a superior wireless platform unlocking transformative economic potential. However, 5G’s success is contingent on modernizing outdated policy frameworks that dictate infrastructure overhauls and establishing the proper balance of public-private partnerships to encourage investment and deployment.

Most people have heard by now of the coming 5G revolution. Compared to 4G, this next-generation technology will deliver near-instantaneous connection speed, significantly lower latency – meaning near-zero buffer times – and increased connectivity capacity to allow billions of devices and applications to come online and communicate simultaneously and seamlessly.

While 5G is often discussed in future tense, the reality is it’s already here. Its capabilities were displayed earlier this year at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Samsung and Intel  class=”m_4430823757643656150MsoHyperlink”>showcased a 5G enabled virtual reality (VR) broadcasting experience to event goers. In addition, multiple U.S. carriers including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have announced commercial deployments in select markets by the end of 2018, while chipmaker Qualcomm unveiled last month its new 5G millimeter-wave module that outfits smartphones with 5G compatibility.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – 2018/02/26: View of the phone company QUALCOMM technology 5G in the Mobile World Congress.
The Mobile World Congress 2018 is being hosted in Barcelona from 26 February to 1st March. (Photo by Ramon Costa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While this commitment from 5G commercial developers is promising, long-term success of 5G is ultimately dependent on addressing two key issues.

The first step is ensuring the right policies are established at the federal, state and municipal levels in the U.S. that will allow the buildout of needed infrastructure, namely “small cells”. This equipment is designed to fit on streetlights, lampposts and buildings. You may not even notice them as you walk by, but they are critical to adding capacity to the network and transmitting wireless activity quickly and reliably. 

In many communities across the U.S., 20th century infrastructure policies are slowing the emergence of bringing next-generation networks and technologies online. Issues including costs per small cell attachment, permitting around public rights-of-way and deadlines on application reviews are all less-than-exciting topics of conversation but act as real threats to achieving timely implementation of 5G according to recent research from Accenture and the 5G Americas organization.

Policymakers can mitigate these setbacks by taking inventory of their own policy frameworks and, where needed, streamlining and modernizing processes. For instance, current small cell permit applications can take upwards of 18 to 24 months to advance through the approval process as a result of needed buy-in from many local commissions, city councils, etc. That’s an incredible amount of time for a community to wait around and ultimately fall behind on next-generation access. As a result, policymakers are beginning to act. 

13 states, including Florida, Ohio, and Texas have already passed bills alleviating some of the local infrastructure hurdles accompanying increased broadband network deployment, including delays and pricing. Additionally, this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has moved on multiple orders that look to remedy current 5G roadblocks including opening up commercial access to more amounts of needed high-, mid- and low-band spectrum.

The second step is identifying areas in which public and private entities can partner to drive needed capital and resources towards 5G initiatives. These types of collaborations were first made popular in Europe, where we continue to see significant advancement of infrastructure initiatives through combined public-private planning including the European Commission and European ICT industry’s 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G PPP).

The U.S. is increasing its own public-private levels of planning. In 2015, the Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation launched its successful “Smart City Challenge” encouraging planning and funding in U.S. cities around advanced connectivity. More recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded New York City a $22.5 million grant through its Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) initiative to create and deploy the first of a series of wireless research hubs focused on 5G-related breakthroughs including high-bandwidth and low-latency data transmission, millimeter wave spectrum, next-generation mobile network architecture, and edge cloud computing integration.

While these efforts should be applauded, it’s important to remember they are merely initial steps. A recent study conducted by CTIA, a leading trade association for the wireless industry, found that the United States remains behind both China and South Korea in 5G development. If other countries beat the U.S. to the punch, which some anticipate is already happening, companies and sectors that require ubiquitous, fast, and seamless connection – like autonomous transportation for example – could migrate, develop, and evolve abroad casting lasting negative impact on U.S. innovation. 

The potential economic gains are also significant. A 2017 Accenture report predicts an additional $275 billion in infrastructure investments from the private sector, resulting in up to 3 million new jobs and a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of $500 billion. That’s just on the infrastructure side alone. On the global scale, we could see as much as $12 trillion in additional economic activity according to discussion at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January.

Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” When it comes to America’s technology evolution, this quote holds especially true. Our nation has led the digital revolution for decades. Now with 5G, we have the opportunity to unlock an entirely new level of innovation that will make our communities safer, more inclusive and more prosperous for all.

UberAIR to take flight with help from UT Austin and U.S. Army Research Labs

After three months of discussions, Uber Elevate has selected The University of Texas at Austin as its partner alongside the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to develop new rotor technology for vehicles that the company will use in its uberAIR flying taxi network.

The news is the latest step in Uber’s plans to get demonstration flights off the ground in the megalopolises of Dallas Ft. Worth; Los Angeles, and Dubai. The ultimate goal is to have uberAIR services commercially available in those cities by 2023.

To achieve that, Uber has set up some rigorous specifications for its vehicle and the traffic management system used to operate uberAIR, developed in conjunction with several aircraft manufacturers and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Specifically for the vehicle, Uber is requiring a fully electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle that has a cruising speed of 150 to 200 miles per hour; a cruising altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet; and a range of up to 60 miles for a single charge.

The company isn’t the only one racing to own the sky taxi space for urban transport. Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang; Aston Martin; Rolls Royce; Audi and Airbus and other, smaller, startup vendors are all trying to make flying vehicles. Ehang has been touting manned test flights of its drone already.

Uber, on the other hand is trying to build out the service in much the same way it did with car hailing so many years ago.

The company actually unveiled its thoughts on air travel and design a few months ago at its Elevate conference.

At UT, a research team led by Professor Jayant Sirohi, one of the country’s experts on unmanned drone technology, VTOL aircraft, and fixed- and rotary-wing elasticity will examine how the efficacy of a new flying technology, which uses two rotor systems stacked on top of one another and rotating in the same direction.

Called co-rotating rotors, the new technology will be tested for its efficiency and noise signature, according to a statement from the university. Preliminary tests have shown the potential for these rotors to work better than other approaches while also improving versatility for an aircraft.

“There’s a lot of things to be done,” said Sirohi. “We are not doing vehicles. we’re doing a specific rotor system on one of the engineering common reference models that Uber has released.”

The reference model is a benchmark for what the aircraft should do in field tests and eventually operations, Sirohi said. “We are pursuing these technologies to see what the gaps are in where we are today and where we need to be,” Sirohi said.

Why This Sand From Texas Is Suddenly Worth $80 a Ton

(Bloomberg) — Standing high on top of a windswept dune in the West Texas plains, Greg Edwards stares out into a vast ocean of sand. It stretches in every direction, interrupted only by an occasional strip of asphalt or clusters of silos that rise high into the sky.

Edwards runs a frack-sand mine. And those silos mark the presence of his rivals, who suddenly seem to be popping up everywhere. As he turns 360 degrees under the blistering midday sun, he calls out their names one by one: “Badger … Atlas … High Roller … Alpine … Black Mountain … Covia.”

Twelve months ago, none of them existed — not even the mine owned by Edwards’s employer, Hi-Crush Partners. It was the first of its kind here in West Texas. Day one was July 31, 2017. Ten others immediately followed. And another 10 or so are now hustling to get started.

Together, they will mine and ship some 22 million tons of sand this year to shale drillers all around them in the Permian Basin, the hottest oil patch on Earth. It is a staggering sum of sand, equal to almost a quarter of total U.S. supply. And within a couple years, industry experts say, the figure could climb to over 50 million tons.

David Cutbirth, the long-time mayor of the nearby town of Monahans, is dumbfounded by it all. Until the miners arrived, these dunes were a quasi-barren wasteland — good only for weekend adventurers zipping around on buggies. And the price of sand was, well, zero. Today, it fetches $80 a ton, making this year’s haul alone worth about $2 billion.

“I’m in awe everyday,” Cutbirth says. “This stuff is worth something?”

There is perhaps no industry that better captures the money-multiplying effect of the Permian boom than the out-of-nowhere emergence of West Texas as a rival to the original capital of U.S. frack-sand mining in northwestern Wisconsin. With such explosive growth, of course, comes the risk of over-expansion. The local miners are unmoved by such talk — Hi-Crush CFO Laura Fulton actually laughed at the notion — but to the more dispassionate set of analysts and investors who watch the industry from afar, it is a major risk even if the oil market continues to go strong.

“The fear on Wall Street today is, ‘Oh my gosh, things look great today, but we can’t assume this is gonna last,”’ said Joseph Triepke, a former Jefferies Group analyst who now runs an industry research firm called Infill Thinking. “Look at all this capacity.”

Marble vs. Jelly Bean

This concern is clearly visible in the stock market. Shares of Hi-Crush are down more than 10 percent since mid-May. So too are those of U.S. Silica Holdings and Emerge Energy Services. And Covia Holdings, a new company formed in a merger of two sand powerhouses, has slumped 27 percent since it began trading last month.

All of these miners, with the exception of Emerge, now have operations in West Texas. And they all have quarries back in Wisconsin too. That state had quickly emerged as the epicenter of the sand market when fracking took off a decade ago. Large, rugged and round as marbles, the granules found there are ideally shaped to prop open crevices in shale rock so that the oil can seep out freely.

The West Texas sand isn’t nearly as big or as sturdy. And it’s oddly shaped too — more like a jelly bean than a marble.

So for years, it was ignored. (No one was even interested in it for use in other industries, like cement or microchips.) But then, in the summer of 2014, the price of oil plunged. Suddenly, cost-cutting was all the rage. And there was no cheaper place to pump shale oil than in the Permian.

As drillers piled into the region, they began to wonder if they really needed to have sand shipped some 1,300 miles by rail from Wisconsin when they had this inferior, but serviceable, stuff lying all around them. Shipping costs from Wisconsin come to about $90 per ton of sand. That’s triple the $25 or so it costs to truck in the Texas sand.

“The business plan is simple,” says Peter Allen, senior project manager at Black Mountain Sand. “We cut out the cost of railing it here.”

Backed by a private-equity firm named Natural Gas Partners, Black Mountain is the biggest outfit in the area. It runs two mines nestled up against a desolate strip of highway that stretches into unincorporated parts of Texas along the border with New Mexico. They’re called Vest and El Dorado. Both are just months old. And both are already cranking out sand at a pace equal to 5 million tons a year.

It takes an army of trucks to haul that much sand to well sites. And they need to get in and out of the mines efficiently. Allen’s target is eight minutes or less. An automated system that knows which sand to feed each truck speeds the process along. Still, they come in so fast that the line can back up quickly. On a recent afternoon, it was several deep. Sergio Pando, a load-out operator, says that’s nothing. On a really hectic day, it can swell to 100.

‘Gold Rush’

Like most everyone else here, Pando was lured to the sand mines by the prospect of big pay. Even unskilled newbies can pull down $19 an hour, almost triple the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage. A student at Texas Tech University, Pando took off the spring semester to start working at Black Mountain. Six months into the job, he’s making $28 an hour.

“You have this flood of people and resources and capital going into this small,condensed area,” says Allen, who himself was recruited away from Rio Tinto’s U.S. mining operation. “It’s like a gold rush.”

This gold rush metaphor comes up again and again in conversations here. Or gold mine. That one is popular too. Fulton, the Hi-Crush CFO, says it’s apt for the situation because, just like the speculators of old, people are trying to snap up land now before the actual mining companies arrive.

“They’re trying to just find something, quickly flip it and make some quick cash,” Fulton says. “They really don’t have the intention of staying and working in the sand industry.”

But as Edwards, the mine manager, stood atop that sand dune later that day and took in the sight of all of those rival silos dotting the horizon, he was struck by something very different. And while he didn’t betray any concern when he said it, there’s a cautionary, almost foreboding, note to the observation: “We knew there were people talking about it. We didn’t know how many would go through with it.”

TMGcore is running high-efficiency crypto mines in Texas

Out on the plains of East Texas, not far from Dallas, a company called TMGcore is mining crypto. The company, funded to the tune of $70 million, will be mining multiple cryptocurrencies and is using some unique technology to ensure that it doesn’t eat up an entire city’s worth of energy.

“TMGcore will be one of the first companies to utilize 3M’s Novec fluorochemical coolant at the heart of an enterprise scale cryptocurrency mining apparatus,” said CEO JD Enright. “The company’s intelligent mining system uses a Two Phase Liquid Cooling Immersion technology to dramatically decrease cooling costs by up to 90% and lets the company conduct mining operations from anywhere, including the middle of hot and muggy Texas. TMGcore also employs dynamically intelligent mining software that automatically mines the most profitable coin based on realtime market value and difficulty of access for the most profitable deployment of resources in realtime. Our technology is first-to-market and delivers a transformative approach to crypto mining that stands to fundamentally disrupt the market.”

The goal is to create mining infrastructure in the US and to prevent overseas control of the various currencies.

“Giving America a seat at the table is our #1 goal here at TMgcore. Our cooling technology and efficient mining rigs open up more regions of this country to house this type of operation,” said Enright.

The mine is housed in Plano, Texas inside a 150,000 square foot facility and is capable of a “100 megawatt live power load.” Further, the company is running custom ASIC chips increase board density and reduce mining costs significantly. In short, it will be one of the highest tech mining facilities in the world.

From the release:

The company has developed a unique use case with a fluorochemical coolant that delivers smart, safe and sustainable cooling for industrial technology operations. TMGcore will be one of the first companies to utilize this compound at the heart of an enterprise scale cryptocurrency mining apparatus. The company’s intelligent mining technology uses a Two-Phase Liquid Cooling Immersion technology to dramatically decrease cooling costs by up to 90%. The system also dynamically adapts its mining efforts toward the most profitable token at any given time, factoring in real-time market price, the difficulty of access and hash rate. TMGcore has also developed custom-made ASIC mining boards that result in a 20% increase in token output.

“Leveraging the magic of this coolant and groundbreaking mining circuitry, we saw a massive opportunity to capitalize on the nascent and highly lucrative mining industry in a physical, tangible and industrial fashion,” said Enright. “TMGcore seeks to deconstruct the mining monopoly in other countries with an American-made, U.S. driven approach that not only pushes the blockchain ecosystem forward but also creates job opportunities for Texas’ fast-growing technology community. We understand the importance of the research and development that creates not only innovations but the efficiencies that support the blockchain industry on a global scale.”

“Texas, more so than many other states in this country, has an abundant supply of energy available on their grid with available real estate to house such a project,” said Enright. “Cryptocurrency mining has not really been able to take advantage of Texas’ energy supply to date because the state is too hot. By utilizing Novec in this Two Phase Liquid Cooling Immersion technology, we have unlocked Texas’ potential to mine for the first time.”

Scaling startups are setting up secondary hubs in these cities

America’s mayors have spent the past nine months tripping over each other to curry favor with Amazon.com in its high-profile search for a second headquarters.

More quietly, however, a similar story has been playing out in startup-land. Many of the most valuable venture-backed companies are venturing outside their high-cost headquarters and setting up secondary hubs in smaller cities.

Where are they going? Nashville is pretty popular. So is Phoenix. Portland and Raleigh also are seeing some jobs. A number of companies also have a high number of remote offerings, seeking candidates with coveted skills who don’t want to relocate.

Those are some of the findings from a Crunchbase News analysis of the geographic hiring practices of U.S. unicorns. Since most of these companies are based in high-cost locations, like the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and New York, we were looking to see if there is a pattern of setting up offices in smaller, cheaper cities. (For more on survey technique, see Methodology section below.)

Here is a look at some of the hotspots.

Nashville

One surprise finding was the prominence of Nashville among secondary locations for startup offices.

We found at least four unicorns scaling up Nashville offices, plus another three with growing operations in or around other Tennessee cities. Here are some of the Tennessee-loving startups:

When we referred to Nashville’s popularity with unicorns as surprising, that was largely because the city isn’t known as a major hub for tech startups or venture funding. That said, it has a lot of attributes that make for a practical and desirable location for a secondary office.

Nashville’s attractions include high quality of life ratings, a growing population and economy, mild climate and lots of live music. Home prices and overall cost of living are also still far below Silicon Valley and New York, even though the Nashville real estate market has been on a tear for the past several years. An added perk for workers: Tennessee has no income tax on wages.

Phoenix

Phoenix is another popular pick for startup offices, particularly West Coast companies seeking a lower-cost hub for customer service and other operations that require a large staff.

In the chart below, we look at five unicorns with significant staffing in the desert city:

 

Affordability, ease of expansion and a large employable population look like big factors in Phoenix’s appeal. Homes and overall cost of living are a lot cheaper than the big coastal cities. And there’s plenty of room to sprawl.

One article about a new office opening also cited low job turnover rates as an attractive Phoenix-area attribute, which is an interesting notion. Startup hubs like San Francisco and New York see a lot of job-hopping, particularly for people with in-demand skill sets. Scaling companies may be looking for people who measure their job tenure in years rather than months.

Those aren’t the only places

Nashville and Phoenix aren’t the only hotspots for unicorns setting up secondary offices. Many other cities are also seeing some scaling startup activity.

Let’s start with North Carolina. The Research Triangle region is known for having a lot of STEM grads, so it makes sense that deep tech companies headquartered elsewhere might still want a local base. One such company is cybersecurity unicorn Tanium, which has a lot of technical job openings in the area. Another is Docker, developer of software containerization technology, which has open positions in Raleigh.

The Orlando metro area stood out mostly due to Robinhood, the zero-fee stock and crypto trading platform that recently hit the $5 billion valuation mark. The Silicon Valley-based company has a significant number of open positions in Lake Mary, an Orlando suburb, including HR and compliance jobs.

Portland, meanwhile, just drew another crypto-loving unicorn, digital currency transaction platform Coinbase. The San Francisco-based company recently opened an office in the Oregon city and is currently in hiring mode.

Anywhere with a screen

But you don’t have to be anywhere in particular to score jobs at many fast-growing startups. A lot of unicorns have a high number of remote positions, including specialized technical roles that may be hard to fill locally.

GitHub, which makes tools developers can use to collaborate remotely on projects, does a particularly good job of practicing what it codes. A notable number of engineering jobs open at the San Francisco-based company are available to remote workers, and other departments also have some openings for telecommuters.

Others with a smattering of remote openings include Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity provider CrowdStrike, enterprise software developer Apttus and also Docker.

Not everyone is doing it

Of course, not every unicorn is opening large secondary offices. Many prefer to keep staff closer to home base, seeking to lure employees with chic workplaces and lavish perks. Other companies find that when they do expand, it makes strategic sense to go to another high-cost location.

Still, the secondary hub phenomenon may offer a partial antidote to complaints that a few regions are hogging too much of the venture capital pie. While unicorns still overwhelmingly headquarter in a handful of cities, at least they’re spreading their wings and providing more jobs in other places, too.

Methodology

For this analysis, we were looking at U.S. unicorns with secondary offices in other North American cities. We began with a list of 125 U.S.-based companies and looked at open positions advertised on their websites, focusing on job location.

We excluded job offerings related to representing a local market. For instance, a San Francisco company seeking a sales rep in Chicago to sell to Chicago customers doesn’t count. Instead, we looked for openings for team members handling core operations, including engineering, finances and company-wide customer support. We also excluded secondary offices outside of North America.

Additionally, we were looking principally for companies expanding into lower-cost areas. In many cases, we did see companies strategically adding staff in other high-cost locations, such as New York and Silicon Valley.

A final note pertains to Austin, Texas. We did see several unicorns based elsewhere with job openings in Austin. However, we did not include the city in the sections above because Austin, although a lower-cost location than Silicon Valley, may also be characterized as a large, mature technology and startup hub in its own right.

For Apple, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about education

Following Apple’s education event in Chicago in March, I wrote about what the company’s announcements might mean for accessibility. After sitting in the audience covering the event, the big takeaway I had was Apple could “make serious inroads in furthering special education as well.” As I wrote, despite how well-designed the Classroom and Schoolwork apps seemingly are, Apple should do more to tailor their new tools to better serve students and educators in special education settings. After all, accessibility and special education are inextricably tied.

It turns out, Apple has, unsurprisingly, considered this.

“In many ways, education and accessibility beautifully overlap,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, said to me. “For us, the concept of differentiated learning and how the accessibility tools that we build in [to the products] help make that [learning] possible is really important to us.”

Apple’s philosophy toward accessibility and education isn’t about purposely targeting esoteric use cases such as IEP prep or specialized teaching methodologies.

In fact, Apple says there are many apps on the iOS App Store which do just that. The company instead believes special education students and teachers themselves should take the tools as they are and discover creative uses for them. Apple encourages those in schools to take the all-new, low-cost iPad and the new software and make them into the tools they need to teach and learn. It’s a sentiment that hearkens back how Steve Jobs pitched the original iPad: It’s a slab of metal and glass that can be whatever you wish it to be.

In other words, it’s Apple’s customers who put the ‘I’ in iPad.

In hindsight, Apple’s viewpoint for how they support special education makes total sense if you understand their ethos. Tim Cook often talks about building products that enrich people’s lives — in an education and accessibility context, this sentiment often becomes a literal truism. For many disabled people, iOS and the iPad is the conduit through which they access the world.

Apple ultimately owns the iPad and the message around it, but in actuality it’s the users who really transform it and give it its identity. This is ultimately what makes the tablet exceptional for learning. The device’s design is so inherently accessible that anyone, regardless of ability, can pick it up and go wild.

(Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Apple’s education team is special

At the March event, one of the onstage presenters was Kathleen Richardson, who works at Apple on their ConnectedED program. She is one of many who work on the company’s education team, whose group is tasked with working with schools and districts in evangelizing and integrating Apple products into their curricula.

I spoke with Meg Wilson, a former special education teacher who now works on education efforts inside Apple. A former Apple Distinguished Educator, Wilson is the resident “special education guru” who provides insight into how special education programs generally run. With that knowledge, she provides guidance on how Apple products can augment the process of individualizing and differentiating educational plans for special ed students.

A focus of our discussion was the Schoolwork app and how it could be used to suit the needs of teachers and support staff. One example Wilson cited was that of a speech therapy session, where a speech pathologist could use Schoolwork not necessarily for handouts, but for monitoring students’ progress toward IEP goals. Instead of the app showing a worksheet for the student to complete, it could show a data-tracking document for the therapist, who is recording info during lessons. “What we need in special ed is data — we need data,” Wilson said. She added Schoolwork can be used to “actually see the progress” students are making right from an iPad without mountains of paper. A key element to this, according to Wilson, is Schoolwork’s ability to modernize and streamline sharing. It makes conferring with other members of the IEP team a more continuous, dynamic endeavor. Rather than everyone convening once a year for an annual review of students’ progress, Wilson said, Schoolwork allows for “an amazing opportunity for collaboration amongst service providers.”

Wilson also emphasized the overarching theme of personalizing the iPad to suit the needs of teacher and student. “When you are creative with technology, you change people’s lives,” she said.

To her, the iPad and, especially, the new software scale for different learners and different environments really well. For special educators, for instance, Wilson said it’s easy to add one’s entire caseload to Schoolwork and have progress reports at the ready anytime. Likewise, the ability in Classroom to “lock” an entire class (or a single student) into an activity on an iPad, which takes its cues from iOS’s Guided Access feature, helps teachers ensure students stay engaged and on task during class. And for students, the intuitive nature of the iPad makes it so that students can instantly share their work with teachers.

But it isn’t only Apple who is changing education. Wilson made the case repeatedly that third-party developers are also making Apple’s solutions for education more compelling. She stressed there are many apps on the App Store that can help in special education settings (IEP prep, communication boards, etc.), and that Apple hears from developers who want to learn about accessibility and, crucially, how to make their apps accessible to all by supporting the discrete Accessibility features. Wilson shared an anecdote of an eye-opening experience for one developer, who expressed the idea of supporting accessibility “didn’t even occur to him,” but doing so made his app better.

One “big idea” that struck me from meeting with Wilson was how diverse Apple’s workforce truly is. Wilson is a former special education teacher. Apple’s health and fitness team reportedly is made up of such medical professionals as doctors and nurses. Apple’s education team is no different, as my conversation with Wilson attested. It’s notable how Apple brings together so many, from all walks of life, to help inform as they build these products. It really does intersect liberal arts with technology.

Apple makes learning code accessible to all

In early March, Lori Hawkins at the Austin American-Statesman reported on how Apple has made its Everyone Can Code program accessible to all. Hawkins wrote that representatives from Apple visited Austin’s Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach students to fly drones with code written in the Swift Playgrounds app. As you’d expect, Swift Playgrounds is fully compatible with VoiceOver and even Switch Control. “When we said everyone should be able to code, we really meant everyone,” Herrlinger told the Statesman. “Hopefully these kids will leave this session and continue coding for a long time. Maybe it can inspire where their careers can go.” Herrlinger also appeared on a panel at the SXSW festival, where she and others discussed coding and accessibility pertaining to Everyone Can Code.

For Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year, Apple has announced that a slew of special education schools are adopting Everyone Can Code into their curricula. In a press release, the company says they “collaborated with engineers, educators, and programmers from various accessibility communities to make Everyone Can Code as accessible as possible.” They also note there are “additional tools and resources” which should aid non-visual learners to better understand coding environments.

In addition to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin, Apple says there are seven other institutions across the country that are implementing the Everyone Can Code curriculum. Among them are two Bay Area schools: the Northern California campuses of the California School for the Blind and the California School for the Deaf, both located in Fremont.

At a special kick-off event at CSD, students were visited by Apple employees — which included CEO Tim Cook — who came to the school to officially announce CSB and CSD’s participation in the Everyone Can Code program.

Students arrived at the school’s media lab for what they believed to be simply another day of coding. In reality, they were in for a  surprise as Tim Cook made his appearance. Members of Apple’s Accessibility team walked students through controlling drones and robots in Swift Playgrounds on an iPad. Cook — along with deaf activist and actor Nyle DiMarco — toured the room to visit with students and have them show off their work.

In an address to students, Cook said, “We are so happy to be here to kick off the Everyone Can Code curriculum with you. We believe accessibility is a fundamental human right and coding is part of that.”

In an interview Cook told me, “Accessibility has been a priority at Apple for a long time.” He continued: “We believe in focusing on ability rather than disability. We believe coding is a language — a language that should be accessible to everyone.” When I asked about any accessibility features he personally uses, Cook said due to hearing issues he likes to use closed-captioning whenever possible. And because he wears glasses, he likes to enlarge text on all of his devices, particularly the iPhone.

Accessibility-related Apple retail events

As in prior years, Apple is spending the month of May promoting accessibility and Global Accessibility Awareness Day by hosting numerous accessibility-centric events at its retail stores across the globe. (These are done throughout the year too.) These include workshops on the accessibility features across all Apple’s platforms, as well as talks and more. Apple says they have held “over 10,000 accessibility sessions” since 2017.

Today, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018, Apple is holding accessibility-related events at several campuses worldwide, including its corporate headquarters in Cupertino, as well as at its satellite campuses in Austin, Cork and London.

Drive.ai is launching an autonomous ride-hailing network in Texas

Drive.ai, the self-driving car startup with roots in Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, has partnered with Frisco, Texas and the Hall Group to deploy the first autonomous ride-hailing platform in the state of Texas.

Initially, the platform will be available to more than 10,000 members of Hall Group’s commercial and residential communities. Through the service, people will be able to hail free autonomous rides from fixed pickup locations to fixed drop-off locations.

“Self-driving cars are here, and can improve the way we live right now,” Drive.ai co-founder and CEO Sameep Tandon said in a press release. “Our technology is safe, smart, and adaptive, and we are ready to work with governments and businesses to solve their transportation needs. Working with the City of Frisco and Frisco TMA, this pilot program will take people to the places they want to go and transform the way they experience transportation.”

Before the July launch, Drive.ai will be collecting data along the routes and working with the city to educate people about self-driving technology. During this trial period, which starts in July and will run for six months, the service will be limited to employees, residents and patrons of Hall properties. Down the road, the goal is to open up the program to all residents of Frisco.

“Today definitely marks a mobility milestone for our entire region,” Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said in a press release. “It also gets us closer to achieving one of our council’s ‘Top Ten’ goals, which is to improve traffic throughout Frisco, one of the fastest growing cities in the country.”

In September, Drive.ai announced a partnership with Lyft to launch an autonomous ride-hailing program in the San Francisco Bay Area. That program has yet to launch.

DNC launches tech marketplace for Democratic candidates

The Democratic National Committee is trying to help Democrats regain the pole position as the tech-savviest political party in the U.S.

After getting Trumped in the 2016 election (pwned on security, data analysis and at the polls), the DNC is launching I Will Run, a marketplace for software, services and training to upgrade the campaigns of Democratic candidates.

Announced today by Sally Marx, the tech program manager for the DNC, the new marketplace will have a host of tech tools that campaigns can use to get off the ground, manage their progress and ensure easy outreach to voters.

A profusion of political services have sprung up in the months since Donald Trump took the presidency. Energized technology developers (on the whole a pretty left-leaning bunch) tuned in to politics, turned on new services and (in some cases) dropped out of their careers at high-profile shops like Google, Facebook and other Bay Are behemoths to join the political circus — or at least build tools for it.

“[We’ve] heard repeatedly from candidates and campaign staff that they are unsure what tools are out there, and simultaneously feel as if they are being fed too much information by vendors,” says Marx. “On the other hand, many of these innovators are not always reaching campaigns effectively  –  some state parties and campaigns, therefore, are in the dark about some of the innovative new technology that they should know about. And, finally, we’ve been in touch with funders and supporters who want to boost the progressive tech ecosystem, but aren’t clear on where those opportunities are.”

The marketplace, which Marx writes is explicitly for Democratic campaigns, is a curated compilation of tools used by campaigns and tools tested by DNC-funded case studies.

One of the companies already on the platform is the secure messaging service, Wickr, which has been working with campaigns from both parties to secure their communications. Wickr’s one of around 56 companies and nonprofits that are listed on the site in one of six categories: digital (which is crazy general), finance, research, security, training organizations and voter outreach.

The DNC tech team will also use the site to coordinate training, volunteers and pricing for Democratic campaigns. They’re piloting the program in states like Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and Iowa.

For campaigns interested in seeing what wares I Will Run has on offer, the DNC tech team is taking its show on the road with a whistle-stop tour at DNC events so state parties and campaigns can demo the tech.