If you live in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you could be one of the first consumers to ride in a self-driving car in the state of New York. That’s thanks to autonomous vehicle startup Optimus Ride, which today announced its plans to deploy self-driving vehicles to the 300-acre development in Brooklyn. The development houses 400 businesses that employ 9,000 people.
Although self-driving car companies have tested vehicles in New York, there has yet to be a commercial development of such services — until now. Back in 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo touted the state’s first successful self-driving vehicle demonstration in partnership with Audi. New York’s state law pertaining to the testing of autonomous vehicles has been renewed through April 2019. While NY state has yet to allow any operators to deploy self-driving vehicles for commercial purposes, Optimus Ride is able to do so because they will be on private roads, versus public roads.
At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Optimus Ride will offer a loop shuttle service to transport people within a defined, geofenced area. Optimus Ride is also deploying vehicles at Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre gated community in Fairfield, Calif. During the pilot phase in Fairfield, Optimus Ride will enable prospective residents to request self-driving tours of the community. Residents, on the other hand, will be able to request on-demand rides within the community.
“We are excited to announce not one but two self-driving vehicle deployments today,” Optimus Ride CEO and co-founder Dr. Ryan Chin said in a press release. “Working with leading developments and communities like Paradise Valley Estates and the Brooklyn Navy Yard enable us to further our mission to transform mobility. We’re pleased to be the first company to launch a self-driving vehicle program in the state of New York and, having now announced three deployments in the first quarter of 2019, are well positioned as the leader in self-driving systems for geofenced areas.”
From Extra Crunch Patreon, the focus of our first EC-1, has now announced the new pricing tiers that they telegraphed in our deep dive. New reports discuss the growing demand for foreign talent and consumer annoyance with media fragmentation (i.e. can’t everything just be on Netflix?) One of our Verified Expert lawyers, José Ancer, discusses […]
Amazon rules the roost when it comes to e-commerce marketplaces in countries like the US, but today it’s announcing a deal that it hopes will be a start its plan to have that same kind of ubiquity outside of its walled garden. The company has inked a deal with Worldpay for the latter to become its first acquirer.
This means that Worldpay — one of the more ubiquitous providers of payment technologies, processing 40 billion transactions worth some $1.7 trillion annually through 300+ payment options and 120 currencies — will now be offering Amazon Pay as part of that mix, so that any merchant can offer this as a payment and shipping option to its customers.
Importantly, this could also allow Amazon, over time, to layer on further services into the mix for merchants, which could potentially include netting third party merchants into its popular Amazon Prime subscription scheme for free shipping and more.
“It’s a good question, but we’d prefer not to speak about our future plans,” Patrick Gauthier, VP of Amazon Pay, told TechCrunch when asked about Prime and whether it could become a part of the Worldpay offering. “Today the announcement is about the extension of our footprint. It will lead us into more opportunities to grow the value proposition for buyers and merchants, but I will reserve discussion about that for the future.”
Gauthier said that the initial focus of the deal will be to cover digital payments mainly for online merchants, although not just on websites per se. “The focus is on the connected experience, and we are leaning into other kinds of connected devices TVs,” he said.
The lure for merchants goes something like this: linking into Amazon Pay gives buyers an option to select from a list of active addresses and payment options that they will already be using to buy on Amazon. This, in turn, will make it less onerous to fill out details to complete the transaction — and therefore less likely for the sale to fall prey to the “shopping cart abandonment” that scuppers many an online transaction. That would be even more the case on screens where a user might not have a keyboard and so inputting information is even more of a pain, such as on a TV.
To be clear, in a nutshell, this quicker process, added convenience, and increased security (no need to re-enter card details), are the promised benefits of all digital wallets. Amazon’s unique selling point, however, is that its particular set of data is already widely used, and therefore more likely to be used again.
The other 95%
We once reported on some research that found that Amazon accounted for nearly half of all online commerce in the US, but only five percent of all retail spend. As a long-term plan to continue growing its business, Amazon has been working on ways to extend its reach outside of the world of Amazon for a while now.
While some efforts in areas like point-of-sale services, for example, have largely fallen flat, what’s interesting in this Worldpay deal is how Amazon is willing to concede a bit of control in its effort to change that track record and tap into that bigger market.
Ramji noted that Worldpay actually built Amazon a custom API to integrate Amazon Pay on to its platform and to create the ability to tap into the data around shipping and cards that Amazon can subsequently provide to merchants. That implies that this will, for now at least, be something that only Worldpay will be able to provide to customers.
What’s also very notable in this news is how Amazon Pay / Worldpay might help Amazon bring in more transactions under its Amazon Prime subscription umbrella.
While Gauthier would not comment on whether Prime might be offered as an option at checkout at any point in the Worldpay integration, he did note that the company has quietly been testing using Prime outside of Amazon for a while now.
“As a matter of fact we have had instances of doing that already,” he said, noting that the fashion retailer All Saints currently provides the same Prime shipping benefits to its customers if they happen also to be Prime subscribers. “It has been very successful in terms of customer conversion and lift, and to capture new customers.”
He also noted that the company ran tests during Prime Day in 2018, testing using Prime with third-party merchants to understand the potential opportunity it might have here. “Yes, we have had interest from merchants if and when we decide to go further with Prime.”
Amazon is announcing an update to its entry-level Kindle (you know, the one that’s just called “Kindle” without any cool subtitles), adding a feature that has long become standard across the rest of the company’s e-reader line: a built-in light.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only major change coming to the 2019 version of the Kindle. Amazon also says that it’s tweaked the design a bit to make the device more comfortable to hold, but it still looks pretty similar to the 2016 model. The addition of the light comes at a price: Amazon is raising the cost by $10, meaning the cheapest Kindle now starts at $89.99 (for the ad-supported model).
Amazon is keeping the base model Kindle distinct from the Paperwhite, feature-wise. It’s still stuck with a 167ppi display, instead of the crisper, clearer 300ppi panel found on both the Paperwhite and Oasis, and the screen still is recessed instead of flush with the front of the device. It’s also the only Kindle in the lineup that isn’t waterproof.
Unless price is the biggest factor for you, there’s very little about the new Kindle to recommend over the Paperwhite, especially considering how frequently Amazon discounts its products. (The Paperwhite has already been on sale for $90, the same price as the updated base model Kindle.)
The refreshed Kindle is available to preorder today from Amazon, and shipping is set for April 10th. If you already have a Kindle but are looking to upgrade, Amazon is willing to sweeten the deal with a new trade-in offer: send in your old device, and you’ll get an Amazon gift card (how much depends on what your old Kindle is) as well as a 25 percent discount on a new Kindle.
“The future of gaming is not a box,” according to Google. “It’s a place.” Just like how humans have built stadiums for sports over hundreds of years, Google believes it’s building a virtual stadium, aptly dubbed Stadia, for the future of games to be played anywhere. You won’t need an expensive gaming PC or a dedicated game console. Instead, you’ll just need access to Google’s Chrome browser to instantly play games on a phone, tablet, PC, or TV. It’s a bold vision for where gaming is heading, and Google hopes its Stadia cloud streaming service will make it a reality.
Google may have just unveiled the future of gaming at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), but it’s a future the company has left us knowing very little about.
At the heart of Google’s Stadia cloud streaming service are YouTube and Chrome. Google is leveraging YouTube to lean heavily on the popularity of gaming clips and creators who regularly stream games to millions of people on services like Twitch. These communities and games like Fortnite have turned into virtual places where kids hang out to chat, play, and watch streamers. It’s a big business, too. Fortnite made around $2.4 billion alone last year, and one of the most popular streamers makes more than $500,000 a month.
The Stadia premise is that you’ll be able to watch a clip of a game and then instantly play it or even launch to the very same point in the game of the clip you were watching. Streamers will be able to create lobbies for fans to join and play with them on YouTube, and Stadia will support instant clipping to the video service. This is a game console running in the cloud and built for the YouTube generation, and it’s Google’s big push here.
Chrome also plays a big role as Google’s dominant web browser. Stadia will only be available through Chrome, Chromecast, and on Android devices initially. Google has promised more browsers in the future, but it’s not clear when this will arrive. Google only demonstrated the service on its own devices, and there was no mention of iOS support through a dedicated app or Apple’s Safari mobile browser.
Google has some significant hurdles to overcome if it wants to dominate gaming for the next generation, though. The biggest among them is getting games on its platform. Google showed a single new title, Doom Eternal, running on Stadia, and it promised that more than 100 game studios already have dev kits. Google even unveiled its own Stadia Games and Entertainment studio to create Stadia-exclusive titles, but it didn’t mention any details on what games it will be building.
Google is using Linux as the operating system powering its hardware on the server side. That means game developers will need to port their games to Stadia, and you won’t be able to bring games you already own like some other cloud gaming services (Nvidia’s GeForce Now or Shadow). Google is partnering with Unreal and Unity and even middleware companies like Havok, but there’s going to be some lifting involved for developers to get games onto Stadia. Google needs to convince big publishers to sign up, but it failed to detail how much it costs to develop, publish, and run games on Stadia.
We don’t even know how much the service will cost for consumers or when it’s launching — only that it will arrive in some form in 2019. Will it be subscription-based? Can you own your games in the cloud? These are important questions that Google needs to answer, and it skipped past them yesterday to promise more details in the summer. It feels like Google has rushed to beat some self-imposed GDC deadline to court developer interest here, and it’s likely why the company was only able to show a handful of games yesterday.
Economics aside, Google also stealthily avoided the big questions around existing game streaming services: internet connectivity. Google is using its own compression technology to stream games in 1080p or 4K to devices, and some of the typical latency will be reduced by having the game client and server on the same machine. Still, you’ll need a reliable and active internet connection to access Stadia, and Google is recommending a connection of “approximately 25 Mbps” for 1080p resolution at 60 fps.
In an interview with Kotaku, Google Stadia boss Phil Harrison says, “[W]e will be able to get to 4K but only raise that bandwidth to about 30 Mbps.” That means the average fixed broadband connection in the US, currently around 96 Mbps by some estimates, will be sufficient, but if you’re living in a state without broadband coverage or relying on rural internet speeds then you’ll be stuck waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to raise the minimum rural broadband speed standard to 25 Mbps. You’ll also need a connection without broadband caps because if you’re going to be playing games a lot, then it will soon eat into data limits. We don’t know the exact bitrates of Stadia just yet, but watching a regular HD Netflix stream uses around 3GB per hour, and this more than doubles for 4K streams.
Speeds won’t cover the latency aspect, though. This is key to any game streaming service. While services like Netflix can download and buffer the fixed content you’re streaming, a game service relies on picking up your controller movements and relaying them in real time back and forth between you and the server you’re playing on. This means the closer to the server you’re playing on, the better, and the fewer hops through internet traffic, the better.
Google has a solid advantage here due to its cloud infrastructure, but if you’re not near a big city where Google’s data centers are located, then you won’t get the most ideal experience. Google is addressing part of this by connecting its Stadia controller directly to the server you’re playing on over Wi-Fi, but it has no control over the thousands of ISPs and how they route traffic to its data centers.
Google’s Stadia service is also entirely cloud-based, which means no offline play. While you might typically sync a few Netflix shows to your phone or tablet because you know your LTE connectivity sucks, you’ll need a constant connection to Stadia to play games on the go. 5G will certainly help here, but only partially and not anytime soon.
Google also revealed that its servers will be powered by a custom AMD GPU that will deliver 10.7 teraflops of power, which is more than the 4.2 teraflops of the PS4 Pro and the 6 teraflops of power on the Xbox One X. This graphical power is impressive but largely irrelevant. The end result of actual gameplay will rely entirely on your internet connection to Stadia.
Google will compress the image from its servers to your client, resulting in a loss of image quality. We don’t know the exact bitrates that Google will use for Stadia, but if you’ve ever watched a 4K version of a Netflix show, you’ll know the image quality isn’t as good as a Blu-ray copy. The same will apply for Stadia, and how you notice it will depend on your internet connection and the device you’re using to access Stadia. Smaller screens will make the drop in image quality less noticeable, and more internet bandwidth will give you a higher bitrate and thus a higher-quality image.
This will all vary from game title to title, and Google hasn’t shown enough variation of games to really give an understanding of how well Stadia will perform. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry was able to test Stadia, but the testing was limited to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey instead of a demanding title like a first-person shooter that requires quick player response time or fast-moving action games where artifacts are much more obvious.
All of this makes Stadia look like an early beta for what will be part of the future of gaming. Google has hired a lot of industry talent for this ambitious project. Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, is leading the Stadia charge, and Jade Raymond, who has previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft, is heading up the company’s first-party games. Xbox Live Arcade creator Greg Canessa is also working on Stadia, alongside former Xbox gaming partnerships lead Nate Ahearn. All of this experience should help Google in its cloud gaming fight.
Sony and Microsoft’s approaches aren’t cloud-native like Google’s, and they don’t require developers to port their games or rebuild them for their cloud streaming service. Both companies are using console hardware in server blades. That’s a benefit for now as both Sony and Microsoft can offer big game libraries without needing developers to change anything. Google’s ambitious effort will require more heavy lifting from developers, but Google has the longer-term advantage of being able to switch out its hardware with ease in the future and implement changes that don’t affect legacy console hardware.
Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google will be the key players in any cloud gaming war. Sony has the games and PlayStation Now, Microsoft can leverage its Azure data centers and Xbox Game Pass for xCloud, and Amazon can lean on its cloud dominance, Prime, and its massively popular Twitch service to entice gamers. Google has some fierce competition, but it looks like this cloud gaming war is just getting started.