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China’s Mars rover starts roaming the Red Planet

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MAY 2021

Shanghai (AFP)

China’s Mars rover drove from its landing platform and began exploring the surface on Saturday, state-run Xinhua news agency said, making the country only the second nation to land and operate a rover on the Red Planet.

The launch last July of the Tianwen-1 Mars probe, which carried the Zhurong rover, marked a major milestone in China’s space programme.

Tianwen-1 touched down on a vast northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia a week ago and beamed back its first photos of the surface a few days later.

The Mars probe and rover are expected to spend around three months taking photos, harvesting geographical data, and collecting and analysing rock samples.

The six-wheeled, solar-powered, 240-kilogramme (530-pound) Zhurong is named after a Chinese mythical fire god.

China has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and landed a rover on Mars — the most prestigious of all prizes in the competition for dominion of space.

The United States and Russia are the only other countries to have reached Mars, and only the former has operated a rover on the surface.

Several US, Russian and European attempts to land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, most recently in 2016 with the crash-landing of the Schiaparelli joint Russian-European spacecraft.

The latest successful arrival came in February, when US space agency NASA landed its rover Perseverance, which has since been exploring the planet.

The US rover launched a small robotic helicopter on Mars which was the first-ever powered flight on another planet.

China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

It successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it crewed by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

Last week a segment of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket disintegrated over the Indian Ocean in an uncontrolled landing back to Earth.

That drew criticism from the United States and other nations for a breach of etiquette governing the return of space debris to Earth, with officials saying the remnants had the potential to endanger life and property.

© 2021 AFP

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The race for artificial intelligence – Can Europe compete? | DW Documentary

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming industries and society – and a global race has taken off for who will create the most cutting-edge technology. The outcome could reshape the global balance of powers. At the moment, the United States and China stand as the leading contenders. Europe, meanwhile, finds itself lagging behind. But the continent is eager to catch up, and it has a plan: Officials hope that a strong emphasis on transparency and fairness in AI development will set European AI apart and provide an edge in the years to come. However, the question remains: Can these European initiatives compete with the vast resources that Big Tech companies pour into AI research? And will the EU’s ethics-first approach to AI become a competitive advantage in the global race for AI – or will it set Europe even further behind?

0:00 The race for AI supremacy

0:51 Using AI to make cities more liveable

4:19 Can AI help cure cancer?

7:49 How the EU plans to govern AI

9:10 Transforming societies with big data

11:02 Will strict AI rules set Europe back?

15:11 Fighting cyber attacks and brain drain with AI

19:46 Europe: Winner or loser in the race for AI?

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Mergers and Acquisitions in African Fintech

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By ERIC OSIAKWAN 

May 4, 2021

On 1st of April, as I was publishing my Uniconization of African Fintech piece, Mastercard was busy announcing their $100 million investment into Airtel Money (Airtel Africa’s mobile money subsidiary) to acquire a minority position – half what TPG Capital did. Even though I had gotten wind of the transaction knowing that Mastercard was already in bed with Airtel Money – some part of me thought of it as an April fools joke….

On the 12th of April 2021, Mobile Telecom Network (MTN) announced the valuation of their mobile money business at $5 billion making it the 7th African fintech unicorn with plans to bring in minority shareholders before going public. Given that Visa is already in bed with MPESA (Vodacom and Safaricom’s mobile money business), it is a matter of time before Visa also invests.

The unicornization of African fintech is the first trend but the second, topic of today, are the mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Mergers and acquisitions are slowly taking shape in the African fintech sector but, unlike the uniconization, they are manifesting on two interrelated tracks that may or may not eventually converge. The first track is maturing fintechs are acquiring smaller and earlier stage ones to grow their market share and establish territorial presence as Andrew Takyi-Appiah, CEO of Zeepay, told me. On the 28th of April 2021, two headlines made the news; AZA bought Exchange4Free whiles Ajua acquired Wayawaya. Zeepay had earlier acquired Zambia’s Mangwee Mobile Money and MSF Africa had acquired Beyonic last year. In 2018, Emergent Technology acquired Interpay Africa in Ghana and back in 2016, Interswitch acquired Vanso – the infographic below gives you more details. The second interrelated and accelerating track that has the African banks at the center of it. Some of the big banks in Africa have realized that if they are not careful, African fintechs would take over what used to be the domain of banking.

This has led some of them to establish ways to gain visibility into the market so that they can make snap acquisitions and strategic investments to protect their interests. The first evidence of that came through on the 24th of March 2021 when First National Bank (FNB), South Africa’s most innovative bank acquired 100% of local fintech firm Selpal to gain access to their community and township based “mom and pop” businesses.

With FNB leading the charge other South African banks are following whiles the phenomenon is slowly crawling up to Eastern and West African banks. Standard Bank setup a corporate venturing arm and also backed Founders Factory to cultivate ventures for them to invest in. Nedbank has a VC team that has made eight investments so far. Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA) made their first investment in 2019 followed by the second one in 2020. Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) has their own accelerator, Alphacode that is incubating startups. Ecobank Group has their fintech challenge which annually selects startups that have strategic fit for integration. Equity Group which owns Equity Bank has also launched the Equity Investment Bank (EIB) to back early-stage funds that would back startups. A totally different approach but with the same ramifications.

Then we have those banks that seem to be late to the party or have still not come to terms with the changing landscape and continue to lobby regulators not to allow fintechs into their space. That came to a head on last month in Nigeria when the lenders kicked MTN Mobile Money (MoMo) off their shared platform because MTN MoMo halved it commission charged on the banking channels to 2.5%. The regulator had to intervene to restore MTN MoMo to the platform and reinstated the commission to 4.5% for the purchase of airtime via the banks. Whilst this may look trivial; it is really about the banks that are not on the fintech wagon realizing that fintechs are putting their business and margins at a significant risk. For example, in Ghana, MTN MoMo has about 15 million active accounts whilst all the 23 banks collectively have about 5 million bank accounts – that is a 3:1 ratio. In Nigeria, the Central Bank is yet to approve payment-service licenses to MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa after two years of them putting in their application which would allow them to provide most banking functions except lending and taking foreign-currency deposits. Whiles that seems to be a showstopper, Nigeria’s recent open banking regulations have forced the banks to share their data with the fintechs. This levels the playing field to some degree but begs the question whether the banks would change their strategy and start looking to acquire the fintechs or whether the fintechs like Flutterwave, Interswitch, Fawry, Airtel Money, MTN MoMo or MPESA which are all worth more than a billion dollars might turn around and start acquiring the banks.  Whichever way it goes, M&A is going to characterize the African fintech space as the second major trend after unicornization for the foreseeable future.

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Vlog: Discovering the latest innovations at the World Intelligence Congress

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22-May-2021

By Guo Meiping, Zeng Hongen

What are the latest innovations in the intelligent industry? How could they change our lives? Let’s find out the answers at the fifth World Intelligence Congress (WIC).

Held from May 20 to 23 in the northern city of Tianjin, the WIC consists of a series of conferences, exhibitions and competitions.

One of the highlights of WIC is the “Intelligent Technology Exhibition” in which over 200 enterprises, universities, and research institutes demonstrate their works of intelligent technology.

A special pavilion was set up at the exhibition, which demonstrates innovations from universities in Tianjin.

A neuro-controlled mechanical exoskeleton developed by the Tianjin University. /CGTN

Developed by the Tianjin University, an exoskeleton called “Shen Jia” attracted a crowd.

“This is a neuro-controlled mechanical exoskeleton,” Liu Yuan, a Tianjin University’s Neural Engineering Team member, told CGTN. “What distinguishes us from other exoskeleton systems is our electroencephalogram (EEG) cap.”

Captured by the EEG cap, patients’ willingness to walk drive the exoskeleton to move accordingly, Liu added.

The Integrated Procedures Trainer developed by the Civil Aviation University of China. /CGTN

At the exhibition, the audience can get the chance to be a “pilot” with a simulator developed by the Civil Aviation University of China.

The simulator, or an Integrated Procedures Trainer, is used for training in airplane maintenance and flight procedures, explained Zhang Wenlin, lecturer of Civil Aviation University of China. He added that the simulator has already been adopted by many airlines in China for relevant training.

Some of the demonstrations of intelligent technology at the WIC are closer to our lives.

Exercise equipment at the smart exercise yard can track users’ motion. /CGTN

A smart exercise yard was set up at the exhibition. Before exercise, users can scan a QR code at the entrance and filled in physical information such as height, weight, and medical history to register.

After the registration, users can scan their faces before using each exercise equipment, so the equipment can track their motion and show them information such as the number of their movements and how many calories they’ve burned.

A robotic barista demonstrated at the fifth World Intelligence Congress. /CGTN

If the audience needs a cup of coffee in the middle of their tour, a robotic barista was at their service. 

Click here to watch the re-broadcast of CGTN’s tour at the exhibition.

Tianjin is a city full of tech and science features.

The Tianjin port is an important shipping hub in north China. /CFP

The Tianjin port is an important shipping hub in north China and has continuously been a “smart port”. It has introduced a variety of technological innovations to bolster efficiency including the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, self-driving electric vehicles and 5G.

Moreover, experts from research institutes and universities based in Tianjin have participated in the research and development, and manufacture of China’s Long March-5 rocket and the Chang’e-5 lunar probe.

(Cover image by Gao Hongmei)

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