While the thought of a machine that can squirt out endless ropes of molten glass is a bit frightening, the folks at MIT have just about perfected the process. In a paper published in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, researchers Chikara Inamura, Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Peter Houk, and Neri Oxman describe a system for 3D printing glass that offers far more control over the hot material and the final product.
Their system, called G3DP2, “is a new AM platform for molten glass that combines digitally integrated three-zone thermal control system with four-axis motion control system, introducing industrial-scale production capabilities with enhanced production rate and reliability while ensuring product accuracy and repeatability, all previously unattainable for glass.”
The system uses a closed, heated box that holds the melted glass and another thermally controlled box where it prints the object. A moveable plate drops the object lower and lower as it is being printed and the print head moves above it. The system is interesting because it actually produces clear glass structures that can be used for decoration or building. The researchers take special care to control the glass extrusion system to ensure that it cools down and crystallizes without injecting impurities or structural problems.
“In the future, combining the advantages of this AM technology with the multitude of unique material properties of glass such as transparency, strength, and chemical stability, we may start to see new archetypes of multifunctional building blocks,” wrote the creators.
Tencent left out as China approves the release of 80 new video games
Chinese internet giant Tencent has been excluded from the first batch of video game license approvals issued by the state-run government since March.
China regulators approved Saturday the released of 80 online video games after a months-long freeze, Reuters first reported. None of the approved titles listed on the approval list were from Tencent Holdings, the world’s largest gaming company.
Licenses are usually granted on a first come, first serve basis in order of when studios file their applications, several game developers told TechCrunch. There are at least 7,000 titles in the waiting list, among which only 3,000 may receive the official licenses in 2019, China’s 21st Century Business Herald reported citing experts. Given the small chance of making it to the first batch, it’s unsurprising the country’s two largest game publishers Tencent and NetEase were absent.
The controlled and gradual unfreezing process is in line with a senior official’s announcement on December 21. While the Chinese gaming regulator is trying its best to greenlight titles as soon as possible, there is a huge number of applications in the pipeline, the official said. Without licenses, studios cannot legally monetize their titles in China. The hiatus in approval has slashed earnings in the world’s largest gaming market, which posted a 5.4 percent year-over-year growth in the first half of 2018, the slowest rate in the last ten years according to a report by Beijing-based research firm GPC and China’s official gaming association CNG.
Tencent is best known as the company behind WeChat, a popular messaging platform in China. But much of its revenue comes from gaming. Even with a recent decline in gaming revenue, the company has a thriving business that is majority owner of several companies including Activision, Grinding Gears Games, Riot and Supercell. In 2012, the company took a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, maker of Fortnite. Tencent also has alliances or publishing deals with other video gaming companies such as Square Enix, makers of Tomb Raider.
The ban on new video game titles in China has affected Tencent’s bottom line. The company reported revenue from gaming fell 4 percent in the third quarter due to the prolonged freeze on licenses. At the time, Tencent claimed it had 15 games with monetization approval in its pipeline. To combat pressure in its consumer-facing gaming business, the Chinese giant launched a major reorganization in October to focus more on enterprise-related initiatives such as cloud services and maps. Founder and CEO Pony Ma said at the time the strategic repositioning would prepare Tencent for the next 20 years of operation.
“In the second stage, we aspire to enable our partners in different industries to better connect with consumers via an expanding, open and connected ecosystem,” stated Ma.
China tightened restrictions in 2018 to combat games that are deemed illegal, immoral, low-quality or have a negative social impact such as those that make children addicted or near-sighted. This means studios, regardless of size, need to weigh new guidelines in their production and user interaction. Tencent placed its own restrictions on gaming in what appeared to be an attempt to assuage regulators. The company has expanded its age verification system, an effort aimed at curbing use of young players, and placed limits on daily play.
Update (December 30, 10:00 am, GMT+8): Adds context on China’s gaming industry and Tencent.
Hellobike, currently the country’s third-largest bike-sharing app according to Analysys data, announced this week that it raised “billions of yuan” ($1 = 6.88 yuan) in a new round. The company declined to reveal details on the funding amount and use of the proceeds when inquired by TechCrunch.
Leading the round were Ant Financial, the financial affiliate of Alibaba and maker behind digital wallet Alipay, and Primavera Capital, a Chinese investment firm that’s backed other mobility startups including electric automaker Xpeng and car trading platform Souche. The fledgling startup also got SoftBank interested in shelling out an investment, The Information reported in November. The fresh capital arrived about a year after it secured $350 million from investors including Ant Financial.
It’s interesting to note that while both Ofo and Hellobike fall under the Alibaba camp, they began with different geographic targets. By May, only 5 percent of Hellobike’s users were in China’s Tier 1 cities, while that ratio was over 30 percent for both Mobike and Ofo, a report by Trustdata shows.
This small-town strategy gives Hellobike an edge. As the bike-sharing markets in China’s major cities become crowded, operators began turning to lower-tier cities in 2017, a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology points out.
Hellobike’s ambition doesn’t stop at two-wheelers. In September, it rebranded its Chinese name to HelloTransTech to signify an extension into other transportation means. Aside from bikes, the startup also offers shared electric bikes, ride-hailing and carpooling, a category that became much contested following high-profile passenger murders on Didi Chuxing .
In May and August, two female customers were killed separately when they used the Hitch service on Didi, China’s biggest ride-hailing platform that took over Uber’s China business. The incidents sparked a huge public and regulatory backlash, forcing Didi to suspend its carpooling service up to this day. But this week, its newly minted rival Hellobike decides to forge ahead with a campaign to recruit carpooling drivers. Time will tell whether the latecomer can grapple with heightened security measures and fading customer confidence in riding with strangers.
Grab raises fundraising target to B as Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing war heats up
Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab is aiming to start the new year with a bang and an awful load of bucks. The company, which acquired Uber’s local business earlier this year, is planning to raise as much as $5 billion from its ongoing Series H round, up from an original target of $3 billion, a source with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch.
Grab declined to comment for this story.
That Series H round has been open since June. Already, it has seen participation from the likes of Toyota, Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors who have pushed it close to the original $3 billion target. Prior to raising $150 million from Yamaha, Grab said the round stood at $2.7 billion. While it is true that the company first announced that it was “on track to raise over $3 billion by the end of 2018,” it is not public knowledge that it has set its sights as high as $5 billion.
A big part of that expansion is a planned investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund which, as TechCrunch reported last week, is aiming to pump up to $1.5 billion into the business. Adding that to the $3 billion total appears to leave a further $500 million allocation for other investors to take up.
Grab is already the most capitalized startup in Southeast Asia’s history having raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. The company was last valued at $11 billion — when Toyota invested the initial $1 billion in this Series H six months ago — and it is unclear how much that valuation will increase when the round is completed.
The company is also one of the widest reaching consumer internet companies in Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million consumers. Grab claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date, while it has expanded into fintech and it is going beyond ride-hailing app to offer Southeast Asia a ‘super app’ in the mold of Meituan in China. On the financial side, Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable. But it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue and that it projects that the figure will double in 2019.
Buying Uber’s business made it the dominant ride-sharing operator in the region — a position that saw it pay fines in Singapore and the Philippines — but Uber’s exit also saw Go-Jek, a rival in Indonesia, step up and expand its business into new markets. Go-Jek — which is backed by the likes of Tencent, Meituan and Google — entered Vietnam in August and it has recently launched in Thailand and Singapore as it bids to step into Uber’s shadow.