Harvard Friday Five


Priscilla McGregor-Kerr

09 Nov 2018

At Harvard we stay up to date with the latest news and trends shaping the tech world by rounding up the top stories each week. We’ve recapped our favourite stories from the last few weeks to create October’s news round-up.

UK regions come to the fore in producing $1bn tech companies

The UK's tech scene is thriving! And Tech Nation and the Government's Digital Economy Council have the figures to back it up. In a collaborative research project they discovered that the UK has created 35% of all billion-dollar unicorns from Europe and Israel (60 out of 169). But contrary to the image of the UK's tech success solely emerging from London, other towns and cities are making major contributions too. Oxford and Cambridge together have created nine unicorns, for instance, more than major European capitals like Paris (five) and Berlin (eight). Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Edinburgh and Leeds have all produced at least two unicorns, while London has produced 36. And Manchester has produced five unicorns, putting it on a par with Amsterdam. The UK's strength in depth consolidates its position as Europe's number one tech nation.

Uber introduces a monthly subscription service

It’s time to make room for another subscription alongside your Amazon Prime and Netflix bills. Uber is introducing a new package called Ride Pass, which for $14.99 a month will give passengers 15% of their travel for an unlimited number of rides. The new package will roll out first in a few US cities in 2019. Uber promises that rates for subscribers won't increase due to its normal surge pricing mechanism. Meanwhile, Uber's US competitor Lyft (not available in the UK) has a similar subscription-based “All-Access Plan”, which allows users to pay $299 per month to receive up to 30 rides. It's interesting to see both companies test a feature which could potentially alter the way we travel once more.

One small step for the Web…

Tim Berners-Lee, co-inventor of the world wide web, has talked publicly for the past few months about his disillusionment with how the web he created has become more centralised than he ever intended. Now he's doing something about it. This month he unveiled a new project, Solid, that he's been working on with colleagues at MIT. The idea is for Solid to be an open-source project that gives agency back to individuals on the web and lets them control their personal data. Berners-Lee hopes other companies and entrepreneurs will build services on top of Solid, just as they did with the web. This is certainly a serious move to change the very structure of how we all use the internet today. Let's see if it takes off.

Waymo reaches 10 million mile landmark

There's a race on right now to create the first commercially viable self-driving car. Uber, Tesla and Apple are among the companies working hard in this field, alongside the traditional automotive firms. But Alphabet-owned Waymo might have the edge. Earlier this month it announced that it had hit ten million autonomous car-driven miles on public roads, way ahead of its rivals (Uber has driven just two million, in contrast). Waymo's vehicles have driven across 25 cities in states such as Arizona, California, and Michigan. Every mile driven lets Waymo test its algorithms and help them learn. No wonder it plans to double its mileage from 10 million to 20 million by next June 2019.

Tesla shocks with high profits

Tesla surprised us all with unexpectedly high profits in its third quarter. It made a profit of $312m and revenues of $6.82bn over the past three months, far surpassing analyst predictions. Most significantly it means that Tesla has more than enough cash to cover the $1.5bn debt that's due next year and threatened to cripple the company. Tesla's success came in spite of a series of controversies engulfing Elon Musk that have compromised the company’s image. Time will tell if the company has truly turned a corner.   Sign up to the newsletter if you like what you see, and get more like this in your inbox every Friday.