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Internet of Cars: A driver-side primer on IoT implementation

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Billions of devices are currently connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), and researchers are predicting tremendous growth in the coming decade.

One of the most exciting, challenging and potentially lucrative areas of the IoT is the automotive sector. The car is a major component of most people’s daily lives, and a “smart” car could do a lot to save people time and money.

At the same time, the “Internet of Cars” carries with it dystopian visions of increased ad noise and security threats. It’s worth considering for a moment what these scenarios look like — good and bad — and how consumers can educate themselves to ensure that the cars of the future are driving in the right direction.

The car is a major component of most people’s daily lives, and a “smart” car could do a lot to save people time and money.

The promises and problems of connected cars

Imagine if your car was able to call your mechanic when the engine was showing signs of trouble. Imagine if the mechanic could read a data report from your engine and order the required parts ahead of time. Imagine if the data on those parts could be aggregated to warn of the need for any mass recalls? What if your car could communicate with other cars around it in a traffic jam, and the cars could all work together to space out and ease congestion?

What if your car could pay automatically at parking garages and drive-throughs? Anyone that owns a car is familiar with all these pain points, and the prospect of a new system that erases these spots of friction would be a welcome development.

But how can we ensure that all of this new data from our smart cars will be handled in a secure and private way? It seems likely, as car manufacturers work quickly to bring their products online, that tech giants will be the first partners to help implement the Internet of Cars. This might be cause for concern amongst consumers who are growing tired of their data being sold or hacked. The big tech companies aren’t inherently evil, but their basic business models are structured in such a way that consumer privacy and security are not the main priorities.

It’s not hard to imagine how the Internet of Cars could move in a much darker direction: Advertisements with real-time location data updating constantly on your windshield, personal data such as your driving habits stored on central servers, and a myriad of new vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit. How do we bring cars online so that friction in our lives is smoothed down without introducing a unique set of new problems?

Data security must be the foundation of the IoC

Of course Big Tech companies will be eager to offer connectivity for drivers, but it’s most likely going to come at the price of giving personal data over to Big Tech servers. This brings with it, as always, two major problems. The first is that centralized data represents a honeypot for hackers. No matter the strength of the security system, hackers realize that once they break through, they have access to the whole pot. The second problem is that the value of all that data is simply too lucrative for the owner to ignore. The data will always be sold, regardless of all the lip service promising to make it anonymous.

The IoT represents a new layer of IT integration in our lives; it will be at least as much of a game-changer as the internet was originally. Even with the advancement of the mobile internet brought about by smartphones, internet implementations have, until now, basically been carried out through clunky interfaces like screens, keyboards and mouses. The IoT is going to bring a new level of sophistication to how and where we interface online, but this also means a new level of intrusion into our physical reality. In the case of cars, we can be rightly wary that this new development might be problematic, but it doesn’t have to be.

Distributed ledger technology (DLT) represents a path forward for the Internet of Cars, because it builds data security and privacy into the foundations of any connected devices. Any model of DLT includes some basic concepts such that data is carried on a decentralized network of computers and servers. It also means that data is stored permanently, and that new entries of any data are subject to a mathematical verification. DLT is a fundamentally different way to handle massive amounts of data. DLTs have proven to be extremely resilient to attacks, and the data on these networks is nearly impossible to collect and sell.

Picking the right tool for the job

There are millions of internet-connected cars already on the road, albeit mostly with crude subscription services for music and weather apps. With further advances, connection will be much more encompassing, with the average connected car having up to 200 sensors installed, each recording a point of data, minute by minute. The numbers quickly become staggering, and in emergency situations, the need for data agility is apparent. Picture driving on a highway in medium traffic.

If someone’s tire blows out half a mile ahead, this information could be quickly conveyed to surrounding cars, warning of the potential for emergency braking. Any DLT solution would have to include a very nimble verification process for all these new packets of information to be brought into and carried by the network.

Additionally, because of the computational complexity involved, almost all DLTs today charge a fee for each new transaction brought into the network. In fact, the fee is an integral part of the structure of many of these computational models. This is obviously not going to be workable in a system like urban traffic that would be generating billions of “transactions” every day. The truth is that decentralized data networks were never designed to handle these kinds of massive use-case scenarios. Blockchain, for example, is very elegant at censorship-resistance in a network, and this has proven valuable in certain financial use cases.

But a DLT that expects a little money every time a car’s air conditioning reports its output is simply unusable for that application. Any DLT that’s going to give us a high level of security and real-time connectivity will also have to be feeless.

Security, speed and ease of adaptability through a no-fee structure are the three critical points for any network backing up the Internet of Cars. DLTs are clearly the most secure option, but they must also provide scalability and a feeless structure.

The example of being able to pay automatically for a parking garage visit might seem like a trite convenience. In actuality, if we can implement these types of small transactions properly from the beginning, then the hurdles we will jump in solving the complexity and volume of the car traffic data environment will go a long way to creating a safe, consumer-friendly Internet of Things in general.

When thinking about a completely connected physical environment, the alternatives to scalable, fee-less DLT are frankly scary.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Indonesian logistics startup SiCepat raises $170 million Series B

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SiCepat, an end-to-end logistics startup in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $170 million Series B funding round. Founded in 2014 to provide last-mile deliveries for small merchants, the company has since expanded to serve large e-commerce platforms, too. Its services now also cover warehousing and fulfillment, middle-mile logistics and online distribution.

Investors in SiCepat’s Series B include Falcon House Partners; Kejora Capital; DEG (the German Development Finance Institution); Telkom Indonesia’s investment arm MDI Ventures; Indies Capital; Temasek Holdings subsidiary Pavilion Capital; Tri Hill; and Daiwa Securities. The company’s last funding announcement was a $50 million Series A in April 2019.

In a press statement, The Kim Hai, founder and chief executive officer of SiCepat’s parent company Onstar Express, said the funding will be used to “further fortify SiCepat’s position as the leading end-to-end logistics service provider in the Indonesian market and potentially to explore expansion to other markets in Southeast Asia.” SiCepat claims to be profitable already and that it was able to fulfill more than 1.4 million packages per day in 2020.

The logistics industry in Indonesia is highly fragmented, which means higher costs for businesses. At the same time, demand for deliveries is increasing thanks to the growth of e-commerce, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SiCepat is one of several Indonesian startups that have raised funding recently to make the supply chain and logistics infrastructure more efficient. For example, earlier this week, supply chain SaaS provider Advotics announced a $2.75 million round. Other notable startups in the space include Kargo, founded by a former Uber Asia executive, and Waresix.

SiCepat focuses in particular on e-commerce and social commerce, or people who sell goods through their social media networks. In statement, Kejora Capital managing partner Sebastian Togelang, said the Indonesian e-commerce market is expected to grow at five-year compounded annual growth rate of 21%, reaching $82 billion by 2025.

“We believe SiCepat is ideally positioned to serve customers from e-commerce giants to uprising social commerce players which contribute an estimated 25% to the total digital commerce economy,” he added.

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InsurGrid raises pre-seed financing to help modernize legacy insurance agents

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Insurance agents spend hours handling paperwork and grabbing client information over the phone. A new seed-stage startup, InsurGrid, has developed a software solution to help ease the process, and make it easier for agents to serve existing clients — and secure new ones.

InsurGrid gives agents a personalized platform to collect information from clients, such as date of birth, driver’s license information and policy declaration. This platform helps agents avoid sitting on long calls or managing back-to-back emails, and instead gives them one spot to understand how all their different clients function. It is starting with property and casualty management.

The startup integrates with 85 insurance carriers, serving as the software layer instead of the provider. Using the InsurGrid platform, insurers can ask clients to upload information and within seconds be registered as a policyholder. This essentially turns into a living Rolodex that insurers can use to access information on the account, and offer quotes on a faster rate.

Image Credits: InsurGrid

There’s a monetary benefit in providing better service. Eden Insurance, a customer of InsurGrid, said that people who submit information through the platform converted at an 82% higher rate than those who don’t. Jeremy Eden, the agency owner of Eden Insurance, said they were able to show consumers that its plan was $300 cheaper than its existing rate.

At the heart of InsurGrid is a bet from the founding team that legacy insurance agents aren’t going anywhere. Co-founder/CEO Chase Beach pointed out that the majority of the $684 billion of annual property and casualty insurance premiums in the United States is distributed by approximately 800,000 agents working in 16,000 brokerages. So far, InsurGrid works with more than 150 of those agencies.

When asked if InsurGrid ever had plans to offer its own insurance, similar to insurtech giants Hippo, Lemonade and Root, Beach said that it is solely working on innovating around the sales process for now. He said that these big companies, which have either recently gone public or are planning to, still rely on agents to be successful.

“Instead of us replacing the insurance agent, what if we gave them that same level of technology of a Hippo or large carrier,” Beach said. “And provide them with the digital experiences so they can compete in 2021.”

As time goes on, he sees insurance agents taking the same role that financial advisors or real estate agents take: “very much involved in the process because they are that expert.”

Other startups that have popped up in this space include Gabi, Trellis and Canopy Connect. The differentiator, the team sees, is that Beach comes from a 144-year-old insurance legacy, giving him key insights on how to sell to agents in a successful and effective way. It is starting with sales, but expect InsurGrid to expand to other parts of the insurance process as well.

To help them compete with new and old startups, InsurGrid recently raised $1.3 million in pre-seed financing to help it fulfill its goal to be the “underdog for the underdogs,” Beach said. Investors include Engineering Capital, Hustle Fund, Vess Capital, Sahil Lavingia and Trevor Kienzle.

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Backed by Blossom, Creandum and Index, grocery delivery and dark store startup Dija launches in London

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Dija, the London-based grocery delivery startup, is officially launching today and confirming that it raised £20 million in seed funding in December — a round that we first reported was partially closed the previous month.

Backing the company is Blossom Capital, Creandum and Index Ventures, with Dija seemingly able to raise pre-launch. In fact, there are already rumours swirling around London’s venture capital community that the upstart may be out raising again already — a figure up to £100 million was mooted by one source — as the race to become the early European leader in the burgeoning “dark” grocery store space heats up.

Image Credits: Dija

Over the last few months, a host of European startups have launched with the promise of delivering grocery and other convenience store items within 10-15 minutes of ordering. They do this by building out their own hyper-local, delivery-only fulfilment centres — so-called “dark stores” — and recruiting their own delivery personnel. This full-stack or vertical approach and the visibility it provides is then supposed to produce enough supply chain and logistics efficiency to make the unit economics work, although that part is far from proven.

Earlier this week, Berlin-based Flink announced that it had raised $52 million in seed financing in a mixture of equity and debt. The company didn’t break out the equity-debt split, though one source told me the equity component was roughly half and half.

Others in the space include Berlin’s Gorillas, London’s Jiffy and Weezy, and France’s Cajoo, all of which also claim to focus on fresh food and groceries. There’s also the likes of Zapp, which is still in stealth and more focused on a potentially higher-margin convenience store offering similar to U.S. unicorn goPuff. Related: goPuff itself is also looking to expand into Europe and is currently in talks to acquire or invest in the U.K.’s Fancy, which some have dubbed a mini goPuff.

However, let’s get back to Dija. Founded by Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, who both spent a number of years at Deliveroo in senior positions, the company has opened up shop in central London and promises to let you order groceries and other convenience products within 10 minutes. It has hubs in South Kensington, Fulham and Hackney, and says it plans to open 20 further hubs, covering central London and Zone 2, by the summer. Each hub carries around 2,000 products, claiming to be sold at “recommended retail prices”. A flat delivery fee of £1.99 is charged per order.

“The only competitors that we are focused on are the large supermarket chains who dominate a global $12 trillion industry,” Dija’s Menolascina tells me when I ask about competitors. “What really sets us apart from them, besides our speed and technology, is our team, who all have a background in growing and disrupting this industry, including myself and Yusuf, who built and scaled Deliveroo from the ground up”.

Menolascina was previously director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the takeout delivery behemoth and held several positions before that. He also co-founded Everli (formerly Supermercato24), the Instacart-styled grocery delivery company in Italy, and also worked at Just Eat. Saban is the former chief of staff to CEO at Deliveroo and also worked at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

During Dija’s soft-launch, Menolascina says that typical customers have been doing their weekly food shop using the app, and also fulfilling other needs, such as last minute emergencies or late night cravings. “The pain points Dija is helping to solve are universal and we built Dija to be accessible to everyone,” he says. “It’s why we offer products at retail prices, available in 10 minutes – combining value and convenience. Already, Dija is becoming a key service for parents who are pressed for time working from home and homeschooling, as one example”.

Despite the millions of dollars being pumped into the space, a number of VCs I’ve spoken to privately are sceptical that fresh groceries with near instant delivery can be made to work. The thinking is that fresh food perishes, margins are lower, and basket sizes won’t be large enough to cover the costs of delivery.

“This might be the case for other companies, but almost everyone at Dija comes from this industry and knows exactly what they are doing, from buying and merchandising to data and marketing,” Menolascina says, pushing back. “It’s also worth pointing out that we are a full-stack model, so we’re not sharing our margin with other parties. In terms of the average basket size, it varies depending on the customer’s need. On one hand, we have customers who do their entire grocery shop through Dija, while on the other hand, our customers depend on us for emergency purchases e.g. nappies, batteries etc.”

On pricing, he says that, like any retail business, Dija buys products at wholesale prices and sells them at recommended retail prices. “Going forward, we have a clear roadmap on how we generate additional revenue, including strategic partnerships, supply chain optimisation and technology enhancements,” adds Menolascina.

Dija testing on Deliveroo

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has learned that prior to launching its own app, Dija ran a number of experiments on takeout marketplace Deliveroo, including selling various convenience store items, such as potato chips and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If you’ve ever ordered toiletry products from “Baby & Me Pharmacy” or purchased chocolate sweets from “Valentine’s Vows,” you have likely and unknowingly shopped at Dija. Those brands, and a number of others, all delivered from the same address in South Kensington.

“Going direct to consumer without properly testing pick & pack is a big risk,” Menolascina told me in a WhatsApp message a few weeks ago, confirming the Deliveroo tests. “We created disposable virtual brands purely to learn what to sell and how to replenish, pick & pack, and deliver”.

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