The next energy revolution is here

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Over the period of one decade, the capitalized cost of generating solar energy in 2015 has decreased to as low as one sixth the cost in 2005, and I believe it will not take long for solar energy generation to be economically cheaper than thermal power generation worldwide.

Every year at the World Economic Forum, energy consumption and climate change are always hot topics.

Looking back at the history of human civilisation, for a long time, firewood was the primary source of energy; however, back then, energy ultilization was low and as such air pollution emissions were also low.

The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century marked the beginning of the industrial revolution, which led to the mining and consumption of coal on a large scale. In 1920, coal accounted for 62% of primary energy consumption, indicating that the world had entered the Coal Age.

In 1965, petroleum replaced coal as the most consumed energy, which led the world into the “petroleum age”. In 1979, petroleum contributed 54% of the world energy consumption, marking the second energy revolution from coal to petroleum. Up until now, fossil fuels have continued to dominate as our energy resource.

With each new age, the use and efficiency of energy have increased significantly — as have, unfortunately, levels of severe environmental pollution. Our future energy system must therefore be clean and low-carbon to ensure the sustainable development of human civilisation.

We are now embarking on a new era of energy revolution. The energy system of the future should have the following three features:

Low carbon energy production. Fossil fuels have to be burned to release energy, which caused emissions and environmental pollution. The existing intensive industrial usage of fossil fuels has significantly harmed the environment. Meanwhile, for most economically under-developed countries around the world, the cost of clean energy is too high to be affordable.

Solar power, however, is one of the best solutions. Not only is solar energy production clean, it may also soon become a much more affordable source of energy, as technology development and innovation continues to reduce the cost of solar power generation.

As mentioned, the cost of solar energy generation in 2015 has decreased to as low as one sixth the cost in 2005. In the near future, solar power will be less expensive than coal power. Renewable clean energy replacing fossil fuels is the trend of the ongoing energy revolution

Energy independence and connectivity. As a typical outcome of the industrial age, the existing electrical energy system has been made of large-scale hydropower plants and coal power plants in resource-rich regions, supplying their output to consumption centres through a grid system. Such development not only requires enormous investment, it also causes serious environmental problems.

The energy system of the future, dominated by renewables, will be built on the basis of regions. Each region will have its own energy supply system. Thus, forming a new system with a regional power network which would also be interconnected with networks in other regions, so as to balance the system and ensure a consistent energy supply. An energy system like this would be far more optimised than our existing one.

Energy sharing. When solar energy is adopted by hundreds of factories and thousands of houses, the power supply system will be totally changed. Every school, every factory and every family will become a micro clean energy power station. We will be both energy consumers as well as energy producers. The direction of new energy revolution is to build an energy-sharing system, based on a large database and a smart-energy connection platform. Such a vision has already been realized in Germany, where many households are equipped with solar panels on their rooftops. If one family produces more electricity more than they use, they share the extra power with other families via regional grid. Establishing an energy-sharing system can further decrease the cost of adopting clean energy. It can be a new model of shared energy and a shared economy.

Promoting the new model of energy consumption in less-developed regions. While developed countries are changing their energy structure from fossil fuels to renewables, many less-developed regions are still short of any kind of energy supply models. Those countries could skip the traditional power system, and directly adopt new clean energy.

At present, 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, of which 500 million are in Asia. In future, we can build a clean energy supply system featured by solar power, with distributed and micro power networks, to make electricity accessible to everyone on earth by 2030. This plan can totally meet the requirement of access to energy under the UN’s Agenda 21. This kind of energy revolution will bring universal value and significance.

Throughout the history of humanity, industrial revolutions have also been energy revolutions. Every change of a dominant energy source has been a revolution. Each time, a change had resulted in industrial and social developments. The next energy revolution is now at accelerating in pace, propelled by technology development and innovation. Consequently, the connection to grid of PV (solar) energy at a fair price will become a reality faster than we expect.

Source: Medium (Originally published at www.weforum.org.)

 

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China petrol car ban, boosts electric vehicles

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BEIJING: China, the world’s biggest auto market, is considering a ban on fossil fuel cars in a major boost to the production of electric vehicles as it seeks to ease pollution.

The move would follow similar plans announced by France and Britain to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to clamp down on harmful emissions. Xin Guobin, vice minister of industry and information technology, told a forum in the northern city of Tianjin at the weekend that his ministry has started “relevant research” and is working on a timetable for China.

“These measures will promote profound changes in the environment and give momentum to China’s auto industry development,” Xin said in remarks broadcast by CCTV state television. “Enterprises should strive to improve the level of energy saving for traditional cars, and vigorously develop new energy vehicles according to assessment requirements,” he said.

China produced and sold more than 28 million vehicles last year, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. The sale of new energy vehicles topped 500,000 in the world’s second largest economy in 2016, over 50 percent more than the previous year, according to national industry figures.

The government introduced in June a draft regulation to compel automakers to produce more electrically-powered vehicles by 2020 through a complex quota system. As the measure looms, foreign auto makers have announced plans to boost the production of electric cars in China.

Volvo will introduce its first 100-percent electric car in China in 2019, while Ford will market its first hybrid vehicle in early 2018 and envisions 70 percent of all Ford cars available in China will have electric options by 2025. Xin said the policy would be implemented “in the near future”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Source: The Express Tribune

Ailing Universities, Higher Education World Rankings

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FOLLOWING the recent announcement of the Quacquarelli Symonds World Universities Rankings 2018, the higher education sector in Pakistan has come under much public scrutiny because only one of the country’s 180-plus universities was counted among the world’s top 500 universities — in 431st place on the list.

 

This ritual of public interest in affairs relating to the country’s universities is repeated thrice a year; the two other occasions being when the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) are announced. Invariably, few Pakistani universities find a place on these ranking systems — that too, at the bottom of the list. The fact that one of our universities manages to rank in 431st position ends up in national headlines.

 

I share here the reservations expressed by a growing body of international academics about the very nature of ranking systems. As each university is distinct and operates in a particular setting with its own outlook, it cannot be compared with another entity operating under different conditions and with a different direction. Nevertheless, these rankings offer us an opportunity to examine the ailments inflicting our higher education sector and try to identify some remedies.

 

Universities all over the world perform two basic functions: teaching and research. Every prominent international ranking system attributes high value to a university’s research activity, contributing approximately 85 per cent value to its overall score. In the case of ARWU, even the number of Nobel Prize winners working in a university is considered during the evaluation process.

 

From this perspective, if we were to look at our universities, we would find that with the passage of time most of them have been converted into teaching centres with very little focus being given to research. One may ask how many inventions have come out of our universities, or how many patents have been registered nationally or internationally by our professors. Even if some research is carried out and published, it is mostly academic in nature and not meaningful enough to bring about positive change in the lives of people.

 

Another curse that inflicts our universities is that of the affiliated colleges, which weighs down the value and reputation of their degrees. Most of the country’s colleges are affiliated with one or another university in their respective region vis-à-vis their undergraduate programmes. In addition to the poor quality of their faculty, their libraries, laboratories and infrastructural facilities are in dismal condition. But, at the end of the day, the students from these affiliated colleges get the same degrees as their counterparts studying at the main campuses, who enjoy comparatively better facilities and teachers. This brings the value and reputation of a university down.

 

Also contributing to the decline of our higher education sector is the poor quality of entrants. In essence, the higher education is tertiary in nature and rests on foundations laid by our primary and secondary education sectors. Recently, a study found that the language and mathematics skills of our high school graduates were equal to that of second graders in the developed world. When students with such poor basic education standards enter the halls of our universities, what can be expected of them?

 

Here, also, the basic weakness lies with our national planners and their priorities. For instance, China and South Korea initially focused on improving their school education, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s, and then shifted their focus to their tertiary education. The result of this policy has been that their universities are now fiercely competing with American and European universities for top slots in international ranking systems.

 

Another factor, per­­haps the most important, is governance of our universities. The subcontinent’s first three universities were established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1858, almost 160 years ago. About a quarter of a century later, the University of Punjab, Pakistan’s oldest university, was established in Lahore in 1882. Even in those days, these universities were granted greater autonomy through their more responsible and accountable statutory bodies.

 

While the trend in the developed world during the 20th century was that of granting more and more autonomy to their seats of higher learning, here it has just been the opposite, particularly in the 21st century! Today, political interference, over-regulation by state agencies and the appointments to key positions of persons devoid of vision and management skills have subjected our universities to a host of challenges.

 

It is high time that Pakistan took into account the factors that ail the nation’s higher education sector and devised a coherent policy to rectify matters. Seasonal lamentations, every time a new ranking is announced, will not do our higher education any good.

 

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2017

eCommerce: Alibaba Group to enter Pakistan

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Pakistan on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Alibaba Group Holdings Limited to promote Pakistan’s worldwide exports by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through e-commerce.

Alibaba Group’s Executive Chairman, Jack Ma and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif witnessed the signing ceremony.

Speaking at the headquarters of the e-commerce giant, the prime minister appreciated the success and performance of the Alibaba group.

“I am glad my meeting with Jack Ma at the World Economic Forum in January has come to fruition in the shape of the MoU we have just signed,” the premier said.

“My appreciation of Ma’s dynamism and performance of [the Alibaba] group comes not only from its success as a e-commerce giant but more so from the focus of the group on job creation and livelihood generation,” he added.

“Indeed, the Alibaba group is a business with strong humanistic dimension. These are the values that are the pivot of the policies my government has pursued with determination and commitment since taking office in 2013.”

“E-commerce is a powerful tool to stimulate economic activity, effort, innovation and entrepreneurship across all sectors of the economy,” the prime minister added.

“When Jack Ma shared with me his interest in establishing an e-platform in Pakistan, i instructed my office to facilitate Alibaba’s initiative in every manner and in the shortest possilbe time frame,” he the prime minister said, adding that the MoU had been signed within four months of when the initiative was first conceived.

The agreement between Alibaba and Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) was signed by Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir and Michael Evans, President of Alibaba Group, and Douglas Feagin, Senior Vice President of Global Business of Ant Financial, on behalf of Alibaba, during the visit of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to the headquarters of the company.

Under the terms of the MoU, Alibaba, Ant Financial, and TDAP agreed to foster growth of worldwide exports of products by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Pakistan through e-commerce.

Online and offline training programs for the SMEs would also be conducted by Alibaba in a bid to assist SMEs with on-boarding on to Alibaba’s platforms and optimizing exports through e-commerce.

TDAP will help identify suitable SMEs to participate in the training programs while Alibaba will be responsible for providing industry analysis to TDAP to assist them in their selection process.

In addition, Alibaba, Ant Financial and TDAP have agreed to promote the growth of financial services in Pakistan in areas such as mobile and online payment services.

The parties have also agreed to adopt cloud computing services to support the online and mobile e-commerce businesses of SMEs in Pakistan.

The Alibaba group has in recent years been aggressively courting foreign brands to set up Tmall stores to sell to China’s vast and growing middle class by offering to smoothen out Chinese sales, payment and shipping processes.

Ma, a Chinese citizen, appears frequently with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, and both sides have voiced their support and admiration for each other.

Alibaba has deep ties with the Chinese government, working closely on some of the country’s core technology development goals including cloud infrastructure and big data.

Ma is a true rags-to-riches story. He grew up poor in communist China, failed his university-entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including one at KFC, before finding success with his third internet company, Alibaba.

Alibaba not interested in acquisitions, more interested in partnerships

China’s Alibaba is not interested in acquisitions this year as it is in partnerships, Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma said on Thursday.

“I am not interested in acquisitions. I am more interested in partnerships,” Ma said at a news conference on Alibaba’s Olympic sponsorship deal, when he asked about his company’s plans for the year. “We want to look for partners and empower them to be powerful,” he said.

Sorce: Dawn News

 

Robots may build your next home

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The future of US homebuilding depends on more people like Cyndicy Yarborough, a 26-year-old former Wal-Mart clerk with no background in construction.

At Blueprint Robotics in Baltimore, she works in a factory that builds houses like cars, on an assembly line, using robots that fire thousands of nails into studs each day and never miss. Yarborough operates a machine that lifts floors and walls and packs them onto a flatbed truck, the final step before delivery to a development site where they’ll be pieced together.

“I like being a part of something new, on the cutting edge,” said Yarborough, a single mother who took the job at Blueprint last May.


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage that has crimped construction of residences and commercial properties across the country.

The plants enable developers to fill the gap by having houses and apartment buildings manufactured off-site, for less money and in a fraction of the time. Even Marriott International Inc., the world’s biggest hotel operator, is increasingly turning to modular construction for some of its properties.

To meet growing demand, high-tech plants are opening, and older factories that were shuttered after the last decade’s real estate crash — many in areas such as rural Pennsylvania, where labour costs are cheap — are being revived. Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections, which are transported on trucks, then laid down on foundations by cranes, like giant Legos. Sometimes the modules are fully framed rooms, complete with tile showers and gourmet kitchens.

“This has to be the wave of the future — I don’t know how we solve the labour shortage otherwise,” said John Burns, an Irvine, California-based homebuilding consultant. “What drives modular construction is the ability to build the house more cost-effectively.”

US homebuilders say the labour crunch is their biggest challenge, and that it’s pushing costs up as much as 5.2pc on average, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo surveys last year. President Donald Trump’s proposals to crack down on undocumented workers may further squeeze the industry, one heavily dependent on immigrant labour.

The idea of transporting homes in prefabricated sections has roots in the early 1900s, when homesteaders could buy kits from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue for assembly on their newly acquired plots of land. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became increasingly popular to build lower-cost homes in factories, according to Gary Fleisher, who runs a blog for the industry called Modularhomecoach.com.

Today’s plants are capable of producing bigger buildings with more elaborate designs. The Blueprint factory in Baltimore is one of the first in the US to use robots, Fleisher said.

Taller multifamily buildings, dorms and hotels are increasingly being manufactured indoors. And so are mansions that sell for millions.

“Some builders won’t even advertise they work with modular companies like us,” said Myles Biggs, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility. “You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like one next door.”

Ritz-Craft can deliver a single-family house in six to eight weeks, on average. Having an indoor facility means weather delays are rarely a factor. Each worker is given a narrow concentration, like tiling floors or sanding drywall, which increases production speed. People without any background in construction can become skilled labourers in two weeks, according to Biggs.

The idea is catching on with Marriottt, which aims to have agreements with North American developers this year to produce about 50 of its Select branded hotels in factories, said Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of global design strategies. In December, Marriott opened a Fairfield Inn in Folsom, California, with 97 rooms — all built at a Guerdon Enterprises plant in Boise, Idaho.

Last month, a collection of Marriott hotel rooms was getting wood-framed walls and ceilings at a Champion Homes factory in Liverpool, Pennsylvania. Even the beds and televisions will be in place before the boxes are shipped through stretches of highway and stacked in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, next month.

“What we like is how well modular is built,” Khalifa said. “These things have all been designed to be transported. They have the integrity of a shipping container.”

Apartment developers, too, are increasingly going with modular construction, especially in fast-growing cities such as Denver and Nashville, Tennessee, said Rich Rozycki, head of Champion Homes’ commercial division, which has seen its pipeline grow 50pc since 2014. The company also has had discussions with national homebuilders looking for a solution to their labour problems, he said.

Labour costs are more favourable for factory construction, according to David Reed, vice president of Champion’s modular division. Workers make about $15 to $20 an hour in rural Pennsylvania. That compares with $50 to $100 an hour in the markets the manufacturers serve, like New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Washington, D.C., area, Reed said.

Builder Kris Megna works with Champion to create houses as large as 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) in the pricey suburbs of Boston. Megna, 31, who founded Dreamline Modular Homes in 2010, said almost any custom design is possible, even though the modules can’t be much bigger than 60 feet by 16 feet (18 meters by 5 meters). Walls between sections can be knocked down for open-concept kitchens, and cut-outs can create vaulted ceilings, he said.

“The house is 60pc complete when it arrives, and that means 60pc of the headaches of building are gone,” Megna said.

— Bloomberg/The Washington Post Service

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, April 24th, 2017

KP, Chinese firms sign 11 agreements

Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP
Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP

BEIJING: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Monday signed 11 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Chinese companies for development projects in the province under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

According to a press release, MoUs were signed for five projects costing up to Rs60 billion. These projects are related to CPEC Tower, construction of a new bus terminal at Chamkani, Ring Road missing link, Health City at Regi Model Town, and Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre.

Local Government Secretary Jamal Shah signed the MoUs on behalf of the KP government. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Minister for Local Government Inayatullah and Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) Director General Salim Watto were also present on the occasion.

These projects will be jointly executed by PDA and Chinese companies, the press release said.

The construction of the Ring Road missing link will cost up to Rs12bn while that of the new general bus stand at Chamkani will cost Rs10bn. The construction of CPEC Tower will be carried out at Rs5bn while that of Health City at Regi Model Township is estimated to cost up to Rs22bn.

The initial estimate for the construction cost of Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre is around Rs11bn.

PC-1s of these projects are complete, it said. The Chinese authorities will soon visit Pakistan to finalise the execution process, said Mr Watto.

Other development projects are related to information technology, special economic zones, power plants, oil refinery, infrastructure and e-commerce.

Speaking at the MoU signing ceremony, Mr Khattak invited Chinese companies to take advantage of the investment-friendly environment in KP.

“We have set the stage to begin the journey of industrialisation in the province. We need the support of our iron brothers to put the province on the path of development and economic growth,” he said.

Appreciating the One Belt, One Road Initiative, he said the CPEC is its flagship component and stressed that business, cultural and social cooperation between Pakistan and China should be further enhanced.

Mr Khattak said a strong security force comprising 4,500 personnel has been established for the protection of foreign workforce, including Chinese nationals.

While emphasising the importance of the CPEC, China-Pakistan Friendship Association President Sha Zhu Kang said the success of One Belt, One Road initiative is linked with the CPEC, which he termed the pilot project of the grand scheme.

He said the proposed corridor stretching from Kashgar to Gwadar will bring about economic and social progress.

He said Chinese companies are already working in KP and providing job opportunities to a large number of locals.

Ambassador Khalid said that around 86 projects, including those in energy, agriculture and infrastructure sectors, will be presented for investment and cooperation. He said the KP chief minister’s visit to China, second in the last four months, underscores the importance of the CPEC and Sino-Pak relations.

The ambassador said all political parties in Pakistan are on the same page as far as Sino-Pak relations are concerned.

He said the CPEC is showing steady progress. Now the Gwadar port is operational and energy and infrastructure projects are being completed in time, he added.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2017

Conversation with Careem Pakistan

The CEO of Careem Pakistan talks about how Careem plans to make further inroads into the Pakistani market.

Co-founded by a Pakistani, Mudassir Sheikha, and Magnus Olsson, Founder and MD, Careem began operations in the UAE in 2012. Talha bin Hamid speaks to Junaid Iqbal, CEO, Careem Pakistan, to find more about what Careem’s game plan is as far as making further inroads into the Pakistani market is concerned.

TALHA BIN HAMID: When did Careem decide to enter the Pakistani market?
JUNAID IQBAL:
Careem started toying with the idea of launching in Pakistan in early 2015, and various pilots were run that year. We began a test launch in October 2015 when I joined Careem, and we launched in March 2016.

TBH: Which factors prompted Careem’s entry into Pakistan?
JI:
Several reasons; the first is the fact that Pakistan is severely underserviced when it comes to public transport and establishing Careem in Pakistan was a great way to create jobs. Secondly, our technology is ‘Made In Pakistan’, so it is only fair that our people should benefit from it. However, it is important to remember that Careem is a platform, not a service provider; ride hailers and providers connect with each other using our technology, but that does not make us a transport company.

TBH: In late January, the Punjab Government’s Provincial Transport Authority declared that ride-hailing services such as Careem were operating outside regulatory boundaries in Lahore. How easy it was to work with the regulatory agencies to resolve the issues?
JI:
In almost every country, regulatory bodies have caused the growth of businesses such as ours to lag initially, and the debate around the world has focused on the distinction between the platform and the service provider. Close to 100 countries are now in the process of formulating new regulations in this regard and close to 20 have already done so; Pakistan was no different in that sense because the regulatory bodies in Pakistan considered us to be a car rental company, which we are not; our argument was simple: if we offer a doctors-on-demand service, would that make us a hospital? Of course not. The good news is that we are now engaged with all the provinces in a consultative process aimed at developing new laws specific to an online platform like ours, and we are very excited about working with our Government. In the long run, these laws will help other online platforms, such as AirBnB if and when they come to Pakistan. However, it does mean that when new laws come into play, platforms such as ours will have to meet the requirements set by the regulator.

TBH: How does Careem differentiate itself from Uber and other competing services?
JI:
Firstly, we provide multiple ways of booking a car: one the phone, through the web and via our app. Secondly, we have three options as far as booking a ride is concerned: now, later and repeat. Most of our competitors only provide the ‘now’ option. Thirdly, we have several types of cars, which cater to various income segments: Go, Go+ and Business; whereas our competitors only have one. Fourthly, we have a mobile wallet that our customers can top up with cash. Most importantly, the Pathfinder Group headed by Ikram Sehgal, runs very comprehensive background checks on our captains. No other company does anything even remotely close.

TBH: What are the processes in terms of recruiting Careem’s captains and conducting the necessary background?
JI:
It is a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check. Our background checks are very comprehensive; we check our drivers’ NIC with NADRA and their driving license from the relevant authority. After that, a verification officer visits and verifies the prospective driver’s home, records its exact geographic location, and conducts a reputation check in the neighbourhood. He also gets a police certificate from the neighbourhood. If even one of these items is not verified, the person cannot be a captain on our platform.


“Being a Careem captain involves a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check.”


TBH: What factors are considered when Careem collaborates with services and events such as FindMyDoctor and Karachi Eat Festival?
JI:
We feel that technology is a progressive force and it is our responsibility to use our platform to facilitate other initiatives aimed at enriching our community. That is why we take pride in working with such partners because we feel that they are playing their part in making Pakistan a better place.

TBH: Given the local flavour of Careem’s of promotions, such as the Shadi Care and the Rickshaw Service, are these ideas generated locally or at your headquarters in the UAE?
JI:
Careem is a hyperlocal company, and ideas are generated and executed on a city-to city-level. Each city has to find ways of integrating itself in the community and our marketing teams come up with their own set of ideas.

TBH: What are Careem Pakistan’s short-term objectives in Pakistan?
JI:
By 2020, our aim is to create one million job opportunities, attract $10 billion in terms of investment in the public transport infrastructure, and have a presence in an all urban and sub-urban cities.

TBH: What are the main challenges Careem faces?
JI:
Finding good talent, including captains, and ensuring the processes involved in conducting background checks are watertight.

Note: This interview was conducted on February 12.

Source: Dawn News

Apple enters self-driving car race

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SAN FRANCISCO: Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.

Ending years of speculation, Apple’s late entry into a crowded field was made official on Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.

The permit covers three vehicles all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong. Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn’t discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear.

The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. ” Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the company said then. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation.” Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple’s director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company’s interest in self-driving cars in a letter.

Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion, prevent millions of crashes and save thousands of lives annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.

Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.

Although iPhone’s ongoing popularity has helped Apple remain the world’s most valuable company, the company hasn’t had a breakthrough product since the 2010 debut of the iPad, currently in the throes of a three-year sales slump. The dry spell has raised doubts as to whether Apple lost some of its trend-setting magic with the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.

Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. The list includes major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla, as well as one of its biggest rivals in technology, Google, whose testing of self-driving cars has been spun off into an affiliate called Waymo.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2017

Policy being finalised for biomass technology

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ISLAMABAD: Policy recommendations were finalised to support the use of biomass technology in industry at a consultative stakeholders’ workshop held on Friday.

The event was organised by the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

The finalised policy recommendations will be submitted to the AEDB for making the necessary changes in existing policies, regulations and procedures related to biomass.

The quality standards will be used by the customs department of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to ensure that only gasifiers complying with the stated standards are imported in the country.

Recognising the need for tapping all possible energy sources available to Pakistan, especially renewable sources such as biomass, UNIDO is implementing a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project on “promoting sustainable energy production and use from biomass in Pakistan”. The project aims to promote market-based adoption of modern biomass technologies for industrial and rural energy applications with particular focus on the introduction of biomass gasification technology.

The consultative stakeholder workshop was attended by over seventy experts, including representatives from AEDB, the National Electric and Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), provincial energy departments, private sector, academia and several other stakeholders.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne described biomass as a ‘huge resource’ for the country with immense benefits. He linked promoting biomass with the achievement of several sustainable goals and highlighted the importance of biomass as part of the larder bio-economy with volume of over $2 trillion globally.

AEDB Chief Executive Officer Amjad Ali Awan, who chaired the meeting, highlighted the importance of biomass energy technologies both as a means to address energy challenges in the country and an important opportunity to save fuel and diversify its energy mix to include clean indigenous energy sources.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017

NED’s all-girl tech start-up deploys laser tag at Arena

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZWith the aim of not having their final year project gather dust in library files, the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day and built the hardware for the shooting game, Armez. PHOTO: COURTESY ARMEZ

KARACHI: It is not every day that a final year project at a Pakistani public university becomes a successful commercial venture. But that is precisely what happened with Armez – the engineering project of four NED University students – that recently replaced the famous paintball shooting game at Arena recreational facility in Karachi.

Armez is essentially a world famous laser tag game. However, what sets it apart is the fact that it is the final year project of four girls who created everything from scratch. With their meagre pocket money and limited technological resources, the NED students worked day and night building the hardware for the shooting game and breaking gender stereotypes in the process. A successful deal with Arena only goes to show the promise these young graduates and their budding tech start-up holds.

3

From idea to product

The team comprises four students of NED University’s electronics engineering department – Sheena, Nimra Idrees Fazil, Ramla Kaleem Shah and Tahniat Hasan Khan – and their mentor, Dr Muhammad Khurram. A professor at NED’s computer and information systems department, Khurram served as the project director while research, electronics and manufacturing work was done by the students.

With the aim to not have their final year project gather dust in library files, team member Khan says the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day. “Our mentor pitched this idea and we knew right away it will have market value both in terms of gaming and defence training,” Khan shares.

In a start-up culture dominated by software products, says another member, Shah, making hardware merchandise sets Armez apart from other young enterprises.

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Fun and games

As Fazil describes, Armez provides first-person shooting game experience out in the open, enabling Counter Strike enthusiasts to practise and strategise tactics and be proactive and defensive in a physical environment with real people. “We want to change the way people approach gaming activities and promote live action sport,” she says.

In addition to providing socially-involved gaming experience, team member Khan says Armez can also be used to provide military training to citizens on the lines of National Cadet Corps – the civil-defence training imparted to college students in the past by Pakistan Army.

Foray into business world

On the successful deal with Arena, Sheena says the group held a demo session with 10 sets of their equipment to show what the experience entails and that is when they were noticed by Arena. “In the following meetings, we were able to satisfy their demands; we successfully deployed and tested our equipment in their recreational facility and now it is available to the general public,” Sheena shares. On the first day, 82 games were played at Arena highlighting the popularity of the made-in-Pakistan game.

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With one customer already in their income statement, Sheena says the group plans to provide their products and services to other gaming ventures in Pakistan and eventually abroad.

Their mentor, Khurram, says the response to their product has been very appreciative and it has given them hope that there’s a market for quality products and services made in Pakistan. “The commercial deal with Arena is a jump-start. The indicators are positive as we have created a market and our product is commercially viable. There is no stopping us now – we have big plans for the future,” he shares.

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How it works?

In an Armez game, players are provided with laser guns – instead of paint ones – and jackets embedded with sensors. When the jacket is hit by a laser, the player feels a little vibration and small bulbs indicating ‘game lives’ on the jacket light up to show ‘health level’. The gun stops working when a player’s ‘health level’ reaches its limit. All the hits and their timings are recorded and are displayed on a computer screen to keep track of the game.

Source: Tribune News