Unicorn Watch: six new US unicorns and a Chinese 'decacorn' this July
Unicorns, startups whose valuations have exceeded $1bn, are no longer the rare breed that earned them their namesake. According to analytics firm CB Insights, as of January 2019 there were more than 300 unicorns in the world, and their proliferation has led to the business community inventing new honorifics.
There’s the decacorn, valued at more than $10bn, and the hectocorn, with a market worth of more than $100bn. The hectoclub is probably more representative of the way unicorns were seen ten years ago, with only a few ultra-elite startups laying claim to membership, the first ever being the $150bn Chinese fintech startup Ant Financial (formerly Alipay).
While six US startups made it to Unicorn status this month, only one company worldwide made it as far as decacorn status. Online real estate platform Beike Zhaofang offers brokerage and financial services for Chinese renters and homebuyers. The company achieved its $10bn valuation on the 18th of July.
Here’s Business Chief’s breakdown of the six new US-based unicorns from the month, as reported by CB Insights.
Hippo offers intuitive and proactive home insurance by using data, like municipal building records, and technology, such as satellite imagery and smart home devices, to streamline the quoting and on-boarding experience, for such products as protection for possessions like appliances, consumer electronics and home offices.
Turo is a peer-to-peer car sharing marketplace for people to book cars from a community of local hosts across the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany. Guests can choose from a selection of nearby cars, while hosts earn extra money to offset the costs of car ownership.
Icertis is a cloud-based enterprise contract management platform that enables companies to accelerate their business by increasing contract velocity, protect against risk by ensuring regulatory and policy compliance and optimize commercial relationships by maximizing revenue and reducing costs.
Argo AI is an artificial intelligence company that is developing machine-learning software for autonomous vehicles.
Sonder enables travelers to book a mix of properties - apartments, houses, condos, villas and lofts - that don't have the hosts living on-site. Company representatives vet each property.
OneTrust, a software platform for privacy professionals, is designed to operationalize data privacy compliance and Privacy by Design. The web-based console helps automate privacy impact assessments and data mapping, identify privacy risks, and enforce risk management and control activities in an integrated and agile approach. The result is the ability to demonstrate accountability and compliance with EU's data protection requirements, and globally across privacy jurisdictions and frameworks.
Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design.
NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’.
Who is Dr Wei?
An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab.
Why is His Research Important?
Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards.
‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.
‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’.
What Are His Other Projects?
In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft:
- A 2-year grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with West Virginia University and Honeywell Aerospace to investigate “learning-based” aviation systems
- A six-month SBIR Phase I NASA award with Intelligent Automation to mitigate airspace congestion at vertiports—the electric craft version of airports.
- A 1-year collaborative grant with the University of Virginia and George Mason University from the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) to develop anti-cyber attack technologies and aviation video systems
Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative.
According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.