Friday, May 30, 2008

Bright future for network above the clouds

In the future, there will no be no escape from the ever present Internet, e-mails and web browsing. A new airborne system promises high-speed broadband connection, even when flying over the oceans.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CIGS companies eye building-integrated photovoltaics

I visited HelioVolt, the CIGS solar company in Austin. They, like many of their competitors are tapping into the building integrated solar panel market. But it seems like CIGS BIPV aren't exactly around the corner.

Read more here

Sunday, May 18, 2008

World’s first standard hybrid yacht launches — but may be more style than substance

On a fast cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, Austrian boat manufacturer Frauscher just launched the world’s first luxury motor yacht with a hybrid engine, developed together with Austrian engine manufacturer Steyr Motors.

Hybrid cars have already established themselves as the modern fuel-efficient alternative to petrol cars. But on a warm day, many people will leave their car behind for a much less efficient vessel on the water: Most boats today are powered by dirty diesel engines. Pure electric boats have been around since the late 19th century, but will rarely go faster than 5 or 6 knots (about 10 km/h). Frauscher and Steyr combined the two to offer high speed with a claim to environmental friendliness. I went for a test ride to see how it works.

The Frauscher hybrid has a traditional diesel engine connected to an electric engine. The combustion engine can be started with the electric motor, so there’s no need for a conventional starter motor. With the electric start, the boat will also save every seventh liter of fuel that a normal combustion engine burns during cold starts, according to Steyr.

The boat can drive “zero emission” on the electric engine in speeds up to 5 knots, with several lead-acid batteries supplying the energy. But with a turn of the key, the boat switches to diesel drive mode. At low speeds (the boat reaches 38 knots maximum), the electric engine works in the same way as a starter engine and boosts the diesel engine to create faster acceleration while lowering fuel consumption, although it wasn’t clear how much diesel is saved by the “boost”.

The batteries are recharged whenever the diesel engine is being used. It takes about an hour for the batteries to recharge completely.

Frauscher is a family-owned company with a turnover of $15 million in 2007. Prices start at $150,000 for the 5.6 meter tall St. Tropez-style hybrid yacht, like the one displayed at St. Francis Yacht Club on Friday. The hybrid costs about $20,000 more than a traditional engine.

Last year the company shipped about 150 boats out of its production base in Gschwandt, Austria. Managing Director Michael Frauscher, grandson of company founder Engelbert Frauscher, wouldn’t give an exact forecast of how many hybrids he expects to sell. “But for us this marks a very big thing. There are no boats like this in the American market,” he said.

The Frauscher yachts sell in 14 nations, including the USA, Russia and Korea. California Chris-Craft, a dealer of fine leisure boats with five outlets along the American West Coast, will be the first distributor in the world to offer the new Frauscher/Steyr hybrids. The hybrid electric motor will be available for all Frauscher’s motor yacht styles.

At start, the ride was completeley noiseless. But once out of the marina Frauscher turned the key to switch to the diesel engine, and as the boat jumped its way through the waves it began to burn as much fuel as any other motor yacht.

In the end, the Frauscher yacht gave me the impression of being more stylish than environmentally friendly. Like many technologies touted as “green”, the part-electric system could just serve as an excuse — giving serial over-consumers a green light to go out and burn even more fuel on sunny days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Top 10 tech trends: Smart phones, alternative energies, Boomer technologies

Where is technology headed?

The Churchill Club of Silicon Valley just wrapped up one of its most anticipated events: the Annual Top Ten Tech Trends Debate. Five well-known and opinionated venture capitalists weighed in on what trends will take flight and what trends will fizzle out in the months ahead.

(The VCs are pictured, from left to right: Steve Jurvetson, Vinod Khosla, Josh Kopelman, Roger McNamee, Joe Schoendorf.)

The audience of around 300 people was asked whether it agreed or disagreed with the VCs’ predictions. I’ve ranked them below, according to how well they were accepted by the audience.

Last year’s predicted trends included a shakeout of Web 2.0 companies and the rising economic power of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Trend 1: Customer data stored by different service providers will be combined to create more intelligent services. Josh Kopelman, managing partner at First Round Capital, a seed-stage venture fund, who founded online retailer (sold to eBay after a year for $300 million) said such customer data includes your financial records, dinner reservations, preferences in the iTunes store, random searches on Google and much more. In this way the Internet goes from satisfying explicit user needs (like searching for a friend to add on Facebook) to satisfying implicit needs (like telling who you should add and why adding them would be helpful to you).
Audience: 95 percent voted “Yes”.

Trend 2: Oil will have increasing difficulty competing with biofuels made from cheap non-food crops for transportation. Vinod Khosla (pictured left below, beside Kopelman), founder of Khosla Ventures, which focuses on alternative fuels and green technologies, said coal will become less competitive compared to reliable solar thermal and other alternative energy sources.
Audience: 90 percent voted “Yes”.

Read the rest of this entry:

Project Better Place Shows Off Electric Car

Written by Irina Haltsonen for GigaOm

The Silicon Valley electric car startup Project Better Place showed off a prototype for its electric vehicle in Israel this weekend, and said partner Renault-Nissan (Renault is building the cars while Nissan, via an agreement with NEC Corp., is supplying the swappable batteries) would likely spend between $500 million and $1 billion into building them. We contacted Project Better Place and are waiting to hear more on the partners’ investment.

Read the full story

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Weird, the Far Out, and the Yet to Come Green Gadgets

Al Gore has probably convinced just about everyone of the need to get off their eco-keisters and think about what they're doing to the planet. Many devices are billed as helping to reduce the user's carbon footprint and, of course, most of these items are available on the Internet. Some are undeniably strange but others represent well-considered concepts for pushing the environmental envelope. Here's a slide show of Far-Out Green Gadgets.,144729/article.html

LG Glimmer Review

A review of the LG Glimmer Touchscreen Phone for PC World Video,789-page,1-bid,0/video.html

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nokia on Innovation

Interview with Tero Ojanpera, executive VP of Nokia. We talked about how Nokia is trying to reinvent iself as an Internet company and the importance of different R&D-locations all over the world. Tero Ojanpera sees an increasing diversity in the demand for handset devices, which in his view makes it even more important with a global footprint.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Backstage at Energy Idol

In a small lobby in downtown Boston small groups of aspiring people are waiting to show off in front of judges' panels. It feels like being backstage at a theater audition, but this time it is the semi-finals in a clean energy business plan competition, with 200 000 dollars up for grabs.

Read more

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Finnish Biodiesel Fuels Mixed Reaction

Written by Irina Haltsonen for GigaOm

As the debate over whether countries should mandate more or less biofuels rages on, Finland’s diesel car drivers — at least in the Helsinki area — now have a chance to fill up their tanks with a new diesel fuel blend whose biodiesel content is at least 10 percent. Neste Oil, Finland’s biggest oil refiner, launched the new biodiesel blend commercially this week, called Neste Green diesel; the biofuel is a mixture of fossil fuel diesel and Neste Oil’s NExBTL Renewable diesel, which is based on renewable raw materials such as palm oil, rapeseed oil and animal fats.

Read more

Friday, May 9, 2008

Clean Technology

US Venture Partners to Invest $100 Million in Clean Technology
2008-05-09 19:05 (New York)

By Khaleeq Ahmed

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Venture Partners will invest about $100 million in new technologies over the next 3 1/2 years that could make clean energy cheaper and household water easier to reuse.

The Menlo Park, California-based venture capital company will invest about 16 percent of a $600 million fund in so-called clean technology, Mamoon Hamid, an associate at U.S. Venture Partners, said in an interview.

``The cost of power generation and storage is coming down because smarter people are coming into the field'' and alternative technologies are gaining strength, he said. Specifically, USVP is investing in solid acid-based fuel cell technology to make fuel-cell systems less expensive, Hamid said.

Fuel cells, first developed in Germany in the 1800s, typically push charged particles through a membrane in an electrochemical process that produces power, water and oxygen.

Solid acid-based fuel cells can operate at much higher temperatures, so they could be used in cars without auxiliary systems to keep them cool, and are less expensive to produce because they don't require catalysts made of platinum, according to the Web site of Superprotonic, a Pasadena, California-based company developing the solid acid fuel cells for commercial use.

Though California state regulators are drafting rules to reduce emissions that could boost ``green'' technology, USVP is investing in technologies that could survive without any subsidies, Hamid said.

Separately, 75 percent of household water needs in the U.S. could be met through recycling and processing of used water, Hamid said. USVP is investing in water purification technology
that removes harmful bacteria and pathogens from the 70 percent of household water that can be reused, he said.

Clean Technology

Investment by venture capital firms in clean technology companies in North America and Europe more than doubled in the fourth quarter of 2007 from a year earlier, according to Cleantech Investment Monitor.

North American investment was $1.23 billion in the fourth quarter, twice as much as the $534 million invested a year earlier, according to Cleantech.

USVP, which has invested more than $1.8 billion in 350 companies since it was set up in 1981, typically invests in early-stage companies for three to seven years.

For related news:
Top environment stories: XTOP
Stories about U.S. and climate:

--Editors: Elizabeth Wollman, Nicholas Turner

To contact the reporter on this story:
Khaleeq Ahmed in San Francisco at +1-650-745-5599 or

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wollman at +1-415-617-7138 or


TNRG#<889158.4653949.>#-0- May/09/2008 23:05 GMT

Mobile Marketing: Who’s on First, What’s on Second, and I Don’t Know What’s on the Third Screen

If you still think that e-mail and Internet are things you get on your computer, then you’re probably my age. Or maybe half my age.

I got a taste of the new generation gap yesterday at Boston’s Mobile Monday event, when an audience member pointed out that for people younger than himself, the mobile phone—the “third screen” after the TV and computer—is in fact the first screen. Judging from that person’s age (I would guess thirtysomething), the great mobility divide lies somewhere in the late teens or early 20s.

You can read the rest of the story here

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

mShopper Goes Global

mshopper, a mobile shopping service, was launched in September of last year and has already had over 3 million unique visits. The company powers Sprint's private-labeled mobile shopping platform, is available on Verizon's mobile web portal, and will be partnering with another unnamed major Telecom soon.
They're also getting their feet wet in UK and have received an Asian investment, with plans to launch in China before the Olympic games. AlwaysOn's Phyza Jameel talked with David Gould, CEO of mshopper, about the company's unique offerings and global march.

Estonian Internet Gurus Launch Clean-up Project

Written by Irina Haltsonen for GigaOM

Being an Internet millionaire doesn’t mean you’re only interested in creating businesses that make huge profits — though our list of 25 that ditched infotech for cleantech are certainly still trying. Estonian entrepreneurs Ahti Heinla, a Skype guru, and Rainer Nolvak, founder of MicroLink and Delfi, have decided to use their creative minds and Google mapping software to start a grassroots project aimed at cleaning up their small home country.

They’re calling it Let’s Do It! 2008, and last weekend over 50,000 volunteers, more than 3 percent of the Estonian population of 1.3 million, joined together to clean the forests, roadsides and other public areas from garbage. Using software based on Google Earth, the crew mapped out 10,000 illegal waste dumping sites, gathered the waste from these spots and took it to over 200 temporary collection stations.

Read more

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sulekha merges Facebook and Craigslist in India

A merger between Facebook and Craigslist may seem like a pipe dream — but in India it’s already happening. The web community Sulekha has quickly grown to become India’s largest user-generated content site with 6 million users, a number set to double this year. Social networking features and classified ads take up equally big parts of the site.

The site targets Indians worldwide. India holds 60 percent of the users. Another 30 percent live in North America, which is gathering pace in many cities (more on that later). Almost every person online in India is fluent in English, so Sulekha knew from the start that competition from other social networks would be tough. There is no pure social network based in India that competes favorably with American social networks Myspace, Facebook or LinkedIn.

But Sulekha decided to expand beyond personal social networking. The network part of the site is divided in vertical sections like travel, news, sport and food. The idea is to provide useful content to anyone with interest in Indian culture and news. The Indian Premium League in cricket, IPL, attracts particularly strong interest with hundreds of people writing comments about it under a special “cricket caption”. Satya Prabhakar, CEO of Sulekha, says that the aggregation of social network content in vertical sub-sections makes it easier to attract advertisers who want to know their audience’s interests. General purpose social networks like Facebook and Myspace are all struggling to find a sustainable advertisement solution.

Sulekha will not disclose its revenue but says it’s growing by 75 percent this year, making the company profitable at the operational level. Half of the revenue comes from advertising on the social network part of the site. The other half comes from classified ads, where currently about 20,000 small businesses have paid for search words. In the U.S. a majority of such small businesses have their own websites and many would use Google’s Adwords advertising tool. In India, online advertising is a brand new world.

The major share of Sulekha’s 450 staff work in sales and visit the Indian companies to give them their first introduction to online advertising. It has apparently paid off, since Sulekha now claims to be the largest online classified site in India’s eight biggest cities — Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad and Pune. About three quarters of visitors use the classified ads section of the site.
Read the rest of this entry »

Travel startup UpTake set to launch opinions super-site

With so many online travel sites crowding the market, you’d think we were nearing a Web 2.0 travel bubble. But according to travel information search engine UpTake, which is launching May 14, there’s still an untapped niche in the market: a travel-opinions supersite.

The market is extremely fragmented with thousands of micro-sites for individual hotels, beaches, airlines and leisure activities. UpTake’s goal is to gather opinions from all of those sites together and become the most comprehensive research tool used by travelers.

“The booking sites are good when you know that you’re going to Maui on May 17 and want to stay in a Hilton Hotel. But if you don’t even know whether to go to Maui or Kauai, it’s not that easy,” said CEO Yen Lee, who was General Manager of Yahoo Travel before he left to start UpTake in late 2006.

The site features a personalized filter that, unlike traditional search engines, lets you customize your search according to profiles such as “kid friendly”, “beach”, “romantic” or “adventurous”. These keywords are matched againt a database of more than 20 million traveler opinions from more than 1,000 review sites across the web, including WAYN, TripSay, IgoUgo and, potentially, another newcomer by the name of Tripwolf (more on them later). The ratings collection now spans about half a million places to go, things to do and places to stay. The database will expand rapidly, according to Lee. Searches will be matched with search word ads displayed along with non-commercial search results.

A traveler with unclear travel plans visits, on average, 22 sites before booking a flight or hotel, according to a recent study by Google and Comscore. UpTake wants to turn these 22 jumps into one smooth stop. “We’re like Google, but we’ll only do travel”, said Lee. But he added that unlike Google , UpTake’s database is prepared to ask travellers the big questions: why they’re travelling and who they’re travelling with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shell Ditches British Wind Farm, Faces Criticism

Written by Irina Haltsonen for GigaOm

Oil giant Shell’s decision to pull out of the world’s biggest planned offshore wind farm to be built in Britain resulted in a storm of criticism last week. Politicians and environmentalists accused Shell of being “greedy” and “irresponsible” in the British media. Many also believe that the move is part of a larger trend by Shell away from its renewable energy initiatives.

And the future of the London Array wind farm seems uncertain now. Shell was one of the three shareholders in the project together with German power company E.On and Danish utility DONG Energy. When fully operational, the wind farm would have provided electricity to power 750,000 homes, or around a quarter of London — its 341 turbines would have generated 1,000 megawatts of power.

The decision of Shell is also a major setback for Britain as London Array has been the symbol of the country’s renewable energy future.

Read the whole story

Friday, May 2, 2008

Dong Recharges Electric Cars

What do a Danish energy company (Dong Energy), a Silicon Valley startup (Project Better Place), and an Israeli-American entrepreneur (Shai Aggasi) have in common? They all believe that electric cars might be the best answer for our transportation future. Using Dong Energy's wind stations, the electric car network will start up with a mass deployment in Denmark, with about 20,000 wind-powered recharging stations. Denmark is the second country to embrace a massive electric car project—Israel was the first, announcing in January that it will have an electric car network powered by renewable energy.

While the $42 million project is geared up for a start date in 2011, the technology still has some infrastructure challenges to sort out. AlwaysOn sat down to talk with Rudolph Blum, General Manager of Dong Energy, and learned how his company plans to set up a complete infrastructure to charge the electric car batteries. Just one of the many problems to work out is negotiating with the government on car taxation. Listen to what he says and get ready to clear out the clutter in your garage....

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bezos Bets Big on Kongregate

Today, indie Web gaming site Kongregate announced it has secured a $3 million investment from Bezos Expeditions -- the personal investment arm of Jeff Bezos, chairman and founder of The site was founded in 2006 and, while currently in development, is creating an online hub for players and game developers to meet up, play games, and operate together as a community.

Kongregate wraps user-submitted Flash games with community features, serving as a gathering place for users to play great web-based games alongside their friends. Anyone can add games to Kongregate's library, giving talented game developers the recognition and compensation they deserve. Kongregate shares microtransaction and advertising revenue with contributing developers, who retain the full rights to their games.

Kongregate is positioning itself as an aggregator of content in the casual gaming market. With a monthly growth rate of more than 25%, Kongregate is on track to reach more than 10 million unique visitors by the end of 2008. Kongregate CEO Jim Greer exclusively announces the investment on AlwaysOn....

Our friends across the pond at StrategyEye put together the following analysis of the deal:

STRATEGYEYE VIEWPOINT: Could Kongregate consolidate the casual gaming market?

Kongregate has secured further funding from investors including Jeff Bezos, supplementing USD6m raised in previous seed and early stage rounds of funding. The ad-supported casual gaming and in-game advertising sphere is a growing business with accelerating venture capital investment and acquisitions by larger players. Kongregate has established itself as a competitive entrant in the casual-gaming and user-generated gaming market for the following reasons:

Firstly, Kongregate is positioning itself as an aggregator of content in the casual gaming market. The site provides games developers and users with one portal solution in a casual gaming market which is increasingly becoming overpopulated making it difficult for both developers and users to know which way to turn. The Casual Gaming Association estimates that the global casual games market is worth USD2.25bn and is growing at a rate of 20% per year.

Secondly, the company has managed to gain the confidence of many games developers with its business model and strategy, and now has over 4200 games on its platform. Whilst attracting developers can be a challenge for startups in a saturated market, Kongregate has become popular for several reasons:

• Advertising revenue share deals of between 25% and 50% for developers.

• Offers a range of alternative revenue streams including premium games
upgrade fees, and micro-transactions driven revenue on games. While
advertising revenues rely on traffic, alternative streams aim to
supplement this by generating extra revenues from the most loyal users.

• Enables the developer to maintain exclusive rights to the games.

• The business model balances the level of monetisation of developers'
work versus the level of promotional independence the developers hold.
This is represented by a self-sponsoring mechanism that enables developers
to offer a trial version of a game on the platform and a full version both
on the platform and on the developers' personal page.

• Has concentrated on streamlining development processes and elevating
the quality of flash games through sponsorship (Premiere Development Program).

Finally, the company differentiates its consumer offering with a wide range of interactive features: users can create profiles that they can adorn with achievement, chat whilst playing, the community rates games and this is encouraged via redeemable award programmes.

In relation to all the above, StrategyEye believes that Kongregate has a solid business model that follows the likes of YouTube, Digg and other user-generated content. However, the company faces the thorny issue of maintaining the current relationship with developers (and therefore its business model) as well as ensuring that content is democratically managed. Recent history, in fact, teaches us that management of user generated content can become tricky at times and, if managed poorly, could lead to a major backlash (see Digg).

While Kongregate's future success is not a certainty, the company has made significant advances to becoming a much-needed aggregator in the casual gaming market by establishing a crucial relationship with developers, and the traffic is beginning to follow.

Heavyweight hydrogen might be pharma's new winner

Take at medicine already in use, and replace some of the normal hydrogen atoms in the drug's molecules with the heavier variety deuterium. What you get is a new chemical entity, which hopefully is both better and safer and the original one. Drug discovery start-up Concert Pharmaceuticals, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has more than 100 patent applications based on this principle.

Read more