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Jan. 14 2016 12:42 PM

Tesla’s Model X Now Comes in a Vegan Option

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Tesla's cars are already eco-friendly, but they just got a little more vegan-friendly. Yes, vegan-friendly. 

The electric car maker is now letting customers order its new Model X with synthetic leather seats and accents, according to a report from the New York Times. Tesla is calling the new option "Ultra-White."

Tesla already offers its customers the option of cloth seats. But other luxury automakers including BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer a sythetic leather option. 

And considering the company's whole premise is about limiting emissions, the move makes sense. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, livestock around the world account for about 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. 

The company came under pressure to increase its offerings in June of last year at a shareholders meeting. Two proposals were made on the topic. The first was to completely stop using animal-based products. And the second was to decrease the use of the products, eventually discontinuing them completely by 2019. 

At the time, though, the board recommended a vote against both proposals saying that such a move would "impede or delay" the company from other priorities.  

Jan. 13 2016 5:46 PM

GoPro's Business Is Doing the Kind of Swan Dive You'd Want to Capture on GoPro

 

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

GoPro shares are crashing to all-time lows after the company said it is cutting about 7 percent of its staff and sales are not great.

In a statement on Wednesday, the digital-camera maker also announced its preliminary fourth-quarter and full-year 2015 results.

It said that it expects Q4 revenue to be about $435 million ($511 million expected, according to Bloomberg) and $1.6 billion for 2015—worse than forecast due to lower-than-anticipated sales.

"Fourth quarter revenue reflects lower than anticipated sales of its capture devices due to slower than expected sell through at retailers, particularly in the first half of the quarter," it said.

GoPro shares had been halted for news pending after the closing bell, and collapsed by as much as 24 percent after trading resumed.

Shares of Ambarella, a major supplier of chips in GoPro cameras, were down about 10 percent.

GoPro's performance in the fourth quarter was also affected by the unspectacular launch of its compact Hero4 model. Analysts at Morgan Stanley cut their price target on the stock in October and essentially described the launch as a flop after the company slashed the product's price not long after it was released.

Several analysts have expressed concern about the potential for GoPro's point-of-view cameras to gain mass appeal beyond the core group of extreme-sports enthusiasts and the like.

GoPro said it will incur a $21 million charge related to further price changes to the Hero4 in December.

The layoffs, which follow a headcount-growth pace of about 50 percent in the past two years, will cost GoPro between $5 million and $10 million. Much of this will be severance costs, according to the company.

See also: We Did a Blind Taste Test of Popular French Fries—the Winner was Clear

 

Jan. 13 2016 12:29 PM

Opening a Chick-fil-A Franchise Is Really Cheap—and Running One Is Super Pricey

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Chick-fil-A is among the most successful fast-food chains in the U.S., and it's also one of the cheapest to open.

The company grew by $700 million to achieve $5.8 billion in sales in 2014, making it larger than every pizza brand in the country, according toQSR magazine.

Chick-fil-A is now the eighth-largest fast-food chain in the U.S. by sales, and it generates more revenue per restaurant than any other chain nationally, according to QSR.

Despite its success, Chick-fil-A charges franchisees only $10,000 to open a new restaurant, and it doesn't require candidates meet a threshold for net worth or liquid assets, the company told Business Insider.

That's cheaper than every major fast-food chain in the U.S.

McDonald's, for example, requires potential franchisees to pay between$955,708 and $2.3 million in startup costs—including a $45,000 franchise fee—as well as have liquid assets of at least $750,000. Taco Bell's startup costs average $1.2 million to $2.5 million and the company requires a minimum net worth of $1.5 million and liquid assets of at least $750,000.

Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, pays for all startup costs—including real estate, restaurant construction, and equipment.

In turn, the company leases everything to its franchisees for an ongoing fee equal to 15 percent of sales plus 50 percent of pretax profit remaining, Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Amanda Hannah told Business Insider.

"The barrier to entry for being a franchisee is never going to be money," Hannah said. "We seek to find the very best business partners who find great joy in making other people's days. They do so with a combination of great business acumen, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a passion for serving others."

So what's the catch?

While Chick-fil-A's startup costs are low, the ongoing fees are higher than those charged by many of its rivals.

McDonald's, for example, charges an ongoing monthly service fee equal to 4 percent of gross sales and an additional fee for rent, which is also a percentage of sales. McDonald's franchisees have historically paid about 8.5 percent of sales in rent costs, though some pay as much as 12 percent, according to a 2013 Bloomberg report.

Chick-fil-A also prohibits most of its franchisees from opening multiple units, which can limit franchisees' potential profits. This limitation is meant to enable Chick-fil-A's franchisees to be intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of their restaurants.

"Chick-fil-A operators must be as comfortable rolling up their sleeves in the kitchen as they are shaking hands in the dining room," Hannah said.

The company also puts a big emphasis on community service and encourages franchisees to be actively involved in the communities where they live and work. "Oftentimes, several operators in a market will combine resources to market events through advertising and promotion," Hannah said. "Our daddy-daughter date nights are an example of this."

Chick-fil-A gets more than 20,000 inquiries from franchisee candidates every year. From those candidates, Chick-fil-A selects between 75 to 80 new franchisees annually, Hannah said.

To apply, candidates have to submit a form through the company's website expressing their interest. Chick-fil-A will then contact the candidates for interviews. The company may also interview candidates' friends, family members, and business partners.

Once they are selected and hired, franchisees have to undergo a multi-week training program before they can open and operate their own restaurant.

Jan. 12 2016 3:39 PM

The CW Might Build Its Own Streaming Service. Is That a Threat to Netflix?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

CBS and Time Warner are taking steps that could allow them to extricate their CW network from Netflix's grasp.

The companies are working to create a standalone streaming service for the CW, which they own jointly, according to Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw. Today, Netflix streams past seasons of CW shows and Hulu streams current ones, but that could change as the contracts wind down.

The service could be priced at $2 to $4 a month and would offer a "live feed" of shows as well as on-demand watching, according to Bloomberg. Popular CW shows include Arrow, Jane the Virgin, and The Flash.

A standalone CW-streaming service could serve as a model for other TV networks that feel they are undercutting their content by licensing it to Netflix. A big chunk of Netflix's streaming content is old seasons of popular TV shows, and if networks decide to turn off this spigot, it could be damaging for Netflix's bottom line.

Netflix is trying to get out ahead of this by diving deep into original content. The company will produce a whopping 600 hours of original content in 2016, pumping out 31 shows, as well as movies and documentaries.

While producing original shows is relatively expensive, Netflix executives have characterized it as their best investments going forward, especially since the rights are easier to deal with internationally. Last week, Netflix went live in 130 new countries, which brought its reach to most of the world except China.

Part of CBS and Time Warner's motivation to compete directly with Netflix could be flagging viewership for the CW, which has seen its prime-time audience drop 13 percent this season, according to Bloomberg.

Jan. 11 2016 4:59 PM

You Have a Secret Rating on Tinder That Only Tinder Can See

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Fast Company has a big new profile about Tinder and its CEO Sean Rad

The interview with Rad was conducted back in November but the story was published on Monday, and it looks like the Tinder CEO is trying to rehabilitate his image.

In a follow-up story to the profile, writer Austin Carr also explains a facet of Tinder you've probably never heard of before: your secret Tinder score.

It's a scoring system that's only meant for internal use, but Carr was offered a glimpse of his own Tinder score during his visit to the company.

Referred to internally as your "Elo score," (yes, like the rating system used by chess players), it's described as a complex algorithmic score that takes into account multiple factors. It doesn't measure how attractive you are, but it ranks your desirability.

Since you swipe on people based on their perceived attractiveness, your score is theoretically representative of how you represent yourself on your Tinder profile overall.

"It’s not just how many people swipe right on you," CEO Sean Rad told Carr. "It’s very complicated. It took us two and a half months just to build the algorithm because a lot of factors go into it."

A lot of what goes into this complicated algorithm isn't explained. Jonathan Badeen, Tinder’s VP of product, says the Elo score is like the video game "Warcraft": "I used to play a long time ago, and whenever you play somebody with a really high score, you end up gaining more points than if you played someone with a lower score," he told Fast Company.

And a Tinder data analyst named Chris Dumler called it a "vast voting system." "Every swipe is in a way casting a vote: I find this person more desirable than this person, whatever motivated you to swipe right. It might be because of attractiveness, or it might be because they had a really good profile," he explained to Fast Company. 

Carr was shown his Elo score—946, or the "upper end of average," according to Tinder—at Tinder headquarters, so don't expect to be offered a peek of your own score inside your Tinder app; though not much detail is provided about these scores, they appear to be used mainly as an internal analytics tool.

Jan. 11 2016 12:31 PM

Teslas Can Now Drive Themselves Out of Their Owners’ Garages

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Tesla Model S owners woke up this weekend with some new tricks up their sleeves.

The Elon Musk-run automaker released it latest software—version 7.1—in an over-the-air update on Saturday. This update features several major changes to the company's Autopilot system.

The most significant addition is the beta version of the "summon" feature, which allows the cars to enter or exit parking spots or garages without the driver in the car.

"You can summon the car from your key fob or phone through a pull-down menu, it will open the garage door, back out of the garage, close the garage door, and come to you," Musk said on a call with reporters Sunday.

Right now, the summon feature is still in experimental beta version, but Musk expects the system to become much more advanced over the next few years.

"In two years you'll be able to summon your car from across the country," Musk said. "If your car is in New York and you are in Los Angeles, it will find its way to you."

Along the way, Musk says the car will even be able to charge itself.

Tesla's software update comes on the heels of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where autonomous driving and advanced in-car software were two hot topics among automakers. 

The Tesla CEO believes autonomous driving will be technologically ready within the next 24 to 36 months.

"I don't believe I'm being too optimistic," he added.

As for the current beta summon feature, it's still fairly limited in what it can do. Musk referred to the current iteration as more of a remotely operated function than an autonomous one.

The current version of the summon feature requires the driver to be no further than 33 feet from the car as well as "continually monitor and maintain control of the car" when using the feature. In addition, Tesla requires that the driver only use it on private property with flat topography.

In addition, update 7.1 will allow the Tesla to self-park both parallel and perpendicular to the curb.

This update also includes new restrictions on Autopilot's Autosteer function on residential roads or roads without a center divider. On these roads, Autosteer will be limited to the posted speed limit plus 5 mph, or 10 kph.

Musk referred this new restriction as "reasonable" for the safe operation of the car.

Another safety featured added in this update is the curve-speed-adaptation function, which gives the car the ability to scan the curve in the road ahead while in Autopilot and automatically adjust the speed based that information.

The over-the-air, or OTA, software update is a function that Tesla pioneered, and now other major automakers, such as Ford, GM and BMW, are all working to the adopt OTA updates in their upcoming cars.

In fact, BMW designer Adrian van Hooydonk told Business Insider at CES that OTA updates will allow car companies to keep pace with tech firms on the technological front. 

Jan. 8 2016 12:56 PM

Google and Lenovo Say They’re Building a Super-Smartphone With Google’s Project Tango Tech

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Google and Lenovo just announced they're partnering up to build an Android-powered, sub-$500 smartphone powered by Google's extremely nifty Project Tango technology.

Project Tango, first announced in 2014, is a project originated from Google ATAP, one of the search giant's coolest and most secretive research labs.

The basic idea behind Project Tango is to give smartphones and tablets a set of "eyes" that can understand depth perception, just like humans can. 

To date, Project Tango has only been available in the form of a slightly unsightly, pricey tablet, designed for developers to get a taste of the platform. With this announcement, Lenovo has confirmed that it will be the first to bring Project Tango to consumer smartphones later in 2016.

"We don't believe this technology is one that has a short lifespan," said Lenovo tablet boss Jeff Meredith. "Some innovations last 6 months and fall by the wayside."

I got a little hands-on time with these Project Tango apps, and it works very well. This could be really big—and might turn out to be the hottest announcement out of CES 2016.

To demonstrate why this is going to be so cool, Google Project Tango lead Johnny Lee showed off a bunch of real, useful apps running on the Project Tango platform—though since Lenovo's still working on the design of its Tango-powered phone, he had to show it off via the existing developer tablet. 

"There's much more information in the spaces around us than we can see with or eyes," Lee said.

First off, he showed off how Project Tango can actually take the measurements of stuff like furniture. Line up the camera's viewfinder with one edge of the couch, and then again on the space you want to measure, and it returns a totally accurate measurement.

You can do it for surface area, too, like if you're going to paint a wall. You can also measure floor to ceiling. A Google spokesperson describes it as "like the Calculator app," insofar as it's going to come with Project Tango-capable phones and be something that people use a lot. 

Lee also showed off its space-sensing capabilities. It can detect that a flat surface high off the ground is probably a table, and project images onto them, or that a floor is a floor. It can even build a total 3D model of the room, starting from scratch.

In one example, he played Jenga with a spokesperson, leaning in, clicking on the screen, and then leaning out to pull out a block. A more useful example came via an app powered by home improvement chain Lowe's, so you can project an image of a new fridge, for example, and see how much space it'll actually take up in your room. 

A big part of why Lenovo and Google are aiming to release a consumer device, the companies say, is that it's time for developers to really get their hands on it and build more stuff that takes new and novel use of the Project Tango sensor system.

Other potential uses include indoor mapping systems that can help you find your way inside buildings, or that help map out where your friends are in crowded spaces. 

"We're gonna take this product and launch it to the realm where developers can feel comfortable working on their apps," Meredith says. 

Jan. 7 2016 4:41 PM

Pricey, Elite SoulCycle Will Deign to Host Cycling Classes With Target

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

SoulCycle has a reputation. It's elite, and it's expensive.

The company has partnered with a budget-minded company, however, in a possible attempt to appeal to more consumers. Well + Good reports that SoulCycle has teamed up with Target to offer free pop-up classes across 10 cities in the U.S.

Well + Good says Target will also be creating a capsule collection, complete with SoulCycle's logo emblazoned across the apparel.

SoulCycle apparel normally costs Soul acolytes more than a pretty penny, but the clothing at Target—which, Well + Good says will include a tank top, a hoodie, sweatpants, and a T-shirt—will be priced at $29 to $49.

The apparel also has Target's distinct bullseye on it:

SoulCycleTarget

Target

As with SoulCycle's regular classes, you've got to sign up. Given that popular classes are already difficult to sign up for, expect this to be no different. According to SoulCycle's website, sign-ups go live on Fridays at 3 p.m. a week before a city's classes, much like SoulCycle's infamous signups at noon on Mondays.

SoulCycle believes that its goals are the same as Target's.

"SoulCycle embodies the inspirational and active lifestyle that Target is celebrating as part of its focus on wellness," founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler told Well + Good. "We're thrilled to be working with Target to bring SoulCycle to more people and help them find joy in movement to kick off the New Year."

The question, of course, is whether diehard SoulCycle fans will fill up the classes first. 

"We expect to see a lot of excitement throughout the 10-city tour from both fans and newcomers to the SoulCycle brand," Target's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Jeff Jones, told Well + Good. "If we can give our guests a uniquely Target way to experience this popular workout regimen and help them go into the new year feeling energized, we will have met our goals."

"We know that wellness is top of mind for so many of our guests, especially at this time of year when people are looking for ways to reinvigorate their exercise routine," he said in a release. "By partnering with a premier fitness brand like SoulCycle, we can offer a uniquely Target experience and help our guests start the new year off on a positive note."

SoulCycle, which filed to go public this past summer, has maintained its level of exclusivity by opting to be selective about its promotions and partners; it does not participate in ClassPass, a hot startup that gives fitness enthusiasts the opportunity to try out multiple fitness studios for a flat fee.

Jan. 5 2016 12:42 PM

Fitbit’s Stock Plunges After It Unveils Its Answer to the Apple Watch

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Fitbit shares are down more than 10 percent on Tuesday, following the unveiling of its new Blaze fitness watch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

The new device is Fitbit's closest answer to the Apple Watch, which was released in 2015 and which raised concerns that Fitbit could lose its early position in the market for wearable devices.

Fitbit described the Blaze as a fitness oriented watch, rather than an all-purpose watch like the Apple Watch. The Blaze can track the heart rate of its wearer, as well as calories burned, steps and sleep, but it does not support third-party apps as Apple's Watch does. 

That may explain some of Wall Street's negative reaction. 

Shares of Fitbit fell 11 percent, or $3.26, in mid day trading on Tuesday. 

Jan. 4 2016 11:55 AM

Mark Zuckerberg Wants to Make an A.I. Butler Like the One in Iron Man

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

For the past year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been reading two books a month. He's spent other years learning Mandarin or only eating meat that he killed.

This year, Zuckerberg is clearly envious of Iron Man Tony Stark's futuristic life. He's challenged himself to code his own version of JARVIS from "Iron Man," the digital butler who controlled Stark's life and home.

Zuckerberg says he'll start with understanding some basic smart-home technology that's out there—he's a fan of Amazon's Echo—but then he wants to build something that's custom to his own home.

"Then I'll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home—music, lights, temperature and so on. I'll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I'll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max's room that I need to check on when I'm not with her," Zuckerberg wrote in the announcement.

Every year, I take on a personal challenge to learn new things and grow outside my work at Facebook. My challenges in recent years have been to read two books every month, learn Mandarin and meet a new person every day.

My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.

I'm going to start by exploring what technology is already out there. Then I'll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home—music, lights, temperature and so on. I'll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I'll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max's room that I need to check on when I'm not with her. On the work side, it'll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organizations more effectively.

Every challenge has a theme, and this year's theme is invention.

At Facebook I spend a lot of time working with engineers to build new things. Some of the most rewarding work involves getting deep into the details of technical projects. I do this with Internet.org when we discuss the physics of building solar-powered planes and satellites to beam down internet access. I do this with Oculus when we get into the details of the controllers or the software we're designing. I do this with Messenger when we discuss our AI to answer any question you have. But it's a different kind of rewarding to build things yourself, so this year my personal challenge is to do that.

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