The mobile payment app, owned by PayPal (PYPL), announced the changes Tuesday, explaining that getting rid of the global feed is part of its “ongoing efforts to continually evolve the Venmo platform.” Moving forward, users will only see payments between friends when they open the app. “The Venmo community has grown to more than 70 million customers, so this change allows customers to connect and share meaningful moments and experiences with the people who matter most,” the company said in blog post. Venmo’s global feed has been the focus of privacy concerns. In 2018, PayPal settled with the Federal Trade Commission for an undisclosed sum following complaints about the app’s privacy controls of their transactions. Despite having some privacy settings, the federal agency said that the app “misled consumers about how those settings work.”Venmo also announced expanded privacy controls in Tuesday’s changes. For example, users can also select if they want to have their profile to appear on the friend’s feed or stay hidden. In other changes, users will see a redesigned bottom navigation toolbar allowing them to toggle between the friends’ feed, their personal profile and Venmo’s growing suite of products. Venmo recently added crypto support that lets people buy bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin and bitcoin cash for as little as $1.
But they’ve yet to make their mark in Africa. One company hoping to change that is Gozem.Launched in 2018 in Togo, West Africa, it started by offering a motorcycle-hailing app, but has since added services such as food and grocery delivery, vehicle financing and a digital wallet, while expanding to Benin and Gabon. Based in Singapore, the startup was cofounded by a Nigerian and two Swiss entrepreneurs who saw an untapped market in West Africa. Gozem says its app has been downloaded 800,000 times and as a ride-hailing service it has completed four million trips with its 2,500 drivers. Its aim now is to make the app indispensable.All in one”What do we all do? You commute, you use transportation, you need to eat every day, you need to make payments. So, it’s all those key verticals that we all use in our daily life that we put in one app,” says Raphael Dana, Gozem’s cofounder.Gozem isn’t the only company with ambitions of building an African super app. Nigeria’s Gokada, which also started as a ride-hailing service, is making similar efforts, as is South African communications company Vodacom (VDMCY), which is partnering with China’s Alipay.But Gozem is focusing on French-speaking Africa. Dana says developing a super app only makes sense in emerging markets because there is less competition for each service.”In a developed market, it’s impossible to propose something that can do everything in all verticals and all the sectors. In Europe, in the US, there are too many players,” he says. “Because the (African) Francophone market is completely untapped, we can look at building a strong tech company, building data and solving real problems.” Dana says Gozem was inspired by two Asian super apps — Singapore’s ride-hailing platform Grab and Indonesia’s ride-hailing and delivery service Gojek. “We believe that Southeast Asia is the best role model to look at when you want to build a startup in Africa,” says Dana. “You are going to find a lot of similarities in the problems the populations are facing.”Can Africa be next?According to consulting firm McKinsey & Company, super apps are expected to generate $500 billion in revenues by 2025, with growth in Asia and emerging markets like Brazil. Anindya Ghose, professor of business at NYU and author of “Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy,” points out that Africa has a growing number of smartphone owners, as well as startups looking to diversify their app offerings.However, Ghose says a lack of access to high-speed internet could be a barrier to the uptake of super apps, and that monetizing them may be a challenge. Gozem says it will make money through commissions from its vehicle financing, rides and deliveries, as well as transaction fees on payments.Super apps haven’t always had an easy time of it on the continent. Tencent’s (TCEHY) WeChat hasn’t been able to match its success in Asia, with Facebook’s (FB) rival messaging app Whatsapp already an established presence in Africa. CanGo Africa, another ride-hailing service with super app ambitions, closed down in 2020, reportedly because of a lack of funds.Despite the challenges, Ghose says he can see opportunities, but it remains to be seen who will grab them. Gozem hopes to launch in Cameroon by the end of the year and Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ivory Coast by the end of 2022.
Clubhouse, where members join virtual rooms to have live, unscripted discussions, said Wednesday that it will no longer be invite-only or operate a waitlist to join the app. All iOS and Android users in the United States and abroad can now sign up.The platform launched in March 2020 as the pandemic hit the United States and many were stuck at home. It swiftly became the talk of Silicon Valley and caught the attention of larger social networks. By January 2021, Clubhouse was reportedly valued at $1 billion.Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth said in a January blog post that they planned to “scale … as fast as we can and open it up to everyone soon.” An Android version of the app, launched in May, has surpassed 10 million downloads, the company said Wednesday. “The invite system has been an important part of our early history,” Davison and Seth wrote in a blog post Wednesday. They also said adding people in waves has helped to “grow Clubhouse in a measured way.”But the decision to open up the platform comes as the app not only has to compete with the return of IRL gatherings in the US and other markets but also must compete with newly launched products from more established social media platforms. Twitter started experimenting with “Spaces” in December and Facebook launched Live Audio Rooms in late June.According to data from Sensor Tower, which tracks mobile apps, Clubhouse has seen a significant decrease in monthly iOS downloads in recent months from its peak of 9.6 million downloads in February to just 719,000 in May. Overall, the app has reached approximately 29.8 million installs globally across the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower.But Clubhouse suggested engagement on the platform remains strong.Clubhouse said roughly 500,000 rooms are created on the platform daily, with the average user spending about an hour per day on the app. Last week, it announced an option to direct message people on the Clubhouse app, called “Backchannel.” Some 90 million messages have been sent, the company said. (Previously, people would have to find each other off the platform to engage in a text-based conversation.)In its short lifespan, Clubhouse has already faced a number of questions about whether it is equipped to handle moderating harmful speech and abuse on its platform, with some members and critics publicly sharing examples of antisemitism, misinformation and harassment. While the company has added some safety features, there have also been concerns about measures intended to help. “We know there will be many more ups and downs as we scale, and competition from the large networks will be fierce. But we believe the future is created by optimists — and we’re excited to keep working to build a different kind of social network,” Davison and Seth wrote.
Now the hashtag is hidden on the platform, locked behind a message that says Facebook is “keeping our community safe.”The change happened hours after CNN Business asked Facebook why the page full of anti-vaccination falsehoods was easy to find. If this sounds familiar, it’s because almost the exact same thing happened with Facebook-owned Instagram two years ago, during one of the company’s previous efforts to tell people that, seriously, it really was doing a great job of moderating anti-vaccine content.It’s yet another example of the Whack-a-mole that happens all across social media. Reporters or other users notice content that clearly violates a platform’s policies; they ask why it is being permitted; the platform whacks it away; and then the cycle repeats.The existence of the #VaccinesKill content was noticed by CNN last weekend, after President Joe Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” by letting lies spread on its platforms.Biden later walked that back and focused his ire on individuals and organizations who use Facebook to spread disinformation.It remains quite hard to get a handle on the scope of the problem. Many of the so-called “disinformation dozen” that Biden criticized, who were identified in a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as super-spreaders of anti-vaccine propaganda, have been banned in some way from one or another of Facebook’s platforms or have gone quiet. Some of the “dozen” have learned how to post in ways that create less risk Facebook will take action against them.But in different corners of the never-ending website, there are egregious violations of Facebook policies that are meant to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.A review of the #VaccinesKill hashtag page on Saturday showed posts from ordinary users with fear-mongering messages about “vaccines literally eating people’s brains” and shadowy forces launching a “population reduction plan.” Other posts warned people against “injecting this software into your system” and said “if you love your children then don’t let them get the jab!”The hashtag page was not particularly active, but it was clear that some users wanted their Facebook friends to latch onto #VaccinesKill rhetoric, and were using the hashtag accordingly.Some users attached videos from Fox host Tucker Carlson and InfoWars host Alex Jones. In another case, a user shared an anti-vaccination article from a website that pretended to be an authoritative news source. Some of the posts were accompanied by a Facebook label that pointed people to accurate information about vaccines.Similar posts full of misinformation were seen on the #VaccinesKill hashtag on Instagram in 2019.Back then, before the Covid-19 pandemic, CNN Business wrote about the harmful content on Instagram, and Instagram responded by blocking the #VaccinesKill hashtag. It still is blocked there.But the hashtag remained active on Facebook. “Our process to determine whether a hashtag violates our policies takes several factors into account, including the percentage of content using the hashtag that violates,” a Facebook spokesperson said in response to questions.”We began blocking the #vaccineskill hashtag on Instagram in 2019 because there was a substantial portion of content with the hashtag that violated our policies. At the time, Facebook content with the hashtag did not reach our threshold to block the hashtag,” the spokesperson said. “Now, the #vaccineskill hashtag on Facebook violates our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and we’ve blocked it from search.”Facebook said it also removes individual posts with the hashtag “that violate Community Standards when we become aware of them.”
But on Wednesday, Musk aimed to clarify that he’s both a crypto investor and supporter. Speaking at an event called The B Word — which aimed to “explain how institutions can embrace Bitcoin” — alongside Twitter (TWTR) and Square (SQ) CEO Jack Dorsey and Ark Invest CEO Cathie Wood, Musk said the only major personal investments he has outside of his companies Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX are in bitcoin, ethereum and dogecoin. He added that Tesla and SpaceX also own bitcoin. Despite the turmoil he’s created in the crypto world recently, Musk said he is “a supporter of bitcoin and the idea of cryptocurrency in general.”The prices of several large cryptocurrencies, including the three Musk owns, went on a wild ride in recent months in response to his statements and actions at Tesla. Dogecoin plummeted in May after Musk appeared on Saturday Night Live and called it a “hustle.” That same month, Musk said Tesla would stop accepting bitcoin as payment because of the huge amount of energy used to mine it, causing the price to fall.But, ultimately, Musk said at the event that his financial success is partly tied up with the performance of such digital currencies. And in Musk fashion, he phrased it in a way that could draw the attention of regulators.”If the price of bitcoin goes down, I lose money,” Musk said. “I might pump, but I don’t dump. … I definitely do not believe in getting the price high and selling, or anything like this. I would like to see bitcoin succeed.” A “pump and dump” is a type of securities fraud wherein someone attempts to boost the price of an asset through false, misleading or exaggerated statements (the “pump”) and then sells them off to cash in on the inflated prices (the “dump”), the type of scheme monitored and prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Musk is no stranger to the agency. In 2018 he was charged with securities fraud over his use of Twitter, including to post information about Tesla’s outlook. He agreed to a settlement requiring Tesla lawyers to review his posts about the company, which he has reportedly violated twice in the past two years. On Wednesday, Musk and Dorsey also addressed the environmental concerns about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which require huge amounts of energy to power the computers needed to “mine” them. There are a finite number of bitcoins and computers must complete complex equations to access (or “mine”) them and enter them into circulation — as more bitcoins are mined, the more difficult and energy intensive that process gets. In May, Tesla paused bitcoin transactions after Musk said he realized the cryptocurrency’s network could rely on coal-powered energy.”Tesla’s mission is accelerating the advent of sustainable energy. We can’t be the company that does that and also not do appropriate diligence on the energy usage of bitcoin,” Musk said. “Now, it looks like bitcoin is shifting a lot more to renewables.” Musk said the company is keeping bitcoin on its books and will likely start accepting bitcoin payments again when around half of the power used to mine bitcoin comes from clean sources such as solar and wind energy, something he has previously said on Twitter. (Musk, however, is known for making promises and then backtracking.)Dorsey — whose company Square has bought billions in bitcoin and built an app for crypto developers — highlighted the potential to harness various forms of unused energy to power cryptocurrency mining operations. He mentioned a company called Great American Mining, which captures methane flares on oil fields to power its bitcoin mining systems. “Just imagine all the unused energy that is being wasted every single day, and being able to get energy and converting it into a secure, sound money system for the planet,” Dorsey said.
“DFEH alleges that women were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances,” the state agency said in a press release. “The lawsuit also alleges that the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained.”A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard (ATVI), the company known for creating popular games including “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft,” told CNN they are taking the allegations seriously and have launched internal investigations for all claims. “We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone,” said Kelvin Liu, Director of Corporate Communications at Activision Blizzard. “There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind.”California’s lawsuit contradicts the company’s claims, alleging Activision Blizzard fostered a “frat boy” work culture where female employees have to “continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male coworkers,” the filing says.Liu told CNN action has been taken to address past issues involving cases of misconduct, blasting the state’s filing and investigation as “inaccurate” and “distorted.””The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today,” Liu said. “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”The state, however, alleges in its lawsuit Activision Blizzard maintains a leadership team held exclusively by white men with few women in top roles. DFEH also claims female employees receive lower starting pay and are promoted more slowly than their male counterparts. The gaming company told CNN they have strived to pay all employees fairly and have also enhanced internal programs to create channels for employees to report violations.”We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come,” Liu said. Activision Blizzard is a leading gaming platform headquartered in Santa Monica, California with approximately 9,500 total employees and over 100 million players worldwide, the filing said.
“In the US, we’re unique in letting drug companies basically set their own prices,” Andrew Mulcahy, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who focuses on prescription drugs, told CNN Business. Americans spend around $1,200 a year on average for prescription drugs — more than any other country — according to the latest available OECD data. High drug prices have been a major issue in the United States for years, one that the government and lawmakers have worked to address. But those efforts have moved slowly and with limited success, prompting private firms to step in to try to bridge the gap. One Texas-based company, bankrolled by billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, is trying to solve the problem in part by making its own drugs. The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company looks to cut out the many middlemen involved in the sale of generic prescription drugs, instead buying them directly from the pharmaceutical companies and selling them almost at cost. It is also developing a facility in Dallas where it can manufacture drugs from scratch, which is expected to open next year. “We’re kind of trying to bypass the middleman and the pharmaceutical supply chain, trying to bypass the cartel that inflates the prices,” said Dr. Alex Oshmyansky, the company’s founder. “And we’ll pass on the savings that cut out the middleman to the patients, the people that actually need it at the end of the day.”Cost Plus’ first product was Albendazole, an antiparasitic drug used to treat hookworm infections. By going directly to the manufacturer, the company was able to bring the drug’s price down from $225 per tablet to $20 per tablet. Cost Plus says it hopes to add more than 100 other drugs by the end of 2021.Cuban told CNN Business in an email that he invested in Cost Plus “[because] it’s obscene how much pharma companies over charge for generic drugs and how they do everything possible to hide their overcharging.” Attaching his own name to the company was a bid to raise more awareness, he added. The goal, he said, is “to bring the prices down for as many generic drugs as we can and to be completely transparent about it so people start to understand how the industry works [and] why we are disrupting it.”Oshmyansky said he founded Cost Plus around six years ago after seeing the controversy over “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, whose decision to raise the price of life-saving AIDS drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 in 2015 sparked a massive public backlash and at one point saw Shkreli referred to as the “most hated man in America.””I was and still am a practicing physician and was just pretty upset about that,” Oshmyansky said. “So I decided to go on kind of a tangent [to] try to fix it.”The controversy around Shkreli highlighted another big issue with the US pharmaceutical industry: brand-name drugs are essentially protected from competition for 20 years once they are patented.”For brand name drugs, where there isn’t much competition, there’s not a whole lot that’s keeping those prices down,” Mulcahy said. “And so you can get into situations where patients and their health insurers are on the hook for thousands, tens of thousands of dollars for some of these expensive specialty drugs.”According to a 2019 survey by the health policy nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, three in 10 adults reported not taking their medicines as prescribed because of the cost. Pharmaceutical industry groups have previously pushed back against restrictions on drug prices, saying it would hurt medical innovation and investments in research and development. “There’s an important reason to give companies an opportunity to set prices somewhere above what it costs them to make the drug and recoup their investment in R&D,” Mulcahy said. “At some point, though, that needs to end. We need to get into a world where there’s more competition and lower prices.”In the meantime, companies such as BetterMed are stepping in. BetterMed offers loans with 0% interest to help patients cover drug costs and broader medical expenses, allowing them to pay it back over as many as 15 years. The company, which makes money by charging a fee to doctors it works with, says it frequently gives loans of tens of thousands of dollars.”We’d like to help people make medical care affordable,” said Joseph Sussman, director of operations at BetterMed. “But our hope is that with time, maybe we can be a catalyst to the system ultimately changing, because as it stands right now, this system is just … not sustainable. It’s getting more expensive year after year.”Encountering another big issue with the prescription drug market led Doug Hirsch to create GoodRx around a decade ago. “I had the experience of taking a prescription into a pharmacy and the pharmacist said it would be $500, and I hadn’t talked to my doctor about that. That seemed like an extraordinary price,” Hirsch told CNN Business. “And so I took the prescription back and I went to a few other pharmacies, and I found way different prices — $250, $400. And I thought there’s got to be a better way. If I can compare prices for travel and for electronics, why can’t I compare prices for health care?”Now, Hirsch says, GoodRx helps more than 20 million Americans save money on prescription drugs and healthcare each month, and has saved its users more than $30 billion since its inception. “The challenge with health care in this country is it’s so complicated and so confusing that a lot of people just don’t know what to do,” he said. “For over a decade now, most of my conversations with people have been just showing them that there’s a better way than just showing your insurance card at the pharmacy.”
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Riding alongside the multibillionaire were Bezos’ brother, Mark Bezos; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot and one of the “Mercury 13″ women who trained to go to space in the 20th century but never got to fly; and an 18-year old recent high school graduate named Oliver Daemen who was Blue Origin’s first paying customer and whose father, an investor, purchased his ticket. Funk and Daemen became the oldest and youngest people, respectively, ever to travel to space. And this flight marked the first-ever crewed mission for Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital space tourism rocket, which the company plans to use to take wealthy thrill seekers on high-flying joy rides in the months and years to come. The four passengers on Tuesday strapped into their New Shepard crew capsule at Blue Origin’s launch site in rural West Texas just before the rocket lit its engines at 8:12 am CT, sending the vehicle blaring past the speed of sound and up to more than 65 miles above the desert landscape, topping out at an altitude of 351,210 feet. At the peak of the flight path, the passengers were weightless for about three minutes and were allowed to unstrap themselves from their seat to float around and soak in panoramic views of the Earth and the cosmos. The launch was visible to reporters on the ground, with the rocket streaking across the almost cloudless Texas sky with a blooming contrail. The bright blaze of the rocket engine looked almost like a star or planet as it rose into the sky. Bezos and crew could be heard on Blue Origin’s livestream cheering as they moved about the capsule during the microgravity portion of the flight.”It’s dark up here, oh my word!” Funk could be heard saying.Bezos declared it “the best day ever” on his communications check upon landing.Why is Bezos doing this?Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, just six years after he started Amazon, with the goal of making spaceflight more affordable and more accessible. A few of his rivals in the industry — most notably Elon Musk and Richard Branson — both started their space ventures around the same time. Though Bezos’ extraterrestrial ambitions are lofty, involving spinning orbital space stations where people live and work, the suborbital New Shepard vehicle is the first fully operational piece of space hardware the company has developed.And much like Branson and Virgin Galactic did just nine days ago, Bezos decided to become one of the first people to ride on the space tourism spacecraft as a show of confidence in the vehicle’s safety.”We know the vehicle is safe,” Bezos told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane on Monday. “If it’s not safe for me, then it’s not safe for anyone.”Who gets to fly on New Shepard?Thus far, the reservations have been offered solely to participants in an auction that Blue Origin concluded last month. The winner, a mystery bidder who agreed to pay $28 million for a ticket, was expected to be on Tuesday’s spaceflight, though the person made the surprise decision to reschedule for a later mission because of “scheduling conflicts,” according to the company. Blue Origin said it’s planning to fly as many as two other New Shepard passenger flights this year. But the company has not given any indication of whether it will set a public price point for tickets, nor has it revealed how much Daemen, the Dutch 18-year-old who flew with Bezos, had to pay over for his seat. The company has stayed declined numerous requests for additional information about ticket prices.But the company says the auction did give a strong indication that there are plenty of people anxious to go: 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to participate in the bidding war.What does this all mean?There’s been plenty of blowback about billionaires in space, including a recent online petition that garnered more than 162,000 signatures asking for Bezos never to return to Earth. Bezos, who is worth about $200 billion, has funded the company almost solely out of his own pocket. And repeated promises of benevolence and benefit to a ravaged Earth has critics concerned that the ultra-wealthy view outer space as their own personal escape hatch. Still, Blue Origin and other billionaire-backed space companies put out a lot of talk about their technologies paving the way toward a “democratization” of space in which everyday people — not just government-trained astronauts — get to experience the thrill of spaceflight. These early suborbital space tourism flights will be prohibitively expensive to the vast majority of people, and that’s not expected to change anytime soon. But this is how Blue Origin, however, describes its long-term vision:”Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space. Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial, and defense customers,” the company said in a press release.It’s still early days, of course. The New Shepard rocket and capsule system is suborbital, meaning it doesn’t drum up nearly enough energy to remain in space for more than a couple of minutes. But the company is working on a much larger rocket for that purpose — called New Glenn — and a lunar lander that it hopes will be used to support NASA missions. Bezos has also talked in the past about “O’Neill colonies,” a concept for spinning space stations that can mimic Earth-like gravity for passengers, being as a possible habitat for future space dwellers.Who will own the space stations? And will passengers be employees or tourists? Will space travel, if necessary to save humanity, only be available to those who can afford to pay? And is Bezos’ time and money better spent trying to solve Earthly problems rather than seeking to escape them? We don’t know. There are plenty of unanswered questions and raging debates. CNN’s Rachel Crane asked Bezos about the pushback on Monday.”They are largely right,” Bezos said of critics who say billionaires should focus their energy — and money — on issues closer to home. “We have to do both. We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that as a species, as a civilization.”
In June, Belarus-based uSky Transport opened a 400-meter test line in Sharjah, which borders Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.From the outside, the electrically powered pods are glossy white while the interiors are designed to feel like a first-class airline suite, including mood lighting, lounge music and floor-to-ceiling windows. With two padded armchairs and two foldable seats, the vehicle being tested can carry up to four passengers.A fully implemented city-wide network could support 10,000 passengers per hour, uSky says, with vehicles currently able to travel up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour — although for safety reasons, they can’t reach their top speed on the test track.The company says its objective is to free up roads and ground space that could be used for greenery, walkways and public leisure spaces. “The ground level is completely over-saturated, and people are tired of traffic jams. People are tired of emissions,” says Oleg Zaretskiy, uSky Transport’s CEO. According to uSky, while one kilometer of subway can cost up to $150 million to construct, this system costs around $10 million. And by using less structural materials, it reduces carbon emissions.The company has also developed a similar technology to transport cargo containers, carrying up to 48 tons at a top speed of 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour.Making a difference in mobilityTransport pods that travel above the ground — often referred to as “sky pods” — are sometimes compared to monorails or cable cars. But they offer greater flexibility, says Stephanie Haag, associate partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company.”In a cable car, you have one car and it always drives at the same speed,” she says. “[In sky pods] you can use many different cabins on that particular infrastructure,” such as ones tailored for shorter trips in urban areas or for longer distances.Although she cautions that it would require careful planning to avoid congestion in a busy city-wide network, Haag believes it could still be a widely adopted solution if the promises of improved mobility and sustainability are kept.Plans for future expansionLater this year, uSky plans to build a 2.4 kilometer (1.5 mile) line in Sharjah, allowing it to run the passenger pod at higher speeds and demonstrate how passenger and cargo pods can be integrated into the same network.According to Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park, where uSky’s test lines are located, the hope is for sky pods to boost the emirate’s strategy of becoming a sustainable, futuristic hub.With the test line up and running, uSky has also received initial approval to build a line around the coastal town of Khor Fakkan, to the east of the emirate. Neighboring emirate Dubai is also exploring driverless pods that would operate above city traffic and other global companies, such as Virgin Hyperloop, are reportedly developing high-tech transport pods for the region. Zaretskiy says uSky is also looking beyond the UAE. “We can see that the most promising areas for us [are in the] Middle East [and] Asia — places where there is natural growth of population … such as India and Pakistan,” he says.Haag adds that pods are more suited to countries where public transportation is under-developed and there is increasing demand for mobility solutions. Still, Zaretskiy says uSky Transport has received inquiries from countries including the United States and Canada.The company hopes to finalize its first commercial contract by the end of the year in Sharjah, Zaretskiy adds, meaning uSky pods could be up and running over traffic by 2024.