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China’s Jaka Robotics fueled by Saudi Arabia’s Prosperity7 in global push

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Jaka Robotics, a Chinese startup that makes collaborative robots, has just pulled in a hefty Series D funding round of over $150 million from a lineup of heavyweight investors to help it expand globally.

The round is led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, TrueLight Capital, Softbank Vision Fund II, and Prosperity7 Ventures, a growth fund under Aramco Ventures, which is an investment subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s state oil firm Aramco.

Collaborative robots, known as “cobots”, are meant to work alongside humans rather than in isolation. Based out of Shanghai and Beijing, Jaka’s robotic arms can augment humans in a range of tasks, from assembling electronic parts, pouring from a coffee machine to packaging smartphones.

Jaka plans to spend its fresh funding on R&D and global expansion, which makes Prosperity7’s investment all the more significant.

“We have the unique background to help [companies] to go global by leveraging the worldwide outlets of the Aramco ecosystem and our strong connection with Saudi with the Middle East,” Scott Cai, managing director at Prosperity7 who had stints at SoftBank and Baidu, told TechCrunch.

“Nowadays, Middle East is one of the major developed markets which also hold a very good relationship with China and many Chinese entrepreneurs trying to set their first foothold in the Middle East,” the investor continued. “We can help bring those tech companies into those markets.”

Jaka already counts Toyota and Schneider as its close partners, who are co-developing large-scale applications with the startup using its robotic solutions.

While Cai couldn’t disclose Jaka’s financial performance, he said the robot maker’s growth has been “very impressive” over the past few years. Overseas businesses currently account for “a material portion” of Jaka’s revenues and are expected to reach a 50% share in the long term.

Aramco in China

Founded in 2014, Jaka is exactly the type of tech startup that Prosperity7 looks for in China. Saudi Aramco has been in China’s oil and gas as well as chemicals market since the 1990s, and last year, it began deploying capital through Prosperity7 to bet on Chinese tech that can “solve big problems on a global level and generate huge returns.”

Jaka’s robots can do heavy lifting work that comes in handy for energy firms in the Middle East. In oil drilling, for example, rock cores are still being manually carried around for testing. “It’s not efficient at all,” suggested Cai, adding that robots can perform better in this type of work.

Companies like Jaka, which fits into China’s national goal of improving efficiency in its traditional industries, are coveted by many investors. Prosperity7 believes its ability to invest in the long game gives it a unique appeal to startups.

“Prosperity7 is backed by Saudi Aramco. We take a long-horizon view and establish long-term relationships,” said Cai.

Being relatively new to China isn’t a disadvantage for Prosperity7, Cai reckoned, as his investment outfit looks for opportunities in “disruptive tech,” such as industrial internet (China’s term for using advanced tech like smart sensors to improve productivity in industrial production), robots and medtech.

Large USD funds operating in China have focused on the lucrative consumer internet space for the past two decades, during which the likes of Tencent and Alibaba gave rise to an internet boom. Many of them have also started looking at semiconductors, autonomous driving, and other cutting-edge technologies, but they, too, are new to the field.

Cai also seems unconcerned by the current economic slowdown in China, saying “it’s normal to see the ups and downs in the market.”

“We still believe in the long-term trend of technology progress in China and more and more world-class companies will become winners from the China market.”

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Uber to sunset free loyalty program in favor of subscription membership

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Ride-hailing giant Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

Uber first launched the rewards program in 2018 as a sort of frequent flyer scheme that allowed riders to earn points for every dollar spent on rides or Uber Eats deliveries. Those points could then be used to get discounts on future rides or deliveries. In November 2021, Uber began introducing Uber One, which, for $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, allows members perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of over $30.

In an email sent to customers that was picked up by The Verge, Uber said users can still earn points via the legacy rewards program until the end of August, and that they can redeem those points until October 31. Uber Rewards will officially shut down on November 1, 2022, according to an update posted by the company.

The Uber Rewards program allowed users to earn 1x point for every Uber Pool dollar spent, 2x for every UberX dollar spent and 3x for every $1 spent on Premium. The number of points accumulated would put members into different castes of loyalty, from Blue to Gold to Platinum to Diamond, the latter of which comes with benefits like access to highly rated drivers, free delivery on three Uber Eats orders, access to better customer service and free upgrades.

While phone support will continue for Diamond users, now the only way to get additional perks with Uber will be to shell out for a subscription. Existing Rewards members will get a free one-month subscription to Uber One, but then will be charged for access. If you’re someone who orders Uber Eats more than twice a month, you can easily break even with the Uber One subscription, but plenty of users might not see the money saving benefits in the switch.

Uber did not respond immediately for clarity as to why it is shutting down the Rewards program in favor of the Uber One membership. Perhaps the company did not see the returns and user loyalty that it would have expected from the program and thinks a subscription offering will provide better returns.

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Twilio gets hacked, teens ditch Facebook, and SpaceX takes South Korea to the moon

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Hi again! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly recap the top stories from TechCrunch dot-com this week. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Is Facebook for old people? If you’ve got a teenager around the house, you’ve probably heard them say as much. The most read story this week is on a Pew study that suggests this generation of teens has largely abandoned the platform in favor of Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/etc.; whereas in 2014 around 71% of teens used Facebook, the study says in 2022 that number has dropped down to 32%.

other stuff

Mark Cuban sued over crypto platform promotion: “A group of Voyager Digital customers filed a class-action suit in Florida federal court against Cuban, as well as the basketball team he owns, the Dallas Mavericks,” writes Anita, “alleging their promotion of the crypto platform resulted in more than 3.5 million investors losing $5 billion collectively.”

A troubling layoff trend: While tech layoffs might, maybe, hopefully be showing signs of slowing, Natasha M points out a troubling trend: some companies are announcing layoffs only to announce another round of layoffs just weeks or months later.

SpaceX launches South Korea’s first moon mission: South Korea has launched its first-ever lunar mission — a lunar orbiter “launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket” ahead of plans to land on the surface some time in 2030.

Twilio gets hacked: While it’s unclear exactly what data was taken, Twilio says the data of at least 125 customers was accessed after some of its employees were tricked “into handing over their corporate login credentials” by an intense SMS phishing attack.

Amazon’s bizarre new show: Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” but made up of user-submitted footage from Ring security cameras. By now most people probably realize their every step is recorded on a security camera or three — but doesn’t embracing it as Entertainment™ like this feel kind of…icky?

Haus hits hard times: Haus, a company that ships specialized low-alcohol drinks direct to consumers, is looking for a buyer after a major investor backed out of its Series A. The challenge? Investor diligence for an alcohol company can take months, and Haus just doesn’t “have the cash to support continued operations at this time.”

woman pouring wine

Image Credits: Haus

audio stuff

How clean is the air you breathe every day? Aclima co-founder Davida Herzl wants everyone to be able to answer that question, and sat down with Jordan and Darrell on this week’s Found podcast to explain her mission. Meanwhile on Chain Reaction, Jacquelyn and Anita explain the U.S. gov’s crackdown of the cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash, and the Equity crew spent Wednesday’s show discussing whether the turbulent market conditions of late will mean we see fewer early-stage endeavors in the months ahead.

additional stuff

What lies behind the paywall? A lot of really good stuff! Here’s what TechCrunch+ subscribers were reading most this week…

Building an MVP when you can’t code: Got a great idea but can’t code? You can still get the ball rolling. Magnus Grimeland, founder of the early-stage VC firm Antler, lays out some of the key principles to keep in mind.

Are SaaS valuations staging a recovery?: “…the good news for software startup founders,” writes Alex, “is that the period when the deck was being increasingly stacked against them may now be behind us.”

VCs and AI-powered investment tools: Do VCs want AI-powered tools to help them figure out where to put their money? Kyle Wiggers takes a look at the concept, and why not all VCs are on board with it.

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After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, online threats quickly turn into real-world violence

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Threats of violence reached a fever pitch — reminiscent of the days leading up to the Capitol attack — following the news that the FBI raided Trump’s Florida beach club to retrieve classified documents the former president may have unlawfully taken there.

After Trump himself confirmed Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago, pro-Trump pundits and politicians rallied around declarations of “war,” and Trump’s ever-fervent supporters called for everything from dismantling the federal law enforcement agency to committing acts of violence against its agents. The situation escalated from there in record time, with online rhetoric boiling over quickly into real-world violence.

By Thursday, an armed man identified as Ricky Shiffer attempted to force his way into an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, brandishing a rifle before fleeing. Law enforcement pursued Shiffer and he was fatally shot during the ensuing standoff with police.

Analysts with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit that researches extremism and disinformation, found evidence that Shiffer was driven to commit violence by “conspiratorial beliefs related to former President Trump and the 2020 election…interest in killing federal law enforcement, and the recent search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week.” He was also reportedly present at the January 6 attack — another echo between this week’s escalating online threats and the tensions that culminated in political violence at the Capitol that day.

Shiffer appears to have been active on both Twitter and Truth Social, the platform from Trump’s media company that hosts the former president and his supporters. As Thursday’s attack unfolded, Shiffer appeared to post to Truth Social about how his plan to infiltrate the FBI office by breaking through a ballistic glass barrier with a nail gun had gone awry. “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t,” the account posted Thursday morning. “If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops…”

In posts on Truth Social, the account implored others to “be ready to kill the enemy” and “kill the FBI on sight” in light of Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago. It also urged followers to heed a “call to arms” to arm themselves and prepare for combat. “If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here,” the account declared earlier this week.

By Friday, that account was removed from the platform and a search of Shiffer’s name mostly surfaced content denouncing his actions. “Why did you censor #rickyshiffer‘s profile? So much for #truth and #transparency,” one Truth Social user posted on Friday. Still, online conspiracies around the week’s events remain in wide circulation on Truth Social and elsewhere, blaming antifa for the attack on the Ohio FBI office, accusing the agency of planting documents at Mar-a-Lago and sowing unfounded fears that well-armed IRS agents will descend on Americans in light of Friday’s House passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“‘Violence against law enforcement is not the answer no matter what anybody is upset about or who they’re upset with,’ FBI director Christopher Wray said in light of emerging threats of violence this week. Trump appointed Wray to the role in 2017 after infamously ousting former FBI director James Comey.”

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists clad in Nazi imagery marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The ensuing events left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sent political shockwaves through a nation that had largely grown complacent about the simmering threat of white supremacist violence.

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