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  • 11:56 am

A fancy robot cop couldn’t call for help during an emergency so people just used their phones

A fancy robot cop couldn’t call for help during an emergency so people just used their phones
[Photo: Flickr user Wacko Photographer]

Robocops are meant to be the police force of tomorrow, coming from the future to fight crime, no pension required (although they cost $60,000-$70,000 a year to lease—about the same as a human cop’s annual salary). People are apparently excited about the possibility of safer traffic stops and omnipresent police forces. There’s just one problem: Robocops may not be very good at their job yet.

Take, for example, Officer HP RoboCop, who has been patrolling Salt Lake Park in Huntington, California, since June. When a fight broke out in the parking lot, a bystander jumped into action, pressing the emergency alert button on the RoboCop’s egg-shaped body over and over again. The police never responded. Instead, the 400-pound robot reportedly just kept gliding on a preprogrammed route through the park, telling visitors to “please keep the park clean,” while two people beat each other up in the parking lot. According to NBC News, the robot’s alert button was not yet connected to the police department.

Instead, the calls went to Knightscope, the Silicon Valley company that creates and leases “crime-fighting autonomous data machines.” The public looking for help called 911 the old-fashioned way—on their phone. A police spokesperson told NBC that they weren’t advertising the emergency-alert feature yet, because its protocol was still being developed while the robocop was on a trial run. For now, the robot’s looming presence is supposed to work as a crime deterrent—and it has worked, reportedly—while the department and Knightscope figure out functionality.

No one told the public, though, that the “emergency alert button” on the giant robot police officer patrolling the park didn’t actually work yet. Oops. If you’re looking for help and get nothing, it’s no surprise that people want to beat them up on occasion.

We’ve reached out to Knightscope about this incident and will update if we hear back.

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  • 9:00 am

Why Virgin Hyperloop One is still betting that you want to commute in a high-speed tube

Why Virgin Hyperloop One is still betting that you want to commute in a high-speed tube
[Photo: courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop One]

Jay Walder is tired. The Virgin Hyperloop One CEO has been on the road preaching the hyperloop gospel to local communities that one day may end up as a stop on the futuristic transport model’s route.  And he’s got props to make the case, hauling along a test pod with him on the road, because the Hyperloop is so futuristic that it’s difficult to comprehend what it will look like and how it will work. (Personally, I keep envisioning it as a cross between a hamster’s Habitrail and a 19th-century library’s pneumatic tube system).

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“I often tell people to come to Vegas and see the test facility,” says Walder, who reminds me a bit of the monorail salesman from The Simpsons. “When people are able to come, they say to me that this completely changed their perception of it. Unfortunately, you can’t bring everybody to our test facility. And so we decided to take Hyperloop on the road.”

The Virgin Hyperloop One roadshow offers people a peek at what the future just might look like—and also to dispel myths along the way (like the idea posited in a CNN article that Hyperloop would be injurious to a “frail old lady” who wanted to ride it). The pod wowed the crowds in Ohio, Texas, and Kansas, before being parked at Rockefeller Center in New York City, perfectly timed for eco-conscious folks coming through the city for United Nations Climate Week. If it works, Hyperloop is poised to be the most energy-efficient mode of mass transportation in the world, carrying more people than a subway with zero direct emissions as it whisks commuters across vast stretches of land at speeds faster than any other form of ground transportation outside of the Marvelverse. If all goes as planned, it could transform America, too.

Jay Walder

“If you ask somebody in Columbus, Ohio, how far away is Pittsburgh? The answer they should give you is three hours,” says Walder. “So we are measuring distance by time. And implicit in that calculation is the idea that we’re still doing it off the interstate highway system that we created in 1956. But what if instead of saying three hours to go from Columbus to Pittsburgh, you said that it was 28 minutes? And now, all of a sudden, you reimagine your life.”

The picture that Walder paints of a Hyperloop-connected country is pretty compelling. Imagine being able to work in Washington, D.C., or Boston, but living in New York City, a mere 30-minute Hyperloop commute away. Imagine being able to eat a full tasting menu for dinner at Uchi in Austin and be back to your home in Dallas before bedtime or making all those New York Times articles about Philadelphia being the sixth borough of New York City seem feasible (“It would be—if it were, what, 12 minutes away?” Walder, a former New Yorker, asks rhetorically.) Long-distance relationships could be a thing of the past. It is a wonder to think about.

Yet it will be a few years—”years, not decades,” Walder says—before the first hyperloop system will carry passengers across the U.S. Thanks to private funding and an eager local government, their project in India, though, is well underway. “I think we can have shovels in the ground next year,” Walder says about the line, which will eventually stretch from Pune to Mumbai. “The first phase of that project will be the construction of 12 kilometers, about eight miles, and that will be to be able to demonstrate the full system and to go through the safety and regulatory certification in India. And then we’ll construct the rest of the route. But we could be starting construction really by probably the end of next year. It’s very real.” Walder thinks the first phase of that line could be completed by “about 2024” and the first passengers could ride the futuristic rails while they build out the rest, which Walder estimates would take “another four or five years.”

The U.S. may not be far behind, though. Nine states are exploring hyperloop technology: Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, Indiana, Oregon, and Nevada, which is already the home of Hyperloop’s test site. St. Louis has been buzzing about the possibility of a Hyperloop since Virgin Hyperloop One released a study showing that building a line from Kansas City, Missouri, to St. Louis along Interstate 70 was entirely feasible. An RFP for a line from Fort Worth-to-Dallas is expected to go out in the next few weeks and Walder says they are looking at a route that would connect Vancouver, Canada to Seattle and Portland.

Perhaps more important, the federal government is interested in seeing Hyperloop grow, too. “There are very few things in Washington that I can think of that are actually bipartisan, and bicameral, both houses, both parties, right now,” says Walder. “Hyperloop actually is fitting that category right now. You are actually seeing both parties adopting language that will get money going behind the idea.” Of course, Virgin Hyperloop One isn’t waiting for the federal government to get on board (pun intended!) to begin the long certification and regulatory process and safety checks that go with creating an entirely new mode of transportation. Hence the roadshow, which Walder hopes will drum up support and enthusiasm for a good old-fashioned public-private partnership to get his thing going.

As the states put out their calls for RFPs and start to dream of a connected future, there are safety concerns that will need to be addressed, but Walder believes that will come. “I don’t know how a plane works, but I get on a plane, because we have a trust in the safety process,” he says. “Same with a railway or even in the way that a highway is built. So we will be working with the U.S. DOT around the safety standards and go through the testing.” People want to live in the world that The Jetsons promised us and Walder thinks it’s only a matter of years—not decades—before it becomes a reality. For now, though, Walder is back on the road with his Hyperloop pod, dreaming of the future.

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Fast Company Innovation Fest adds Jordan Peele, Elizabeth Banks, Meek Mill

Fast Company Innovation Fest adds Jordan Peele, Elizabeth Banks, Meek Mill
[Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images (Peele); Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Diamond Ball (Mill); Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu (Banks)]

Acclaimed directors Jordan Peele and Elizabeth Banks and rapper, songwriter, and activist Meek Mill are among the newly confirmed speakers participating in the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York on November 4-8.

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Peele and Banks are part of a diverse lineup that includes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; Snap cofounder and CTO Bobby Murphy; Hamilton and Freestyle Love Supreme creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; PayPal CEO Dan Schulman; Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani; Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard TysonMindy Grossman, CEO of WW International; and many others.

Peele will share the stage with Donna Langley, chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, for a conversation about the relationship between art and commerce, and how business leaders and creatives can collaborate with integrity.

Banks, who produced, directed, wrote, and stars as Bosley in a forthcoming new version of Charlie’s Angels, will participate in a wide-ranging conversation about her multifaceted career and diversity of projects.

Mill and Kynetic CEO Michael G. Rubin will speak about criminal justice reform. Mill and Rubin are co-chairs and founding partners of Reform Alliance, which aims to reduce the number of people who are unjustly ensnared in the U.S. criminal justice system.

The festival features dozens of so-called Fast Tracks–experiential site visits to the offices of some of the world’s most innovative companies. Companies and institutions will open their doors to festivalgoers during the week, including American Ballet Theatre, Droga5, Upright Citizens Brigade, Group Nine Media, NeueHouse, Wieden+Kennedy, and more.

Keynote panels and interviews will be held at Caldwell Factory, an historic space at 547 W. 26th Street in Manhattan.

Additional panel conversations, workshops, and curated networking sessions will take place at the festival’s Innovation Hub at Union West, at 535-547 West 28th Street.

The festival is sponsored by Lincoln Aviator, Cummins, Lenovo, McKinsey & Company, Mailchimp, and PWC.

Visit the Innovation Festival website for ticket purchase information, a list of speakers, and more details on sessions and Fast Tracks. Additional speakers and sessions will be announced in the coming weeks.

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  • 8:05 am

Who bought the Popeyes chicken sandwich? Wealthy Gen-Xers who live alone

Who bought the Popeyes chicken sandwich? Wealthy Gen-Xers who live alone
[Photo: courtesy of Popeyes]

The Great Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Shortage of 2019 may go down in history, but now there are new details about who gobbled up the viral fast-food offering.

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Data from Numerator, a market intelligence firm, shows that fans weren’t largely starving young millennials and Gen-Zers.

In fact, 43% of buyers were Gen-Xers, followed by baby boomers at 32%, millennials at 20%, Gen Z at 3.3%, and seniors at 1.8%.

Numerator also found that 46% of the purchasers of the hallowed menu item earn more than $80,000 a year. The biggest chunk of the sandwich folks—24%—live alone.

Typical Popeyes customers tend to be boomers and people who live in two-person households, according to the data.

“Ninety-two percent of product buyers stated they were either ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ likely to return to Popeyes to purchase the sandwich again in the future indicating the chicken sandwich could be critical to building sustained customer loyalty,” Numerator said.

Miami-based Popeyes could not be immediately reached for comment.

The $3.99 sandwich—buttermilk-battered white meat on a brioche bun with pickles and mayonnaise or spicy Cajun spread—debuted on August 12, and before the month was over, there were none left.

What drove the mania was social media. Many point to a jab tweet from Chick-fil-A on August 19, in which that poultry-centric chain called its version the original, prompting a retort from Popeyes that simply said, “… y’all good?”

The item launch not only brought new visitors to the chain, but also successfully pulled visitors away from competitors in the process,” Numerator explained. “Over half (51%) of non-buyers during the ‘shortage’ period said they went to Popeyes with the intent to buy the sandwich, but it was sold out.”

September saw the debut of the McDonald’s Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich and KFC’s test of a chicken-between-two-doughnuts sandwich.

And the month before, KFC sold out of the Beyond Meat plant-based chicken it was testing in Atlanta, and Wendy’s answered fans demands to bring back Spicy Chicken Nuggets.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is owned by Toronto-headquartered Restaurant Brands International, whose portfolio also includes Burger King and Tim Hortons.

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  • 7:52 am

This airline just built a better airplane pillow with help from NASA

This airline just built a better airplane pillow with help from NASA
[Photo: courtesy of Air New Zealand]

If you ever need a break from all this *gestures broadly* and have exhausted all of the internet’s cute cats and videos of soldiers reuniting with their dogs after long tours of duty, google pictures of astronauts sleeping for a quick mood boost.

Thanks to the lack of gravity, when astronauts bed down for the night, they don’t bed and they don’t down. Instead, they sleep in bags of sorts that are tethered to the wall or ceiling so they don’t float off or bump into something with hair floating around them and arms drifting upwards. While the results are humorous, there is no doubt that those astronauts are sound asleep.

Now Air New Zealand is using some of that space tech to help flyers on their long-haul planes get a good night’s sleep, too. The airline is the first in the world to send passengers to dreamland with an innovative new pillow that uses technology originally developed for astronauts. The pillow is coated with a product called Outlast, which was developed for use in space gloves to protect against extreme temperature fluctuations and keep hands cool.

What do space gloves have to do with your pillow? Well, the technology helps keep your pillow nice and cool by absorbing heat as the skin gets hot, so there’s no need to wake up and flip to the cool side. If you get too cold, the pillow will release the heat it collected and warm you up. In addition to being ready for space travel, it’s good for the Earth, too, as it’s made in a carbon-neutral process by German bedding company Paradies, which holds climate protection and sustainability at the core of its business.

Want to test the pillow? Hop aboard Air New Zealand and pony up for Business Premier. It’s not cheap, but still less than a ticket to space.

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  • 5:01 am

Here’s everything you can get for free or cheap on National Taco Day

Here’s everything you can get for free or cheap on National Taco Day
[Photo: Miguel Andrade/Unsplash]

Are you ready to get your crunch on?

Celebrate National Taco Day with a bunch of deals that will let you enjoy the food that can serve as a meal, a snack, or just a cure for boredom. Don’t tell your fitness trainer, but get ready to munch a bunch here:

  • Del Taco: You can nab a free taco by signing up for Del Taco’s Raving Fan club or by downloading the brand’s app.
  • Chronic Tacos: Earn a free taco 11 a.m.-2 p.m. when you say the secret code word, which will be revealed on social media.
  • Jack in the Box: You can get two free tacos with any order today, if you sign up to get the restaurant chain’s deals and coupons via e-mail.
  • Taco Bell: Live más with the National Taco Day Gift Set, which the chain has brought back this year. The $5 edible bonanza, available today only, features two crunchy tacos and two Doritos Locos Tacos.
  • Qdoba Mexican Eats: Rewards members earn double points on each order today.
  • On the Border: Get ready for $8.99 endless tacos all day, though dine-in only. Pay an extra $2 to include southwest chicken and brisket tacos, too.
  • Rubio’s Coastal Grill: Receive a free taco when you order a drink, but you must present the National Taco Day coupon for this offer.
  • Chuy’s: This company is offering several deals. Add a crispy beef taco to any order for $1 with the purchase of an entrée and limit two per person. Earn a free entrée, if you come to the restaurant dressed like a taco. Get $1 Floaters all day. Buy a Chuy’s T-shirt for a discounted $10.
  • Wahoo’s Fish Taco: Get a free taco with a purchase of any taco at participating locations when you mention the National Taco Day BOGO Taco offer. Limit two free tacos per customer.
  • Tijuana Flats: The chain is making the fun last all weekend long. Today through Sunday, snag two tacos, chips, and a drink for $5.99 or substitute a beer for $2. It’s $1 extra for steak or fish.
  • Baja Fresh: It’s a BOGO deal, but you have to go to the brand’s Facebook page or Instagram account to redeem it and present the barcode at the time of purchase.
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Here’s why TikTok banned political advertising

Here’s why TikTok banned political advertising
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore/Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

TikTok is all the rage with kids these days, and it hopes to keep it that way by keeping politicians and politics off the platform.

As the Beijing-based video app grows, much to the aggravation of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and privacy-loving parents, it is trying to figure out how to cash in on its success without alienating its users. For one, it wants to make sure that all the ads that appear alongside those short-form, looping, soundtracked videos are as cool as TikTok is.

“Our primary focus is on creating an entertaining, genuine experience for our community,” writes Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s VP of global business solutions, in a blog post. “While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s lighthearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time.”

To keep things lighthearted and irreverent, the company announced today that it will not allow political ads on TikTok, no matter how cool those politicians and their platforms think they are.

“Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience,” Chandless wrote. “To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level—including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads.”

Guess politicians will just have to hang with their fellow kids elsewhere.

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This depressing map of the Arctic lets you track 40 years of melting sea ice

This depressing map of the Arctic lets you track 40 years of melting sea ice
[Photo: Pink floyd88 a/Wikimedia Commons]

If you’re looking for a reason to not get out of bed today, here’s one for you: The Arctic sea ice is melting and it’s melting fast.

As the world reckons with a climate in crisis, marching in the streets, and demanding world leaders and corporate honchos act to get greenhouse-gas emissions under control, oceans are storing the excess heat made by humankind’s bad choices. As the ocean warms, temperatures under the world’s ice sheets heat up. And as everyone who has ever waited too long to chug a slushy knows, when ice gets warm, it melts. That includes some of the older ice that one NASA researcher says serves as an “insurance policy” for the rest of the ice pack.

Melting ice has bad implications for the world’s coastal communities, as well as for polar bears and other wildlife that no longer have ice to call home, forcing them to swim more and making it harder to find food, causing them to starve. (I was thinking about writing this in the Coastline typeface to make it even more telling, but it’s depressing enough as is.)

After the warmest summer on record, 2019 was an especially bad year for sea ice, with higher temperatures resulting in the second lowest level of sea ice observed in the Arctic since satellite measurements began. (Only 2012 was lower.)

To map the dramatic, tragic loss, spatial analytics company Esri has created an app called Sea Ice Aware, which updates each month with data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and NOAA. The centerpiece of the app is an interactive map, along with statistics that show the monthly mean ice for each month, from 1979 to the present. It also includes study graphs of the minimum and maximum ice levels each year. Sea Ice Aware is something to help you get in touch with your inner Greta Thunberg while hoping that some clever folks will figure out a solution to the melting ice and figure it out fast.

You can check out Sea Ice Aware here.

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At this point, cable companies are practically begging you to cut the cord

At this point, cable companies are practically begging you to cut the cord
[Photos: Oleg Magni/Pexels; Flickr user Shal Farley]

Consumers have been cutting the cord with cable and satellite TV service for years. A new study from Consumer Reports proves they might be right because cable companies were basically asking for it with hidden charges like “Regional Sports fees” and “HD Technology fees.”

The average cable subscriber sees $37 per month in extra fees, or a whopping 28% mark up of a typical bill, which isn’t a surprise considering that the average cable bill contains more than a dozen line-item charges, including the base package price, company-imposed fees, regulatory fees, and taxes.

“Cable companies are notorious for advertising a low price but charging much more by adding a long list of confusing fees to monthly bills,” Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, noted in the report. “These sneaky fees are a real budget-buster that enable cable companies to jack up their rates and disguise the true cost consumers pay each month.”

According to Consumer Reports, company-imposed fees, from Broadcast TV and Regional Sports Fees to Set-Top Box Rental Fees, add what amounts to a 24% surcharge on top of the advertised price. It’s a big business for cable companies, letting them earn an estimated $28 billion a year from charging company-imposed fees, according to Consumer Reports.

[Image: courtesy of Consumer Reports]
When consumers see the cable bills and all their hidden fees, it may have them running to cut the cord. According to market tracking firm Convergence Research, more than one-third of U.S. households won’t be paying for cable or satellite TV by the end of this year as they flee cable. But the proliferation of streaming services may not make things much easier for customers, who are facing a future where they have to sign up for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Disney+, Peacock, and who knows what else just to watch a dang TV show at the end of a long day.

In short, as they say on Reddit, everyone sucks here.

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The FTC finally opens an inquiry into e-cigarette marketing practices

The FTC finally opens an inquiry into e-cigarette marketing practices
[Photo: Ciprian Tudor/Unsplash]

Years after Juul was created, months after a rash of vaping related lung injuries were reported, and weeks after the government started pulling flavored e-cigs from store shelves, the FTC has decided to investigate the marketing practices of the e-cigarette industry.

The FTC wants six major e-cigarette manufacturers to turn over marketing data by January 2, the agency announced Thursday. Juul Labs, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, NJOY LLC, Nu Mark, Logic Technology Development, and Fontem US have been asked to put together reports “concerning the sales, practices, and methods of advertising” their vaping products from 2015 through 2018.

The FTC wants to know things like annual sales and giveaways of e-cigarette products, product flavors, advertising and promotional budgets, e-cigarette product placement, and the websites and social media accounts used to advertise or sell e-cigarettes, affiliate programs, influencer marketing, and college campus programs.

Basically, they want to know if the e-cig companies targeted teens or if they accidentally unleashed a teen vaping epidemic on the country that had been seeing a downward trend of teen smoking.

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Dolly Parton’s podcast will tell you more about Trump voters than any NYT trend piece

Dolly Parton’s podcast will tell you more about Trump voters than any NYT trend piece
[Photo: George Rose/Getty Images]

Since the election of Donald Trump, there have been seemingly countless news pieces in the New York Times and other outlets where they talk to Trump supporters (sometimes the same Trump supporters over and over) in the South and heartland of the United States to find out what they are thinking. Well, the Times gave it a good try, but now it’s Dolly Parton’s turn.

Starting Tuesday, October 15, Jad Abumrad sets out to discover Dolly Parton’s America, in a nine-part podcast series from WNYC Studios that will attempt to crack the mystery of Dolly Parton’s near-universal appeal. Parton is known as the “Great Unifier” because her music and charity and general awesomeness bring people together. The singer and droll queen of one-liners is equally beloved by Southerners, evangelical Christians, and feminists, and is an LGBTQ+ icon.

The podcast is hosted by Radiolab host—and Nashville native—Abumrad who has a personal relationship with the country star thanks to his father, a doctor who gave Parton medical advice after a 2014 car accident. The show doesn’t stay in Nashville, though, or even in the United States. To get a full picture of Dolly Parton’s America, it travels from the Smoky Mountains to the hills of Nairobi and the mountains of Lebanon to the London premiere of 9 to 5: The Musical, before returning to Tennessee, exploring questions about feminism, faith, the South, the American Dream, and what “home” means along the way.

To tell the story of Dolly Parton’s America, the show interviews over 50 people: family and friends, her bodyguard, business associates, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Rhiannon Giddens, country music insiders, Appalachian and Nashville commentators and academics, fans, and, of course, Parton herself. In the show, she gets personal and political, while explaining why she refuses to take a public political stance.

In addition to offering a fully fleshed out portrait of an American icon, Dolly Parton’s America also paints a fascinating portrait of American life, which only Dolly Parton could illustrate. You can subscribe here.

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Airbnb’s new ‘Animal Experiences’ let you paddleboard with a corgi

Airbnb’s new ‘Animal Experiences’ let you paddleboard with a corgi
[Photo: courtesy of Airbnb]

Have you ever wanted to paddleboard with a corgi in Florida’s pristine waters? Or skateboard with a bulldog in Lima? Or hang with alpacas in Denver? Or kayak near penguins in Cape Town? Or meet the arctic foxes of Iceland? Or learn about urban beekeeping?

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The answer to all of those is obviously yes, and now it’s all possible, thanks to Airbnb’s new Animal Experiences.

The home-sharing company announced today that it has added Animal Experiences to its dossier of travel fun, available to book across 1,000 cities worldwide. That means that when you’re planning a vacation in Spain, you can make time to canoodle with a donkey or two, or if you’re heading to Costa Rica, you can book a macaw-watching trip along with your Airbnb, or if you’re on a work trip to L.A., you can carve out a little time to make friends with a rescue horse. These new Animal Experiences are the perfect way to immerse yourself in a new city or culture, or even have some local fun in your own town.

[Photo: courtesy of Airbnb]

Getting to hang with a chill bulldog isn’t even the best part about the new Experiences. The best part is that Airbnb worked with World Animal Protection to make sure that the animals involved are all well taken care of by the people leading the tours. None of the experiences harm animals. There are no tiger selfies or enslaved elephant rides in Thailand or sad roadside zoos in Florida or miserable ponies being forced to give children rides under the hot sun or swimming with captured dolphins who just want to be free.

Instead, these experiences are designed to help humans better understand the animals that share the planet with them. Plus, over 100 Airbnb Animal Experiences are also so-called Social Impact Experiences, where proceeds from bookings go to nonprofit organizations such as conservation, animal rescue, and veterinary care. All that and you get to cuddle with cows on the Big Island of Hawaii, go on a multiday safari booked through Airbnb or, my personal favorite: help rescue puppies lost within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

These new Airbnb Animal Experiences are designed to not only be an antidote to those typical, sad animal-themed tourist attractions, but a new way to immerse yourself in a new city with new furry friends. Beach day with rescue pups, anyone?

[Photo: courtesy of Airbnb]
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Thinx’s first national ad campaign imagines a world where men get periods, too

Thinx’s first national ad campaign imagines a world where men get periods, too
[Photo: courtesy of Thinx]

“I think I got my period.”

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That’s the opening line of Thinx’s new ad campaign, uttered by a young boy to his dad. In the next frame, a man rolls over in bed to reveal a blood stain on his sheets. Later, another man walks through a locker room with a tampon string peeking out from his briefs. These are, of course, everyday occurrences for people who get periods. Thinx’s ad reframes those experiences by asking: What if we all had periods?

The campaign—which bears the fitting tongue-in-cheek title “MENstruation”—is Thinx’s first ad on national TV and the first such campaign to be launched by a period underwear company. (This ad features cisgender men, but Thinx has previously run advertising with transgender men; the brand also carries more gender-neutral styles that are inclusive of all people with periods.) Thinx recruited advertising agency BBDO to create the campaign, which will run on 18 networks across the U.S., from NBC to Bravo, starting next week. Also in the mix are audio segments that will air on Spotify and podcast advertisements.

This ad certainly makes a statement on its own, but the intent is to introduce Thinx to people who don’t even know period underwear exists, let alone know the brand, and turn them into customers. (The company’s target is to reach 50% of women between the ages of 18 and 49 by the end of the year.) While Thinx has customers across the country, its base tends to be in urban areas. “A key piece of this is we need people to know that we exist,” says Maria Molland, who took over as CEO in 2017 and rehabilitated the startup after reports of poor benefits, pay, and work culture. “But our challenge is: There’s a lot of people who love the brand, but they don’t necessarily convert into customers because it’s such a behavior change.”

[Photo: courtesy of Thinx]
The research Thinx conducted before producing the ad was encouraging. Molland says product consideration—the percentage of people surveyed who are very likely to buy or will buy the product—was 58%, as compared to the typical figure of about 42%.

While the campaign feels like a stylistic departure from some of Thinx’s previous advertising, the brand is no stranger to pushing the envelope. In 2015, the New York subway ran a Thinx ad campaign—after nearly rejecting it—that featured suggestive images of a grapefruit cut in half and runny eggs. “We’ve always created very thought-provoking brand campaigns,” says chief brand officer Siobhan Lonergan. “So we wanted to take some of what makes Thinx really Thinx and embed that into the creative concept.”

The ad closes with the line “If we all had them, maybe we’d be more comfortable with them,” then cuts to an image of Thinx’s product. “We really fed into the duality of comfort—the idea of society being more comfortable, but also the fact that our product is a much more comfortable solution on your periods,” Lonergan says.

The ad won’t run in its entirety on every channel. The most daring scenes, which show a blood stain and tampon string, didn’t pass muster with certain channels due to advertising guidelines. Molland knows the ad might rub some people the wrong way. “I think it will upset quite a few people,” she says. “That’s okay because part of being a brand that stands for something is: Sometimes you irritate people. Even if we’re irritating them, our objective is to get them to think.”

Last month, Thinx secured a $25 million investment—its biggest funding round to date—from personal care company Kimberly Clark. About 75% of that investment is going toward the campaign and other marketing initiatives, but the tie-up will also help get Thinx products in front of more consumers, through mainstream retailers like Walmart and Target. In early 2021, Thinx will launch a more affordable underwear line—meant to be sold in mass retailers—that will bring costs to under $20 per pair.

The brand clocked $50 million in sales last year, and Thinx is already selling its wares globally across 60 retailers; about 30% of the company’s business is outside the U.S. at the moment. But Molland believes they’re just getting started. “We have pretty big ambitions and want to be a $500 million company in the next eight years,” she says. “And in order to do that, you have to be a global brand.”

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EU court rules Facebook can be forced to take down defamatory posts

EU court rules Facebook can be forced to take down defamatory posts
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels]

A European Union court has issued a landmark ruling stating that a country can order Facebook to remove posts that are defamatory—and that Facebook must comply with the removal order globally, reports the New York Times.

The case was brought by an Austrian politician who wanted Facebook to remove posts disparaging her, which were posted by some of its users. Facebook denied to, saying that if a single country could order it to remove posts on its platform, it would allow for other countries to stifle free speech outside of their own borders.

But the court ended up siding with the politician and supporters who countered that defamation laws haven’t been enforced appropriately due to the borderless nature of the internet. The court also found that platforms like Facebook weren’t doing enough to combat internet trolls and hate speech that spread on its platform.

It is important to note that the court did not find Facebook liable for the defamatory comments posted on its platform. However, it found that Facebook “did not act expeditiously to remove or to disable access to that information.” For its part, Facebook criticized the ruling:

This judgment raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular country.

It undermines the longstanding principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country. It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is “equivalent” to content that has been found to be illegal.

However, the court’s decision is binding and cannot be appealed.

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Read this blistering takedown of a rule that would let debt collectors blast you with text messages

Read this blistering takedown of a rule that would let debt collectors blast you with text messages
[Photo: Alexander Andrews/Unsplash]

The agency charged with protecting Americans from the wrath of scuzzy financial institutions—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—provoked blips of outrage earlier this year when it published something that may sound, let’s be honest, deeply, astoundingly boring to you at first. Unfortunately, dear friends, that’s sort of the point.

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Only, the dreary thing the CFPB published—a proposal to change the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—is actually pretty horrifying. If you have a mobile phone and if you are in debt, or if you know anybody who is (you do!!), then you should be angry. Like viciously angry.

As a handful of Democratic lawmakers noted earlier this year, the agency’s proposed changes include a new go-ahead for debt collectors to ceaselessly blast your phone with texts about debts until you opt out. And currently, the proposed changes don’t even force debt collectors to make it easy and quick for you to opt out (though the Federal Trade Commission has advocated for them to do so).

The lawmakers wrote (emphasis ours, here and below):

By allowing debt collectors to send consumers unlimited text messages and emails without first receiving affirmative consent for such a method of communication, the proposed rule permits collectors to overwhelm consumers with intrusive communications.

Before the CFPB stopped collecting comments on its proposal, a privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), sent in a blistering (albeit wordy) takedown of the plan. EPIC’s comments were resurfaced today on Twitter by the Americans for Financial Reform coalition. Among its many complaints, EPIC wrote:

Allowing debt collectors to text message consumers during workplace hours undermines the web of regulations and restrictions on workplace calls. Congress created a variable legal framework that regulates workplace calls, allowing them in some circumstances and disallowing them in others. Failing to place limits on text messages would allow debt collectors to bypass the regulations that they otherwise face regarding contacting consumers in the workplace.

EPIC’s dystopic outline goes on:

If the proposed rule is implemented as it currently stands, debt collectors will employ near constant text messages and voicemails to harass consumers […] By only using language permitted under the proposed definition of “limited content message,” debt collectors will escape liability for inappropriate behaviors such as third-party disclosures. They can text or leave a message for any phone number that could possibly be the consumer and be free from liability even if the number is in fact owned by a third-party and the consumers debt collection status is thus disclosed to that party. Depending on who receives, views, or hears the message, these types of disclosures can result in severe personal consequences such as marital distress or termination of employment. Without FDCPA-liability, there is no reason for debt collectors to invest in avoiding third-party disclosures or restrain their messages in any way.

You can further enrage yourself by reading EPIC’s full comment on the matter here. The CFPB is no longer accepting comments on the proposal, but it’s never too late to hit up your representatives about it.

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Apple apparently bans app that allowed Hong Kong protesters to track police movements

Apple apparently bans app that allowed Hong Kong protesters to track police movements
[Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images]

Apple has removed an app from the App Store called HKmap Live. The app allowed anyone using it to track both protesters and police movements around Hong Kong. The developers of the app tweeted about its removal by Apple a few days ago, although it’s only received wide notice today.

What’s interesting, but may be entirely coincidental, is Apple appears to have removed the app from the App Store on October 1, the same day police in Hong Kong shot a protester in the chest. It’s unknown if Chinese or Hong Kong authorities specifically asked Apple to remove HKmap Live or if Apple did so under its own volition.

In a subsequent tweet, the makers of the app say that they suspect Apple’s decision is “more a bureaucratic f up than censorship,” suggesting Apple has misunderstood the purpose of the HKmap Live app. We’ve reached out for comment from Apple about its removal.

Though the app has been removed from the App Store, anyone can still access the web-based version of HKmap Live here.

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Kroger will lay off hundreds of employees as online competition from Amazon bites

Kroger will lay off hundreds of employees as online competition from Amazon bites
[Photo: Flickr user Mike Kalasnik]

Kroger is set to lay off hundreds of its employees across all its grocery store chains, reports CNBC. The news was reportedly confirmed by “a person familiar with the situation,” CNBC said, without naming their source.

Currently the grocer has 443,000 full-time and part-time employees across all of the chains it owns, including Kroger-branded stores, and Harris Teeter, Ralphs, and Fred Meyer stores. As for what roles the layoffs will hit the hardest, a Kroger spokesperson told CNBC that middle management roles were one of the ones being evaluated:

As part of ongoing talent management, many store operating divisions are evaluating middle management roles and team structures with an eye toward keeping resources close to the customer.

Kroger’s stock is down almost 9% this year as the grocer’s online rivals, including Amazon, take a bite out of their foot traffic. And Kroger is only looking to face more competition from its better-funded, more tech-adept rivals. Amazon is expected to launch its own grocery store chain as early as the end of this year.

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Hangry? Maybe avoid the Chick-fil-A drive-through and try Dunkin’ instead

Hangry? Maybe avoid the Chick-fil-A drive-through and try Dunkin’ instead
[Photo: Micheile Henderson/Unsplash]

A drive-through order at a fast-food chain requires you to wait an average of about 255 seconds in 2019, up around 20 seconds from last year, according to a new survey by QSR, a magazine for the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industry.

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In case you’re too busy salivating to do the math, the current average tally for the short-but-seems-like-miles drive from speaker to pickup window is four minutes and 15 seconds.

Of the 10 chains QSR looked at, Chick-fil-A was the slowest, at an average 322.98 seconds, while the quickest was Dunkin’, at 216.75.

Here’s the full list:

  • Dunkin’, 216.75
  • Wendy’s, 230.38
  • Burger King, 235.48
  • Taco Bell, 240.38
  • Carl’s Jr., 240.51
  • KFC, 243.73
  • Arby’s, 263.46
  • Hardee’s, 266.34
  • McDonald’s, 284.05
  • Chick-fil-A, 322.98

Speed of service can be linked to the complexity of a restaurant chain’s menu, because a dish or a drink that requires more steps will take longer to make—and to get into the hands of hangry customers. Another possible cause: the growing number of consumers who use mobile order and pay options to select their food; patrons still need to drive over to pick up their food and beverages.

The research also identified which times of days are faster than others.

  • Breakfast (5-9 a.m.), 238.84
  • Mid-Morning (9-11:30 a.m.), 250.57
  • Lunch (11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.), 255.68
  • Dinner (4-7 p.m.), 258.28
  • Late Afternoon (1:30-4 p.m.), 274.71

Some chain restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, are using technology as a way to speed up drive-through times.

The 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study data were collected from 1,503 visits to restaurants across the United States between June 1 and August 1, QSR explained.

Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association, together with Technomic, released research today that looks at how to harness technology to drive off-premises sales. That report found that 92% of consumers use drive-throughs at least once a month and that 35% of quick-service restaurant customers place drive-through orders.

When it comes to drive-throughs, the researchers found that “consumers are looking for screens to track order accuracy, touchscreen ordering, LED menu boards and frictionless payment options, including the ability to pay ahead and more mobile payment options.”

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Melinda Gates pledges $1 billion to boost the ‘power and influence’ of women in the U.S.

Melinda Gates pledges $1 billion to boost the ‘power and influence’ of women in the U.S.
[Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for THR]

Melinda Gates says gender inequality in the U.S. “keeps me up at night.”

The billionaire and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cochair said in a Times op-ed that “a window of opportunity” for women has been “painstakingly pried open,” but she warned “there is no reason to believe this moment will last forever.” Gates used the op-ed to announce she’s spending $1 billion through her investment arm, Pivotal Ventures, to fight gender inequality.

Gates said her firm set three priorities for the investment:

  • “dismantling the barriers to women’s professional advancement”;
  • “fast-tracking women in sectors with outsized impact on our society—like technology, media, and public office”;
  • and “mobilizing shareholders, consumers, and employees to amplify external pressure on companies and organizations in need of reform.”

Calling the commitment “only a small fraction of what’s necessary,” Gates said she hoped that “others”—presumably, other billionaires—would also commit to making similar investments.

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Does flight shaming work? This new travel survey might surprise you

Does flight shaming work? This new travel survey might surprise you
[Photo: Oskar Kadaksoo/Unsplash]

Air travel is bad for the planet—and travelers may finally be getting the message.

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A new survey from Swiss bank UBS shows that flight shaming—the practice of pointing out that air travel is environmentally atrocious—is taking a toll, and travelers from wealthy countries are starting to think twice before jumping on a flight to Ibiza for the weekend. After surveying more than 6,000 people in the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K., UBS found that 21% had reduced the number of flights they took over the past year out of concern for the environment.

While growth in the airline industry was proceeding at a steady clip of about 4.5% a year, UBS claims that the number of flights—and the number of airplanes needed—will be about half of that due in part to awareness of the climate crisis. Airbus and Boeing had both predicted that passenger numbers would roughly double by 2035, but they didn’t seem to take the planet into the equation. Based on current trends, UBS estimates EU flight numbers will increase by just 1.5%–half the number expected by Airbus.

Interestingly, while flight shaming started out as a Swedish phenomenon called “flygskam,” its impact is being felt more strongly in the U.S. than in Europe. According to UBS, while 16% of British respondents said they were cutting back on flying, a surprising 24% of U.S. travelers have started to change their flying habits over environmental concerns, per the BBC. That is impacting flight growth in the U.S., where UBS thinks growth in flights could fall from the expected 2.1% to just 1.3%. CNBC reports that both Boeing and Airbus are expected to see less demand for their planes as travelers demand greener options.

The change in mindset is due to increasing awareness of the issue thanks to attention-grabbing protests, like when activist group Extinction Rebellion shut down Heathrow Airport and climate warrior Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic in a zero-emissions yacht to speak at the UN’s climate summit.

Of course, airlines don’t have to pretend that the climate crisis won’t affect them. Lufthansa and Edelweiss already let you buy carbon offsets, United Airlines is testing a biofuel, JetBlue is investing in hybrid planes and ecofuels, KLM is launching a train service, and SAS lets customers fly with biofuel, a climate-friendly alternative.

Since the UBS report also showed that around three-quarters of respondents said they would be happy to fly in an electric or hybrid plane, perhaps Boeing and Airbus should start coming up with greener options for customers who want to travel.

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