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Exclusive: DJI’s Releasing an Agriculture Drone

A colleague and reported today that DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, is releasing a crop-spraying drone.

The story begins:

China’s SZ DJI Technology Co., the world’s top consumer-drone maker, is setting its sights on the agriculture industry with the launch of a crop sprayer that will test whether farming is fertile ground for drone technology.

DJI, which helped kick-start the global craze for drones with its $1,000 easy-to-fly devices, will on Friday unveil an eight-rotor drone priced at roughly $15,000 that is designed to spray pesticides on crops, a spokesman said. DJI said the drone, which has a 2.6-gallon spray tank and a typical takeoff weight of 49 pounds, can fly for about 12 minutes.

It can spray pesticides on seven to 10 acres of farmland per hour, depending on how much it needs to climb, descend or turn to follow the terrain.

The battery-powered DJI Agras MG-1 will be available first in China and South Korea, though the company didn’t specify exactly when it would go on sale. In China, DJI is taking preorders starting on Friday. The drone is expected to be available in other markets later, the company said.



Scoop: Facebook Eyeing Asia for Instant Articles Ad Platform

A colleague and I reported earlier this week that Facebook’s looking at Asia to launch its Instant Articles advertising platform.

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. is laying the groundwork to expand its Instant Articles service in Asia, underscoring the extent to which it considers populous emerging markets as it implements new features.

The world’s largest social network has in recent weeks advertised job openings via its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore for contractors who will work with “new publishers to begin developing Instant Articles” and “provide direct support to publishers” who use the service. The jobs call for candidates who can speak Thai or Vietnamese.

Instant Articles allow media companies to publish material directly on Facebook, rather than as links to their sites. Facebook says these articles load ten times faster than standard articles on mobile phones. The company launched Instant Articles in the U.S. in May and in India last week.


By Me Yesterday: ‘What the New H-1B Visa Reform Bill Could Mean for Indian Outsourcers’

The story begins:

Life could get tougher for Indian outsourcing firms that do business in the U.S. and for Indians who want to get visas to work there.

A key part of India’s outsourcing industry has long been to send thousands of its information-technology engineers and programmers to the U.S. on skilled-worker permits known as H-1B visas.

But two U.S. senators are renewing their efforts to force employers to try to hire Americans first before foreign workers.

Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin last week introduced a bill that would require all companies that want to hire workers under H-1Bs to first try to hire U.S. citizens.


By Me Yesterday: ‘Flush Indian Startups Face Shortage of Skilled Workers’

The story begins:

BANGALORE, India—Software engineer Anshul Goel graduated from college in 2013. In the 2½ years since then, the 24-year-old has switched jobs three times, jumping from one Indian tech company to another, and doubled his salary.

Mr. Goel, who specializes in writing code that e-commerce startups and others use to predict customer behavior, says he is deluged with emails from headhunters. “My mailbox is full of them,” he said. “And it’s not only me.”

Indian startups, flush with cash from foreign venture capitalists, have been on a hiring spree as they race to scale up and beat rivals in an increasingly competitive market. Venture capitalists have poured some $4.54 billion into India’s startups so far this year, surpassing the $4 billion invested last year, says Indian data tracker Venture Intelligence. But a shortage of skilled workers is driving up wages and turning into a serious hurdle to companies’ expansion plans.

The country is home to millions of information-technology workers, veterans of India’s huge outsourcing industry. But, tech executives say, few of them have the cutting-edge abilities that startups in businesses from e-commerce to ride-booking apps crave.

I also wrote a post at our Digits blog about perks some workers are securing:

Free rides to work, cool offices with tasty food, new smartphones — it’s a good time to be a talented software engineer in India.


Stories this Week: Google’s Android One and Project Loon in India

A scoop by a colleague and me earlier this week: Google’s taking another shot at low-cost smartphone success in India.

The story begins:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google helped launch a line of low-cost smartphones in India more than a year ago, part of a strategy to win more customers in fast-growing emerging markets. It was a flop.

Now, the tech giant is trying again by relaxing its rules, giving phone makers more latitude when it comes to features and price.

Google and India’s Lava International Ltd. plan to release a new low-cost smartphone in the coming months as part of the Android One program, people familiar with the matter say. The initiative aims to give users in developing economies an inexpensive way to get online through its Android mobile operating system.

Separately, I wrote an explainer: “Five Things to Know About Google’s Android One.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick post I wrote about the search giant targeting India for its stratospheric Internet balloons effort, Project Loon:

Google parent company Alphabet Inc. says it is discussing with the Indian government an ambitious project to use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet access in remote areas, the latest sign of U.S. tech firms’ interest in the world’s second-most-populous country.

Known as Project Loon, the Alphabet plan involves a network of balloons floating in the stratosphere that would serve as “floating mobile-phone towers.” The initiative is meant to connect people who now lack online access.


By Me This Week: Zuckerberg Visits India

The story begins:

Shut out of China, Mark Zuckerberg is training his sights on India as a source for future growth.

The Facebook Inc. founder arrived in India on Tuesday as he continues working to expand the company’s reach in a billion-person economy becoming increasingly important in the social networking giant’s quest to add new users.

It is Mr. Zuckerberg’s second visit to India in the last 12 months. During the last one he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and launched a free Internet initiative.

Connecting more people in the developing world has become an important goal for Mr. Zuckerberg and his firm. India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people, millions of whom speak English, will be one of the biggest targets for the company’s global growth plans, analysts say, as China doesn’t allow its citizens access to the website.

I also helped some colleagues out with a liveblog for the town hall Q&A Zuckerberg held in Delhi.

Click through for a re-cap of the event, in which Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s controversial free Internet project, Internet.org, which I mentioned writing about few weeks back.


By Me Recently: E-Commerce Logistics in India, Outsourcing, Cyber-Security and More

2015 10 25 ecomm

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal and online here is a story I’m especially proud of.

My colleagues and I followed — literally — a sari across India, illustrating the logistical challenge e-commerce startups in the country face.

The story begins:

MADURAI, India—The future of India’s booming e-commerce market is in the hands of small-time customers like 27-year-old Gayathri Rajamansingh.
Each Sunday, the owner of a small hair salon browses the Shopclues website from her home, hunting for bargains. Recently, she fixed on a floral-print sari, a traditional Indian one-piece garment, and clicked “Buy Now.”

Ms. Rajamansingh’s impulse purchase of the 199 rupee ($3.06) sari, set in motion a logistical operation that is complex and costly. Delivering the item involved a three-day, roughly 1,200-mile journey from Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, to her home in Madurai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. More than 30 people moved the package, through two overnight truck journeys, a long-haul flight and, finally, a motorbike to her doorstep.

There’s also an interactive feature with some fun videos and maps.

Meanwhile, here are some of my other recent stories:

  • Indian Startup Seclore Gains Traction Amid High Profile Hacks
  • Investors to Scrutinize India’s Information Technology Company Earnings
  • Ad-Focused Malware Targets Apple Users in China and Taiwan
  • Don’t forget that you can get my latest stories — and other links that catch my eye — delivered to your inbox. Sign up for my weekly email newsletter here.


    By Me Yesterday: Singapore Online Grocery Startup RedMart Hires Amazon Exec

    The story begins:

    Singapore-based online grocery-delivery service RedMart has scored some valuable new talent in its quest to conquer Southeast Asia.

    The startup said Thursday it has hired a longtime senior executive at Amazon.com Inc. who once spent two years as a technical adviser to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.

    Colin Bryar, a former Amazon vice president, has joined Redmart as the company’s chief operating officer, and will oversee issues such as engineering, marketing and operations, according to RedMarket Chief Executive Roger Egan.

    Mr. Bryar has “such tremendous experience shadowing one of the top leaders in tech for two plus years,” Mr. Egan told The Wall Street Journal.


    By Me: Commercial Drone Startups Are Taking Off Here in Asia

    The story begins:

    Half a dozen men gathered around a workbench in a government building one morning as Tack Wai Wong, an engineering expert clad in a crisp white shirt and gray trousers, took his place at the front of the table.

    “Once upon a time all of this was military technology,” said Mr. Wong, 50 years old, as he ran his fingers along the rotors of one of several small unmanned aerial vehicles spread out before him. “Now you can make drones yourself.”

    The workshop was aimed at teaching people in this tightly controlled city-state how to fly drones safely—and maybe even hatch ideas for commercial applications.

    The U.S. is a hotbed for commercial drone startups, and the Federal Aviation Administration in February proposed long-awaited rules for drones that will likely make their use even more widespread in the country.

    But drone startups are increasingly taking flight across Asia. They are using the crafts to locate faulty solar panels in Singapore, prospect land in the Philippines, map plantations in Thailand and more. While companies also use such applications in other parts of the world, entrepreneurs here are working with cooperative governments in some places, taking advantage of lax regulations in others, and providing services that appeal to local markets in new ways.

    There’s also a slideshow and, embedded above, a video (narrated by yours truly).


    Exclusive by Me and a Colleague Yesterday: GrabTaxi Raises New Funds

    The story begins:

    More cash is pouring into the increasingly competitive ride-hailing business in Asia, fueling local competitors to global market leader Uber Technologies Inc.

    Southeast Asia-focused ride-hailing app GrabTaxi is getting an infusion of over $200 million in fresh capital in its latest fundraising round led by U.S. hedge fund Coatue Management LLC, according to a person familiar with the situation. The investment values the company at over $1.5 billion including the fresh capital from the latest fundraising, according to the person.

    Existing investors in the company, including Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and Tiger Global Management LLC, are also participating in the round, the person said. It is possible that GrabTaxi could increase the size of the round with the inclusion of additional investment in coming weeks, the person said.

    GrabTaxi is among a crop of local competitors in Asia that have sprung up to battle with global ride-hailing market leader Uber across the region. Local competitors in Asia include China’s Didi Kuaidi, which is raising $2 billion in funding, India’s Ola and Easy Taxi. Uber itself is raising funds specifically for its China unit.


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