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Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

Coronavirus Cases Soar in Italy and Iran; 48 Countries Now Report Infections

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 4:20pm
The fight to contain the coronavirus entered an alarming new phase on Thursday as caseloads soared in Europe and the Middle East, and health officials in the United States and Germany dealt with patients with no known connection to others with the infection. From a report: The German and American cases raised the possibility that the virus could have begun to spread locally, or that infected people had spread it to others sequentially, making it virtually impossible to trace and isolate the origins. Either way, the cases, thousands of miles apart, underscored how quickly the virus was making its way around the globe after emerging in China. Japan's government closed all schools through March in an effort to combat the outbreak. Iran canceled Friday Prayers in major cities, a cornerstone ritual of the Islamic Republic. Saudi Arabia barred pilgrims from visiting Mecca and Medina. President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the American effort to combat the virus, but the administration continued to send mixed messages. Public health officials warned of potentially "major disruptions," while Mr. Trump blamed Democrats and cable news channels for overstating the threat. Financial markets continued their weeklong declines. In the Middle East, concerns built about the growing severity of the outbreak in Iran, the source of infections in many other countries. The government said on Thursday that 245 people had been infected and 26 had died, but experts say there are probably many more cases. Several countries registered new infections that illustrated the diverse ways the pathogen could cross borders.

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Facebook Sues SDK Maker OneAudience For Secretly Harvesting User Data

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 3:30pm
Facebook filed today a federal lawsuit in a California court against OneAudience, a New Jersey-based data analytics firm. From a report: The social networking giant claims that OneAudience paid app developers to install its Software Development Kit (SDK) in their apps, and later used the control it had over the SDK's code to harvest data on Facebook users. According to court documents obtained by ZDNet, the SDK was embedded in shopping, gaming, and utility-type apps, some of which were made available through the official Google Play Store. "After a user installed one of these apps on their device, the malicious SDK enabled OneAudience to collect information about the user from their device and their Facebook, Google, or Twitter accounts, in instances where the user logged into the app using those accounts," the complaint reads. "With respect to Facebook, OneAudience used the malicious SDK -- without authorization from Facebook -- to access and obtain a user's name, email address, locale (i.e. the country that the user logged in from), time zone, Facebook ID, and, in limited instances, gender," Facebook said. Twitter was the first to expose OneAudience's secret data harvesting practices on November 26, last year.

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Amazon Plans To Enter India's Food Delivery Market

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 2:40pm
Weeks after Uber exited India's food delivery market, conceding defeat to local giants Swiggy and Zomato, a new player is gearing up to challenge the heavily-backed duopoly: Amazon. From a report: The e-commerce giant plans to enter the Indian food delivery market in the coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The launch of the service, which would be offered as part of either Amazon's Prime Now or Amazon Fresh platform, could happen as soon as next month, we are told. In the run up to the launch, the e-commerce giant has been testing its food delivery service with select restaurant partners in Bangalore, the source said, requesting anonymity as details of the new business are still private.

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Facebook Cancels F8 Developer Conference Due To Coronavirus Concerns

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 1:50pm
Facebook has canceled the in-person portion of F8, the company's annual developer conference, due to coronavirus concerns. F8 was originally scheduled to take place on May 5th and May 6th later this year. From a report: Instead, Facebook says that it will replace the main F8 conference with "locally hosted events, videos and live-streamed content."

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How Accessibility Consultants Are Building a More Inclusive Video Game Industry Behind the Scenes

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 1:00pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: Last year, Forbes published an article titled "'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice' Needs to Respect Its Players and Add an Easy Mode." In the piece, Dave Thier, the author, argues that the title's egregiously high difficulty settings detract from the superb world and character design. "The difficulty is only one part of what defines these games for me, and honestly, it's not the most important part," wrote Thier. Easier difficulty settings would allow those with physical or cognitive limitations -- or just limited time to play games -- the opportunity to experience the studio's artistic vision. It was the latest salvo in a debate that has taken on a culture war-level valence among players online, a debate that has been litigated and re-litigated to no apparent end. Fans of the series, angered by the article, argued that not all games are meant for disabled players. Futzing with difficulty settings, they said, tampers with the creative intent of a game, especially in genres where a game's key selling point may be its difficulty (as is the case with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice). But the recent efforts of accessibility consultants and developers to create inclusive products tell a different story. Unbeknown to many, accessibility consultants have been pushing for an accessible industry for years. From menus containing a plethora of options, including the ability to customize controls and adjust subtitle size, to disabled inclusion within the workspace and gaming community, the often-hidden efforts of accessibility consultants are beginning to become standard practice within the industry.

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Walmart is Quietly Working on an Amazon Prime Competitor Called Walmart+

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 12:11pm
Amazon Prime has devastated traditional retail. Walmart is about to fight back. From a report: When Amazon launched a funky membership program called Amazon Prime in 2005, Walmart boasted larger profits than Amazon had revenue. Fifteen years later, though, Prime is the key reason for Amazon's dominance over Walmart in online sales. That pressure has pushed the traditional retailer to burn tens of billions of dollars to fight back while its executives have cycled through various stages of reaction to Prime's ascent: denial, followed by meek competition, followed by a reversal that seemed to signal Walmart wanted to stick to a free, no-membership strategy. But Recode has learned that over the past 18 months, the world's largest brick-and-mortar retailer has explored creating its own paid membership program that would include perks that Amazon can't replicate, in part to avoid a direct comparison to Prime. Amazon now accounts for nearly 40 percent of all online retail sales in the US, according to eMarketer, and Prime is a huge reason why. Walmart is a distant No. 2 with only a little more than 5 percent of the US e-commerce market. As soon as next month, Walmart plans to start publicly testing a membership program called Walmart+, according to sources. The program is expected to essentially launch as a rebrand of Walmart's existing Delivery Unlimited service, which charges customers $98 a year for unlimited, same-day delivery of fresh groceries from one of the 1,600-plus Walmart stores in the US where the program is available. The company is also considering launching Walmart+ with a feature that would allow customers to use text messaging to place orders. Sources said that the amount of the Walmart+ fee could still change or the company might test multiple price points.

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China's Rover Finds Layers of Surprise Under Moon's Far Side

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 11:22am
The Chang'e-4 mission, the first to land on the lunar far side, is demonstrating the promise and peril of using ground-penetrating radar in planetary science. From a report: China's robotic Chang'e-4 spacecraft did something last year that had never been done before: It landed on the moon's far side, and Yutu-2, a small rover it was carrying, began trundling through a crater there. One of the rover's instruments, a ground-penetrating radar, is now revealing what lies beneath. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, a team of Chinese and Italian researchers showed that the top layer of the lunar soil on that part of the moon is considerably thicker than some expected -- about 130 feet of what scientists call regolith. "It's a fine, dusty, sandy environment," said Elena Pettinelli, a professor of mathematics and physics at Rome Tre University who was one of the authors of the paper. Based on what NASA astronauts observed during the Apollo moon landings, other scientists said they would have expected one-quarter as much soil. "That's a lot of regolith," said David A. Kring, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who is not involved with the Chinese moon mission. "That's food for thought." Chang'e-4 landed just over a year ago inside Von Karman crater, a 110-mile-wide depression, and continues to explore a part of the moon that has not been seen up close before.

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Raspberry Pi 4 Linux Computer Gets Twice the RAM and USB-C Power Fix

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 10:30am
Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: The Raspberry Pi line has provided great little Linux computers to nerds -- its low price and small size makes it ideal for tinkering and doing projects. But also, the device has proven to be a solid media device, wonderful for watching videos and emulating classic video games. In other words, it has been a very versatile computer, serving as many things to many people. With the release of the Raspberry Pi 4, however, it finally became powerful enough to serve as a true desktop computer. By installing a Linux distribution, some people can use it for day-to-day computer use, such as web browsing, playing media, and word processing. Unfortunately, the $35 base model came with a paltry 1GB of RAM. Today, this changes, as the company has dropped the price of the 2GB version to $35, effectively doubling the memory for the base model.

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Nokia To Weigh Strategic Options as Profit Pressure Mounts

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 9:50am
Nokia Oyj is exploring strategic options as fierce competition puts pressure on the Finnish network equipment maker's earnings, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The company is working with advisers to consider alternatives ranging from potential asset sales to mergers, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Other options include shifting investments and making balance-sheet adjustments, one of them said. Deliberations are ongoing, and there's no certainty they will lead to any transactions, the people said. Nokia shares have lost roughly a third of their value over the past year before news of its deliberations.

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TikTok is 'Fundamentally Parasitic', Says Reddit CEO

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 9:05am
TikTok is one of the hottest social media platforms but the CEO of Reddit had some harsh words for the popular app, calling it "fundamentally parasitic" at an event this week. From a report: The comments from Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman were some of the more controversial offered up during a panel discussion with former public policy executive Elliot Schrage and former Facebook VP of Product Sam Lessin. During a brief conversation about the feature innovations of TikTok, Huffman pushed back hard on the notion that Silicon Valley startups had something to learn from the app. "Maybe I'm going to regret this, but I can't even get to that level of thinking with them," Huffman said. "Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it's always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone. I actively tell people, 'Don't install that spyware on your phone,'" he later added. Worth mentioning: Reddit is heavily backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, which competes aggressively with TikTok's parent firm ByteDance.

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15-Million-Year-Old Crater On Earth Reveals Clues About Mars' Watery Past

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 8:00am
Iwastheone shares a report from Space.com: Ries Crater, or Nordlinger Ries, is located in western Bavaria, Germany, and formed roughly 15 million years ago, when a meteorite struck. This site has incredibly well-preserved rocks and minerals that bear similarities to the Martian surface. Therefore, samples from this impact site on Earth may shed light on Mars' past, according to a new study. Today, Mars is too cold to host liquid water on its surface, which is a requirement for life as we know it on Earth. However, 4 billion years ago, Mars may have been warm enough for surface oceans and, possibly, life, according to the study. The researchers studied rock samples from Ries Crater, which was once a body of water. Their findings show that the samples have a high pH based on the ratio of nitrogen isotopes, as well as a high alkalinity, which indicates an imbalanced pH level, according to the study. NASA's Mars 2020 rover is planned to land in a similar, well-preserved ancient crater that is believed to have also contained liquid water in its past. The findings suggest that the Martian crater will have a chemical composition comparable to that of Ries Crater. Therefore, studying the alkalinity, pH and nitrogen content of samples from the Ries Crater could help the researchers better understand the properties of ancient water on Mars and, in turn, determine the amount of carbon dioxide that was in the planet's atmosphere billions of years ago. Although complex life is unlikely, simpler microorganisms could have survived if water on Mars had a neutral pH level and was highly alkaline, the researchers said in the statement. These conditions would indicate that the atmosphere had enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet and make liquid water possible, the scientists added.

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Drivers of Expensive Cars Less Likely To Yield For Pedestrians, Study Finds

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 5:00am
ClickOnThis writes: Many of us know the old joke about BMWs and hemorrhoids. Now it seems that science can back it up. In a study perhaps deserving of an Ig Nobel, scientists found that the likelihood a driver will stop for a pedestrian is inversely proportional to the value of their vehicle. CNN reports: "A new study has found that drivers of flashy vehicles are less likely to stop and allow pedestrians to cross the road -- with the likelihood they'll slow down decreasing by 3% for every extra $1,000 that their vehicle is worth. Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas speculated that the expensive car owners 'felt a sense of superiority over other road users' and were less able to empathize with lowly sidewalk-dwellers. They came to this conclusion after asking volunteers to cross a sidewalk hundreds of times, filming and analyzing the responses by car drivers. Researchers used one white and one black man, and one white and one black woman -- also finding that cars were more likely to yield for the white and female participants. Vehicles stopped 31% of the time for both women and white participants, compared with 24% of the time for men and 25% of the time for black volunteers. But the best predictor of whether a car would stop was its cost, researchers discovered. 'Disengagement and a lower ability to interpret thoughts and feelings of others along with feelings of entitlement and narcissism may lead to a lack of empathy for pedestrians' among costly car owners, they theorized in the study." The research has been published in the Journal of Transport and Health. The research "backed up a Finnish study published last month that found that men who own flashy vehicles are more likely to be 'argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic,'" adds CNN.

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US Confirms First Case of Coronavirus From Unknown Origin

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 2:00am
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a resident from Northern California has contracted the coronavirus without traveling outside the United States or coming in contact with another patient known to have the infection -- the first sign that the disease may be spreading within a local community. The Sacramento Bee reports: "It is a confirmed case. There is one in Northern California," CDC spokesman Scott Pauley told The Sacramento Bee just before 4 p.m. Wednesday. In the Northern California case, "the individual is a resident of Solano County and is receiving medical care in Sacramento County. The individual had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual," California Department of Public Health officials said in a news release Wednesday evening. State public health officials in Sacramento, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the case is the first person-to-person transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Earlier cases of person-to-person transmission in Illinois and in San Benito County came "after close, prolonged interaction with a family member who returned from Wuhan, China, and had tested positive for COVID-19," California Department of Public Health officials said in their Wednesday statement. Dr. Sonia Angell, the state's public health officer, called the outbreak an "evolving situation" that the state had been monitoring since the first cases in China late last year. but added "there is a lot we already know." "We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S., and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California," Angell said in prepared remarks. Earlier today, President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence will lead the government's response to the virus. In the rare White House address, Trump maintained that the risk to the U.S. from the virus "remains very low."

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'Electronic Nose' Could Smell Breath To Warn About Higher Risk of Cancer

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 10:30pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: An electronic device that "sniffs" breath may offer a new way to identify people with a condition that can lead to cancer of the oesophagus, researchers have revealed. According to the charity Cancer Research UK, people diagnosed with Barrett's oesophagus -- a precancerous condition in which cells lining the food pipe change and may grow abnormally -- have more than 11 times greater risk of getting a particular type of oesophageal cancer called oesophageal adenocarcinoma compared with the general population. Writing in the journal Gut, Siersema and colleagues reported how they tested their device on 402 patients who were scheduled to undergo an endoscopy. Among these patients, 129 went on to be diagnosed with Barrett's oesophagus, 141 had gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, and 132 had neither problem. Before they underwent an endoscopy, each patient was asked to breath into an "electronic nose" -- a device that can detect different volatile molecules. In the breath, such molecules result from processes in the body, however while many of these occur in a healthy individual, some may be linked to particular diseases, either reflecting changes in cells or changes in the local community of microbes caused by a disease. As a result, a particular composition within a breath sample may act as a hallmark of a condition. The team's portable electronic nose incorporated a type of artificial intelligence to look for these patterns. [...] Overall the results reveal that the nose correctly identified patients with Barrett's oesophagus 91% of the time, while it correctly identified those without the condition 74% of the time. When the test was restricted to only those with either gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or Barrett's oesophagus, the system was still able to distinguish patients, albeit less accurately.

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Reddit's Profane, Greedy Traders Are Shaking Up the Stock Market

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:02pm
Bloomberg's Luka Kawa reports on the tips and tricks members of the r/wallstreetbets subreddit are using to push prices on the stock market, at least for the short term. Here's an excerpt from the report: The do-it-yourself traders of r/WSB are waging a kind of guerrilla warfare in the markets, trying to exploit what they see as weaknesses in the system to move prices where they want them. For anyone who wondered about where the small day traders who made the 1990s so wild went, meet the 2020 version. After years of indifference, individual investors seem to be finding their way back to stocks, for better or worse. They're flexing muscles in ways that can easily call to mind excesses from the dot-com era. Members of r/WSB believe they've discovered a kind of perpetual motion machine in the interplay of stocks withÂoptions contracts, which offer a cheap way to bet on whether shares will rise or fall without buying the stock itself. It goes like this: Members make bets that rely on market makers, the professional middlemen who sell you a call (a bet on shares rising) or a put (a wager on a decline). Market makers, like good bookies, don't want to go out on a limb. When taking a bet, they lay off the risk. If someone buys a call, for instance, speculating on a rally, the dealer buys stock in the underlying company. If the stock rises, the dealer may have to pay out on the option -- but that's offset by the gain on the shares. When shares keep rising, managing the hedge entails buying more stock. That's where the Reddit set perceives a weakness. A favorite tactic on r/WSB is to swamp the market with call purchases early in the morning in an attempt to force dealers to keep buying stock. Up and up everything goes -- supposedly. As the stock price rises, so does the value of the calls, often by far more...

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Starbucks Embraces Fake Meat, Starting In Canada

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 8:25pm
Starting next week, Starbucks will roll out its spring menu in stores across Canada that will include a breakfast sandwich with Beyond Meat sausage. Engadget reports: Starbucks joins a growing list of brands that have added Beyond Meat's plant-based offerings to their menus. To date, those companies include McDonald's (also a Canadian pilot), KFC, Subway, Carl's Jr., Hardee's and more. The lab-grown, plant-based meat trend is a product of science and tech, but it's also driven by a growing awareness of the environmental impacts of meat production. Earlier this year, Starbucks said it was committed to a "resource-positive future," which includes expanding plant-based options and creating a more environmentally friendly menu. The upcoming egg, cheddar and Beyond Meat sausage breakfast sandwich is the first major step in that direction.

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Trump Puts Mike Pence In Charge of Response To Coronavirus, Says US Risk 'Remains Very Low'

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 7:45pm
Vice President Mike Pence will be put in charge of the U.S. response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday in an address from the White House. CNBC reports: Trump, in a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, maintained that the risk to the U.S. from the virus "remains very low," amid global fears that a pandemic could be imminent. But the U.S. is ready for "anything," Trump said, including an outbreak "of larger proportions." In that spirit, Trump said he would be putting Pence, who has "a certain talent for this," in charge of the response. The president cited his veep's experience with health care policy during his time as governor of Indiana. Around noon Wednesday, the CDC had confirmed 60 coronavirus cases in the U.S., a majority of which came from passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. The Trump administration has taken numerous steps in response to the virus, such as declaring a public health emergency and imposing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines. And White House officials, along with Trump himself, have worked to ease fears of a pandemic that have rattled governments and investors around the world.

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LG's New V60 ThinQ Is a Huge Phone With a Removable Second Screen

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 7:02pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: 5G connectivity. 8K video recording. A design that folds. These are some of the things you'll get in one of Samsung's newest phones -- but the privilege will cost you at least $1,000 for the most affordable device of the lot. If you want these next-gen features but aren't feeling the four-figure price tags, you could try LG's new phone: the V60 ThinQ. It supports the new mobile network, packs a camera sensor with 64 megapixels for 8K recording, and comes bundled (depending on where you buy it) with the Dual Screen attachment -- a case that adds a second screen to the phone, exactly like last year's G8X ThinQ. You get all of this and a headphone jack, something missing from all of Samsung's flagship phones, for a few hundred dollars less. (LG hasn't announced pricing yet, but the company says it will be priced in the ballpark of previous devices, so around $700 or $800.) "I only spent a few minutes with the phone, and while it's a compelling offer on paper, I'm not convinced the company has improved the areas where the V60's predecessors fell short," writes Wired's Julian Chokkattu. "The cameras are usually decent, but not as nice as what you get from Samsung, Google, and Apple; more megapixels doesn't guarantee better photos. The software still looks dated, and there's no sign of the phone receiving Android updates faster. There's no folding screen here, and while the second screen does turn the V60 ThinQ into a foldable phone of sorts, it comes at the cost of being bulky, heavy, and cumbersome -- and frankly a little ugly too." Chokkattu also mentions the phone is massive, thanks to the "abnormally large 6.8-inch screen." Paired with the Dual Screen attachment and its 6.8-inch screen, you end up with a phone that's not very enjoyable to lug around. "It's great that the accessory is bundled with the phone, and that it gives you more visual real estate, but the experience still feels clunky," he writes.

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Konami Code Creator Kazuhisa Hashimoto Dies At 61

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 6:40pm
Kazuhisa Hashimoto, a producer credited with implementing the fabled "Konami Code" that gave players godlike cheats in Contra, Gradius, Castlevania, and other Konami games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, died on Tuesday. He was 61. Polygon reports: Hashimoto was a programmer and producer for the home console port of Gradius, which in 1986 was the first video game to use the Konami Code. Hashimoto put it in the game as an aid for his playtesting, memorably saying that he "obviously couldn't beat it." For unclear reasons, the Konami Code was left in the shipped game, and was later used to playtest other games made by the publisher. Contra, which launched on the NES in 1988, sold much better than Gradius and is more closely associated with the Konami Code's origins. In it, cheat-code sharers discovered video gaming's Charm of Making -- up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start! -- and were blessed with 30 lives, absolutely critical to a super-tough one-hit-kill side-scroller like Contra. Nostalgia for the Konami Code, if not gratitude for its usefulness to many difficult games of the day, led to its inclusion in numerous other works. A Wikipedia entry on the code counts more than 100 Konami games with the cheat or some version of it inside them. Another 22 games made by other publishers included the code as a tribute, often revealing an Easter egg or secret message. It has also shown up elsewhere in popular culture, most recently in Google Stadia's website (and on its controller), and as a pastime Easter egg in Fortnite in October.

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Panasonic Is Ending Its Solar Cell Partnership With Tesla

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 6:20pm
Panasonic said it will stop producing solar cells and modules at Tesla's factory in Buffalo, N.Y., ending a four-year joint venture with the electric automaker. TechCrunch reports: Panasonic said it will cease solar manufacturing operations at the Tesla factory by the end of May. The company will exit the factory by September. Panasonic employs about 380 people at the factory. Those employees will be given severance packages. Panasonic said it will work with Tesla to identify and hire qualified applicants from its impacted workforce. Panasonic said in its announcement that Tesla plans to hire qualified applicants to new positions needed to support its solar and energy manufacturing operations in Buffalo. Panasonic struck a deal in 2016 to jointly produce solar cells at Tesla's "Gigafactory 2" plant in Buffalo, N.Y. Panasonic committed to share the cost of equipment needed for the plant. The joint venture deepened the relationship between the two companies, which already had established a partnership to produce battery cells at Tesla's factory near Reno, Nev. Panasonic's decision to exit the factory comes as Tesla tries to scale up its energy business as well as meet employment requirements at the state-funded factory. The Buffalo factory was built with $750 million in taxpayer funds and then leased to Tesla. Under a deal reached with the state, Tesla must employ 1,460 people there by April or face a $41.2 million penalty. As reports of Panasonic's exit circulated, Tesla told Empire State Development, the New York economic development authority that oversees the factory, that it has exceeded its hiring commitment. The report notes that Panasonic still works with Tesla under a separate joint venture to produce battery cells at a massive factory near Reno, Nevada. Panasonic said in a statement that the decision "will have no impact on Panasonic and Tesla's strong partnership in Nevada."

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