Mike Novogratz’s Galaxy Digital Ventures invests from its Galaxy EOS Ecosystem Fund and leads funding in blockchain-based VR platform
SAN FRANCISCO- High Fidelity, the open-source distributed VR platform, today announced $35 million in Series D funding to continue development of a global infrastructure for VR experiences.
Blockchain investment firm Galaxy Digital Ventures led the round, investing $20 million from its Galaxy EOS Ecosystem Fund, with additional new investors including Blockchain Capital. Existing investors also participated, including Breyer Capital, IDG Capital Partners and Vulcan Capital.
The latest round brings total investment in High Fidelity to more than $70 million. High Fidelity will use the funds to expand R&D, accelerate hiring and open a new office in Seattle.
“Virtual reality may be the first killer app for blockchain. It’s a global phenomenon that fundamentally requires a trustless consensus mechanism for currency, property and identity,” said Sam Englebardt, a founding partner of Galaxy Digital Ventures, who joins the board of High Fidelity alongside the investment. “That’s what the new generation of blockchain protocols like EOS enable, and High Fidelity has the vision, team and open platform to lead the worldwide transition from atoms to bits.”
As the founder of Second Life, High Fidelity CEO and co-founder Philip Rosedale created and oversaw the growth of the first mainstream virtual world and digital currency, which has produced over $4 billion globally in virtual transactions.
Over the coming decade, High Fidelity foresees VR growing to Internet scale, reaching 1 billion people and generating a $1 trillion economy of virtual goods and services through the entrepreneurial creation of experiences including entertainment, education, employment and virtual travel. As the VR economy grows, High Fidelity will draw revenues from currency growth, marketplace transactions and other global services.
High Fidelity has already developed the technology to bring VR to a mass audience, including:
• The High Fidelity VR software platform, which powers immersive 3D experiences, with ultra-high resolution environments, realistic avatars and imperceptible end-to-end latency, allowing natural interaction between people. Low-latency, high-fidelity 3D audio for voice, effects and music creates a convincing sense of presence. A full-body inverse kinematics (IK) system and support for full-motion capture offers realistic, real-time avatar movement within VR. Scalable to large crowds, the platform offers support for hundreds of people together in a single VR experience on a single server. It is fully extensible, allowing integration of third-party applications and hardware. High Fidelity can be self-hosted or deployed on public clouds such as Digital Ocean.
• High Fidelity Coin (HFC), a high-speed “stablecoin” cryptocurrency designed specifically for commerce, usable anywhere in the world, offering near-instantaneous transaction speeds and low transaction costs.
• High Fidelity’s Digital Asset Registry, based on the blockchain, providing indisputable proof of identity and ownership and strong protection against content forgery. The registry allows users to control which elements of their identity to reveal to third parties, and its decentralized nature puts it outside the control of a single organization and back into the user’s hands.
• The High Fidelity Marketplace, which allows users to buy and sell objects such as avatars, clothing and equipment, as well as scripts and applications to extend the VR experience.
• The founding of the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, which is defining the protocols for global interoperability in VR. The Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA) is a consortium of organizations working to enable people, their property and their money to move freely between virtual worlds. Current members include Admix, BLOCKv, High Fidelity, JanusVR, Somnium Space and SVVR.
“We will go to school, attend events, entertain each other, and build entirely new worlds together, all from within VR,” said Philip Rosedale, CEO and founder of High Fidelity. “To reach this scale and to deliver safely on such a promise, VR must be decentralized, including deeply using blockchain technology. Galaxy Digital will guide us capably in adopting that technology and creating the right partnerships with the larger blockchain ecosystem, for example the EOS blockchain where we are currently beta testing integration.”
High Fidelity has been rapidly developing a powerful software platform for delivering social VR experiences, with hundreds of open source developer contributors and thousands of alpha and beta users developing hundreds of servers with exploratory content and location-based VR providers. These demonstrate the ability of VR to create a shared, open, interactive experience bringing people from around the world together to learn, work, exchange ideas, express their creativity and have fun.
Sample experiences include:
• Nefertari: Journey to Eternity by CuriosityStream — students and adults enter an Egyptian tomb captured in 3D for a guided tour led by an Egyptologist.
• Speaker Series — join the audience in an auditorium for discussions with prominent thought leaders.
• RUST — a nightclub with live performances from DJs and an audience of people from around the world.
Create a High Fidelity user account and download the High Fidelity client for free here.
Climate extremes seen harming unborn babies in Brazil’s Amazon
By Jack Graham
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new study that links extreme rains with lower birth weights in Brazil’s Amazon region underscores the long-term health impacts of weather extremes connected to climate change, researchers said on Monday.
Exceptionally heavy rain and floods during pregnancy were linked to lower birth weight and premature births in Brazil’s northern Amazonas state, according to the researchers from Britain’s Lancaster University and the FIOCRUZ health research institute.
They compared nearly 300,000 births over 11 years with local weather data and found babies born after extreme rainfall were more likely to have low birth weights, which is linked to worse educational, health and even income attainment as adults.
Even non-extreme intense rainfall was linked to a 40% higher chance of a child being low birth-weight, according to the study, published on Monday in the Nature Sustainability journal.
Co-author Luke Parry said heavy rains and flooding could cause increases in infectious diseases like malaria, shortages of food and mental health issues in pregnant women, leading to lower birth weights.
“It’s an example of climate injustice, because these mothers and these communities are very, very far from deforestation frontiers in the Amazon,” Parry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They’ve contributed very little to climate change but are being hit first and worst,” he added, saying he had been “surprised by just how severe these impacts are”.
Severe flooding on the Amazon river is five times more common than just a few decades ago, according to a 2018 paper in the journal Science Advances.
Last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited the neighbouring state of Acre in the Brazilian rainforest, which is under a state of emergency after heavy flooding.
Parry said local people had adapted their lifestyles to deal with climate change, but that “the extent of the extreme river levels and rainfalls has basically exceeded people’s adaptive capacities”.
The negative impacts were even worse for adolescent and indigenous mothers.
The study said the “long-term political neglect of provincial Amazonia” and “uneven development in Brazil” needed to be addressed to tackle the “double burden” of climate change and health inequalities.
It said policy interventions should include antenatal health coverage and transport for rural teenagers to finish high school, as well as improved early warning systems for floods.
(Reporting by Jack Graham; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Energy leaders grapple with climate targets at virtual CERAWeek
By Ron Bousso and Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global energy leaders and other luminaries like incoming Amazon Chief Executive Andy Jassy focused on the tough road to transforming world economies to a lower-carbon future at the kickoff of the world’s largest energy conference on Monday.
Numerous speakers at CERAWeek were prepared to talk about the energy transition and the need for future investment in renewables. But many oil and gas executives were vocal about the need for more fossil-fuel investment in coming years, even as a way of leading the world to a lower-carbon future.
“One of the most urgent things we can do to combat global warming is to back carbon-emitting companies that are committed to get to net zero,” said Bernard Looney, CEO of BP Plc, one of several European oil majors to have committed to ambitious targets of cutting emissions to reach net zero carbon by 2050.
CERAWeek was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped billions of people from traveling and wiped out one-fifth of worldwide demand for fuel.
The U.S. fossil fuel industry is still reeling after tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The pandemic has instead accelerated the transition to renewable fuels and electrification of key elements of energy use. Global majors have been playing catch-up, responding to demands from investors to lower production of fuels that contribute to global warming.
The primary message on Monday, however, was that achieving net zero – where polluting emissions are offset by technologies that absorb carbon dioxide for the atmosphere – is going to be difficult.
“There just isn’t yet enough renewable energy to fuel all of the energy that people need. That’s in developed countries,” said Andy Jassy, head of Amazon.com Inc’s cloud division who will succeed Jeff Bezos as CEO this summer.
He said the company had announced its goal for net zero emissions at a time when it had not entirely figured out how to get there.
Since the 2019 conference, many of the world’s major oil companies have set ambitious goals to shift new investments to technologies that will reduce carbon emissions to slow global warming. BP has largely jettisoned its oil exploration team; U.S. auto giant General Motors Co announced plans to stop making gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles in 15 years.
Oil companies have come under increasing pressure from shareholders, governments and activists to show how they are changing their businesses from fossil fuels toward renewables, and to accelerate that transition. However, numerous speakers warned that the viability of certain technologies, such as hydrogen, remains far in the future.
Hydrogen “is a very small business at this point in time, it will scale up, and it will take a long time before it is a business that is large enough to start making a real difference on sort of planetary scale,” said Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden.
Other speakers expected to appear include several representatives from national oil companies along with CEOs of Exxon Mobil, Total, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, though many are participating in panels focusing on the energy transition.
Mohammed Barkindo, secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was scheduled to appear, but backed out, citing a conflict.
Some CEOs said more oil and gas investment was necessary.
“We don’t think peak oil is around the corner – we see oil demand growing for the next 10 years,” said John Hess, CEO of Hess Corp. “We’re not investing enough to grow oil and gas in the future,” he said, explaining that prices would need to rise to support that investment.
(Reporting By Ron Bousso, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Marianna Parraga; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Stephanie Kelly, Jeffrey Dastin and Gary McWilliams; writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
AstraZeneca sells stake in vaccine maker Moderna for nearly $1 billion
(Reuters) – AstraZeneca sold its stake in rival COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna for roughly $1 billion over the course of last year as the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker cashed in on the meteoric rise in the U.S. company’s shares.
London-listed AstraZeneca recorded $1.38 billion in equity portfolio sales last year, with “a large proportion” of it coming from the Moderna sale, according its latest annual report.
Shares in Moderna, which went public in 2018 at $23 per share, surged more than five times last year after it began working on a COVID-19 vaccine based on a new mRNA technology that won U.S. approval in December.
Its shot relies on synthetic genes to send a message to the body’s immune system to build immunity and can be produced at a scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines like AstraZeneca’s.
Last week, Moderna said it was expecting $18.4 billion in sales from the vaccine this year, putting it on track for its first profit since its founding in 2010.
AstraZeneca began investing in Moderna in 2013, paying $240 million upfront and by the end of 2019 had built up its stake to 7.65%.
That would be worth about $3.2 billion based on Moderna’s 2020 closing stock price of $104.47, Reuters calculation showed.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine being developed with Oxford University has not been authorized in the United States and uses a weakened version of a chimpanzee common cold virus to deliver immunity-building proteins to the body.
In December, U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co said it had sold its equity investment in Moderna, but did not disclose the details of the sale proceeds.
Asset manager Baillie Gifford on Monday disclosed in a separate filing it now held 11% passive stake in Moderna as of Feb. 26.
Moderna shares were down 5% at $146.62 in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee, Pushkala Aripaka, Kanishka Singh and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Jason Neely, David Evans and Arun Koyyur)
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