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1. The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Accelerating the Adoption of Mobile Payments in Italy

Enabling consumers and merchants to maintain social distance while completing transactions, Milan-based mobile payments startup Satispay is helping Italians during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Satispay CEO Alberto Dalmasso.

In Italy, Satispay is connecting 1 million active users to 100,000 merchants, many of whom are struggling to survive in the face of the lockdown. Because Satispay enables consumers to purchase items remotely, merchants are asking their customers to call in orders and complete their transactions with Satispay. Shortly after Italy implemented social distancing, remote transactions grew from 10% to roughly half of Satispay’s total payment volume.

To simplify communication between merchants and consumers, Satispay recently launched a feature highlighting nearby merchants who are offering pick-up and/or delivery. In a podcast with ARK Invest, Dalmasso explained that the crisis has accelerated Satispay’s growth dramatically. In fact, Milan is promoting Satispay not only as a channel for the government’s shopping vouchers but also as a preferred payment method for purchases placed remotely.

Subscribe to ARK’s For Your Innovation podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify to listen the upcoming episode featuring Satispay’s CEO Alberto Dalmasso.


2. Alphabet’s Project Wing Is Responding to COVID-19 With Drones

Because of COVID-19, Alphabet’s Project Wing has completed more than 1,000 drone deliveries in the last two weeks. In Virginia, local businesses have partnered with Project Wing to avoid human contact while transporting pasta, baby food, and other essential items to their consumers.

The FAA has given Alphabet approval to operate a drone airline with only one pilot, illustrating how innovation can gain traction in tumultuous times. Virginia-based businesses are experimenting with drone deliveries perhaps sooner than otherwise would have been the case. After the COVID-19 crisis subsides, consumers probably will continue to rely on drones delivering to their front doors. ARK estimates that global drone delivery revenues could scale from nil today to $275 billion by 2030.


3. AI Fixes Video Conferencing Woes 

With an unprecedented number of people working from home, video conferencing has become an instant hit; yet, background noise and choppy connections have added frustration to online meetings.

Google and Microsoft are using AI to attack these long running problems. Google’s Duo video calling app has added a feature called WaveNetEQ, a neural network that detects missing or garbled speech and fills in the words the speaker meant to say. Trained on more than 100 voices in 48 languages, WaveNetEQ enables agents to imitate a wide range of speakers. While subtle, it ameliorates the short bursts of distorted speech that result from unstable internet connections. Meanwhile, Microsoft is applying AI to eliminate background noise. In a video demo, it showed how video calls in Teams zero out the noise of a crinkly bag of potato chips and preserve the speaker’s voice.

Both companies are playing catch up with Zoom, whose video conferencing application has ballooned from 10 million to more 200 million daily active users during this crisis. In recent days, however, security woes have plagued Zoom, causing various companies and government organizations to ban it. How Zoom handles its first major crisis as a public company will determine if it can cement its lead in this hotly contested market and justify its lofty $35 billion market cap.


4. COVID-19 Cytokine Storms Could Cause Fatal Complications  

In a strange pattern, some COVID-19 patients feel better and then crash. Researchers have discovered that the body’s own immune system could be the culprit.

Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) is a heightened immune response that causes inflammation after encountering infections like COVID-19 or medications like immunotherapies. In overdrive, cytokine storms can be life threatening.

Medications like Roche’s Actemra have been approved for CRS in CAR-T cell immunotherapy. Other companies are updating delivery mechanisms. Precigen’s (PGEN) UltraCAR-T Therapeutic Platform controls T-cells with a kill switch technology to improve its safety profile, and Fate Therapeutics (FATE) uses natural killer (NK) cells that do not cause cytokine storms.

COVID-19 cytokine storm trials have begun in a collaborative study sponsored by Incyte in the United States and Novartis in the rest of the world. These trials will repurpose Jakafi, an approved myelofibrosis drug, to block cytokine storms.


5. Bitcoin Cash Has Undergone Its First Halving of Block Rewards 

On Wednesday, Bitcoin Cash (BCH), a Bitcoin fork and the fourth largest cryptocurrency by network value, experienced its first block reward halving. Consistent with its disinflationary monetary policy, the halving cut the amount of Bitcoin Cash produced from each new block from 12.5 to 6.25 BCH.

BCH’s halving prompted discussion about the impact that Bitcoin’s (BTC) block reward halving in May will have on the price of bitcoin and the network’s hash rate. All else equal, if the demand for bitcoin were to remain constant as newly issued supply is cut in half, the price of bitcoin should increase. Historically, block reward halvings have been catalysts for price appreciation, but several analysts are skeptical about its impact on bitcoin’s price this time around because miner sales are a fraction of global trading volume now, suggesting that a 50% reduction in selling pressure will have an immaterial impact.

As to hash rate after the halving, if the bitcoin price does not double, the Bitcoin network’s hash rate could drop after the halving as miners shut down their operations in response to a sharp decline in their revenues. Bitcoin Cash suffered a 60% drop in the network’s hash rate, as miners redirected hash power to the Bitcoin network or shut down mining operations entirely.

When Bitcoin’s block reward halving occurs in May, ARK will pay close to attention to its impact on the price of bitcoin and the security of the Bitcoin network.