Why a Robot Maker’s Stock Is Flying High—Data Sheet

August 1, 2019, 1:41 PM UTC

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Last week a maker of industrial floor cleaners, Minnesota-based Tennant, made an appearance here. It’s a supplier of autonomous floor cleaners, in other words self-driving vehicles, to Walmart, whose CEO Doug McMillion talked about them in Aspen, Colo., a couple of weeks ago. A software company called Brain Corp. boasts that its technology has made the staid Tennant a player in a hot field.

Shares of Tennant flashed green on my screen Thursday, up 13% on better-than-expected quarterly results. It will come as no surprise that one of the contributors was Tennant’s Walmart business. Tennant CEO Chris Killingstad called out the Walmart business to investors, calling the robot-icized vehicles an example of the old company’s innovation push. “Autonomous cleaning technology can deliver enormous value and are alive for our customers, in particular strategic customers with broad needs and efficiency imperatives,” he said. That’s business reinvention for you.

Speaking of robots, I have a beach read recommendation for you technophiles who don’t typically read fiction. I just finished Ian McEwan’s novel Machines Like Me, an alternative history set in a 1980s England where the Beatles never broke up, the United Kingdom lost the Falklands War, and fully functional robots named Adam and Eve are available for purchase. It’s a far, far stretch from today’s modified industrial floor cleaners to McEwan’s disturbing musings on how “thinking” machines might interact with humans. This book will entertain and provoke, though. And history buffs will enjoy picking out the other revisions to the recent past—including the presence of a senior statesman/visionary who never committed suicide named Alan Turing. (He’s been much in the news these days.)

And speaking of innovation, sales of Apple’s AirPods were up a stunning 70% year over year, estimates Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein Research. “While Apple has provided no details on the size of the AirPod business, we *guesstimate* that it may have grown 70%+ in [the third fiscal quarter] and could be approaching a $2-billion-per-quarter business ([an estimated 10 million] AirPods sold in the quarter). Interestingly, Airpods are uniquely cross platform (they work on Android devices, albeit with a more limited feature set), highlighting the enormous potential addressable market for the accessory.”

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com


The cupboard was bare. Don't rush to file for your supposed $125 compensation payment from Equifax over its massive 2017 data leak. Turns out, despite 147 million people affected, the compensation fund had only $31 million–and it's now exhausted. You can still opt for free credit monitoring.

In the air tonight. Sticking in the world of too good to be true, the free service Locast that lets people watch their local broadcast TV stations over the Internet has drawn fire from the broadcast industry. ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox sued the streaming service in federal court in New York, saying it violates their copyrights and must be shut down.

Financial engineering. The London Stock Exchange Group, which owns the, well, you know, is buying data and trading provider Refinitiv for $27 billion. The acquisition comes less than a year after several large investors formed Refinitiv by spinning off the financial and risk unit of Thomson Reuters in a deal that valued the business at $20 billion.

Hot ride. A couple of rentable Lyft electric bikes in San Francisco caught on fire this week, forcing the company to suspend its service while it investigates the incidents. "The last thing you need is a flaming bike as you’re riding down the street,” San Fran supervisor Vallie Brown told The San Francisco Examiner.

Can't look away. Supporters of sex tech startups like Dame Products and Unbound Babes protested outside Facebook's New York's headquarters on Wednesday, urging the social network to stop banning advertising from their sector. "We are working to further clarify our policies in this space in the near future," Facebook told CNET.

A falling tide. Rough seas for tech stocks on Wednesday. First, the entire sector plunged along with the rest of the market when the Federal Reserve indicated it was done cutting interest rates. Then came the earnings. Qualcomm's revenue dropped 13% to $4.9 billion (after excluding the almost $5 billion payment it got from Apple to settle the two companies' lawsuits). Bugging analysts was Qualcomm's forecast of up to $5.1 billion of revenue for the current quarter, at least $600 million less than the average forecast. Qualcomm shares, previously up 31% in 2019, lost 7% in premarket trading on Thursday. Fitbit said its revenue grew 5% to $314 million but that, due to disappointing sales of its Versa Lite smartwatch, it will bring in under $355 million next quarter. Fitbit's stock, down 15% this year, dropped 17% in premarket trading to all-time low levels.


We've covered the debates over artificial intelligence used for facial recognition multiple times here. In a long piece for The Financial Times, Madhumita Murgia reviews how such facial recognition technology is being used in London, which has installed hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras. The police have been able to solve crimes thanks to the A.I. assistance, but civil libertarians are up in arms.

MPs on the science and technology committee last week urged the Home Office to impose a moratorium on all facial recognition trials until regulations can be established. The call has been backed by independent experts including AI researchers at the Ada Lovelace Institute; the biometrics commissioner; and the UK’s data protection authority, which said the use of facial recognition in public spaces represented “a real step change in the way law-abiding people are monitored as they go about their daily lives”.

However, the police believe the potential benefits are significant. “Live facial recognition technology has the potential to help our officers locate criminals who are wanted for serious and violent offences, such as knife and gun crime, and the sexual exploitation of children,” said deputy assistant commissioner Duncan Ball of the Met Police. 


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One of the sweetest, funniest shows on television ended its run on Wednesday night. The final episode of Jane the Virgin may–or may not–have brought a tear to my eye, but left Jane Gloriana Villanueva in a happy place. The first four seasons are available on Netflix, by the way.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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