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American Express acquires AI travel assistant startup Mezi


American Express announced that it has acquired Mezi, the startup behind a human-assisted shopping and travel agent chatbot. 

Founded out of Sunnyvale, California in 2015, Mezi is a personal travel assistant that improves the more you use it. It can automatically check you in or reschedule flights, request vegetarian meals on the plane, and arrange associated travel services, such as car rentals and restaurant reservations.

While some elements of the service are entirely driven by artificial intelligence (AI), other facets combine bots with human agents to ensure users can access additional customization options.

Above: Mezi

The startup had raised around $12 million in funding, the bulk of which arrived via a $9 million series A round back in 2016 that ushered in American Express as an investor, via its VC arm.

Mezi had previously partnered with American Express for a pilot project called AskAmex, an app aimed at helping American Express customers find and book travel-related services from their iPhone. This pilot will continue to run through the first half of 2018, according to American Express.

“Mezi’s AI-powered experience opens up exciting new ways for us to connect with and serve our card members and creates opportunities for us to build more meaningful relationships with them,” said Phil Norman, VP of American Express Digital Labs, in a statement. “With messaging emerging as channel of choice for many, and the demand for unique experiences increasing, we believe the combination of Mezi’s capabilities with our global network of expert travel counselors creates a differentiated, high-touch service experience for our card members.”

In terms of what lies ahead for Mezi, well, the plan seems to be to continue running it as is, but as a subsidiary of American Express, where the Mezi team will continue to “develop its core technologies and enhance its capabilities” in the travel assistant realm.

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Existing EV batteries could be recharged five times faster

Lithium-ion batteries have massively improved in the last half-decade, but there are still issues. The biggest, especially for EVs, is that charging takes too long to make them as useful as regular cars for highway driving. Researchers from the University of Warwick (WMG) have discovered that we may not need to be so patient, though. They developed a new type of sensor that measures internal battery temperatures and discovered that we can probably recharge them up to five times quicker without overheating problems.

Overcharging a lithium-ion battery anode can lead to lithium buildup, which can break through a battery's separator, create a short-circuit and cause catastrophic failure. That can cause the electrolyte to emit gases and literally blow up the battery, so manufacturers impose strict charging power limits to prevent it.

Those limits are based on hard-to-measure internal temperatures, however, which is where the WMG probe comes in. It's a fiber optic sensor, protected by a chemical layer that can be directly inserted into a lithium-ion cell to give highly precise thermal measurements without affecting its performance.

The team tested the sensor on standard 18650 li-ion cells, used in Tesla's Model S and X, among other EVs. They discovered that they can be charged five times faster than previously thought without damage. Such speeds would reduce battery life, but if used judiciously, the impact would be minimized, said lead researcher Dr. Tazdin Amietszajew.

Faster charging as always comes at the expense of overall battery life but many consumers would welcome the ability to charge a vehicle battery quickly when short journey times are required and then to switch to standard charge periods at other times.

There's still some work to do. While the research showed the li-ion cells can support higher temperatures, EVs and charging systems would have to have "precisely tuned profiles/limits" to prevent problems. It's also not clear how battery makers would install the sensors in the cells.

Nevertheless, it shows a lot of promise for much faster charging speeds in the near future. Even if battery capacities stayed the same, charging in 5 minutes instead of 25 could flip a lot of drivers over to the green side.

Via: Clean Technica

Source: University of Warwick

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