Weekend Roundup: Microsoft’s Big Acquisition, Blue Origin Aims High

Quite a week, huh? Before you close your browser and do something other than work, let’s take a quick look at some of the week’s tech stories, including Microsoft’s huge new, healthcare-focused acquisition, as well as Jeff Bezos’s latest space milestone.

Microsoft Bets $19.7 Billion on the Future of Healthcare

Microsoft kicked off the week in a big way, announcing the $19.7 billion acquisition of Nuance, a cloud and A.I. company notable for its voice-to-text transcription engine. But Microsoft didn’t shell out that mountain of cash purely for voice-to-text technology; in a corporate blog post, the company suggested it was interested in Nuance’s longtime presence in healthcare. 

Nuance’s healthcare offerings include Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting, along with integrations with “core healthcare systems” and Electronic Health Records. That blog post claimed that 55 percent of U.S. physicians and 75 percent of radiologists already rely on Nuance in some way for clinical documentation and other services.

“Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise AI,” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, wrote in a statement. “AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Nuance.”

Given the size of the healthcare industry, Microsoft clearly sees a good reason to bet nearly $20 billion. But given how other tech giants have made huge bets in healthcare that didn’t quite pan out—for example, IBM could end up selling Watson Health, its A.I.-powered healthcare initiative, due to lack of profitability—there’s still some risk involved here. 

New York City Accepts Scooters

After years of aggressive back-and-forth, New York City will finally allow Bird, Lime, and one other company to unleash their rental e-scooters on the streets. The third company, VeoRide, is smaller than the other two, although it will offer both standing and sit-down e-scooters.

A few years ago, as the e-scooter craze swept the county, New York City remained one of the few holdouts among major cities. That infuriated e-scooter advocates, who argued that the vehicles could fulfill the demand for “last mile” transportation, particularly in an ultra-crowded urban environment. As e-scooter firms drew massive investment (at one point, Uber sniffed around acquiring either Bird or Lime as a quick way to enter the “micro-mobility market”), the city’s position seemed more and more backward and antiquated. 

However, e-scooter hype soon began to fade, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Lime and Bird both laid off significant staff, raising questions about whether micro-mobility was a sustainable business. Now that New York City has finally approved this trial program, it remains to be seen whether interest in e-scooters will revive—or if, like so many times before, the city government has decided to embrace something once it’s far too late.

Blue Origin Wants to Put People in Space

Elon Musk better watch out: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wants his space startup, Blue Origin, to carry people into orbit soon. 

Blue Origin’s most recent suborbital launch was “a verification step for the vehicle and operations prior to flying astronauts,” the company stated (hat tip to The Verge for digging up the quote). The actual date for rocketing humans into the atmosphere hasn’t been announced publicly, but chances are good that it’ll happen soon. At which point, the space race between Musk and Bezos will likely ratchet up in intensity.

That’s it, everyone! Have a great weekend!