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The 7 Best Netflix VPNs – TechEye

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Ever since it first launched, Netflix has been the leading streaming service in the world. And while Netflix’ library is impressive, not every movie or TV show is available in every country. The reason for this is copyright law.

When Netflix buys the rights to a TV show or a movie, they buy the rights for a specific region. Sometimes, they can distribute the content everywhere in the world. For instance, this is the case with most original Netflix shows. But in other cases, different distributors buy the streaming rights for different countries. For example, Netflix may stream your favorite show in the United States, but not in the Australian market.

This is a good thing for content producers, and it’s also good for Netflix. Different regions and countries have different regulations. By negotiating different deals in different areas, both producers and distributors get a fair deal. Unfortunately, this can be inconvenient if you can’t get the content you want to watch.

One solution is to use a VPN. A VPN routes your internet traffic through a secondary server, called a proxy server. When Netflix sees your device, they won’t see it coming from your ISP. They’ll see a connection from the country your VPN server is based in. So if it’s a US server, Netflix will think you’re in the USA.

​At least, that’s how it works in theory. In practice, Netflix actively tries to block VPN connections. As a result, when you try to stream Netflix over most VPNs, you get an error code. It simply says: “Whoops, something went wrong. Streaming error. You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.”

This can be disappointing, to say the least. Instead of having access to the TV show you wanted, you’re back in geoblocking land. Thankfully, there are a handful of services that are capable of getting around the Netflix VPN ban. We’ve put together a list of the best VPN providers for Netflix.

The 7 Best VPNs for Netflix (2020)

So, how did we choose the best Netflix VPNs? Simply put, we performed thousands of tests to find which VPN providers reliably unblock Netflix. In addition, we looked for the following criteria:

  • HD-capable Netflix streaming connection speeds
  • Good privacy and security features
  • Wide device compatibility
  • Good customer service
  • Fast, competent customer service
  • Good warranty coverage

Here’s a list of the 7 best Netflix VPNs. After that, we’ll also talk about VPNs to avoid, as well as how to set up a VPN for watching Netflix. We’ll also talk about how the Netflix VPN ban works, and how we tested our top VPN choices. Let’s take a closer look!

1. ExpressVPN

If you’re looking for the best Netflix VPN, bar none, ExpressVPN is at the top of the pack. It works in most countries, and unblocks the Netflix libraries for the US, UK, Japan, France, Canada, Australia, and Germany, among others. It also unblocks most other streaming services, so you’ve got a complete multi-functional VPN. It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can cancel your subscription if you don’t like it.

The most impressive feature we found in the course of our ExpressVPN review was a dedicated Netflix page. This allows you to easily select server locations to unblock Netflix in select areas. These servers do change from time to time, but their chat support is very friendly if you ever need a hand.

ExpressVPN will reliably unblock Netflix on every platform we tested, including iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux, Fire TV, and even some WiFi routers. With a single account, you can connect up to five devices simultaneously, so multiple people can stream throughout your house. You can even use ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer smart DNS proxy to unblock your game console or Apple TV. Regardless of your device, you’ll enjoy gorgeous 1080p picture quality with virtually zero buffering.

We found speeds suitable for HD streaming without buffering.

Pros:

  • Unblocks most major streaming services
  • Blazing fast speeds
  • ​Excellent privacy and security
  • Does not log user traffic
  • Friendly customer service

Cons:

  • A bit pricey
  • Configuration options are fairly basic

ExpressVPN

If you’re looking for the best Netflix VPN, bar none, ExpressVPN is at the top of the pack.


2. NordVPN

NordVPN is a solid choice if you’re not concerned with accessing a ton of different countries. It will unblock Netflix libraries for the US, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands, which is a fairly limited scope, but still a ton of content. On the upside, you get excellent privacy and security and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Many NordVPN reviews focus on the limited content, but many forget to mention the security. They won’t log your IP address, and all connections are encrypted. In addition, you can also connect to BBC iPlayer and several other popular streaming services.

Pros:

  • Servers are optimized for Netflix
  • Supports up to 6 simultaneous connections
  • Does not log user traffic
  • All connections are encrypted
  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Somewhat limited content
  • Interface can be twitchy

NordVPN

NordVPN is a solid choice if you’re not concerned with accessing a ton of different countries.


3. Surfshark

Surfshark is an affordable, minimalist VPN service that unblocks Netflix in a limited number of countries. You can connect to servers in the US, Canada, France, or Japan. Not even the UK Netflix library is supported. That said, you get reliable service and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

You also get very fast connection speed regardless of your device, and you can connect on Windows, iOS, Android, and MacOS, so most devices will be able to connect. As an added bonus, you can take advantage of unlimited simultaneous connections and share your service with your friends and family.

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Fast connection speeds
  • Secure connection

Cons:

Surfshark

Surfshark is an affordable, minimalist VPN service that unblocks Netflix in a limited number of countries.


4. CyberGhost

CyberGhost is a no-nonsense VPN that unblocks Netflix in just a few seconds. On each server, you’ll see a list of which services it will unblock. If you see Netflix, click on the word “Netflix”, wait for it to connect, and you’re good to go. It will even open Netflix for you! If the server doesn’t work, you can give it a thumbs-down to report it. Don’t forget to leave a thumbs-up to good, fast servers, though. They’ll be easier for other users to find.

In addition to a simple interface and high speeds, CyberGhost also offers responsive customer support and a 45-day money-back guarantee that beats the industry average. You can run CyberGhost on Windows, iOS, Anrdoid, or MacOS. The only major downside is that it will only connect to American Netflix servers.

Pros:

  • Active user community
  • Fast connection speeds
  • Does not log user traffic
  • Affordable pricing

Cons:

  • Only connects to the American Netflix library

CyberGhost

CyberGhost is a no-nonsense VPN that unblocks Netflix in just a few seconds.


5. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN allows you to access the Netflix libraries of 20 different countries, more than any other VPN on our list. This is all the more impressive considering that PrivateVPN is a young company, and only has about a hundred servers. When you log in, the servers with the best streaming service are all clearly labeled, which makes them easy to find even if you don’t have any experience with VPN apps.

PrivateVPN performed very well on our speed tests. Even if you’re taking advantage of all six simultaneous connections, you can watch your favorite shows in full HD without buffering or loss of quality. All of this comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee in the event of any problems.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally fast connections
  • Unblocks Netflix in 20 countries
  • Does not log customer traffic
  • Supports up to six simultaneous connections

Cons:

  • Small server network
  • Chat support only available during business hours

PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN allows you to access the Netflix libraries of 20 different countries, more than any other VPN on our list.


6. IPVanish

IPVanish didn’t start out as a Netflix VPN. In fact, their main selling point is the number of simultaneous connections they support. Up to 10 users can connect at the same time, so this is a great choice for whole-house privacy as well as unblocking your favorite streaming services.

That said, IPVanish did recently add several services for US and UK Netflix traffic. Whether they expand this to other countries is up in the air. But if you just want to access these two Netflix libraries, IPVanish will keep you entertained as well as keeping your connection secure.

Pros:

  • Supports up to 10 simultaneous connections
  • Very fast connection speeds

Cons:

  • Only unblocks US and UK Netflix

IPVanish

If you just want to access the US and UK Netflix libraries, IPVanish will keep you entertained as well as keeping your connection secure.


7. Hotspot Shield

If you’ve shopped for VPNs in the past, you’re probably aware that Hotspot Shield is not technically a “new” VPN. In fact, they’ve been around since 2005. But they were acquired by tech firm Pango in 2018, and have since added support for unblocking multiple Netflix libraries. They also support multiple other streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and ITV Hub.

This upgraded offering could still use some work. For instance, if you need to contact customer support, prepare for long hold times. But the price is right, and the 45-day money-back guarantee means there’s zero risk in giving Hotspot Shield a shot.

Pros:

  • Unblocks multiple Netflix libraries
  • Supports up to five simultaneous connections
  • Encrypted connections
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Lackluster customer support

Hotspot Shield

If you’ve shopped for VPNs in the past, you’re probably aware that Hotspot Shield is not technically a “new” VPN. In fact, they’ve been around since 2005.


Hit-or-Miss Netflix VPNs

Some VPNs will work with Netflix, but don’t make the cut for any number of reasons. Some don’t work consistently, or require you to frequently switch servers. Others don’t consistently offer enough download speed for Netflix streaming. Still others don’t offer an app to unblock Netflix on iPhone or Android devices, and even more have significant privacy issues.

So, which of these borderline services can be potentially useful? They didn’t make our top seven, but here’s a list:

  • AirVPN
  • Astrill
  • Avast SecureLine
  • Avira Phantom
  • BlackVPN
  • BulletVPN
  • CactusVPN
  • F-Secure Freedome
  • FrootVPN
  • Goose
  • Hide.me
  • Hide My Ass
  • Ironsocket
  • Keenow Unblocker
  • Le VPN
  • LiquidVPN
  • McAfee Safe Connect
  • Mullvad
  • Norton Wifi Privacy
  • Private Internet Access
  • Private Tunnel
  • ProXPN
  • ProtonVPN
  • PureVPN
  • SaferVPN
  • SlickVPN
  • Speedify
  • StrongVPN
  • Surfeasy
  • Torguard
  • VPN Area
  • VPN Tunnel
  • VPN Unlimited
  • VyprVPN
  • Windscribe
  • Zenmate
  • ibVPN


VPNs That Never Work With Netflix

A smaller number of VPNs should never be used for Netflix under any circumstances. Here’s a quick list of these VPNs, and why they should be avoided.

Blockless

Blockless was initially blocked when Netflix first introduced their VPN ban in 2016. At the time of this writing, they have not restored this capability.

Buffered

Buffered was originally able to evade Netflix’s ban. However, it has not been able to unblock Netflix on either the MacOS or Windows client since September of 2017. Last year, Buffered customer support stated that a fix was in the works, although there was no official release date or other information. For the time being, Buffered remains unable to stream Netflix traffic.

GetFlix

If any VPN service were going to unblock Netflix, you’d expect it to be GetFlix. After all, it’s in the name. Unfortunately, this cheap VPN service is no longer able to access Netflix. When GetFlix first launched, it was marketed specifically as a Netflix VPN. But for the time being, they remain unable to deliver your favorite Netflix shows.

HideIPVPN

HideIPVN used to be able to unblock Netflix. However, when Netflix banned VPNs in 2016, HideIPVN’s service was also banned. At the time of this writing, they have no plans to modify their service to support Netflix access.

Hola

Hola is a free VPN service, so it’s tempting to download. You don’t have to sign up for a one or two-year plan or hand over your credit card information. Unfortunately, Hola won’t unblock Netflix. Even worse, they have a record of using their users’ computers to distribute pornography, pirated movies, and even to hack websites. Stay away from Hola and use a more reliable VPN provider.

Opera VPN

Opera VPN is an easy-to-use proxy that’s built into the Opera browser. It offers excellent privacy and security, so it’s a great choice for professionals. Unfortunately, it won’t unblock Netflix streaming.

Overplay

When Netflix first banned VPNs, Overplay fought back admirably. Until the the fall of 2017, they intermittently supported Netflix. Unfortunately, they seem to have given up, and no longer advertise any support for Netflix streaming.

Tunnelbear

Tunnelbear does not unblock Netflix, nor does it claim to. This VPN service can help you get around geographic restrictions on various other services, such as YouTube. But for the time being, Tunnelbear is currently not capable of unblocking Netflix. They also don’t seem to have any plans to do so in the future.

Unblock-Us

Unblock-Us stopped supporting Netflix unblocking on July 5th, 2016. It can still intermittently work on certain devices, but the functionality is not worth your time or effort. Use another VPN service that offers reliable streaming.

Unlocator

Unlocator no longer works with Netflix, ever since July of 2016. Like Buffered, the company has claimed to be working on a fix. Also like Buffered, their VPN service does not unblock Netflix at the time of this writing. Until something changes, Unlocator is not an effective Netflix VPN provider.

Unotelly

Unotelly has not been able to evade Netflix geoblocking since the original ban in the first half of 2016. Like some other providers, they claim that they are working on a fix to unblock Netflix. But the streaming service has not worked via Unotelly since it was first banned.


How to Use a Netflix VPN to Change Your Country

Now that you’ve chosen your VPN, the next step is getting everything set up for streaming. Starting out with a Netflix VPN is surprisingly easy, and requires just four simple steps. Here’s how it’s done.

Sign up for Netflix

It might sound obvious, but you need to have a Netflix account in order to start streaming. You can create your account on virtually any device, in any country, and with any payment method. Most smart TVs come with the Netflix app pre-installed, which makes it easy to get started.

To create an account, first access the Netflix app or visit their website in your browser. Click the button that says “Join Free”, and you’ll have a few different options. The plans have different options and pricing, but all of them are free for the first month.

  • A Basic Netflix subscription is the most affordable options. However, it only allows you to stream in standard definition, which looks like pre-HD TV. It also limits you to streaming on a single screen at once. The Basic service is best if you’re watching on your smartphone, and if you’re only using Netflix by yourself.
  • A Standard Netflix subscription costs a few dollars more, but it allows you to stream on two screens at once. It also lets you stream in full HD, which is why it’s the most popular Netflix plan.
  • A Premium Netflix subscription is an ideal choice for large families, since it allows you to stream on up to four screens at once. In addition, it supports 4K streaming if your ISP connection can handle it.

Once you’ve chosen a plan, you’ll need to enter an email address, a password, and a payment method. You won’t be billed right now, but keep in mind that you will automatically be charged once your free month has ended. If you don’t want this to happen, you’ll need to cancel your account before the month is out. As long as you’re okay with this, complete the checkout process and log in with your browser or app.

Install Your VPN

Now that Netflix works, it’s time to install your VPN. Exactly how you do that will depend on which VPN you’re choosing and what device you’re using. Our top VPNs offer good mobile support as well as browser support. That said, it’s easiest to start out on a PC, Mac, or laptop, since changing location is typically simpler with this interface. Once you’ve confirmed that everything else is working smoothly, you can move over to your mobile device.

Once your VPN software is installed, launch the app and sign in. In most cases, the VPN will automatically connect to the fastest proxy server by default. This means you’ll probably end up on a server in your own country, since it’s geographically close. To browse the international Netflix library, simply choose a VPN server from the country you want to connect from. Exactly how you do this will depend on the VPN and device.

Once you’re done, you should be able to browse anything you want. You can watch U.S. Netflix from anywhere in the world, no matter where you want to watch American Netflix shows. Similarly, you can browse from any country to get access to that own country’s own unique Netflix library.

Verify Your VPN Connection

In most cases, that’s all you should need to do to to browse Netflix from anywhere in the world. However, just for security purposes, you might want to ensure that your VPN connection is working as expected. To do this, you’ll want to navigate to ipleak.net, or any other service that will run an IP address lookup on your connection.

When it returns the results, the service will tell you what country you’re in based on your IP address. If your VPN connection is secure, this will be the country the VPN proxy server is located in. If the results are showing your location instead, you’ve experienced an IP address leak, and could potentially be at risk. This shouldn’t be an issue with any of our top seven VPN providers, but it’s been an issue with some companies.

Enjoy the Show!

Now that everything is set up, all you have to do is enjoy your Netflix experience. Open your browser and browse their library for your favorite shows. If you don’t like what you see, you can simply use your VPN to switch to a different country.

Keep in mind that your new connection might also cause some shows to disappear from your catalog. For example, if you’re located in the US and connect to a proxy server in the UK, you’ll be able to watch Doctor Who, which is a UK exclusive. On the other hand, you won’t be able to watch The Queen, the series about Queen Elizabeth II which is ironically a US exclusive. To watch The Queen, you’d need to connect to a US proxy server instead.

Change Servers if Necessary

Assuming everything is working properly, this should be all you need to do. Now you’re ready to watch TV without any interruptions. That said, even on the most reliable VPN service, you might occasionally run into the dreaded “Whoops” message. This means that Netflix has detected that your IP address is on a VPN server. This can happen even on good services, for reasons we’ll talk about in a minute.

The good news is that a well-run VPN provider has multiple server nodes in each country. First, close your Netflix app. Next, open your VPN app and look at the list of servers in the country you want to connect to. Choose a different server, and wait for the connection to resolve. Next, reopen Netflix and see if your show plays. If needed, you can switch servers multiple times.

Some devices don’t offer native support for VPNs. These include most smart TVs and sticks like the Roku. There are solutions for this in the FAQ below. If you’d rather not mess with any of those options, the easiest route is simply to connect to Netflix from a PC, Mac, or laptop browser. This makes it easy to ensure your IP address does not get detected.


Netflix VPN FAQs

Why is Netflix content different in different countries?

The reason Netflix content is different between different countries has to do with copyright law. Because copyright law is different in Canada and Australia, for instance, streaming rights are handled differently in those territories. It just makes sense for streaming services to negotiate for rights in different areas separately.

Why does Netflix block most VPNs?

VPNs allow customers to bypass Netflix’ geographic restrictions on their content. If Netflix does not take measures to ensure that people can’t watch content from outside their territory, they could expose themselves to legal risk. They could be sued by content creators, or by other streaming services who are losing customers. They could even damage their relationships with producers and lose access to content altogether. For all of these reasons, it’s in Netflix’ interest to block VPN traffic.

Is it wrong to use a VPN to stream Netflix?

To begin with, let’s be clear: the TechEye team is made up of tech enthusiasts, not professional ethicists. We’re not your mom, and we’re not the police. That said, let’s look at what a VPN is. It’s a tool that’s designed primarily for privacy, not for watching TV shows. After all, VPNs have been around a lot longer than Netflix has.

Many people use VPNs every day, and we recommend that you do too. For one thing, they help you maintain some level of privacy from advertisers and other people who want to know your location. In addition, it protects you from many types of snooping, including from hackers on unsecured public WiFi networks. In certain countries with strict censorship laws, it can even be impossible to access most of the web without a VPN.

So, suppose you’re using a VPN, which you have every right to do, and which you should probably be doing anyway. Why should you not be allowed to connect to Netflix?

The VPN ban is a blunt tool, and it makes sense that Netflix did what they needed to do to keep their content creators happy. But it’s not wrong to use a VPN for Netflix streaming.

Which countries will these VPNs work in?

In theory, these VPN services will unblock the US Netflix library in any country. They will also work for most other countries’ libraries as well. The only exceptions are countries where VPNs are blocked by a national firewall, most notably China. In this case, you’ll need to choose a VPN that’s capable of connecting from one of those countries.

In the rest of the world, these VPNs will work just fine, provided you have fast enough internet access. They’ve been tested in several countries, and all of them will unblock US Netflix in the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • ​Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • ​Ireland
  • ​Israel
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • UK

Our top seven VPN providers should work in most other countries as well. These are just the ones where we know for sure that they’ve been tested.

Will every VPN unblock Netflix in every country?

The best VPN services will unblock Netflix in most countries. We’ve focused specifically on VPNs that reliably unblock the US Netflix library, since that’s the largest library and the one with the most exclusive offerings. That said, most of these VPNs will work for most other countries as well.

Does unblocking the Netflix app work the same as unblocking Netflix in a web browser?

No. When you access Netflix from a web browser like Chrome or Firefox, your computer’s WiFi or Ethernet card handles all of the traffic. If you’re connected to the VPN, everything will go to the VPN. In their Android and iOS devices, Netflix has installed software that attempts to override the device’s DNS settings.

This means that instead of connecting to the VPN, the app will create its own separate connection through the nearest public DNS server. In other words, even if you have a working VPN connection, Netflix will still know where you are. All seven of our best VPN choices will prevent this from happening, but you might have issues with other VPN providers.

I like to watch Netflix on my console or smart TV, and they don’t support a VPN. How do I unblock those devices?

If you want to watch another country’s Netflix library on a Smart TV, Roku, or game console, you won’t be able to install a VPN app on your device. Seems like you’re out of luck, right? Depending on your router, you might not be. Many routers allow you to flash the firmware to install special router-based VPNs like DD-WRT or TomatoUSB.

Of course, it’s understandable if you’re uncomfortable installing a VPN on your WiFi router. In that case, you can always buy a pre-configured VPN router from ExpressVPN or another reputable manufacturer. Alternatively, you can use a laptop as a virtual router and enable your VPN on that. This works on Mac or Windows, and only takes a few minutes to set up.

That said, configuring a virtual router can be a pain. An easier alternative is simply to cast your Netflix shows from Chromecast, Apple TV, or another screen casting app. Simply run the VPN app on the device you’re casting from, and you’re ready to go.

Will a smart DNS proxy unblock Netflix?

A smart DNS proxy performs a similar function to a VPN, but it works a little bit differently. Instead of redirecting all your traffic through a proxy server, a smart DNS proxy instead looks for specific requests, and sends only those requests through the proxy. So, for example, you could watch a movie on the UK Netflix servers via a proxy server and simultaneously Google the leading actress via an ordinary DNS server.

In the weeks and months following Netflix’ original DNS ban, smart DNS proxies like Unblock-US, Unlocator, Overplay, and Unotelly became hugely popular. They were an easy VPN alternative, and many Netflix customers switched over during this time period. This only lasted for a few months until Netflix caught on to it, and they ultimately banned most smart DNS proxy servers.

It’s important to note that there are still a few smart DNS proxies that will unblock Netflix traffic. However, the only one that works 24/7 is MediaStreamer, a service offered by ExpressVPN. It comes free with your ExpressVPN subscription, and is actually the default ExpressVPN connection type. Other than that, steer clear of smart DNS proxies for Netflix streaming.

Is it legal to use a VPN for Netflix?

Yes. There is currently no law against accessing Netflix via a VPN connection. That said, it is most certainly against Netflix’ Terms of Service to use a VPN to access another country’s Netflix library. Specifically, the Terms of Service state:

“You may view Netflix content primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such content. The content that may be available to watch will vary by geographic location and will change from time to time.”

From the start of the ban to the time of this writing, Netflix has consistently blocked most VPN servers from their service. However, in all that time, we have not seen a single story of a Netflix customer being banned or otherwise penalized for using a VPN. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll get the “Whoops” error and need to switch servers.


How the Netflix VPN Ban Works

So, how does Netflix ban VPNs to begin with? To begin with, they banned known VPN server IP addresses. However, there are simple workarounds to this type of banning, and it was easily circumvented by NordVPN, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, LiquidVPN, Buffered, and others. By changing IP addresses on a regular basis, these services were able to ensure that Netflix couldn’t simply keep a library of known VPN IP addresses. And if Netflix does block a particular server, the block will only be effective until the server generates a new IP.

Since then, Netflix has needed to get smarter. One of the ways they’ve done this is to focus on connections coming from data centers instead of residences. This has helped to squeeze out larger players, since it’s difficult to run a larger VPN service without a large data center. On the flip side, Netflix has also targeted connections that don’t use public DNS servers, and by frequently changing their geolocation URLs. This has forced smaller services to invest in larger-scale resources for geolocation, pushing many of them out of the market.

Given all this activity, how has Netflix not managed to block all VPN traffic by now? In a recent interview, Buffer CEO Jordan Fried speculated that Netflix is intentionally allowing some VPNs to keep working.

His reasoning is that if Netflix wanted to, they could easily block all traffic from VPNs. All they would have to do is tie their customers’ viewing library to their billing address. That way, it wouldn’t matter where users were connecting from. But licensing is based on where content is actually viewed, not where it’s being paid for. In other words, if Netflix were ever sued by a producer or rival service, they could simply argue that they were doing the best they can.

In fact, it’s not just Netflix that’s handling VPNs in this fashion. HBO Now, Hulu/Disney+, BBC iPlayer, and other streaming services are all implementing similar VPN bans. These bans all work slightly differently, so a VPN provider that works on one service may not work on another. Still, most of them should work with most of the VPNs on our list.

They will all work with ExpressVPN, which is another reason it’s our top pick for best Netflix VPN.

ExpressVPN

If you’re looking for the best Netflix VPN, bar none, ExpressVPN is at the top of the pack.




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Student entrepreneurs score with AI and haptic device

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A team from Trinity and Queen’s took the top prize at the annual competition for third-level students organised by Enterprise Ireland.

Students who developed a handheld haptic device to help people feel the energy of sports matches have received the top prize at this year’s Student Entrepreneur Awards.

Field of Vision was created by Trinity College Dublin students Tim Farrelly and David Deneher, along with Omar Salem from Queen’s University Belfast.

The device aims to enable people with blindness or visual impairment to better experience sports games. It uses artificial intelligence to analyse live video feeds of games, translating what’s happening on screen to tablet devices through haptic feedback.

Field of Vision was one of 10 finalists in the competition, which is organised annually by Enterprise Ireland. The student team has won a €10,000 prize and will receive mentoring from Enterprise Ireland to develop the commercial viability of the device.

But there were several other winners at the awards ceremony, which took place virtually today (11 June).

Marion Cantillon of University College Cork won a €5,000 high-achieving merit award for her biofilm that eliminates the need for farmers to use plastic or tyres to seal pits and reduces methane emissions.

Dublin City University’s Peter Timlin and University of Limerick’s Richard Grimes also won a high-achieving merit award for their socially responsible clothing brand, Pure Clothing.

Diglot, a language learning book company founded by Trinity College Dublin students Cian Mcnally and Evan Mcgloughlin, took home a €5,000 prize. This company, which has achieved sales in 19 countries to date, weaves foreign words into English sentences in classic novels, allowing the reader to absorb new vocabulary gradually.

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Ivan McPhillips, a lecturer in entrepreneurship, innovation and rural development at GMIT, won the Enterprise Ireland Academic Award.

Along with the prize money, the winners will also share a €30,000 consultancy fund to help them to turn their ideas into a commercial reality. Merit awards were given to the remaining six finalists, along with €1,500 per team.

‘Springboard for tomorrow’s business leaders’

This is the 40th year of Enterprise Ireland’s Student Entrepreneur Awards, a competition that is open to students from all third-level institutions across the country.

The winner of last year’s competition was Mark O’Sullivan of University College Cork, who developed a device to help detect brain injuries in newborns.

Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, said the competition provides a platform for students to showcase their business ideas and acts as a “springboard for tomorrow’s business leaders”.

“Previous winners and finalists have gone on to achieve success both nationally and internationally,” he added.

“We’ve had over 250 entries for this year’s awards, with applicants demonstrating ingenuity in their approach to solving real-world problems across a range of sectors.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, congratulated the winners. “I’m really impressed by the calibre and ingenuity of the ideas put forward, especially given the significant challenges that came with this unprecedented year,” he said.

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Rocket men: Bezos, Musk and Branson scramble for space supremacy | Space

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It was a week in which two space-faring billionaires tussled again in their futuristic game of cosmic oneupmanship. And this time, for once, Elon Musk was not at the party.

The declaration that Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and world’s richest man, was heading into space next month on the first crewed launch of his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket was followed quickly by an apparent leak from within Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic empire that the British tycoon might look to upstage him with a Fourth of July Independence Day spectacular of his own.

Branson’s team was quick to downplay the possibility, insisting a date for his first spaceflight had yet to be determined. But beyond what some might see as vain billionaires using real-life rockets as playthings, the episode underscores how close the lucrative yet still fledgling commercial space industry has come to routinely launching paying passengers into outer space and achieving a goal two decades in the making.

On Saturday, the winner of an auction for a seat to accompany Bezos and his brother Mark on next month’s big space adventure will be announced on the Blue Origin website. On Thursday, the bidding reached $4.2m for the 11-minute round trip.

“Many congratulations to Jeff Bezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans,” Branson said in a tweet directed at his rival. “Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space – how extraordinary! Watch this space … ”

Absent from Branson’s tweet was any mention of Musk, whose nonconformist Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – better known as SpaceX – has grown from a shaky start in 2002 to become the dominant player in the commercial space sector, and a key partner of the US space agency, Nasa. The company is already regularly flying astronauts to the international space station, and is renting out its Dragon space capsule this fall for its first private spaceflight, taking a crew of four on a three-day orbital odyssey.

With differing longer-term ambitions and goals, the three billionaires have collectively upended the traditional government-funded and directed model for human spaceflight and are shaping a thriving new commercial space era, according to Matthew Weinzierl, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert in the economics of space.

“SpaceX’s recent achievements, as well as upcoming efforts by Boeing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to put people in space sustainably and at scale, mark the opening of a new chapter of spaceflight led by private firms,” he said.

Elon Musk at the Kennedy Space Center in January 2020. ‘Musk is totally about Mars.’
Elon Musk at the Kennedy Space Center in January 2020. ‘Musk is totally about Mars.’ Photograph: Joe Skipper/Reuters

“They have both the intention and capability to bring private citizens to space as passengers, tourists and eventually settlers, opening the door for businesses to start meeting the demand those people create over the next several decades.”

Weinzierl expects there to be a gradual shift from money spent in space to benefit Earth, such as investments in telecommunications and internet satellites and infrastructure, to the so-called space-for-space economy, including mining asteroids or the moon for materials that will be necessary to support human habitat and fuel deeper-space missions to Mars or beyond.

Bezos and Musk always had loftier goals in mind, even as they were taking their first tentative steps in the space industry, experts say. But their visions diverge beyond flying humans in low Earth orbit, or even suborbital flight, as Bezos’s brief July venture will be.

“Musk is totally about Mars. His passion is to get people to Mars as a backup plan to Earth, and to make humanity a multi-planet species,” said Marcia Smith, founder and senior analyst of spacepolicyonline.com.

“Bezos is interested in the moon, and in the space between Earth and the moon. He wants to move all of the heavy industry off Earth and into cislunar space. He talks about rezoning Earth for light industry and habitation.

“So they both are interested in trying to save Earth because of all the problems Earth is having, but they have very different visions as to how that’s going to happen.”

Nasa has embraced both billionaires as it pursues its own exploration programs. In April, the agency chose SpaceX to build the spacecraft to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972, a decision Blue Origin has challenged. The enigmatic Musk reacted in typically bellicose fashion, tweeting: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol” in reference to Bezos’s so far unsuccessful efforts to launch a crew into space.

Blue Origin, meanwhile, is developing a separate, reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, New Glenn, under a Nasa contract to supply satellite delivery capability, although the project has stalled.

The operations of both companies have the potential to attract billions of dollars of investment to the US through commercial clients, and Weinzierl sees space as the “ultimate industry of the future”, though he says it may take longer than this century to reach its potential.

“The sector has changed a great deal over the last two decades, largely in that there are new competitors seeking to serve private customers in addition to governments,” he said.

“At the same time, Nasa and other public agencies are still the dominant sources of funding and specific plans for space beyond low Earth orbit, where the private satellite market has long been active. Even SpaceX, for all its success, wouldn’t be where it is without Nasa’s partnership.”

Smith argues that Musk has created his own luck to position SpaceX as the leading pioneer in the new private space market.

Richard Branson on the floor of the New York stock exchange after Virgin Galactic went public in October 2019.
Richard Branson on the floor of the New York stock exchange after Virgin Galactic went public in October 2019. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Musk has really transformed the business, and brought commercial business back to the United States, by lower prices and reusability. He has really made a change,” she said.

“Bezos is trying to build this New Glenn rocket and is having setbacks with the engine.”

John Logsdon, the respected professor emeritus at George Washington University and founder of the Space Policy Institute, phrased the differences between the two tycoons another way, in a 2018 interview with the Guardian.

“Musk’s style is to brag about things and then do them. Bezos’s style is to do things and then brag about them,” he said.

“I’d call it competition, and competition is the American way of life.”

As for Branson, the Virgin founder scored a major success last month when his SpaceShipTwo rocketplane reached an altitude of 55.4 miles, either in space or at the edge of it, depending on which calculation of the Karman Line, the perceived boundary of outer space, is being used. It brings his long-awaited but much-delayed aspiration of a profitable space tourism business a significant step closer to realization.

How relevant the Bezos brothers’ flight aboard New Shepard, his rocket named as a tribute to Alan Shepard, the first American in space, will be to Blue Origin’s wider ambitions is open to question, although Weinzierl, the Harvard professor, sees it as more than a publicity stunt.

“It’s about demonstrating in the most powerful way he can that he trusts in the technology,” he said.



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FTC approves $61.7m settlement with Amazon for pocketing driver tips • The Register

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The US Federal Trade Commission on Friday announced the approval a consent order against Amazon that requires the company to pay $61.7m to resolve charges that for two and a half years it took tips intended for Amazon Flex drivers and concealed the diversion of funds.

The deal was proposed in February but required sign-off from the US trade watchdog. It arises from FTC charges that Amazon misrepresented both to Amazon Flex drivers and to the public what the company would pay for delivery work.

The tech giant launched its Flex service in 2015, promising drivers – which it classified as independent contractors and referred to as “delivery partners” – that it would pay $18-25 per hour for the delivery of goods from Amazon.com, Prime Now (household goods), Amazon Fresh (groceries), and Amazon Restaurant (takeout).

Amazon’s ads made promises like, “You will receive 100 per cent of the tips you earn while delivering with Amazon Flex.”

However, during the period from late 2016 through August 2019, drivers – who, as independent contractors, paid for their own car, fuel, maintenance, and insurance – saw only a portion of the promised gratuity when customers opted to tip.

That’s because Amazon allegedly, without telling its drivers, shifted to a “variable base pay” rate, which varied by location, wasn’t disclosed to drivers, and was frequently lower than the promised hourly range.

“Under the variable base pay approach, for over two and a half years, Amazon secretly reduced its own contribution to drivers’ pay to an algorithmically set, internal ‘base rate’ using data it collected about average tips in the area,” the FTC complaint [PDF] explains.

“The base rate varied by location and sometimes varied within the same market. But this algorithmically set ‘base rate’ often was below the $18-$25 per hour range that Amazon had promised at the time of drivers’ enrollment and in specific block offers.”

To make up any difference between the base rate and the advertised minimum, Amazon is said to have used some or all of any tip left by customers to meet its payment commitment. For example, if Amazon set a base rate for a region at $12 and the customer left a tip of $6 via Amazon’s electronic tip collection system, then the company paid the driver only $12 and augmented the payment with the $6 tip, instead of paying the $18.

To conceal this calculation, Amazon displayed driver earnings in its driver app as the combination of its base rate and any tip rather than listing the two amounts separately. As described in the FTC complaint, Amazon did so deliberately and adopted a strategy to avoid communicating to drivers that their earnings had been affected by its pay rate change.

“Amazon employees also acknowledged internally that Amazon was using customer tips to subsidize its minimum payments to drivers, and that these subsidies were saving Amazon millions of dollars at the drivers’ expense,” the complaint explains. “In August 2018 emails, Amazon employees referred to the issue as ‘a huge PR risk for Amazon’ and warned of ‘an Amazon reputation tinderbox.'”

When questioned by a reporter about its Flex pay practices in February 2019, Amazon offered a response that ducked the question, the complaint says. In May 2019, the FTC told Amazon it was investigating the company’s Flex payment practices. Then in August 2019, Amazon announced an “Updated Earnings Experience,” offering terms similar to its initial unfulfilled commitment – to let drivers keep 100 per cent of any tips.

The $61.7m settlement represents the amount of tips that Amazon allegedly withheld from drivers and it forbids Amazon from misrepresenting the likely income of drivers and from changing how tips are used as compensation without prior driver consent. Those requirements will last 20 years and be subject to civil penalties of $43,792 per violation.

The FTC says it will disburse the funds to affected Flex drivers within six months of receiving payment and driver information from Amazon.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. ®

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