Islamic State forces blew up the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, as they withdrew from the city in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of History Blocks) Can a video game reclaim centuries’ worth of lost cultural heritage in the Middle East? Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition is being used to do just that, in league with UNESCO and schools around the world. History Blocks takes advantage of the educationally oriented Minecraft platform to build virtual versions of ancient monuments — starting with sites that were destroyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The project was conceived and developed by Agencia Africa in Brazil, and put to its first test this February at Escola Bosque, a private school in São Paulo. “It is surprising to see the level of the students’ engagement in the History Blocks project,” Escola Bosque’s pedagogical director, Silvia Scuracchio, said today in a news release. “At the same time that they solve complex geometry, logic and abstract challenges, it’s possible to see how they get involved with the culture and history behind the monuments and their destruction. For many of them, it was their first contact with concepts such as cultural destruction and ideology oppression.” Students aged from 9 to 13 built up their models from historical images of the , the and the entrance to the in Syria, as well as the and the in Iraq, and Afghanistan’s . Since February, the History Blocks project has been picked up by schools in more than 30 countries using the Minecraft Education Edition. “Technology is a tool to transform education and bring to life methods that used to be unthinkable when it comes to teaching,” said Daniel Maia, manager for academic projects at Microsoft Brazil. “The project on UNESCO’s world heritage sites opens the door for students all over the world to study important monuments of our history.” Minecraft and History Blocks are great teaching tools, but if you’re looking for high-fidelity models of heritage hotspots ranging from to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, they’re covered by other software and survey programs. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a U.N. advisory panel also known as ICOMOS, is one of the leaders in the effort to document cultural sites. Over the past few years, ICOMOS’ (from the Arabic word for “phoenix”) has been conducting surveys of sites in Syria, starting with six representative buildings in Damascus. You can . A historical conservation initiative called is playing a key role in 3-D documentation, for Project Anqa as well as s around the world. CyArk’s detailed digital scans feed into Google Arts and Sciences’ . For a powerful demonstration of the technology, check ou in South Dakota. (But make sure your computer is powerful enough for the task.) Could virtual models provide enough information to rebuild lost monuments? Historians and architects certainly hope so: They’re banking on surveys of Notre Dame, including conducted several years ago under the leadership of the late art historian , to serve as a guide for the reconstruction ahead.
Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer. (Remitly Photo) Remitly, the Seattle international money transfer company, is teaming up with Visa to give people sending money abroad a new option. The companies today unveiled a plan to let people send money to Visa debit cards across borders through the push payment service. Visa Direct powers massive payments platforms such as Square’s credit card readers and Uber payments to drivers. Out of the gate, users will only be able to send money from the U.S. to debit card holders in other countries. Remitly and Visa hope to add more sender countries to the program later. “Our highest priority is to create the best possible money transfer experience for immigrant communities and their families around the world. Our customers have unique money transfer needs including a need for more choices in how they send and receive money,” Matt Oppenheimer, Remitly co-founder and CEO said in a statement. “This collaboration with Visa, the world’s leader in digital payments, helps us meet this need with instant scale, security and reach that will help us continue to improve our service.” Remitly describes itself as the largest independent mobile remittance company in North America, and it has more than 800 employees worldwide. In December it , and it is now active in 40 nations across the globe. Remitly’s technology helps eliminate the need for forms, codes, agents, and other fees typically associated with the international money transfer process. The company allows free transfers if the sender can wait three days for the funds to arrive; it charges a $3.99 flat rate for same-day transfers and credit card transfers include an additional 3 percent fee. Customers send more than $6 billion each year with Remitly — up from $4 billion in 2017, and $1.5 billion the year prior — which also works with a global network of more than 40,000 bank and cash payout partners. It has helped more than 1 million customers to date. Total funding is $175 million to date, including a $115 million investment round that was one of the largest for any Seattle startup in recent years. Remitly’s investors include Naspers’ PayU; World Bank’s International Finance Corporation; Silicon Valley Bank; Stripes Group; DN Capital; QED Investors; Tomorrow Ventures; Trilogy Equity Partners; Bezos Expeditions; Founders’ Co-op; and DFJ.
Former Sounders FC defender James Riley uses TorrX’s ball pump. (Photo via TorrX) TAYLOR’S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN SPORTS TECH: Inflating a soccer ball or football with the exact amount of air doesn’t seem like a huge deal. But whether it was the controversy that arose from “” or the damage an overinflated soccer ball can have on a teenager’s head, accurate gauge pressure is actually quite important. That’s why is finding early traction with its high-tech ball pump that has a built-in gauge and LED screen, making it easy to quickly inflate or deflate a ball to a precise pounds per square inch (PSI) measurement. Customers from around the world at all levels of soccer, from Major League Soccer to NCAA to leagues in Europe, are using the pump. The Seattle-area startup is focusing initially on soccer, but basketball, volleyball, rugby, and water polo teams have purchased its product. The company has validation from athletes like , a former Seattle Sounders FC defender who is building a youth soccer coaching program. “I have seen a lot of products come and go during my college and MLS career, but I really believe TorrX is the pump of the future because it is so accurate, easy to use, and durable,” he said in an email. Former U.S. Olympian and World Cup hero , who is now an assistant coach with the Santa Clara women’s soccer team, also vouched for the pump, particularly with . “I absolutely love my TorrX because it confirms that the weight of the ball will be age appropriate and absolutely spot on,” she told GeekWire. “As a coach, and parent, having the proper air pressure in the ball reassures me that the players and my kids will be safe. Anything we can do to help lower the number of concussions, the better. If the weight is right, as advocates for the game and its players, we can feel good sending our kids out to play. And at the end of the day, the experience on the field should have them leaving the field better and happier than when they got there.” Tom and (Photo via TorrX) , a veteran entrepreneur and City of Kirkland councilmember, came up with the idea for Torrx with his co-creator Sally Otten. “The TorrX checks a number of boxes for the user,” he said in an email. “First, it was designed to virtually eliminate the stresses that lead to needle breakage. In fact, this was the primary problem that seeded the effort to create the TorrX. Second, the TorrX enables easy access to a new level of accuracy in ball sports. Now, there is really little excuse for a ball that is under or over inflated. Coaches/referees/league or match management can now become much more specific about what constitutes a perfectly inflated ball for their sport and be sure the standard is easily adhered to.” The pump can inflate 50 soccer balls on one charge. It designed to get better over time, with algorithms that learn how to get the PSI more and more accurate with each use. The pump is currently available on but TorrX is exploring other sales channels. The company is bootstrapped and employs less than ten people in the Seattle region. Highlights from the week in sports tech Seattle Mariners pitcher James Paxton . Mobile alerts helped my colleague Kurt Schlosser , but he also relied on a $150 per month cable subscription. Perhaps the NBA’s idea will find traction. Speaking of the Mariners, the only way fans can watch next week’s game against Texas on May 16 will be via Facebook. The game won’t even be on TV. It’s part of Facebook inked with the MLB. Retired NBA star Chris Bosh showed up at the launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — GeekWire space and science editor Alan Boyle . Fornite has become a cultural phenomenon. Now the video game is being blamed for keeping pitcher David Price off the field. The NBA and Intel Capital a new collaboration. Topgolf continues to stay innovative, with Lyft, which will have designated pick-up and drop-off zones at the high-tech golf driving range facilities. ESPN inked a deal with UFC , ESPN+. Former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard , Rival. NFL rookie QB Sam Darnold to enhance film sessions. looks at how video and new tech is changing track and field. Can blockchain technology ? The inventor of the yellow first-down marker was into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Thanks for tuning in, everyone! — Taylor Soper