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Communications

Voice Calls May Be Coming To the Amazon Echo and Google Home (theverge.com) 23

Amazon and Google are interested in adding the ability to make and receive phone calls to their popular home speaker devices -- Echo and Home, reports WSJ, adding that telecom regulations and privacy are some of the things both the companies are tackling. If the companies are able to sort out the issues, the feature could make way to the home speaker devices as soon as this year, the paper reported. From The Verge: There's also the fact that you would only make calls over speakerphone, which could limit the usefulness of the feature for some users. Theoretically, it would be easier for Google to get a phone service up and running on the Home, given that it's been operating Google Voice for seven years and launched Project Fi back in 2015, while Amazon has to start from scratch to get its phone service up and running. According to the Journal, Amazon is considering a number of different options, including syncing to the user's existing phone number, call forwarding, or the Echo getting its own phone number.
Businesses

Apple Explains Why Its R&D Spending Is On the Rise (cnbc.com) 86

Apple has steadily increased its spending on research and development over the past few quarters. An executive with the company explained why that's the case. From a report on CNBC: Company's financial guru attributes the spending to something of a much smaller scale: chips. It may not sound like it, but that research is "very strategic and important" for Apple to differentiate itself from the rest of the industry, chief financial officer Luca Maestri said on Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco. "Today, we do much more in-house development of some fundamental technologies than we used to do a few years ago, when we did more of that in the supplier base -- the work we do around processors or sensors," Maestri said. "It's very important for us because we can push the envelope on innovation, we can better control timing, cost, quality. We look at that as a great strategic investment." On Tuesday, Maestri also noted that Apple's "product portfolio is much larger than it used to be," and that keeping all these products moving along in parallel adds up, especially with smaller markets, like the Apple Watch. While Maestri said Apple drops a "meaningful" amount of cash on products that do not generate revenue today, these products are not very large "in the total scheme of things," Maestri said. "They add up over time, and hopefully, those are good bets that we are making for the future of the company," Maestri said.
Transportation

'Electric Buses Now Cheaper Than Their Diesel or CNG Counterpart, Could Dominate the Market Within 10 Years' (electrek.co) 382

An anonymous reader shares a report: Transit vehicles today are mostly powered by gasoline, diesel, and CNG, while batteries only represent about 1 percent of the market. It is currently a small part of the industry, but it's also the fastest growing fuel source in the sector and it's starting to become highly competitive. Electric bus maker Proterra is ramping up production and currently claims to be cheaper than diesel and CNG. It leads CEO Ryan Popple to make a bold prediction that battery-powered buses will dominate the transit bus market within 10 years. More specifically, he says that the majority of new bus sales will be electric by 2025 and all new bus sales to transit agencies will be electric by 2030. Proterra has so far only delivered a few hundred all-electric buses, but they have been announcing several major deals lately, like 73 buses from King County's Metro Transit, that seem to indicate there's a shift in the transit industry.
AT&T

Apple Will Fight 'Right To Repair' Legislation (vice.com) 306

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple is planning to fight proposed electronics "Right to Repair" legislation being considered by the Nebraska state legislature, according to a source within the legislature who is familiar with the bill's path through the statehouse. The legislation would require Apple and other electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops, and would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public. Nebraska is one of eight states that are considering right to repair bills; last month, Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Wyoming introduced legislation. Last week, lawmakers in Illinois and Tennessee officially introduced similar bills. According to the source, an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. ATT will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. So far, Nebraska is the only state to schedule a hearing for its legislation.
Businesses

New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk (bloomberg.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: About a year ago, in a widely reported story, journalists at British newspaper the Telegraph found little black boxes installed under their desks. The devices, which had "OccupEye" emblazoned on them, detected if employees were at their workstations. Not shockingly, writers and editors were suspicious, worried that bosses were monitoring their moves, even their bathroom breaks. The National Union of Journalists complained to management about Big Brother-style surveillance. The company insisted the boxes were intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles weren't overheated or over-air-conditioned, but the damage was done, and the devices were removed. Sensors that keep tabs on more than temperature are already all over offices -- they're just less conspicuous and don't have names that suggest Bond villains. "Most people, when they walk into buildings, don't even notice them," says Joe Costello, chief executive officer of Enlighted, whose sensors, he says, are collecting data at more than 350 companies, including 15 percent of the Fortune 500. They're hidden in lights, ID badges, and elsewhere, tracking things such as conference room usage, employee whereabouts, and "latency" -- how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker. Proponents claim the goal is efficiency: Some sensors generate heat maps that show how people move through an office, to help maximize space; others, such as OccupEye, tap into HVAC systems.
Hardware

Iconic Feature Phone Nokia 3310 Coming Back this Month, VentureBeat Says (venturebeat.com) 94

The iconic Nokia 3310 feature phone is all set for a return, according to a report. VentureBeat adds: HMD Global Oy, the Finnish manufacturer with exclusive rights to market phones under the storied Nokia brand, is planning to announce four such handsets at Mobile World Congress later this month, according to a person briefed on the company's plans. Known primarily for its plentiful battery life and nearly indestructible build, the 3310 was released at the turn of the millennium as a replacement to the also-popular 3210.
Transportation

Father of Driver In Violent Tesla Crash Blames Sedan's 'Rocket-Ship' Acceleration (autoweek.com) 640

"A Tesla crash that resulted in the deaths of the driver and a passenger in Indianapolis last November is drawing new controversy after the father of one of the victims made comments regarding the role of the Model S in the incident," Autoweek reports. "The crash occurred in downtown Indianapolis on Nov. 3, 2016, with the Model S driven by 27-year-old Casey Speckman striking a tree and catching fire. Speckman was pronounced dead at the scene while her passenger, 44-year-old Kevin McCarthy, succumbed to his injuries after being taken to the hospital." From the report: A report released last week by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department disclosed that Speckman had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21, almost three times the legal limit in the state of Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reports. Another new detail has emerged since the violent crash was first reported: The Tesla could have been been trying to maneuver around a vehicle traveling on the wrong side of the street, suggested by closed-circuit footage obtained by the attorney of the driver's father, Jon Speckman. The coroner's report cited blunt-force injuries caused by the crash as the causes of death for both victims, noting the vehicle's fire as a contributing factor, according to The Indianapolis Star. Jon Speckman recently made comments to the newspaper blaming the acceleration of the Tesla Model S. "Had she been in another vehicle, she would have been alive for me to yell at her for driving after drinking," Speckman told The Indianapolis Star in an interview at his attorney's office. "This is a vehicle that travels from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds," Speckman also said during the interview. "She's clearly having to swerve to miss a vehicle going the wrong way on a one-way street. If her foot should happen to hit the accelerator, it's like a rocket ship. I don't know why they have to make a car that does that."
Google

Engineers On Google's Self-Driving Car Project Were Paid So Much That They Quit (theverge.com) 95

According to a new report from Bloomberg, most of the money Google spent on it self-driving car project, now spun off into a new entity called Waymo, has gone to engineers and other staff. While it has helped retain a lot of influential and dedicated workers in the short run, it has resulted in many staffers leaving the company in the long run due to the immense financial security. The Verge reports: Bloomberg says that early staffers "had an unusual compensation system" that multiplied staffers salaries and bonuses based on the performance of the self-driving project. The payments accumulated as milestones were reached, even though Waymo remains years away from generating revenue. One staffer eventually "had a multiplier of 16 applied to bonuses and equity amassed over four years." The huge amounts of compensation worked -- for a while. But eventually, it gave many staffers such financial security that they were willing to leave the cuddly confines of Google. Two staffers that Bloomberg spoke to called it "F-you money," and the accumulated cash allowed them to depart Google for other firms, including Chris Urmson who co-founded a startup with ex-Tesla employee Sterling Anderson, and others who founded a self-driving truck company called Otto which was purchased by Uber last year, and another who founded Argo AI which received a $1 billion investment from Ford last week.
Apple

Apple Suspends Sales of LG's UltraFine 5K Monitor Over Hardware Issues (appleinsider.com) 79

Roger Fingas, writing for AppleInsider: Apple has temporarily stopped sales of LG's UltraFine 5K monitor, due to technical problems associated with a lack of proper shielding from wireless interference. Over the weekend, Apple retail staff were told to keep the product on display yet not sell any units if people asked, according to a Business Insider source. The site added that it heard the same from a representative at a New York Apple store. Separately, AppleInsider has confirmed the organized removal from sale of the Thunderbolt 3 display. Sources inside Apple not authorized to speak on behalf of the company indicated that retail locations are retaining demonstration displays, but not selling any stock on-hand that it may receive that may actually have the shielding fix, nor filling any pending orders until otherwise informed. Big blow to Apple, which has given up on external monitors business. But at least, it's comforting to know people who wish to purchase a new display for their MacBook or MacBook Pro have several company-approved alternatives. Oh wait, they don't.
Hardware

Researchers Working on Liquid Battery That Could Last For Over 10 Years (engadget.com) 217

Jon Fingas, writing for Engadget: If Harvard researchers have their way, you may not have to worry about replacing power backs quite so often. They've developed a flow battery (that is, a battery that stores energy in liquid solutions) which should last for over a decade. The trick was to modify the molecules in the electrolytes, ferrocene and viologen, so that they're stable, water-soluble and resistant to degradation. When they're dissolved in neutral water, the resulting solution only loses 1 percent of its capacity every 1,000 cycles. It could be several years before you even notice a slight dropoff in performance. The use of water is also great news for both the environment and your bank account. As it's not corrosive or toxic, you don't have to worry about wrecking your home if the battery leaks -- you might just need a mop.
Iphone

Apple Joins Wireless Power Consortium Amid Rumors of iPhone With Wireless Charging (theverge.com) 79

If you've been holding out hope for wireless charging to come to the iPhone, chew on this: Apple joined the Wireless Power Consortium. From a report: Last week, a leaked note suggested that Apple is working on adding wireless charging to three phones scheduled for release in 2017. The technology may be similar to what the company has already implemented with the Apple Watch, though other reports have hinted at charging solutions that can add power to devices from a distance. The Wireless Power Consortium is the group behind Qi, a wireless charging standard that uses inductive power transfers to charge without cords.
Robotics

Elon Musk: Humans Need To Merge With Machines Else They Will Become Irrelevant in AI Age (cnbc.com) 251

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas. So it didn't come as a surprise when on Monday at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he predicted that over time we will see a "closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." He added, via a CNBC report: "It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second. In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk. "Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.
Wireless Networking

Qualcomm's New 802.11ax Chips Will Ramp Up Your Wi-Fi (cnet.com) 53

Your home Wi-Fi performance could soon get much better thanks to new Wi-Fi chips that Qualcomm announced today, the IPQ8074 system-on-chip (SoC) for broadcasters (routers and access points) and the QCA6290 SoC for receivers (Wi-Fi devices). They belong to the first end-to-end commercial Wi-Fi portfolio to support the all-new 802.11ax standard. From a report on CNET: Qualcomm says the IPQ8074 is a highly-integrated all-in-one platform designed for access points, gateways and routers. The 14nm chip integrates an 11ax radio, MAC and baseband, and a quad-core 64-bit A53 CPU as well as a dual-core network accelerator. It uses a 12x12 Wi-Fi configuration (8x8 on the 5GHz band and 4x4 on the 2.4GHz band) and supports MU-MIMO for uplink. As a result, it can deliver up to 4.8 Gbps while maintaining fast connections over a larger coverage area than any 802.11ac chip. On the client side, Qualcomm says the QCA6290 SoC can offer up to a 4x increase in throughput speed in a crowded network. It supports 2x2 MU-MIMO and can realize the full benefits of the 8x8 MU-MIMO thanks to its 8x8 sounding mechanism. The chip can combine 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands using its Dual Band Simultaneous (DBS) feature to deliver up to 1.8 Gbps Wi-Fi speed. Compared with 802.11ac, the chip can reduce power consumption by two-thirds.
Displays

Magic Leap CEO Defends His AR Company After Leaked Photo (mashable.com) 62

Saturday Business Insider claimed that augmented reality company Magic Leap was "scrambling to finish a working prototype before an important board meeting next week," publishing a photo described by their source as an early January prototype. An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: The image depicts a man with a kit on his back that looks as if it's in the early stages of development, but [CEO Rony] Abovitz's tweet suggested it was not intended as consumer technology. "The photo you are all excited about is NOT what you think it is," he wrote. "The photo shows an @magicleap R&D test rig where we collect room/space data for our machine vision/machine learning work. We do this in order to understand lighting, texture, various surfaces." As Mashable noted earlier, the leaked photo has done little to assuage fears the company's technology has been overhyped... A December report in The Information raised questions about whether Magic Leap was ready for primetime amid concerns that much of its work could not be commercialised or miniaturised. Two former employees also reportedly told the outlet a promotional video showing the technology in action was in fact created by the special effects company, Weta Workshop.
Magic Leap raised $1.39 billion from investors (including Google), and Abovitz's last tweet Saturday reassured fans that "We will not let you down." Mashable even suggested that "this might just be a bit of clever marketing spin by Magic Leap to greatly lower expectations before unveiling a polished product in the coming months... The worst case scenario is that this does represent the latest version of the company's prototype meant for consumers, in which case there's very little chance we will see a Magic Leap device available to consumers any time in 2017."
Displays

Nanorods Emit and Detect Light, Could Lead To Displays That Communicate Via Li-Fi (ieee.org) 33

schwit1 quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: Ever since 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, quantum dots have been in a market struggle to displace light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a backlight source for liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Now an advance by a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in South Korea and Dow Chemical may turn the display market on its head by eliminating the need for backlights in LCD devices. They have produced a LED pixel out of nanorods capable of both emitting and detecting light. In research described in the journal Science, the international team of researchers mixed three types of semiconductors to produce engineered nanorods. "The nanorods contain three different semiconductor materials," explains Shim. "The first semiconductor, which is attached at the tips of the nanorod, is the quantum dot that emits and absorbs visible light." The other two semiconductors are the main body of the rod and the shell around the quantum dot. These components facilitate and control the flow of electrons (negative charges) and holes (positive charges) to and from the quantum dot. The semiconductor materials in the rod and the shell each have a band gap in which no electron states can exist as well as band alignment. With these two semiconductors in contact with the quantum dot, the nanorods are extremely efficient at both emitting and detecting light.

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