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Transportation

Apple Will Use Drones To Improve the Quality of Apple Maps (bloomberg.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate link), according to people familiar with the matter. The Cupertino, California-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-and-sensor ladened minivans, one of the people said. Apple wants to fly drones around to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added. Apple is also developing new features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said. Apple filed for an exemption on Sept. 21, 2015, from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones for commercial purposes, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News. At that time, exemptions were required to commercially operate drones. In a response dated March 22, 2016, the FAA granted Apple approval to "operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography," according to one of the documents. Apple's application told the FAA that it would use a range of drones sold by companies such as SZ DJI Technology Co. and Aibotix GmbH to collect the data. Apple has hired at least one person from Amazon's Prime Air division to help run the drone team, one of the people said.
Android

Motorola Has No Plans For a New Smartwatch (theverge.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lenovo Moto today confirmed that it will not be releasing a new smartwatch for the launch of Android Wear 2.0, due early next year. The company had earlier said it would not be releasing a new smartwatch in 2016, but it is now saying that it doesn't plan to put out a new device timed to the arrival of Google's newest wearable platform, either. Shakil Barkat, head of global product development at Moto, said the company doesn't "see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time," though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year," Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto's annual device roadmap. Whether or not Moto does jump back into the smartwatch market is still up in the air, but Barkat is leaving the possibility open. "We believe the wrist still has value and there will be a point where they provide value to consumers more than they do today," Barkat said. But it doesn't appear that we'll be getting a new Moto 360 or other smartwatch any time in the near future. Google announced back in September that it would be delaying the launch of Android Wear 2.0 from this fall to next year. LG and Huawei have also confirmed that they would not be releasing new smartwatches until at least next year.
Microsoft

Nokia Dials Back Time To Sell Mobile Phones Again (bbc.com) 128

Nokia said Thursday mobile phones carrying its brand will make a comeback via a new venture that will reunite the Nokia brand with veteran Nokia execs who aim to move into smartphones capitalizing on an existing operation that sells low-cost basic phones. From a report on BBC: It's thanks to a deal with a small team based at a business park on the fringes of Helsinki, who are engaged in what will seem to many a foolhardy mission. They call themselves HMD Global -- and they believe they can make Nokia a big name in mobile phones once again. I met Arto Nummela, Pekka Rantala and Florian Seiche in a cafe on what is still the Nokia campus. That very day Arto and Pekka had stopped working for the Nokia Windows mobile phone business owned by Microsoft -- because they had acquired both it and the Nokia brand to start their new business. Yes, it is complicated, but so is the recent history of what was just a few years back Europe's technology superpower and the biggest force in mobile phones. After the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Nokia faltered and by 2011 was on what its first American chief executive, Stephen Elop, called a burning platform. Then, the phone business was sold to Microsoft, which soon found it had made a disastrous purchase as the Nokia Windows combination failed to claim a significant slice of a market dominated by Apple's iOS and Android. Now, the Finnish business -- which remained a big force in telecoms infrastructure after the sale of the mobile unit -- has licensed the Nokia brand to HMD Global, which aims to take it back to the future.
Businesses

Fitbit Is Buying Smartwatch Maker Pebble For Around $40 Million, Says Report (techcrunch.com) 94

According to a report from The Information, Fitbit is buying smartwatch maker Pebble for a "small amount" of money. One source says Fitbit is paying between $34 and $40 million for the company and is "barely covering their debts." TechCrunch reports: A source close to the company told TechCrunch that watch maker Citizen was interested in purchasing Pebble for $740 million in 2015. This deal failed and before the launch of the Pebble 2 Intel made an offer for $70 million. The CEO, Eric Migicovsky refused both offers. Pebble released the newest version of its smartwatch in October, but the past year or so has been a challenging period. It laid off 25 percent of its staff in March, while we reported last year that it was in some trouble and had turned to debt funding and loans, as well as traditional investor cash, "in order to stay afloat." Earlier this year, Pebble CEO Migicovsky confirmed that his company had raised $28 million in debt and venture financing. He blamed a more cautious outlook from VCs focused on tech as the primary reason for letting 40 of Pebble's staff go.
Cloud

Seagate Introduces External Hard Drive That Automatically Backs Up To Amazon's Cloud (theverge.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Seagate and Amazon have partnered up on a $99 1TB external hard drive that automatically backs up everything stored on it to the cloud. The Seagate Duet drive's contents are cloned to Amazon Drive, so you can be pretty confident that your important stuff will be safe. Getting set up with the cloud backup process requires plugging in the drive, signing in with your Amazon account -- and that's pretty much it, from the sounds of it. Drag and drop files over, and you'll be able to access them from the web or Amazon's Drive app on smartphones and tablets. If you're new to the Drive service, Seagate claims you'll get a year of unlimited storage just for buying the hard drive, which normally costs $59.99 annually. Amazon's listing for the Duet (the only way to buy it right now) confirms as much, but there's some fine print: Offer is U.S.-only; Not valid for current Amazon Drive Unlimited Storage paid subscription customers; You've got to redeem the promo code within two months of buying the hard drive if you want the year's worth of unlimited cloud storage; If you return the Duet, Amazon says it will likely reduce your 12 months of unlimited Drive storage down to three, which beats taking it away altogether, I guess.
Windows

Wielding Their Windows Phones, Microsoft Shareholders Grill CEO Satya Nadella On Device Strategy (geekwire.com) 157

At a meeting with shareholders Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was asked numerous times what the company is doing about Windows Phones, and why do they keep hearing that Microsoft is abandoning smartphone manufacturer business. The stakeholders also asked why the company is seemingly focusing more on Android and iOS rival platforms instead of its own. From a report on GeekWire: Microsoft shareholder Dana Vance, owner of a Windows Phone and a Microsoft Band, said he received an email about the Microsoft Pix app but was surprised to learn that it was available for iPhone and Android but not Windows Phone. Ditto for Microsoft Outlook. He also alluded to reports that Microsoft has put the Band on the back burner. Given this, he asked Nadella to explain the company's vision for its consumer devices. As part of his response, Nadella said Microsoft's Windows camera and mail apps will include the same features as in Microsoft's apps for other platforms. "When we control things silicon-up, that's how we will integrate those experiences," Nadella said. The company will "build devices that are unique and differentiated with our software capability on top of it -- whether it's Surface or Surface Studio or HoloLens or the phone -- and also make our software applications available on Android and iOS and other platforms. That's what I think is needed in order for Microsoft to help you as a user get the most out of our innovation." Another shareholder, who says he uses his Windows Phone "18 hours a day," said he has heard Microsoft is "stepping away from mobile." He asked, "Can you calm me down ... and tell me what your vision is for mobile?" Nadella answered, "We think about mobility broadly. In other words, we think about the mobility of the human being across all of the devices, not just the mobility of a single device. That said, we're not stepping away or back from our focus on our mobile devices," Nadella said. "What we are going to do is focus that effort on places where we have differentiation. If you take Windows Phone, where we are differentiated on Windows Phone is on manageability. It's security, it's Continuum capability -- that is, the ability to have a phone that can act like a PC. So we're going to double-down on those points of differentiation."
Windows

PC Market Shows Signs of Recovery (betanews.com) 113

PC shipments will continue to decline in 2016, according to a new IDC forecast, but the drop will be slightly lower than previously expected. What's more, things will improve even more in 2017. BetaNews adds: IDC expects PC vendors to ship a total of 258.2 million units this year, a figure which would be 6.4 percent lower than last year. The previous estimate was a 7.2 percent fall, which IDC announced in August. Growth will still be negative in 2017, but shipments are expected to decrease by just 2.6 percent compared to this year. IDC believes that commercial shipments of notebooks will grow this year, while desktops should stay flat in terms of growth. The pressure from mobile devices is said to decrease as the markets mature. The tablet market, in particular, is not as big of a concern or threat as it sees declining shipments as well. "The PC market continues to perform close to expectations", says IDC Worldwide Tracker Forecasting and PC research vice president Loren Loverde. "Some volatility in emerging regions is being offset by incremental gains in larger mature markets while the interaction with tablets and phones is stabilizing. We continue to see steady progression toward smaller desktops and notebooks as replacement buying helps stabilize overall shipments in the coming years".
Earth

India Unveils the World's Largest Solar Power Plant (aljazeera.com) 177

Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, India is now home to the world's largest solar plant that adds 648 MW to the country's generating capacity. Previously, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which was completed two years ago and has a capacity of 550 MW, held the title. Aljazeera reports: The solar plant, built in an impressive eight months, is cleaned every day by a robotic system, charged by its own solar panels. At full capacity, it is estimated to produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes. The project is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules, and cost $679 million to build. The new plant has helped nudge India's total installed solar capacity across the 10 GW mark, according to a statement by research firm Bridge to India, joining only a handful of countries that can make this claim. As solar power increases, India is expected to become the world's third-biggest solar market from next year onwards, after China and the U.S.
EU

Europe Is Getting a Network of 'Ultra-Fast, High-Powered' EV Chargers (theverge.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford, and Volkswagen have entered into a partnership to create a network of high-speed charging stations for electric vehicles across Europe. The new chargers will be capable of doling out up to 350 kW of power -- which would make them almost three times as powerful as Tesla's Supercharging stations. The result will be "the highest-powered charging network in Europe," according to a statement released by the manufacturers. The automakers say that construction will begin in 2017 with "about 400 sites" being targeted, and that the network will have "thousands of high-powered charging points" available by 2020. Those four major conglomerates will be "equal partners" in the joint venture, but according to the statement they are encouraging other manufacturers to "participate in the network." One of the reasons for bothering to call on other automakers to hook into this system is because there's a standards war happening with fast charging networks. The charging network announced today will use the Combined Charging System (CCS) technology, which is what that most major automakers already use for their EVs. But Nissan, Toyota, and Honda are notable holdouts from CCS, because many of their EVs and plug-in hybrids use a competing standard known as CHAdeMO.
Desktops (Apple)

Boot Camp Might Damage Speakers on 2016 MacBook Pro (digitaltrends.com) 116

An anonymous reader writes:One of the things an Apple Mac can do that Windows 10 machines can't do -- at least easily and completely legally -- is run both Windows and MacOS. Interestingly, it's Apple's Boot Camp utility that makes this feat possible, which essentially enables Macs of all flavors to boot directly to Windows 10 and use the Mac as if it were a Windows machine. Usually, this is a fairly straightforward process that works well, with the resulting Boot Camp configuration doing fairly well at mimicking a Windows 10 machine with a few hardware limitations. As of the 2016 MacBook Pro machines, however, it appears that Boot Camp might be causing some serious and uncharacteristic audio issues. It appears that the new speakers running on the refreshed MacBook Pro line aren't working so well with the obsolete drivers provided in the current version of MacOS Sierra Boot Camp. Users are reporting the issue on all models of the 2016 MacBook Pro, and they are not experiencing the issue in MacOS. Virtual machines using Parallels or other software are also not experiencing the issue, providing more support of a bad audio driver causing the problem in Boot Camp.
AI

Amazon Said to Plan Premium Alexa Speaker With Large Screen (bloomberg.com) 84

Amazon's Echo speakers have garnered a lot of interest over the past few months. Many people believe that they like Amazon Echo because of how easy it's to operate -- there is no display, you talk with Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, which is reasonably good at understanding your queries. But in what seems like a deviation from the idea that made Echos so popular, Amazon is reportedly working on an Echo-like speaker, only this time it is more premium and has a 7-inch display, too. From a report on Bloomberg: The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon's existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company's voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.
Communications

NASA X-Ray Tech Could Enable Superfast Communication In Deep Space (space.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: New technology could use X-rays to transmit data at high rates over vast distances in outer space, as well as enable communications with hypersonic vehicles during re-entry, when radio communications are impossible, NASA scientists say. The technology would combine multiple NASA projects currently in progress to demonstrate the feasibility of X-ray communications from outside the International Space Station. The radio waves used by mobile phones, Wi-Fi and, of course, radios, are one kind of light. Other forms of light can carry data as well; for instance, fiber-optic telecommunications rely on pulses of visible and near-infrared light. The effort to use another type of light, X-rays, for communication started with research on NASA's proposed Black Hole Imager. That mission is designed to analyze the edges of the supermassive black holes that previous research suggested exist at the centers of most, if not all, large galaxies. One potential strategy to enable the Black Hole Imager was to develop a constellation of precisely aligned spacecraft to collect X-rays emitted from the edges of those black holes. Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, thought of developing X-ray emitters that these spacecraft could use as navigational beacons to make sure they stayed in position relative to one another. The system would keep them aligned down to a precision of just 1 micron, or about one-hundredth the average width of a human hair. Gendreau then reasoned that by modulating or varying the strength or frequency of these X-ray transmissions on and off many times per second, these navigational beacons could also serve as a communication system. Such X-ray communication, or XCOM, might, in theory, permit gigabit-per-second data rates throughout the solar system, he said. One advantage that XCOM has compared to laser communication in deep space is that X-rays have shorter wavelengths than the visible or infrared light typically used in laser communication. Moreover, X-rays can penetrate obstacles that impede radio communication.
Japan

Japan Fukushima Nuclear Plant 'Clean-Up Costs Double,' Approaching $200 Billion (bbc.com) 302

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Japan's government estimates the cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination and compensating victims of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has more than doubled, reports say. The latest estimate from the trade ministry put the expected cost at some 20 trillion yen ($180 billion). The original estimate was for $50 billion, which was increased to $100 billion three years later. The majority of the money will go towards compensation, with decontamination taking the next biggest slice. Storing the contaminated soil and decommissioning are the two next greatest costs. The compensation pot has been increased by about 50% and decontamination estimates have been almost doubled. The BBC's Japan correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says it is still unclear who is going to pay for the clean up. Japan's government has long promised that Tokyo Electric Power, the company that owns the plant, will eventually pay the money back. But on Monday it admitted that electricity consumers would be forced to pay a portion of the clean up costs through higher electricity bills. Critics say this is effectively a tax on the public to pay the debt of a private electricity utility.
Power

Scientists Turn Nuclear Waste Into Diamond Batteries (newatlas.com) 156

Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years. New Atlas reports: How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great technical challenges of the 21st century. The trouble is, it usually turns out not to be so much a question of disposal as long-term storage. Disposal, therefore is more often a matter of keeping waste safe, but being able to get at it later when needed. One unexpected example of this is the Bristol team's work on a major source of nuclear waste from Britain's aging Magnox reactors, which are now being decommissioned after over half a century of service. These first generation reactors used graphite blocks as moderators to slow down neutrons to keep the nuclear fission process running, but decades of exposure have left the UK with 104,720 tons of graphite blocks that are now classed as nuclear waste because the radiation in the reactors changes some of the inert carbon in the blocks into radioactive carbon-14. Carbon-14 is a low-yield beta particle emitter that can't penetrate even a few centimeters of air, but it's still too dangerous to allow into the environment. Instead of burying it, the Bristol team's solution is to remove most of the c-14 from the graphite blocks and turn it into electricity-generating diamonds. The nuclear diamond battery is based on the fact that when a man-made diamond is exposed to radiation, it produces a small electric current. According to the researchers, this makes it possible to build a battery that has no moving parts, gives off no emissions, and is maintenance-free. The Bristol researchers found that the carbon-14 wasn't uniformly distributed in the Magnox blocks, but is concentrated in the side closest to the uranium fuel rods. To produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less radioactive than before. c-14 gas is then collected and using low pressures and high temperatures is turned into man-made diamonds. Once formed, the beta particles emitted by the c-14 interact with the diamond's crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. The diamonds themselves are radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield.
Google

Morgan Stanley: Pixel Phone Will Generate Google Almost $4 Billion In Revenue Next Year (9to5google.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: With initial Pixel pre-orders exceeding expectations and promising activation numbers from Verizon, Google is on track to sell three million phones with revenues of $2 billion in 2016. The Morgan Stanley estimate comes as the Pixel reportedly captured 10% of the premium smartphone market in India. Unsurprisingly, the 128GB Pixel XL has the largest gross profit margin at 25%, while the cheapest 32GB Pixel is at 22%. Morgan Stanley also estimates that, compared to the iPhone, the Pixel will be half as profitable. Morgan Stanley expects Google to sell 5-6 million Pixel and Pixel XL devices in 2017 to the tune of $3.8 billion in revenue. Google is also expected to make money from increased usage of services like Android Pay and mobile search. Google's big gains were possibly due in part to Samsung's Note 7 debacle, with the company's marketshare falling to 23%. Apple captured the number one position at 66%. Additionally, Google benefitted from running a number of promotions, including cashback and exchange programs. The company also heavily advertised in newspapers, with billboards, and for the first time displays in large retail stores.
Transportation

Self-Driving Trucks Begin Real-World Tests on Ohio's Highways (cbsnews.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: "A vehicle from self-driving truck maker Otto will travel a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 on Monday in central Ohio..." reports the Associated Press. The truck "will travel in regular traffic, and a driver in the truck will be positioned to intervene should anything go awry, Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning said Friday, adding that 'safety is obviously No. 1.'"

Ohio sees this route as "a corridor where new technologies can be safely tested in real-life traffic, aided by a fiber-optic cable network and sensor systems slated for installation next year" -- although next week the truck will also start driving on the Ohio Turnpike.

Displays

Samsung Places A Big Bet on Quantum-Dot TV, Acquires QD Vision (zdnet.com) 46

Quantum-dot televisions promise "better picture quality and are also cheaper to manufacture than organic light-emitting diode sets," ZDNet reports. And now Samsung has confirmed their acquisition of Massachusetts-based QD Vision for $70 million, according to this article shared by Dthief: QD Vision, previously known as Color IQ, is a specialist in quantum dot display technology. Developed for displays including PC monitors and television sets, quantum-dot technology uses semiconductor nanoparticles to change the properties of quantum dots, improving color definition and sharpness... QD Vision will become part of Samsung's research and development unit in the hope of creating quantum-dot LED displays suitable for the consumer market which could, in turn, become a strong competitor against OLED displays... The agreement follows Samsung's pledge earlier this year to launch a total of 14 SUHD television models this year, all of which use quantum dot technology.
First Person Shooters (Games)

New 'Doom 3' Mod Successfully Ports It Into Virtual Reality (vice.com) 42

When it comes to VR ports of popular games, "Doom 3's fluid weapon handling, interactivity, and general creepiness put it in a different class entirely," writes Motherboard. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Using the graphically enhanced "BFG" version of 2004's Doom 3, the mod from "Codes4Fun" skillfully ports to game to the HTC Vive, generally making it look as though it was designed for the platform all along. Swedish YouTuber SweViver recently posted a video showing off his first spin with it... SweViver walks and runs about naturally using only the Vive controller's touchpad...the video shows him jumping and using the mod's impressive hand-tracking to handle his gun and flashlight separately as they float before him in place of the controllers in his hands. At one point, he even whips out virtual fists that let him pummel things with the controllers' left and right triggers.
His conclusion? "This is probably the first AAA game that actually works on the Vive."
Hardware Hacking

Own An Open Source RISC-V Microcontroller (crowdsupply.com) 101

"Did you ever think it would be great if hardware was open to the transistor level, not just the chip level?" writes hamster_nz, pointing to a new Crowd Supply campaign for the OnChip Open-V microcontroller, "a completely free (as in freedom) and open source 32-bit microcontroller based on the RISC-V architecture." hamster_nz writes: With a completely open instruction-set architecture and no license fees for the CPU design, the RISC-V architecture is well positioned to take the crown as the 'go to' design for anybody needing a 32-bit in their silicon, and Open-V are crowd-sourcing their funding for an initial manufacturing run of 70,000 chips, offering options from a single chip to a seat in the design review process. This project is shaping up to be a milestone for the coming Open Source Silicon revolution, and they are literally offering a seat at the table. Even if you don't end up backing the project, it makes for very interesting reading.
Their crowdfunding page argues "If you love hacking on embedded controllers, breaking down closed-source barriers, having the freedom to learn how things work even down to the transistor level, or have dreamed of spinning your own silicon, then this campaign is for you."
Open Source

Open-Source Hardware Makers Unite To Start Certifying Products (infoworld.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld on the new certifications from the Open Source Hardware Association: The goal of certification is to clearly identify open-source hardware separate from the mish-mash of other hardware products. The certification allows hardware designs to be replicated. For certification, OSHWA requires hardware creators to publish a bill-of-materials list, software, schematics, design files, and other documents required to make derivative products. Those requirements could apply to circuit boards, 3D printed cases, electronics, processors, and any other hardware that meets OSHWA's definition of open-source hardware...OSHWA will host a directory for all certified products, something that doesn't exist today because the community is so fragmented.
After signing a legally-binding agreement, hardware makers are allowed to use the Open Hardware mark, which one of their board members believes will help foster a stronger sense of community among hardware makers. "People want to be associated with open source."

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