A roundup of the week’s tech news including drone houses, new VR Intel, and AA battery-powered headgear.
Two major companies working in the mobility space, two major acquisitions, and two big announcements around the self-driving taxi future.
Ford made a double announcement around self-driving this week. The US car giant has acquired Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS to “further strengthen its expertise” in the space, while also promising that fully self-driving cars from Ford will be available by 2021 for its ride-hailing or sharing services. These cars will reportedly have no steering wheels or pedals, despite current laws demanding otherwise.
Meanwhile, Uber this week released two pretty major bits of news. The ride-hailing service announced it had acquired Otto, the self-driving truck business headed up by former Googler Anthony Levandowski. Aside from the self-driving chops and in-house LiDAR tech, does this indicate Uber are going to muscle in on the AI logistics space?
The other news is that Uber will start rolling out self-driving cars to customers in Pittsburgh this month. According to Bloomberg, the cars will still have a human minder, but the Volvo XC90s will be doing their own driving. It could well be the start of the end for Uber’s 1 million+ human drivers.
As I’ve previously written, Uber might be a poster child for the sharing economy, but only for as long as it needs to be. Uber CEO Travis Kalanickand has long said he’d snap up self-driving cars as soon as was viable. A quote from an Uber driver in the Guardian sums up the situation pretty well:
“It feels like we’re just rentals. We’re kind of like placeholders until the technology comes out.”
Google’s new OS and AA battery powered Glass
What is Fuchsia? We know it’s a new operating system from Google. We know it’s on GitHub. We know that instead of Linux, it’s based on the Magenta kernel, possibly indicating it’s going to be aimed at embedded systems. But that’s it. Is it a replacement for Chrome, or Android, or Brillo? Perhaps maybe all three. Perhaps none. Maybe a new CarOS? Maybe one for VR or AR. Answers on a post-card please.
Despite its troubles with the public explorer program, Google has charged ahead with new iterations of Google Glass. The latest patent sees the company take what was already a bulky and unevenly weighted system and add housing for batteries. Found by PatentYogi, the search giant’s latest designs include options for AAA, AA, or 9-volt batteries.
Intel goes all in for Virtual Reality
Intel missed the mobile revolution, but the chip giant is hell bent on getting in on the Virtual Reality game ASAP. The company showed off Project Alloy – a Mixed Reality or “Merged Reality” headset – at its developer forum in San Francisco. A non-tethered headset akin to Microsoft’s HoloLens, Intel says it will reveal the plans publicly available next year so other manufacturers can build the device (using Intel chips and its RealSense camera technology of course).
The company also revealed a special VR powering vest. Eschewing the PC on a backpack design, the prototype vest has enough charge for an hour and half’s worth of VR fun using a Rift or Vive-like device.
Microsoft also made an appearance at Intel’s conference to show off its Holographic Shell Demo. Reportedly coming to all Windows 10 computers from next year, the demo shows off a fully virtual office (including a VR puppy), giving you the chance to do all your work wearing a hot and heavy headset that will probably make you feel sick after 20 minutes.
Shock headline: loads of those companies valued at a billion dollars-plus but not making any profit might be overvalued. According to SharesPost, up to 30% of US-based Unicorns will either be acquired or go public for less than their current valuations.
Snapchat has acquired search app Vurb, Salesforce has snapped up Beyondcore, Rakuten has bought Bitcoin startup Bitnet, water company Xylem has purchased smart meter company Sensus, Datapipe has paid out for Adapt, NEC now owns Brazilian security company Arcon, and ScienceLogic has got its hands on AppFirst.
- The NSA has been hacked and some of its tools have been leaked online
- UK police is outsourcing its cyber-crime efforts
- You can now review the UK’s surveillance powers in one handy PDF
- North Korea won’t let its Olympians keep their shiny new Samsung phones
- Cyber experts aren’t very impressed with either Trump’s nor Clinton’s tech policies
They might not have filled the skies yet, but apparently drones will soon be affecting how we design buildings. Engineer Charles Bombardier, along with industrial designer Ashish Thulkar, has come up with a new drone-friendly building design. That’s the Ehang-style people-carrying taxi kind of drone, not your 5kg DJI variety.
“My Drone Tower…would look like a futuristic condo building, with large balconies built to accommodate small electric aircraft or shipping drones,” he wrote in Wired. “You wouldn’t need to buy your own drone, you’d simply order a ride with an app like a taxi—and hop in right from your terrace.”
Despite lots of marketing to the contrary, McDonalds mostly just sells food that makes you fat. So it was newsworthy enough when Ronald McDonald & Co. announced they would be giving away free activity trackers with their happy meals.
“Step-it is in line with McDonald’s general philosophy for Happy Meal toys, which is to make toys that encourage either physical or imagination-based play,” McDonald’s Canada Senior Marketing Manager, Michelle McIImoyle told CityNews.
According to Mashable’s robust testing, the Step-it is flimsy, inaccurate, and doesn’t tell you once you’ve burned off your Happy Meal. But what did you expect from a free toy in a cheap kid’s meal?
Unfortunately, what could have been some nice PR turned into a disaster after children started suffering skin irritations which saw the device being pulled after just a couple of days. Expect them to be worth a fortune on eBay shortly.
Drone Image - Ashish Thulkar and Charles Bombardier via Wired
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Kathryn Cave looks at the big trends in tech