News Roundup: Aquila, Benioff vs. Indiana, and Ebola-proof Tablets

A roundup of the week’s tech news including drone moans, IBM in China and virtual noses.


The battle between tech companies for ownership of the sky is really heating up. Last saw Google talking about its balloons, its drones and its flying wind turbines, this week Facebook revealed that their Boeing-sized, un-manned, internet-providing drone has officially taken to the skies. “We've successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK,” FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post. Speaking at the F8 developer conference this week, FB Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said there’d be more details on the project, codenamed Aquila, later this year.

Amazon may have been granted permission to test its drone delivery system, but Jeff Bezos’ company still aren’t happy. “Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing,” said Amazon VP Paul Misener to a senate subcommittee. “This is what is hard for me to believe, the slowness at which this country is moving.”

“We innovated so rapidly that the UAS [unmanned aerial systems] approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete,” he said. “We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.”


The usual dose of NSA-related headlines.

-          Canada has plenty of spying and hacking tools at its disposal.

-          Mass data collection and retention has been passed in Australia.

-          New Zealand spied on World Trade Organisation election candidates using NSA software.

-          Ethiopia does a lot of spying using German-made tech from Trovicor.

-          The Austrian government want action against NSA & GCHQ spying.

-          Lots of tech companies have signed a letter against bulk collection practices.

-          Sen. Ron Wyden says there are “plenty” of spying programs yet to come out to the public.

-          If you’re worried about NSA snooping, “You might consider closing your Facebook account,” one European Commission attorney told the European Commission attorney.

-          Dell has been accused of allowing backdoors to be created on one of its apps, something the company denies.

IBM has joined Apple in allowing the Chinese government access to its technology. “If you're a country, as China is, of 1.3 billion people you would want an IT industry as well,” CEO Virginia Rometty said. “I think some firms find that perhaps frightening. We, though, at IBM ... find that to be a great opportunity.”


Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, has a problem with the state of Indiana after its governor signed into law a bill that makes it legal for individuals to use religious grounds as a defence when they are sued by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. “We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation,” Benioff told Re/Code. “We can’t bring our customers or our employees into a situation where they might be discriminated against.” The whole interview is well worth a read.

Google Glass isn’t dead, according to Eric Schmidt. “We ended the Explorer program and the press conflated this into us cancelling the whole project, which isn’t true,” the search giant’s chairman told the WSJ – the project has been put under the watch of Nests’ Tony Fadell “to make it ready for users.”

Tim Cook is planning on giving a shed-load of cash to charity and make sure his nephew gets a good education. In an interview with Fortune, the Apple CEO also talks about the new HQ being built, coming out and how he’s not Steve Jobs.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is afraid of AI. “Computers are going to take over from humans, no question,” he told the Australian Financial Review. “Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people. If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they'll think faster than us and they'll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.”


Here’s some recent Bitcoin headlines:

-          The Bank of England is considering issuing its own digital currency.

-          The Isle of Mann has introduced regulations for Bitcoin businesses.

-          The Winklevoss twins think Bitcoin is like a “child taking its first steps.”

-          IBM may try and adapt Bitcoin’s Blockchain technology for mainstream currencies.

-          Apparently 5 million people will use Bitcoin by 2019.

-          For some reason lots of people find the Bitcoin logo confusing.

New stuff – Ebola tablets, Sirius and foldable phones

BlackBerry are still sticking their heels in. The former mobile giant has teamed up with Samsung and IBM to create a super-secure tablet for German government departments. Google, meanwhile, partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to create an 'Ebola-proof' tablet for workers in contamination zones. The Android device comes enclosed in polycarbonate and can be soaked in chlorine for decontamination.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project has moved into Southeast Asia and launched in the Philippines, providing people with the usual range of news, services and Facebook for free.

Autodesk is trying to get the kids into 3D Printing. The company’s new TinkerPlay app allows simple 3D design for people who want to print their wildest creations, but maybe don’t have the CAD skills normally required. Get the kids hooked early, good plan.

Microsoft is rumoured to be working with Cyanogen to help take Android away from Google, but two can play at that game. Researchers at Sirius Technology – which is funded by Google, ARM and DARPA - have released an open-source version of Siri and Cortana, named Sirius.

Foldable phones are the future, according to Samsung. “The industry believes that the commercialization of foldable smartphones will be possible in 2016,” a Samsung official apparently told Business Korea.

Amazon continues to try and keep ahead of the competition. Aside from offering unlimited storage for a pittance and planning to offer paid apps for free, the company has filed for a patent that would allow the company to 3D print orders from the back of a delivery van.

If you ever try on a pair of Virtual Reality goggles, people will always ask you the same thing: “Did it make you feel sick?” I’ve tried some, and yes it did make me feel a bit queasy. But researchers at Purdue University think they may have found a cure by plonking a “virtual nose” in front of you. Apparently it not only reduced the feeling of sickness, but the test group never even realised the nose was there until they were told about it, much like how we view our own noses.


Are we in a tech bubble? This week’s tech investor says yes.

This week saw Apple buy NoSQL database company FoundationDB. This isn’t the start of the Cupertino company getting into the database business, however, but rather buying some technology and expertise for its own internal systems. Feathers were rankled though after all of FoundationDB’s open source code was taken off Github, putting a lot of people’s db projects at risk.

Apple has also acquired analytics firm Acunu, Lexmark now owns Kofax, Accusoft has bought document Sharing Platform Edocr, NCC has purchased Accumuli, Hublot has snapped up social media startup Rekindle, Intuit has got its hands on Playbook HR, RiteTag has acquired ScrapeLogo and ShopKeep has bought Payment Revolution.

In the rumours section, Microsoft has reportedly bought collaboration tool maker LiveLoop, while Samsung is pondering over a bid for semiconductor company AMD.

Microsoft: No Linux for you

Windows 10 is soon upon us, but that could spell bad news for Linux. Microsoft’s latest OS will ship without making an off switch for the UEFI Secure Boot standard mandatory. Long story short: vendors like HP or Dell can ship laptops without a “Disable” option on Secure Bootlaptop, meaning alternative OSes such as Linux can’t be booted.

Meanwhile Microsoft has partnered with Samsung, Dell and a host of other regional phone manufactures to have the company’s Office Suite pre-loaded on Android devices.

One up for feminism

This year's RSA security conference has taken a stand against excessive cleavage. Organizers of the conference have sent out a new dress code explaining that staff at booths should be dressed in a way appropriate for a professional environment. It explicitly bans any clothing that is “overly revealing or suggestive” including tank tops, miniskirts, Lycra, and tops displaying “excessive cleavage.” The code also notes these rules apply to both genders, so no guys in miniskirts either.

3D Tortoises

Like tortoises? Like 3D printing? Then you’ll love the tortoise who had a new shell 3D printed for him. 


« My life as a tech teacher, part 5: It's all about control


Connected cars conference UK: Government & industry perspectives »
Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

  • twt
  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail