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News Roundup: Google I/O, smart cars and wooden microchips

A roundup of the week’s tech news including lasered retinas and IoT Teddy Bears.

Google I/O

It’s conference week! Google’s I/O conference saw a host of new features announced in a range of different areas. New mobile OS Android M promises tighter security, better battery life and fingerprint scanning along with Android Pay. Google’s move into the Internet of Things was announced with Brillo, an Android-based OS for IoT devices, while there were also promises of offline maps, photo storage, a family-friendly apps store and an upgrade to Android Wear. VR also played a part; we saw the second iteration of Google Cardboard [1 million units sold] announced, and it’s now big enough to hold an iPhone. The search giant has also partnered with GoPro to help create panoramic video rigs.

There was also that patent for terrifying IoT-connected teddy bears.

Green Tech & Wooden Microchips

Lots of Green news lately. Greenpeace has released its annual Clicking Clean report, which names and shames the least enviro-friendly tech companies and highlights the ones embracing renewable energy. The report hailed Apple – a company Greenpeace waged war on for a while – as well as Google, but gave the likes of Oracle, Amazon and eBay very low scores.

Up to 90% of the world's electronic waste - worth nearly $19 billion - is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to the UN. Following on from a recent UN report looking at the scale of the world’s eWaste, Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenged in the Waste Sector predicts that 41 million tonnes of e-waste generated each year isn’t disposed of properly and instead falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries such as Nigeria, China and India.

The EU has followed in the US’s footsteps and voted for Dodd-Frank style laws restricting the use of conflict minerals. Although it is yet to come into law, the European Parliament voted in favour of obliging companies that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products to disclose where they source their materials from and steps they are taking to avoid any sourced from conflict zones.

Perhaps we could live in a future where all of those rare metals aren’t even needed after scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a biodegradable semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood. The chips are made of a translucent material known as Cellulose NanoFibrils (CNF) – created by adding water to wood pulp – reducing the need for expensive and often toxic materials traditionally used in microchips. "Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer,” said Professor Zhenqiang 'Jack' Ma.

Apple has announced that it’s going eco-friendly for its iPhone & iPad packaging. The Cupertino giant said it will “aim to protect as much as 1 million acres of responsibly managed working forests which provide fiber for pulp, paper and wood products” and wants to achieve a net-zero impact on the world’s supply of sustainable virgin fiber.

Verbatim

Despite his government spending $3.5 million on it, Australian PM Tony Abbott think kids coding is ridiculous. "Let's just understand exactly what the Leader of the Opposition has asked," the Prime Minister said in parliament. "He said that he wants primary school kids to be taught coding so they can get the jobs of the future. Does he want to send them all out to work at the age of 11? Is that what he wants to do? Seriously?"

Peter Thiel is giving up on his plans of a floating libertarian tech island. “I’m not exactly sure that I’m going to succeed in building a libertarian utopia any time soon,” he said while speaking at George Mason University. “You need to have a version where you could get started with a budget of less than $50 billion.”

Someone developed an app that allows you to confess your sins. Great, but what did the Vatican think? “I must stress to avoid all ambiguity, under no circumstance is it possible to ‘confess by iPhone’,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. “The rites of penance require a personal dialogue between penitents and their confessor cannot be replaced by a computer application.”

Richard Stallman, the Che Guevara of free and open software, isn’t a fan of Windows and OS X. "Apple systems are malware too: MacOS snoops and shackles; iOS snoops, shackles, censors apps and has a backdoor,” he wrote in the Guardian. "Even Android contains malware in a nonfree component: a back door for remote forcible installation or deinstallation of any app."

NSA

The US senate voted last week to block the USA Freedom Act, a bill which would have ended the NSA’s bulk phone collection programs. However it also vetoed a bill which would have extended the program. The result? It seems as though the NSA will start winding down its collection efforts today.

But just because there’s no phone data collection doesn’t mean there’s not lots of NSA-related headlines:

The EU says it has no plans to install backdoors, except the UK, which is going the other way and getting very invasive. And also Canada.

The NSA may or may not be spying on Periscope and Meerkat, had plans to hack the Google App store and put tracking devices in medical supplies, and asked Berlin to spy on Siemens.

Lockheed Martin says NSA is testing smartphones that recognize finger swipes.

Many of the NSA’s defenders have financial links to NSA contractors. And some just lie. One senator thinks the NSA is collecting too little data to be useful, while Chris Christie still thinks Ed Snowden is a criminal.

Steve Wozniak thinks Ed Snowden is a hero.

Ed Snowden won’t reveal his preferred pizza toppings.

The head of the NSA says encryption is good, as long as you give him access.

The head of Silent Circle is moving to Switzerland to avoid being spied on.

People were worried about internet spying when the internet was still the ARPANET.

Russian OS

Russia doesn’t want your American technology. Not only is the government working on home-grown CPUs that can support x86 code and banning any foreign services that withhold blogger data, they’re trying to wean themselves off iOS and Android too. According to ZDnet, the Russian government is enlisting Jolla [the Finnish company behind Sailfish OS] to develop a Kremlin-approved fork of the Linux-based operating system.

M&A

So, the Salesforce sale is off. Apparently Microsoft was the company giving Marc Benioff & Co. the eye but pulled out after they failed to agree a price.

Avago has spent a whopping (and record breaking) $37 billion on Broadcom, Apple has acquired Augmented Reality startup Metaio and GPS firm Coherent Navigation, Facebook has bought Tugboat Yards while its VR subsidy Oculus has taken over Surreal Vision. Sony has bought Optical Archive Inc., the company span out of Facebook and helped make Blu-Rays a viable “cold storage” option. Equinix has merged with Telecity, CA has purchased Rally, EMC now owns Virtustream and HP splashed out for ConteXtream. Dropbox has got its hands on Umano, Accenture has snaffled Javelin Group, Fortinet has acquired Meru Networks, Pantheon has purchased Drupal backup service NodeSquirrel, and Elbit Systems has agreed to buy Nice Systems.

Former Kickstarter darling Ninja Block is shutting down after running out of money and not delivering the goods. Another black mark on the list of crowdfunding projects which fail to deliver.

Plenty going on in the rumour mill. Is Microsoft mulling a Blackberry buyout? Is Twitter eyeing up Flipboard? Is Intel near a deal for Altera? Is Yelp up for sale? So many questions.

Cars & Drones

Smart cars are the future. But you’ll have to decide which brands you want to go for first. Uber, Nissan and Ford are all working on their own self-driving automobiles, while the race to become the dominate in-car OS is just starting to hot up. Hyundai and Chevy have both announced cars that will carry either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Now that the first horses have bolted expect many more to follow soon.

Amazon has revealed a bit more about its drone delivery system. The eCommerce giants wants to be able to use UAVs to track your location through your phone and drop your package off exactly where you are. GoPro is also working on drones.

Devices! Software! Lasers!

It wasn’t just Google that announced some gadgets and stuff. Lenovo announced a smartphone that can project an interactive screen onto any flat surface as well as a smartwatch with a “private” second screen at their own Tech World conference in Beijing.

Fujitsu has decided it likes the look of your eyeballs and announced a pair of smartglasses which use lasers to project images directly onto the user’s retina. Which sounds completely safe.

Microsoft has announced that Cortana is coming to iOS and Android.

Huawei has also launched an Internet of Things Operating System entitled LiteOS. Although announced before Google’s Brillo, it hasn’t attracted the same kind of headlines.

Mozilla has decided to make a U-turn on its mobile strategy. According to an email from Mozilla CEO Chris Beard, the non-profit is abandoning its affordable $25 handsets. “We have not seen sufficient traction for a $25 phone, and we will not pursue all parts of the program,” he wrote. “We will build phones and connected devices that people want to buy because of the experience, not simply the price.”

KFC might be best known for their finger-licking good fried chicken, but they also occasionally make finger-typing good keyboards. Last year there was this masterpiece from China, and now there’s the new grease-proof tray keyboard from the German branch. The “TrayTyper” connects wirelessly to your smartphone, preventing you from getting chicken goodness all over your screen. They were so popular in the test store that every single one was nicked.

And in Apple news, the nice people over at ThinkApps have released a free tool that helps you create a prototype Watch app without having a clue about coding nor an actual device to hand. You can also get 1991’s Mac OS on your Android Wear watch if you really want to. Not that you would. But you could. 


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Dan Swinhoe

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

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