Tech Sector News

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Uber Technology Drives Into Portland

Uber technology and the company’s automobiles are making their way to Portland, OR. The company doesn’t have the best history with the city, but that won’t stop Portland from becoming the first U.S. market where Uber will push a set benchmarks for electrifying its fleet.

For the Portland version of Uber Electric, a program that the company rolled out to London last year, the ride-hailing company will team up with Drive Oregon, a partially state-funded nonprofit that seeks to get more electric vehicles on the road. With a combination of incentives and educational initiatives, Uber aims to make 10 percent of its Oregon fleet electric by 2019, statewide. Right now, the company says that 100 of the 6,000 active Portland Uber drivers use electric vehicles, so it has a lot of work to do.

To reach its 10 percent goal, Uber is pursuing a range of local collaborations. The company will work with Portland’s Black Parent Initiative to expand electric vehicle access to underserved communities, Cynergy E-Bikes to connect UberEATS couriers with electric bikes, and Arcimoto, an Oregon-based EV company. Uber is expected to use its auto-lease subsidiary Xchange Leasing to offer in-house deals to drivers wishing to get behind the wheel of an EV.

Uber stated about its mission in the city, “The City of Portland has also adopted some of the nation’s most aggressive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Uber Electric will help Portland and the state of Oregon achieve these important clean energy goals.” Uber isn’t the only alternative transportation company going electric in Portland. Late last year, the city became the second market for BMW’s ReachNow, a Zipcar-like service with a focus on electric vehicles, and a previous initiative by Car2Go sprinkled electric smart cars onto its rainy streets all the way back in 2012.

In a world where a quarter of cars could drive themselves by 2030, Uber’s decision to take two years to recruit a few hundred EV drivers is more incremental than revolutionary. Still, it shows that the company is implementing both long and short-term strategies for rethinking transportation, even in the midst of one of the worst PR crises the tech industry has ever known.

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technology_lincoln

On Demand Driver Technology? Lincoln Chauffeur Service Will Make You Feel Like A VIP

Automobile company, Lincoln, is testing a new service for owners of its vehicles that supply a driver on demand technology. The service is like an upscale version of Uber’s technology, in which you supply the car, and Lincoln supplies a professional driver. This driver is actually a Lincoln employee, not a spot contractor, and will drive you around and return your car to your home, basically make you feel like a VIP.

technology

The service will launch first in Miami and will let Lincoln owners order up a chauffeur via a smartphone app. The chauffeur will not only be able to drive you around, but will also return your car to your home in case others in the household need to use it, will fill it up if so required, and can even run light errands like picking up some groceries. Costs, as you might expect, are not cheap. During the pilot program, Lincoln Chauffeur will run around $30 per hour, which is actually not terrible compared to Uber until you remember you have to supply the car as well. On the plus side for Lincoln owners, they will get eight hours free of Chauffeur service included in the purchase price of their vehicle.

This is only a limited test at the moment, but Lincoln reported that it would like to expand the service to San Diego next, and then additional markets after that. It is likely a decent challenge to scale, since Lincoln’s actually employing the drivers it is using. Lincoln Chauffeur may be a bit of a departure from other mobility service offerings automakers are exploring, which include on-demand vehicle rentals and even white glove delivery of said cars to a renter’s door, but it still sounds like an interesting way to add value while driving new revenue sources in the luxury segment.

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Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Goes Corporate

Artificial Intelligence / A Cambridge, Massachusetts startup, Talla, wants to help companies to ease into artificial intelligence, and they have come up with a new service assistant bot that gives companies whatever degree of intelligence-fueled power they are looking for. The tool, called ServiceAssistant, works as an IT or HR help desk inside of Slack or Microsoft Teams and gives customers a few options on how to use it. First of all, you can run it like a conventional service desk. The user sends requests through ServiceAssistant where it gets processed and answered by a human.

Artificial Intelligence

In the second scenario, the customer eases into automation where the ServiceAssistant provides an automated answer, which gets checked by a human before being sent through to the questioner, or at the highest level of automation the system simply sends an answer when the confidence threshold is above a certain level set by the customer. Rob May, CEO and co-founder, says the company deliberately used an in-house service model instead of live customers because after reviewing the technology, he felt that the current Natural Language Processing technology was better suited to this approach.

The Talla ServiceAssistant looks like any user on Slack or Microsoft Teams. As with any Slack or Teams bot, employees can interact with it by asking questions. If it’s tuned to be an HR assistant, for example, an employee might ask, “Do we have Labor Day off?” If the system has been configured to answer automatically, it’s the kind of question that it can answer with a high degree of certainty and can simply tell the employee yes or no. In an IT Help Desk approach, the questions could get trickier such as, “How I get access to QuickBooks?” In this case, the system might find multiple matches, and if it were set for automated responses, it could ask the questioner to choose the most relevant one, or it could ask if they want to open a help desk ticket to move to the question to a human for processing.

The system is tuned to ask questions when it doesn’t understand and to learn from the responses. Since people ask questions in non-standard ways, the system can also learn that “Are we open Labor Day?” is the same as “Do we have Labor Day off?” or “Is the office closed on Labor Day?” May says even in companies where there are high usage rates for Slack or Teams, there could be as many as 20% of employees not using that tool, so they’ve also built a Web App and allow email, but the ultimate goal is to get people into the conversational tools to ask the questions; and do it in an automated way as possible.

The company wants to be more than a conversational bot, however. It wants to be a central place for processing IT and HR requests. That means having a ticket system, a knowledge base, and the ability to broadcast to employees, for example, when the system is going down for maintenance or the office is closed for a holiday. May says among his customers Slack is definitely the more popular of the two offerings today, but he believes it’s important to look at the different conversational tools and continually assess where that market is going as it’s still being established.

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automatic driving technology

GM Debuts Automatic Driving Technology This Fall

Coming in the fall of this year, GM will launch its Super Cruise advanced highway automatic driving technology, debuting first in the new Cadillac CT6. Super Cruise has been in the works for a few years now, and the semi-autonomous drive mode is almost ready for its debut, after its release date was pushed from 2016 to 2017 to give engineers more time to focus on designing the safest system possible.

Super Cruise offers features similar to Tesla’s Autopilot, which can take over control of driving in highway settings, maintaining lane position and adapting speed based on surrounding traffic. The feature will be available on a limited basis, with access narrowed to “divided, limited-access highways” with “defined ‘on’ and ‘off’ ramps” according to The Verge. The system will also track driver head position using infrared cameras built into the steering wheel that will make sure they pay attention while the feature is engaged, and will alert them via a steering-wheel mounted light notification system, and audio alerts, if they stop.
automatic driving technology

GM has also incorporate a fail-safe measure that will stop the vehicle safely if a driver ends up not being able to respond to the alerts, a feature which Tesla also implements in its Autopilot software. Super Cruise can also be updated over-the-air, another similarity between it and Tesla’s offering.

However, unlike Autopilot, GM’s semi-autonomous highway driving features incorporate LiDAR data. Tesla has refrained from equipping its vehicles with the high-resolution laser detection tech, and GM isn’t putting LiDAR on consumer cars either. Cost of components and the aesthetics likely make this an unappealing way to go, but GM has an interesting workaround to both use LiDAR data and keep it off production vehicles: It’s deploying a fleet of LiDAR mapping cars that will image highways where Super Cruise is used and make that information available to the system over-the-air.

The option is a paid add-on, with a $2,500 upgrade price and a $3,100 additional requirement if you get a trim-model that doesn’t include a driver assist suite lumped into the existing price. Super Cruise finally getting on the road is definitely exciting, but this is also the year Elon Musk has said he’s aiming to field a first coast-to-coast test of Tesla’s full self-driving technology. In other words, we’re off to the autonomous races.

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technology SkyX Ltd

Technology Breakthrough with SkyOne Drone

SkyX Ltd. recently arrived to share details about its unique industrial drone technology designs. The company’s SkyOne drones take off and land like a helicopter, but fly more like an airplane, with a range of up to 65 miles per charge. For drone industry nerds, this means they have both VTOL and fixed-wing elements.

Cameras and sensors on board enable SkyOne drones to gather data about infrastructure below and send it back to cloud-based applications for analysis. The drones also launch from and land on proprietary charging stations, called xStations, which close a kind of shell over the UAVs when they are not moving, protecting them from theft. The charging stations do not remove and replace the batteries within the drones, but charge them directly, then send the drones on their way.

technology SkyX Ltd

Other companies land their unmanned aerial vehicles on charging stations where their batteries are swapped out for fresh ones. Positioning charging stations along a route can give drones a virtually unlimited range. It’s a design idea we should expect to see until battery tech and other power systems advance significantly.

SkyX founder and CEO Didi Horn spent his earlier career flying for the Israel Air Force. Horn stated, “I always knew I wanted to develop something around drones and aviation for commercial use when I got out. But in consumer there were already great products. There was nothing great for long-range, but that’s where I knew there would be demand. There are millions of kilometers of oil and gas pipelines already built in the world today and they are all at risk of leaks, or terror attacks, you name it.”

The technology company is first focusing on the energy industry, as its drones and charging stations can be configured to cover long distances between pumping stations along oil and gas pipelines. The drones also can be used to cover acres of solar panels installed on vast farms, or wind turbines installed along roads, even in remote areas, Horn explained. The xStations can plug into a typical electric outlet. Or they can be connected to solar panels or other freestanding generators, he noted.

Though SkyX did not have permission to disclose the names of its earliest customers, it is working with several energy companies on safety tests and pilot projects today in the Americas, Horn said. The drones fly autonomously, and the company also has to secure permission in different markets to fly beyond the line of sight of human observers or pilots on the ground.

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water technology

Technology Turning Seawater Into Drinking Water

Technology / Researchers continue to examine the potential of graphene, the one-atom thin sheet of bonded carbon atoms that was created more than ten years ago after researchers first peeled a few layers off a block of graphite with some Scotch Tape, before going on to refine their technique until a sheet just a single atom thick was produced.

water technology

The nanomaterial has been posited for all sorts of potentially revolutionary uses; from faster, thinner and even transparent electronics, to biotech implants, to better battery capacity. Now researchers at the University of Manchester say they have come up with a method for controlling the permeation of graphene oxide membranes so they can act as a filter to remove salt from ocean water. By controlling the size of the pores in the membranes the team was able to prevent common salts passing through the material, turning seawater into drinking water.

While graphene has previously been demonstrated for filtering small nanoparticles, organic molecules, and even large salts, the challenge with common salts found in seawater is their small size. Graphene membranes also swell in size when immersed in water; meaning smaller sieves were required in order to block these common salts.

The team at Manchester say they used physical confinement to control the interlayer spacing within graphene laminates immersed in water, enabling them to achieve what they describe as “accurate and tunable ion sieving”, and to provide a sieve size smaller than the diameters of hydrated ions.

While they found that permeation rates for the membranes decrease exponentially with decreasing sieve size, they also report that water transport itself is only “weakly affected.” That means the filtered water flows through the membrane relatively quickly; an important factor if the aim is to develop affordable desalination technology. As well as potential uses for desalination, the team envisages wider industrial applications for “on-demand filtration capable of filtering out ions according to their sizes.” This study is detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Professor Rahul Nair, one of the scientists stated, “Realisation of scalable membranes with uniform pore size down to atomic scale is a significant step forward and will open new possibilities for improving the efficiency of desalination technology. This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes.”

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technology android king

Technology For Android Takes Center Stage As The Internet’s Most Used Operating System

Technology / Research from web analytics company Statcounter found Android technology now accounts for a larger share of internet usage than Windows for the first time. During March 2017, Android users represented 37.93% of activity on Statcounter’s network versus 37.91% for the Microsoft operating system. It’s a small gap for sure, and it refers to usage not necessary users, but it marks a notable tipping point that has been inevitable for the past couple of years.

technology android king

Statcounter, which bases its findings on 2.5 million websites that it claims generate over 15 billion monthly page views, tracked the gradual converge of usage for the two operating systems over time. The chart highlights Microsoft’s failure to challenge with its ill-fated Windows Phone platform. For Apple, the switch happened some time ago. During March 2017, Apple’s mobile users (iOS) were close to three times more active on the internet than users of its desktop machines (OSX).

The wider Android-Windows trend has been evident for some time. Windows dominated, and continues to dominate, the desktop landscape, but worldwide PC sales have declined for the past five years to reach the same levels as 2008. In contrast, sales of smartphones continue to grow, and Android is the operating system for the lion’s share of internet users worldwide. Growth is highest in emerging markets like India. There, Apple has increased its sales but remains a niche player with Android accounting for upwards of 90% of smartphones.

While the balance between iOS and Android is more level in Western markets like the U.S., the influx of new internet users from regions like Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America has tipped the scales in favor of Android. Indeed, a Statcounter report issued last week showed that mobile accounts for the vast majority of internet usage in countries like India (79%), Indonesia (72%) and China (57%) while desktop remains king in markets such as the U.S. (37 percent), UK (35 percent) and Germany (30%).

Those numbers have seen some shift in global revenue for developers, with China overtaking the U.S. as the most lucrative market for iOS apps worldwide, but Android continues to lag despite a larger base of users. A recent App Annie report found that iOS accounted for just over 25 billion of the 90 billion app downloads made in 2016, with Android taking the remainder. Yet iOS apps pulled in the majority of the $35 billion paid out to publishers across the iOS and Android app stores. That might change soon, though. Thanks again to its vast dominance in the emerging world, App Annie is predicting that 2017 could be the year that Android app earnings overtake iOS for the first time. That would be another important milestone.

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technology robot

New Technology: Robot Pizza Delivery?

The pizza company joked about driverless delivery robot technology back in 2015. The food delivery robots are coming! Remember the “Domi-No-Driver” campaign? Domino’s has joined hands with Starship Technologies to begin using its “personal delivery devices” this summer in Hamburg, Germany. If all goes well there, Domino’s and Starship intend to bring robot pizza delivery to the Netherlands as well.

technology robot

Starship’s devices have the look of a self-driving food cart, rather than some science fiction humanoid. They travel on six wheels at an average speed of 4 miles per hour, and can carry just over 40 pounds. In Hamburg, the robots will deliver pizzas within a one-mile radius.

Starship is facing significant competition in the prospering market for “professional service robotics.” Competitors range from fellow startups like Marble to established players like Boston Dynamics. The International Federation for Robotics (IFR) forecasts that between 2016 and 2019, logistics businesses will have begun using at least 175,000 robots to provide their services. That compares to UPS’ global fleet of around 100,000 trucks today.

Launched by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014, Starship Technologies also recently inked food delivery partnerships with DoorDash and Postmates in the US. But Domino’s has yet to offer pizza delivery by robot here. Many retailers and restaurants are waiting to see how robot delivery tech shapes up, but also how the rules for using these devices are set in the US market. Virginia, and as of this week Idaho, allow delivery by robot today. Other states and federal US laws are still to be determined..

Domestically, Domino’s has offered other tech-enabled and entertaining ways to buy a pie, including by Tweeting a pizza emoji to @dominos, or requesting delivery from drivers of the Domino’s DXP “ultimate pizza delivery vehicle,” a modified Chevy Spark. In New Zealand, Domino’s has also begun delivery by drones in a partnership with Flirtey.

Indeed, tech has become an international marketing gimmick for Domino’s. But learning what works, and doesn’t, in the next wave of logistics tech could spell serious cost savings, and not just near-term buzz, for any major restaurant chain that delivers. After all, robots may need maintenance, but they don’t call in sick unexpectedly or hop between employers like the people they could displace.

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formula e

Manufacturers Ready For The All Electric Race; 2018 Formula E Season

Formula E recently announced the nine manufacturers that will race electric cars in seasons five, six, and seven. You may think it’s that big of a deal, but it is. Beginning in season five, each team will race one car per driver for the entire race, instead of two.

formula e

 

Because battery technology fell behind series founder Alejandro Agag’s aspiration for all-electric racing, Formula E teams have fielded two drivers with two cars per driver. That meant four cars in the garage. Usually about halfway through the race the driver would have to pull into pit row, climb out of the first car, and jump into a second car with a charged battery.

The new single-car standard will cover seasons five, six, and seven, which begin in fall 2018. The nine manufacturers who have met this standard are: ABT Formel E, BMW AG, DS Automobiles, Jaguar Land Rover, Mahindra Racing, NextEV NIO, Penske Autosport, Renault, and Venturi Automobiles.

There are teams currently racing that are not represented on this list, including Faraday Future Dragon Racing and Techeetah. However, other manufacturers are continuing their commitment to electric open-wheel racing, like Renault, Venturi, NextEV, and Mahindra. Jaguar joined the series for 2016-2017, while MS Amlin Andretti seems to be dropping out before the new standards come into play. Mercedes-Benz had been planning to join the fray in season five, but its name is not on this list published by FIA, the series’ governing body.

There will also be a new Formula E car on the track in 2018; Spark Racing Technology will produce identical bodies for each team to paint and cover in stickers however they would like. The new battery that makes single-car racing possible will be supplied to the teams by McLaren Applied Technologies. The Roborace series should be up and running by that time, too.

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streaming technology

New Technology Allows For Seamless Integration

Technology now offers users a way to listen to music and drive together, and now a new association between music streaming app Spotify and navigation app Waze anticipates to make that experience more smooth in the connected age. The two have united so that Waze users can listen to Spotify playlists from within the app, and Spotify users can continue to get their Waze navigation instructions while in the music app.

streaming technology

The companies said the association is rolling out first to Android users worldwide. When it will be turned on for iOS is unknown. The move is an appealing for several reasons, beginning with usability. If you have ever launched Spotify while also launching a mapping app through your phone in a car, you will know that it doesn’t always work as smooth as you would prefer. This will also create a better experience on the screen. Users who are in the Spotify app will now get a short version of the next navigation instruction, while Waze users will get a short description of what they’re listening to, with the option to skip or change the music without requiring to open the Spotify app.

For Waze, it is notable that it selected Spotify first for this kind of integration. Waze tells us that Spotify is the first and only partner for this kind of app-level integration for the moment. It will be interesting to see whether Waze intends to add more integrations of music or other services down the line. More music services, to cover those who use Apple Music, Pandora, or Tidal, for example, would be an obvious start, but once you begin to think of other location-based apps or anything else you might do in a vehicle, such as search for a place to eat on Foursquare or Yelp, and you can imagine how these integrations could get very interesting.

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