FAA Will Likely Require Drone Registration Soon

 

The Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to announcing rules for using recreational drones, and will likely start with the requirement to register every drone once it is purchased. However, the registration will only be able to help the FAA keep count of how many there are purchased, and to identify drones that cause collisions and break rules.

Will this signal the start of other laws to follow? Will previous owners of drones need to also register? Surely, registering the hundreds of thousands of drones already in the U.S. that are used for recreational purposes will not be an easy feat.

The number of drones has been steadily increasing over the years, as the FAA has reported pilot sightings of drones over 650 times this year. This number has jumped greatly in one year as pilots reported sighting a drone 238 times for most of 2014. An even greater influx of drones in the sky are expected shortly after the holidays as the FAA has estimated that 1 million drones are expected to be sold for Christmas.

Tesla’s Automatic Driving Capabilities Rolling Out

gty_tesla_new_model_03_jc_141010_4x3_992

“Autopilot” features such as steering and parking will be available for newer Tesla Model S sedans today, but CEO Elon Musk cautions that drivers should still keep ahold of the steering wheel. If the steering wheel has no hands on it during the automatic driving, a notice displaying “hold steering wheel” will illuminate on the dashboard. Also, in more difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop.

Tesla, which this month unveiled its Model X SUV, has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. Its expertise in software has made it a leader in self-driving features, which more traditional carmakers have been slower to develop. Musk estimated that within three years, cars will be able to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything,” but regulatory approval could take years. He added that regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.

 

Ding Dong the Fire Phone is Dead

As Apple demonstrated its brand new lineup of smartphones, it looks like Amazon was quietly killing off its own.

Amazon had been rumored to be working on a smartphone for years before the Fire Phone was unveiled. Just over a year ago we got our first look at the device, and all the predictions about Amazon’s phone being inexpensive were wrong; the high price tag and gimmicky features kept consumers away and the phone flopped. Now even Amazon has admitted defeat by ending sales of the device.

You would have to really dig for the Amazon Fire Phone now as most links to the phone in Amazon’s Fire device pages have been removed. When you do find them, both the AT&T and unlocked Fire Phone show up as unavailable and no more stock is expected. This isn’t just a question of running out, they just aren’t being offered for sale on Amazon’s website anymore.

Amazon’s move to stop producing the phone is no surprise. Despite all the buzz, it failed to become the success the company hoped. Only a few months after shipping, Amazon admitted last October that it took a $170 million charge mostly associated with the Fire phone and related supplier costs, and $83 million worth of phone inventory surplus.

While Amazon blamed the phone’s flop on badly pricing the device, some in the industry pinned the failure on the phone’s concept. Like Amazon’s other Fire devices, the Fire Phone ran a heavily customized version of Android without Google’s services. Amazon supplied the apps, music, video, and everything else. This was the Fire Phone’s greatest weakness as Amazon’s services lacked many of the features that make Android phones great. Fire OS is fine for a content consumption device like a tablet, but not a phone. The Fire Phone had a feature called “Dynamic Perspective” that used head tracking to adjust the UI, but it didn’t really make up for the missing features.

Sky High Wi-Fi

image

In many places around the world, Internet connectivity is an almost unheard-of luxury. Roughly 4 billion people have no access to the web. Much of India doesn’t even have functioning lavatories, public or private. Much of the Third World went straight to mobile phones and never developed a copper wire infrastructure, which makes delivering Internet at reasonable speed hard and expensive. What to do?

The answer from two of our online overlords came into closer focus this week when Facebook revealed their Internet drone and Google announced that it was working with Madagascar for that island state to be the first customer for its balloon based platform, Project Loon. In both cases, the idea is to get a platform high enough to beam a laser-based Internet signal to Earth, which can then be distributed through a network of repeating towers to remote towns and villages.

Both projects have a pretty high gee-whiz factor. The Facebook drone has the wingspan of a 737 and in theory, will be able to deliver “tens of Gigabits per second” from twice the height at which a 737 would normally fly. It’s solar powered and pretty much Star Wars awesome. The Loon is a little more pedestrian, but still way cool. Think microwave tower suspended under a Zeppelin.

In principle, all this tech applied to bring the Internet to billions of poor people is a laudable, perhaps noble idea. Communication brings people together. Having access to the world anywhere in the world no matter your status is surely a good thing? But so is clean water, childhood immunization, education for girls and women, the end to genital mutilation, universal health care and contraception…the list goes on.

Whether you like Bill Gates or not, you have to grant that he and his wife have almost single-handedly taken on some of the greatest curses of the poorest people in our world and made a huge difference. They have pretty much eliminated the horrific parasite Guinea Worm, and they are closing in on a bunch of other diseases which plague the world’s poor. They are doing this with well-managed grants; they have donated over $30 Billion so far. I have no idea how many Loons or drones you could get for $30 Billion —a few I’m guessing — but how about we eliminate Malaria first?

The sad fact is that to the narcissistic tech wonders who rule Silicon Valley, Drones and Loons are cool. Malaria, not so much. How about we do the Loons and Drones, but we donate an equal amount to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and help them give a reasonable standard of life to the future customers of those Wi-Fi services?

Search Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Search-Wars-Logo-e1421429928227We have all been bystanders as the tech giants duke it out in various arenas. Microsoft won the battle for the desktop, Google won search, Apple won the device war, and the phone war continues. The supremacy enjoyed by Google in search has been so strong for so long that we have all stopped talking about it, except as a possible cause of anti-trust law suits. That could be changing, and the cause might well be Windows 10.

Microsoft has had the Bing search platform for a good while now, but it’s only loosely integrated with their other products. It was once terrible; now it’s pretty good. In most cases, it’s just about indistinguishable from Google, and has clawed its way to about 20% of the overall U.S. search market. However, those clever guys over in the Evil Empire of Microsoft have plans.

In the new Windows 10 version (which is officially released today), Microsoft has wrapped search around all of its components. Irrespective of what you may be looking for, whether on your PC, in your Outlook or anywhere on the web, Windows 10 will be able to give you an answer without you ever leaving the Windows environment.  Since that environment is to be found on something like 93% of all desktops, that must be a little worrying to our good friends at Google. In addition, the new Windows browser is supposed to be lightning fast. The start bar is back, their digital assistant is impressive, and all in all, what I’ve seen looks both modern and very usable.

I’ve put in for the free upgrade, and I’ll know more once I get my eager little hands on it. However, if I’m rattling around on my Windows desktop using mostly Windows programs, I might not be bothered to go open a Chrome browser just to search on Google. Of course, there will be an adoption curve. There is still a measurable number of Windows 3.1 users, but if the Windows 10 search is as good as it looks, this is going to hurt Google’s search market share, and it will once again be game on in Search Wars. I’m getting popcorn; want some?

Fiber for Free?

Googlefibre

Google is now bringing its high-speed Internet connection, Google Fiber, to public housing scattered throughout the U.S. in order to ensure students can get online whenever they want completely for free. Google’s new initiative is part for the ConnectHome program launched by the government along with the US department of Housing and Urban Development. Google did not specify how many individual homes will be included in the new program.

As of now, Google Fiber is only available in a handful of locations including Austin, Texas; Kansas City and Provo, Utah. However, there are plans for expansion in Phoenix and Portland. As part of its plan of bringing Internet into public housing residents, Google also announced that it will offer digital literacy program for people who lack basic computer education or for those who are not familiar with the Internet. An early trial of the program was undertaken and proved that half of those who signed up for the program completed and passed the training.

Other Internet service provider has also showed their intentions of joining the project of bringing low-cost Internet to public housing. Century Link is planning to release a low-cost monthly Internet in Washington and Cox Communication is also gearing up to do the same in Louisiana.

Glass 2.0?

unnamed

Really? Are we still talking about Google Glass? Apparently, we are. It looks like Google is planning an extensive re-launch of what is arguably its most divisive product, this time focused on the “Enterprise Edition.”

Just in case you missed my earlier four hundred rants about this product, Google Glass is the wearable tech that evolved the term “Glassholes” to characterize its users. Nothing says, “I’m white, entitled and I know somebody with juice in Silicon Valley” like wearing Google Glass. I tried it on a couple of times, and was reasonably underwhelmed by what it could actually do. However, the substantial product shortcomings never really got a fair hearing in comparison to the avalanche of deserved contempt the “ambassadors” wearing the product generated.

Glass became totemic for everything we hate about “those people.” The harder Google pushed, the more stories emerged about boorish Glass usage. Some of the stories are doubtless urban legend but there were enough of them to lead Google to eventually pull the plug on Glass as a consumer device.

Glass’ upcoming rebirth in the technical and medical fields makes a lot of sense. In the same way a surveyor or doctor might pick up their allocated equipment for each shift, so I can readily see Glass as a useful enterprise tool. The ability to show a distant colleague exactly what’s happening on the job at that point or recall data real-time without having to manipulate a device by hand is a great idea whose time has come.

It’s unlikely that Google will sell anywhere near as many items as they would had they conquered the consumer market as planned, but the numbers they do sell will likely be more robust, have longer battery lives and boast larger, more useful screens. They will also get the public more used to eye-wearables in general. Perhaps after we have gotten used to seeing our doctors or auto mechanics wearing Glass, we will become less bothered by the application as a whole.

Apple’s iPod Touch is Getting a Facelift

ipodtouch

Apple seems to not have forgotten its roots, as recent reports suggest that the iconic computer and phone manufacturer are releasing a brand new iPod Touch. Yes, it’s been a while since the iPod has really, really meant something in the world of consumer electronics, but new models will likely be announced this week. Additionally, the company is expected to unveil new models of iPod Shuffle and the iPad Nano.

Apple’s upcoming iPod Touch will likely offer a 64-bit processor, or the same processor as the iPhone 5S. The music player with touchscreen display is also expected to include an improved back-facing camera, and additional storage option including models with 128GB non-expandable internal storage.

This round of updates in the Apple factory should not have surprised anyone. Back in June, Apple launched the revamped version of its Music App to compete with Spotify. Adding new, inexpensive iPod Touch models with new bells and whistles could help the new Apple Music rake in additional revenue from new subscribers, although the new Apple music player is also coming to Android this fall.

Some have suggested that Apple might use the new iPods to sell more Beats Music-branded headsets and earphones. The new reports about the iPod refresh also comes as Apple introduces the new build for the iOS, a beta preview, and it highlights the company’s first attempt in the online news business.

Breaking the “Capacity Limit” in Fiber Optics

With the amount of internet-connected devices increasing every day, the need for better, faster Internet is significant. University researchers have come up with a very clever solution to this problem.

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have broken the “capacity limit” for fiber optic transmission, paving the way for faster, longer and potentially cheaper fiber networks. Currently, there is a limit on the intensity of light you can send through a fiber optic link, which arises from the fact that when you increase the intensity of light through a fiber cable, noise, distortion and signal dilution increases. This is called the optical Kerr effect, and it causes problems for fiber network designers.

Eventually the Kerr effect becomes so great that, at high intensity levels, distortion entirely prevents an outbound signal from being correctly interpreted by a receiver. The issue gets worse the longer a cable is, so to increase the transmission rate through a fiber optic link by increasing the intensity level while keeping noise at bay, you have to include signal repeaters along the way.

This new breakthrough helps increase the capacity limit of high-bandwidth fiber optic cables by conditioning signals with “frequency combs”, allowing the receiver to predict any noise that is introduced during the transmission. The ability to predict noise patterns means the receiver can reconstruct the intended data from the noisy signal. Thus, the amount of power that can be sent through a fiber optic cable can be increased significantly without worrying about the effects of noise. Researchers were able to increase the signal power in a fiber cable by 20 fold and still get data at the end.

The use of frequency combs also means data can be sent along longer cables without the need for repeaters, which has the potential to reduce the cost of fiber networks. For example, engineers were able to send data through over 7,000 miles of fiber cable with standard amplifiers and no repeaters. With this breakthrough, hopefully we can see the capacity of fiber cables increased beyond what is currently possible in real-world applications.

Scan Your World, Then Live in It

Untitled-1As Virtual Reality inches close to an everyday reality, we need clever people coming up with the components to make it real and useful. One of those groups has just received a large chunk of venture funding, and I’m delighted.

These guys have come up with a clunky-looking camera, which can scan the interior of your house (or pretty much anything) quickly and cheaply. It’s fairly expensive to buy; at $4,500 per it’s not exactly discretionary income level. But it’s fast, and the subscription rates and monthly fees are really reasonable. They are predictably targeting the Realtor market, thinking that having a fully realized high definition virtual interior will make selling upscale property that much easier. Panoramic tours of property are not new, but fully navigable VR 3D at this price point and availability probably is.

unnamed (1)

It’s also a fascinating opportunity for museums and galleries that can offer an easy-to-navigate, high-quality virtual tour on any browser. The results are very easy to navigate and understand; if you can use Google Maps Street View, you can use this. It’s supposed to be compatible with VR headsets. I haven’t have the chance to experience that yet. I can imagine game developers must be salivating at the prospect of being able to digitize in 3D and physical location. If they can get access to that location one time, they can build an immersive experience around it and populate it with virtual people.

What’s exciting is that these guys, Oculus Rift, Google, GoPro and many more are coming out with VR implementations that make sense and are reasonably affordable. Non-individual deployment is the full solution, but each step takes us closer.