Jag Claims Tech Will Greenlight Your Commute; Lyft Offering Automatic Tips & Driver Ratings; Boeing Division-Solar Powered Drone

A lot of people are excited about self-driving tech, and some are skeptical of it ever becoming commonplace. Now, Jaguar-Land Rover may have something that will win skeptics over to assisted or autonomous driving…all green lights! Cnet.com reports that Jag is saying their V2X tech includes something called Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory, and it’s capable of suggesting a speed for the driver. If the driver maintains the speed, they should be able to hit a series of green lights without stopping. The system is being test run in London right now…interestingly, the home of the first ever traffic lights. Hitting a series of green lights is not necessarily new…back in the day, Dad figured out if you drove either 18 or 38, you could hit every green light on the Main Street in our town between 1st Street and 17th Street! You can guess which speed he generally took!

Lyft is doing a limited launch to test out default tipping and mid-ride tipping. According to engadget.com, only select customers will see this at first, but it should be widely available in 2019 if all goes well. Also, Lyft is testing out a default on driver rating. Starting in December, if you don’t leave a rating, the default will be a 5-star rating. Lyft says a lot of people don’t bother with ratings if the ride went well. If you do ding the driver, the app will ask you to justify it. It nullifies ratings where circumstances were out of the driver’s control…like bad traffic.

Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences says its high altitude, long endurance Odysseus solar drone will take its maiden flight next spring. Geekwire.com says that first flight will happen next April 23rd in Puerto Rico. The wide-winged drone can be deployed at a fraction the cost of a satellite, and can spend far more time airborne than a conventional drone…in fact, for months! Right now, climate and atmospheric research are the first claimed applications. (Nope…no spying…we’d never use science for cover for that.)

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Apple Picks Up Waymo Wheel; Facebook Limits Weapon Ad Views to Teens; Foxconn N.A. HQ to Milwaukee; Google Pumps Half Billion into Chinese e-commerce Firm

Although Apple has been seen as withdrawing from the self-driving car race, they have continued to busily work on software and hardware integration they could license to others for self-driving cars. Now, Apple’s secretive autopilot Project Titan has picked up a biggie from Alphabet’s Waymo…Jaime Waydo. Before Waymo, she worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Waydo was responsible at Waymo for checking prototype safety and had a big hand on giving the ok for them to start real-world tests in Phoenix. At NASA, she worked on the Mars rovers. Appleinsider.com points out that Apple has continued to build up its test fleet, and may well need to beef up quality control. 

Facebook has announced that they will begin preventing minors from seeing ads for gun accessories like magazines and holsters. According to theverge.com, ads were already banned for guns and modifications, but now such items as above, and also including gun mounted scopes, flashlights, slings, etc. will be restricted to those over 18. Facebook’s rationale is to age-limit accessories that might make guns seem cooler to teens. The change comes in the aftermath of school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, Parkland, Florida, and others. Some have grumbled that it’s a baby step, but it’s a start. The new policy is effective June 21st.

It’s been promised for some time, and now main Apple supplier Foxconn has announced that their North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm has bought a seven story building in the city’s downtown area, and reuters.com says will eventually be staffed with some 500 employees. Foxconn had also previously promised to pump $10 billion over 4 years into a 20 million square foot LCD panel plant in Wisconsin. That operation is slated to eventually employ up to 13,000 people. Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, employing over a million people worldwide.

Google will pour $550 million in cash into China’s second largest e-commerce operator, JD.com. According to CNBC, Google and JD will work together to develop retail infrastructure that can better personalize the shopping experience and reduce friction in many markets, including Southeast Asia. JD.com will also make a selection of items available for customers in the US and Europe via Google Shopping…a service that lets people search for products on e-commerce sites and compare prices between sellers. Google hopes to win back product searches from Amazon with the beefed up selection from JD.com.  In another case of synergy between Google and JD, JD has been testing drone deliveries to reach rural customers in China.


Google Revamps Storage Plans; Apple has 2nd Biggest Self-Driving Fleet in CA; Ticketmaster Plans Facial Recognition

Google has unveiled its consumer storage plans. The new plans are dubbed “Google One,” although the Google Drive is still Google Drive. TechCrunch.com says Goggle has added a new 200 gig tier for $2.99 a month, and dropped the price for its 2 terabyte plan from $19.99 to $9.99 a month. The old 1 terabyte plan at $9.99 goes away. You can still get in on 100 gigs or $1.99 per month, but keep in mind that now, you’ll be able to share your storage with up to five family members! An outstanding new feature is expert support 24.7 over chat, email, or phone. Previously, this was only open to business users.

Apple has been bulking up its fleet of self-driving cars, and now is up to 55, making it the 2nd biggest fleet in California, according to the DMV. As recently as January, Cupertino only had 27 cars. The biggest fleet of self-drivers is that of Cruise, a company owned by GM, which has 104. Google’s Waymo has 51 cars, and Tesla 39. It’s worth noting that both Waymo and Uber previously had more cars in California…Waymo had 100, but has moved some to Arizona and Michigan.

Your face will literally be your ticket to concerts, as the Ticketmaster division of Live Nation has announced a pilot program to drop tickets and use facial recognition tech. Thenextweb.com says Ticketmaster is partnering with Blink Identity, which claims they can make a positive ID in half a second. Some worry that this is a little too much Big Brother, since China recently put in place a similar system…but theirs is for law enforcement. If the pilot program is successful, you may see it before long for air travel, building access and more.

Amazon has resumed construction in Seattle after a squabble with the city over a controversial tax per employee on employers that make more than $20 million a year. Engadget.com reports that the ‘head tax’ had been set at $500 per employee, but ended up compromising after considerable protestation from Amazon, and set the tax at $275 per employee on businesses that make over $11 million a year. The funds are supposed to go towards helping the homeless problem there. Amazon is still grumbling, and considering not adding 7,000 expected jobs…they may hire that staff at their new ‘2nd headquarters’ when it is finalized.


Waymo’s Jaguar Deal; Facebook Speaker Delayed; President Criticizes Amazon

When you call a self-driving e-car, sometimes you may want to go posh. At least Waymo thinks so. Apparently, their latest partner for their autonomous taxi fleet is Jaguar. Jag’s new BEV–…battery electric vehicle, goes on sale later this year, and Waymo has ordered a whopping 20,000 of the classy e-cars with their I-Pace self driving system. The sensors will be built right into the Jags at the factory in Graz, Austria. Waymo says they want to give users a choice…, so will continue to run the Chrysler Pacifica vans, and add in the Jaguar I-Pace BEVs in 2020, with the full fleet of Jags on the roads by 2022. 

In the aftermath of Facebook’s frankly terrible couple of weeks with the Cambridge Analytica data mis-use disclosure, followed by the discovery that they had been logging call and text data from Android phones for years, Facebook has postponed release of their connected speaker. Originally, it was thought that the new gadget would roll out at their developer conference F8 May 1st, and be available to buyers this fall, but now the connected speaker will debut late in the year. The Facebook speaker will reportedly not only have voice control, but also video chat capability.  Continuing damage control, Facebook has now introduced a new privacy shortcuts menu, simplified shortcuts menu on mobile, and tools to find, download, and delete your Facebook data. 

While Congress is digging into Facebook and their data use or mis-use,  the president is more obsessed with Amazon. Axios is reporting that he is concerned with both the online giant’s tax treatment, and the fact that they are hurting brick and mortar stores and malls. Another thing that disturbs the Chief Executive is Amazon’s so-called ‘cushy deal’ with the US Postal Service. There has been some pushback on the latter, as the Post Office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon. There isn’t much question that Amazon has taken a big bite out of brick and mortar retailers, and that the US Treasury would benefit if Amazon collected and paid in sales tax the way physical stores all do. So far, there’s no plan from the White House dealing with these issues, but they are on Trump’s radar. Amazon stock was down as much as 7%, or 52 billion, after this report came out. In other words, it dropped 5 times more than than the president has claimed he was worth.


Facebook Hires Digital Forensics Firm to Audit Cambridge Analytica; Apple Developing Own MicroLED Screens; IBM working on World’s Smallest Computer; Woman Killed by Self-Driving Uber

Facebook…after failing to stop the publication of the news that Cambridge Analytica had harvested personal info from 50 million + users….has hired Stroz Friedberg to audit Cambridge. The firm, which played a big digital role in the Trump campaign, and Aleksander Kogan, the psycology professor involved in obtaining Facebook’s (and your) data, have both agreed to comply with the audit. Engadget.com says Facebook has also called on Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who disclosed Cambridge’s use of the data, to submit to the audit. Stay tuned.

Apple is working on developing its own MicroLED displays, and has actually already built some units for testing, according to reuters.com. The next-gen screens are being made at a plant in California, and Apple has allegedly made a giant investment in this. First to get the MicroLED screens will probably be wearables like the Apple watch, with the tech then moving to iPhones and iPads.

IBM, which pioneered the personal computer, is now downsizing…ultimately to the size of a grain of sand. TechCrunch.com reports that they already are working on one in the lab that is about one millimeter square. The little computers are intended to attach to all kinds of things…and can be used to authenticate products, track medications, and more. They only have the computing power of a chip from 1990, but will also include a solar cell for self power.

Not a first anyone wants to hear about…the first fatality involving a self-driving car. Reuters.com says an Uber self-driving SUV struck and killed a woman pedestrian in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, one of the cities where they are testing the automated cars. There was a safety driver along, who failed to react quickly enough when the woman jaywalked in the wee hours of the morning Monday. Uber has suspended all US testing until an investigation can be completed.


More on the 6.5 Inch iPhone; California Allows Self-Driving Car Tests Sans Driver; Ford Tests Self-Drivers as a Business in Miami; Barclaycard Testing Legal Dine and Dash

Some new details have leaked out about the rumored 6.5 inch iPhone…which is phablet sized, really. 9to5mac.com says it may have dual sim card slots, which would make overseas travel or multiple numbers much easier to handle, especially for corporate travelers. There is a conflicting rumor that Apple may actually go with eSIM like they have on the iPad. Also out is the screen resolution…1242×2688, and word is, Apple may reintroduce gold as a color. Apple apparently dropped gold on the iPhone X due to production problems, but those may be solved.

California has green lighted testing self-driving cars without a driver riding along. TechCrunch.com reports that the DMV announced new rules yesterday that go into effect April 2nd. There will still need to be an always on 2-way communications channel with a live person at a remote location to take control, should the need arise. Right now, the rules only cover cars, not big rigs. Alphabet’s Waymo and GM look to be the first to put such driverless, remote supervised cars on the pavement.

In the meantime, Ford thinks they have a better idea….Florida. The automaker has started testing self-driving cars in Miami…but not just the cars, also the business model. Also according to tech crunch, Ford is testing out cars with its Argo AI software doing business tasks like delivering Domino’s Pizza and Postmates. Miami was selected because it is one of the most congested cities in the country. Ford says it will trial ride hailing in conjunction with Lyft later on in Miami.

If a trial run works out in London, Barclaycard may have a solution for legal dine and dash. According to engadget.com, they are testing out a tabletop device partnered with a smartphone app. If you’ve ever been frustrated by not being able to get the bill from a server and get out after you’ve eaten, you’ll love this. When you’re ready to leave, you just get up and leave. The app lets the in-restaurant equipment know, and the bill is charged to whatever card you have selected in advance…including the tip. No muss, no fuss, and no waiting around trying to flag down your server.


New Samsung & LG Hero Phones Out in January; Amazon Jumps into VR & AR, Lyft Gets Self-Driving Permit

We were expecting Samsung to show off the new Galaxy S9 in January. Now, it looks like it will be launched at CES 2018, and according to bgr.com, LG will also show its latest and greatest, the G7. Last year, the LG G6 was overshadowed by Apple and Samsung, and with the runaway success of the iPhone X and a strong Samsung Galaxy S9, they will need the new G7 to have some ‘wow’ factor. The G7 is rumored to have and OLED display, like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but does add its own wrinkle…the fingerprint sensor will be under the screen, not on the back like the S9’s. For those leery of the iPhone X’s facial recognition scheme, this might be a real draw.

Google, Apple, and Microsoft are busily working on VR and AR products, so it was only a matter of time. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon is jumping in with its new ‘Sumerian’ service for Amazon Web Services. Sumerian will allow creation of VR, AR, and 3D scenes for Oculus, Vive, iOS, and Android. Sumerian has a web based editor for creating interactive 3D scenes, and a library of objects and templates. It launches in preview today on all but Android, which Amazon says is coming soon.

Another company has a permit to test self-driving cars in California, and this one is a biggie. Cnet.com says Lyft was granted a permit, and now brings to 45 the number of companies testing or getting ready to roll driverless cars on public roads. They join VW, General Motors, Tesla, Google’s Waymo, Uber, and Apple. You’ll be able to spot them by the apparatus on top, but don’t expect to see no one in the driver’s seat…all the permits require a driver on board, just in case.