Google’s Waymo Pedestrian Detection Breakthrough; Facebook Reorganizes into 3 Divisions; iPhone Strikes Back at GreyKey

At Google I/O, Waymo took the stage with the claim that they have “unlocked truly autonomous vehicles.” Thenextweb.com reports that they have really made a breakthrough in making driverless cars safer for pedestrians…claiming to reduce the error-rate for detecting pedestrians by 100X (not 100%). The tech was even able to detect a man’s head sticking up out of a manhole and a person wearing a goofy costume like a sports mascot.

Facebook has reorganized into 3 new divisions, or product areas. The first consists of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. According to businessinsider.com, the 2nd category is for the more experimental parts of the company….AR, VR, and a new blockchain unit. The third area is for what they call ‘central product services. That consists of ads, analytics, integrity, growth, and product management. Facebook has moved around executive management to oversee the 3 new areas.

Apple is striking back at the GreyKey box, that allows law enforcement (or crooks that get hold of one) to get into iPhones. In iOS 11.4, which is in beta, there’s a USB restricted mode. Macrumors.com says that if the phone isn’t unlocked with a passcode or connected to the paired computer within a week, the Lightening port becomes useless for everything but charging.

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Cheaper Retina MacBook Coming; Ford Self-Driving Car Rescue Drone; Free Alexa Calling Moves to Tablets; 3D Printed MicroHomes in 24 Hours

There may be a new lower cost 13 inch Retina MacBook in June, around World Wide Developers Conference, according to 9to5mac.com. Word is, it will be priced lower than the present 12 inch MacBook. It will have the same pixel density as the present 13 inch MacBook Pro. If sources are correct, Apple will roll it out for just a little more than the $999 price of the present MacBook Air. This rumor doesn’t say it is an air, but since KGI Securities was already predicting a cheaper 13 inch MacBook Air, this could be the same device. The Retina display would be a first for this price level.

Long ago, Ford ran ads that crowed, ‘Ford has a better idea.’ Now, techcrunch.com reports on a patent that really is a great idea. Ford envisions a drone that could fly i and dock with a fully self-driving car in case of sensor and camera failure (which would render the vehicle helpless.) The docked drone would be equipped with its own sensors and cams, and could safely guide the vehicle home, or to a shop for service help. Getting such a drone out into the world will take time…but widely used self-driving cars are probably still 10 years away, too, so Ford has time to flesh out this idea!

Free calls and messages over an Echo speaker using Alexa is cool, and now that service has been expanded. Engadget.com says you can now use Alexa to place calls, video calls, and send messages from Android tablets, iPads, and Amazon’s Fire tablets. It’s a snap on the Fire HD 10, where you you just have to ask Alexa to get in touch. For other Fire tablets, you hit the home button first. On Android and iOS, you will need to open the Alexa app. You can also communicate with other devices in your house, basically making it a tablet to Echo or tablet to tablet intercom. This will reduce yelling by Moms when dinner is ready!

An Austin based startup is showing off 3D printable homes today at SXSW. According to theverge.com, they can print a house out of concrete (one report says cement, which is incorrect) in less than 24 hours…and have already printed a permitted micro house in Austin! The 1st one was about $10,000 for a single story, 650 square foot house with one bedroom, a bathroom, and a wrap around porch. (Note: no mention of a kitchen.) Icon believes they can get the cost down to $4000 each, and plan to start building in El Salvador. The idea is to ease the global housing crisis, but Icon says eventually they could produce micro houses in the US, too…up to 800 square feet with the present tech. (The average New York apartment is 866 sq. ft.)


Lyft To Test Self-Driving Cars Outside Concord, CA; Tesla’s Nav-Maps Engine Nears Completion; United Healthcare Looks to Apple Watch

A number of auto manufacturers are already testing self-driving equipment at the old Concord Naval Weapons Station on the Northeast part of Concord, CA. Now, Lyft has joined the party, according to theverge.com. Lyft will be testing out its self-driving tech at the 5000 square foot proving area. Uber already has a leg up on them, having started testing on public streets in several US cities. Besides Concord, there are 9 other official autonomous vehicle proving ground locations around the country, and of course, the auto makers all have had their own proving grounds for decades. Self-driving cars will be here sooner than you think…trucks, too…as Tesla is hauling a couple loads of batteries from the Gigafactory in Northern Nevada to their plant in Fremont, CA right now.

Speaking of Tesla, the Muskman has now said that their navigation and maps engine, which he claims is ‘light years ahead’ of all the others, is nearly done. Electrek.co reports that a hacker was able to get into a site Tesla is using, and posted screen shots. The hacker, who goes by ‘verygreen,’ says it looks like Google Maps, but is smoother and more detailed. Expect the software to be pushed out the Tesla owners sooner, not later.

Another company has joined the growing group offering people Apple Watches in an effort to monitor and keep them healthy…and this one is a biggie. 9to5mac.com says United Healthcare will make it so customers can earn an Apple Watch 3 basically for free, and on top of that will let users earn up to $1000 towards medical bills after the cost of the wearable.


Next iPhones-Smaller Then No Notches; Amazon Expands Discounted Prime; Cam Makers Partner for Easier Smartcams; Brits Refine Laws for Self-Driving Cars

The latest word, which comes from Korea’s ET News by way of macrumors.com, is that the next iPhones will have a notably smaller notch for the TrueDepth camera system. This will apparently be true for all 3 models expected in the fall. In addition to that, a sketchier rumor says Apple will be able to ditch the notch entirely in 2019!

Amazon already discounts Prime for people with an EBT card to $5.99 a month, instead of $12.99. Now, according to geekwire.com, they will expand this program to people on Medicaid, too. Users will still get free 2 day shipping, Prime Video, etc. Amazon says they plan to add other ways for people on assistance to qualify for the discount moving forward. The 2 day delivery for people on Medicaid is especially interesting since Amazon is looking to get into the prescription business.

Smartcams can bee cool to have for checking on kids, pets, or just for home security, but some can be a pain to set up, and even more so to get to work with other kinds, and with various systems. Now, Sony, Nikon, iPhone maker Foxconn, as well as others, are working together to make it possible for you to monitor video streams from different cams through a unified interface. Thenextweb.com reports that the makers are devising a specification called NICE so the footage from various cams can be split into scenes, indexed, made searchable and scannable in thumbnails, and more easily stashed in cloud storage. If all works out, there should be NICE cams and related products on the market by 2019.

Self-driving cars are gearing up to hit the roads, and like in the US, the Brits are trying to get things ready. Techcrunch.com says regulators in the United Kingdom are shooting for 2021 as the year driverless cars without a safety operator can be rolling on the roads there. A number of issues have to be worked out, including who is the responsible party if there’s no driver, and how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is shared control through some human-machine interface. If things go as planned, car makers may not have to worry one day about building right hand drive cars for the UK and a number of former British colonies that still drive on the left side of the road.


Waymo & Fiat Chrysler Expand Ride-Hailing; Facebook Looks to Local News; iPhone X Top 3 Worldwide; Verizon Won’t Carry Huawei Line

Fiat Chrysler is preparing to provide Google’s Waymo with thousands of Pacifica hybrid minivans, as Waymo’s self-driving division rolls out public ride hailing services later this year. Reuters.com says this could press GM and Lyft to pick up the pace, as well as Uber, which already has a test fleet running. Waymo had been been testing out 500 Fiat Chrysler self-driving mini-vans through 2017 in 25 cities.

Facebook plans to start showing more local news in user newsfeeds. According to businessinsider.com, they will start this in the US, and expand to other countries later in the year. The Facebook definition of ‘local’ is if its links ‘are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area,’ not the logical ‘is actually IN a local geographic area!’

With reports out that Apple is cutting iPhone X production from 40 to 20 million this quarter, some good news popped up. 9to5mac.com reports that Kantar found the pricey Apple hero phone was the #3 phone in all the regions they monitor during December. That includes Europe, China, Japan, Australia, and the US. iOS sales overall were down half a percentage point in the US, but loyalty hit a record high 96%. Apple and Samsung account for more than 2/3 of the US market at a combined 70.8%.

Under pressure from the government, Verizon has dropped plans to carry Huawei mobile devices. 9to5google.com says AT&T had previously backed out of carrying the Mate 10 Pro. The government apparently is concerned about the closeness of the Chinese government to the phone maker and their possible ability to manipulate upcoming 5G cellular networks.


Phones That Could Charge in Minutes; Apple Leasing Proving Grounds for Self-Driving Cars; Renewable Energy Takes Huge Price Drop

Samsung has developed battery tech that could allow for faster battery charging than ever. Businessinsider.com reports that with the advanced tech, batteries could fast charge in 12 minutes instead of an hour for present fast charging. They did it using graphene instead of copper. The tech could be used in car batteries as well as smart devices. Samsung says they have found a way to mass produce the batteries at an affordable price, but no word on when they might become available.

It appears that Apple has leased a former Chrysler proving grounds in Arizona to test self-driving cars. According to 9to5mac.com, the land is in Wittmann, AZ. Chrysler has a newer facility in Yucca. The word was that the old facility was being sold to home builders, but now it looks like Apple is leasing the area, with has 3000 acres of fenced land, and 5000 total acres…including a city traffic course.

The march to renewable energy doesn’t look like it will be slowing soon. A story from thinkprogress.org found that steadily improving tech has dropped the prices of solar and wind power by 25% in just this year! That’s on top of an 80% reduction the past 10 years, which makes building renewable sources cheaper now than running old coal and nuclear plants.


Apple Making a Killing on iPhone X; Walmart Pay Close to Surpassing Apple Pay; Waymo Tests Self-Drivers on Public Roads; Super Tiny Japanese Phone

A fair amount of noise has been made about US companies stashing cash overseas and not paying taxes, especially using an accounting trick through Ireland. Apple is at the top of the list, although they claim they pay plenty of tax…some 35 billion dollars. That said, where does it come from? iPhones, of course. Macrumors.com says TechInsights ran numbers, and it costs about $357.50 to make a gorgeous new iPhone X…which sells for a base of $999! That’s a gross margin of 64%…compared to the iPhone 8’s already good 59% margin. Having had several friends in the retail electronics business, a lot of goods only have 28-35% margin, so Apple is making a killing….enjoy that new iPhone X…and buy a case…it’s the most breakable phone ever!

Walmart says they are close to passing up Apple Pay with their Walmart Pay system, in terms of mobile payments usage in the US. Walmart Pay, of course, runs in 4774 Walmart stores, and is available on both Android AND iOS systems. Macrumors.com reports that the average Apple Pay user makes 2 transactions per month. I must be an outlier…I use it 5-6 times a month, and would use it more if more places accepted it. By the numbers, a Forrester survey of 58,000 online consumers found that 7% used Apple Pay the last 90 days, and 6% used Walmart Pay.

Watch out drivers and pedestrians in Chandler, AZ. If you’re in the Phoenix area, you may see cars tooling down the streets sans driver. According to techcrunch.com, Google’s Waymo has driverless cars loose on the streets of Chandler…and not just a couple pre-set routes, either! In technical terms, the cars are at full level 4 autonomy. Waymo expects their first actual product to be basically a replacement for Uber, Lyft, and cabs….and it could be here sooner, not later!

A Japanese firm called FutureModel, is putting out the NichePhoneS, a credit card sized smartphone…or maybe it should be called a ‘not quite dumb’ phone. Businessinsider.com says all it does is make calls, send texts, and play some music…shades of one Motorola made years ago…remember the Rokr? It’s $88 and will be out this week in Japan. It runs Android 4.2…a 2012 operating system! If it makes it over here, it could be ok as a 2nd or 3rd phone or burner.