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Nissan, Renault Targets 2020 To Introduce Autonomous Vehicles

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

nissan-and-renault-150x150The Renault-Nissan Alliance has put together a new 300-person division for the purpose of releasing at least 10 vehicles with “significant” autonomous driving capabilities by 2020.

Nissan and Renault’s new Mobility Division will focus on the development of software, cloud engineering and big data analytics for connected-car technologies.

In 2018, Nissan said it expects to unveil a “multiple-lane control” application that can autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes during highway driving. Two years later, it plans to add the capability for a vehicle to navigate city driving and intersections without driver intervention.

The new autonomous models will be released in the U.S., Japan, Europe and China.

In September, the Renault-Nissan Alliance acquired French software company Sylph to accelerate the expansion of its connected vehicle and mobility services programs.

Also in September, the carmakers penned a multiyear agreement with Microsoft to develop next-generation connected services for self-driving cars that will be enabled through Microsoft’s Azure cloud service.

The carmakers said they will also focus on promoting “social acceptance” of autonomous vehicles between now and when they begin to launch them in 2018. Educating the public will “allow consumers as well as involved governments, groups and other agencies, the time to consider the benefits of the new technologies.

“There must be a huge change in government and society,” Nissan stated in a blog. “Once autonomous drive technology reaches a certain level of technological advance, decisions must be made on driving infrastructure and laws to ultimately change society’s mindset.”

While autonomous development announcements are far from new, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is unusual in that past autonomous vehicle efforts have not been taken on solely by automakers, according to research firm IDC.

Artificial intelligence and connected technology are a major focus among some carmakers, who see it as the basis for future human-machine interface development in autonomous vehicles.

Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. spent $1 billion to create an artificial intelligence division. Toyota’s Research Institute is being led by Gill Pratt, who joined Toyota from DARPA, where he ran the Robotics Challenge, an event that promoted work on robots that can work with humans.

China’s Alipay Teams Up With Payment Terminal Maker Verifone On Mobile App

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

alipay-150x150China’s Alipay has teamed up with U.S.-based Verifone to integrate its mobile app on Verifone payment terminals at merchants in Europe and North America, the latest such deal to reach Chinese consumers traveling abroad.

Alipay, which counts 450 million active users in China, is the top mobile payments player there. It is a unit of privately held ANT Financial, which is in turn an affiliate of publicly traded Chinese Internet giant

It has begun actively expanding outside Asia this year via partnerships with Western payment providers. Verifone terminals are used by most of the top 200 retailers in the United States, a spokesman said.

Instead of seeking to go head to head with major payments players outside its home market, Alipay targets the fast growing Chinese tourism market, which numbered 117 million travelers in 2014, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and is forecast to double by 2020.

Through the Verifone deal announced on Monday, Alipay is targeting top-tier merchants across retail, luxury goods, health supplement and department stores.

Alipay and rival WeChat, a unit of Tencent,together make up 90 percent of the Chinese mobile payments market, with gross merchandise value estimated at more than $1 trillion last year, dwarfing other mobile payment systems around the world, according to iResearch China estimates.

Sabrina Peng, the president of Alipay International, said in a recent interview that her company’s ambition is to become a global payments provider over the next decade, with 60 percent of its transaction volume coming from outside China. “We are targeting 2 billion users in the next 10 years,” she said.

French payment terminal supplier Ingenico announced in August an expanded deal with Alipay to allow merchants across Europe to use Ingenico’s payment gateway to accept payments from Alipay users visiting the region.

The Alipay service is also being integrated into terminals from Concardis, a payments provider for merchants in German-speaking Europe.

Alipay has a similar deal with mobile payments start-up Zapper in Britain to allow Chinese tourists to use QR codes in more than 1,000 restaurants there.

NHTSA Urge Automakers To Prioritize Cyber Security

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

nhtsa-150x150Automakers should make protecting the electronic and computer systems of vehicles from hackers a top priority, developing layers of protection that can secure a vehicle throughout its life, U.S. regulators said.

The cyber security guidelines issued by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are recommendations, not enforceable rules. However, they mark a step toward establishing a road map for industry behavior as lawmakers and consumers pressure automakers to show how they will protect increasingly connected and automated vehicles from cyber attacks.

Some of the agency’s proposals, included in a paper titled “Cybersecurity Best Practices for Modern Vehicles,” echo moves major manufacturers are making already, including establishing a group to share information about cyber security threats.

Automakers will carefully review the technical aspects of the agency’s proposals as well as proposals related to the disclosure of information about “the secret sauce” of electrical and data systems, which is highly competitive, Jonathan Allen, acting executive director of the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center, said in an interview on Monday. The group, often referred to as the AUTO-ISAC, was established by automakers as a clearinghouse for companies to share information about cyber security threats and countermeasures.

Automakers accelerated efforts to address hacking threats over the past year after data security researchers successfully took remote control of a Jeep Cherokee and publicized their feat. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in July 2015 recalled 1.4 million vehicles to install software to protect against future data breaches.

Other automakers, including BMW AG and Tesla Motors Inc, have disclosed actions to fix potential data security gaps.

The security of data and communications systems in vehicles is also critical as more auto manufacturers gear up to follow Tesla’s lead and begin offering significant vehicle upgrades through wireless data links. The Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier this year warned that criminals could exploit online vehicle software updates.

The NHTSA recommends manufacturers conduct tests of vehicle systems to see if the cyber security systems can be breached, and document their testing and their assessment of the risks.

Democratic U.S. Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the NHTSA should do more. “If modern day cars are computers on wheels, we need mandatory standards, not voluntary guidance, to ensure that our vehicles cannot be hacked and lives and information put in danger,” the lawmakers said in a statement Monday.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said on Monday the NHTSA guidelines appear to support the steps being taken by the AUTO-ISAC. The Alliance represents General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Daimler AG, among others.

Will Virtual Reality Go The Way Of 3D?

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-virtual-re-reVR startup Survios proudly announced last month that its futuristic co-op shooter Raw Data became the first VR title to generate revenues of $1 million in the span of a month. Steam Spy data showed that more than 33,000 people had purchased the $40 game, which is still in Early Access. That $1 million in revenues, however, brings up the million-dollar question: When $1 million represents the peak of success, how can VR developers actually make a living in this VR ecosystem?

Survios is in the enviable position of having raised $4 million from Shasta Ventures a couple years ago, when the studio was working on Project Holodeck. Without that money, working towards AAA on VR platforms like HTC Vive would be infinitely harder. That said, with claims of an attach rate of more than 20% for Raw Data, Survios believes it’s in a prime position to thrive in a AAA VR market as the installed base grows.

“The attach rate that we’ve had to the installed base, if we look 12 months down the road, 18 months down the road, where we believe the installed base will be, if the attach rate is even a fraction of what we currently have then we have a very sustainable business,” Hewish says.

“Price and reviews puts everything on the consumers’ shoulders but if there was some sort of designation, some way for the stores to designate that this is a full game or an experience, it would help the industry avoid consumer frustration”

“For us, we’re really taking a bit of a longer view when it comes to the business. We’re very fortunate that we have great backers, that we’re funded well enough to take a longer view. Our goal, if you’re looking at the existing console business or PC business or mobile business, those are all mature businesses where the objective for any developer or studio is revenue because you can have a fairly predictable outcome. If you put X amount of funding in and you can have a certain quality bar, you’re going to recoup your costs. It becomes much more important about being on time, on budget – it’s much more of a mature business model. With VR my point of view is it’s a new market and we are not at a point yet where it can sustain AAA development but we will get there.”

With that in mind, Hewish believes that it’s critical for Survios to “stake its claim” as a AAA VR studio now. He says that a lot of studios have struggled with having to make what are essentially demos, or more casual experiential titles instead of full-game efforts, because of the economics of VR. “There definitely is a tug and pull between those two ends of the spectrum and initially a lot of the discussion and a lot of the awareness was around experiential and short demo experiences. So for me the question was could the market go in that [AAA] direction? [If not] personally I believe the market would peter out,” he continues. “While there are a lot of cool experiences, I don’t think that’s enough to sustain a market or an industry. Being able to see that, while the market’s super nascent, we’re beginning to see AAA games come out and people do want them [is encouraging].”

Survios is eager to see the VR market evolve and hopes it’s part of the developer community that pushes it in exciting and new directions. The studio has a core tenet that it calls “Active VR,” and I can tell while talking to Hewish that he’s quite passionate about it.

“That is certainly central to our thesis. We really want the user to have a very active experience. It’s a key differentiator between this platform and others and it also touches on another thing, which is a soapbox item for me… VR and Active VR, this is an opportunity for the user to really feel heroic and to do things that you could never do in real life. It just kills me that there are games out there just recreating what you can do in real life; to me that’s just a missed opportunity,” he comments.

“I’m not bagging on anybody, I don’t have a specific developer in mind, and this is just an example since I don’t know if anyone’s done this, but why would I want to play chess in VR? I can do that in real life. I want to be heroic, with bad ass abilities and go into environments I could never see in real life and be extremely active in those environments. To me that’s the holy grail of VR, that’s what it offers. Getting that into consumers’ hands is the win for the medium.”

Hewish definitely sees eye-to-eye with Oculus CTO John Carmack on that front. The former id executive recently commented during Oculus Connect that too many VR developers are simply “coasting on novelty,” putting games into VR that don’t necessarily bring any additional value to players for being in VR.

“What he said definitely resonates a lot with me. At the same time, I agree from a business perspective. I saw this when I was working at Dreamworks Animation, when we were working on 3D movies. We were making movies specifically made for 3D so the entire pipeline and production process was different than a traditional 2D animated film, yet a lot of studios across the industry would turn films into 3D in post-production, which really soured the audience because there was a premium price to go view those films. If it wasn’t really made from the get-go for 3D it was a little underwhelming. So from a market and business standpoint that really scares me because we all saw how that played out for film and there’s the potential in VR for that same problem where the consumer gets a little bit burned and walks away from the medium,” Hewish warns.

That being said, Hewish is fully aware of how tough it can be on VR developers at the moment. He doesn’t believe studios are taking shortcuts out of greed, but he would like to see better curation and discoverability on storefronts so that consumer fully understand what they’re downloading, whether a short demo-like experience or a full AAA game.

“I’m not ignorant of the reality that a lot of the developers are in. A lot of people are bootstrapping themselves; it’s a passion play to work with the technology and they just aren’t resourced to build larger games. It’s that tinkerer sort of approach – it’s not that these people hate VR and are trying to destroy the medium, but they are doing what they can with what they have. What I would love to see, which would be on the platform and store holder side, something that would allow the consumer to identify the difference not just solely based on price and reviews. Price and reviews puts everything on the consumers’ shoulders but if there was some sort of designation, some way for the stores to designate that this is a full game or an experience, it would help the industry avoid consumer frustration,” he notes.

Steam has already announced that it’s looking to improve its platform with more targeted surfacing of new releases. That’s a good first step, at least. “It’s just scary – having gone through the mobile days, the moniker the App Store got was the Crap Store and how do we avoid that [with VR]?” Hewish wonders.

Getting back to that million-dollar question, though, what Survios and other VR startups should be encouraged by is that it actually is possible to build compelling VR games without breaking the bank, compared to say the budgets needed for a Call of Duty or GTA.

“One thing that gives me real confidence in VR, which is different from what happened with 3D movies and even more so 3D television… neither one of those mediums had really good content to drive adoption. The content was expensive to create and the size of the market to recoup against that content creation was much, much larger than what we’re looking at with VR. With VR if you can confidently sell even a few hundred thousand units of a premium price point game, you’re going to be able to recoup your money because we’re not talking about productions on the scale of a movie or even a AAA console game like Call of Duty where they’re north of $100 million in development costs let alone marketing,” Hewish says.

That’s all well and good, but what advice does Hewish have for the VR startups that can’t get much if any funding currently? “First and foremost, just be very clear and upfront with the audience when you do release something. There’s nothing wrong [with AA content]… And of course you don’t want the industry to be in a situation where innovation is killed because people feel like if they don’t launch AAA they shouldn’t launch anything,” he says.

Hewish adds that one approach is to actually build your way up towards a full AAA release: “Say in your mind you have a AAA game you want to make and it’s got five core key features but you can’t fund it all at once, so maybe one approach is you release one mechanic at a time as an experience at a lower price point and along the way you’re getting enough income to sustain yourself and you’re building your core engine essentially. So you release five experiences, each one is a low price point, enough to keep you going and allow you to build the next experience and then when you’re done with all of those you’ve got your mechanics to build a bigger game. It’s sort of amortizing your costs across different SKUs. Then lastly, if you’ve got a really great idea and a great demo, there’s no harm in going to someone who might be able to help fund it further and help turn it into a AAA game. We’re going to start seeing the evolution and we already are seeing studios out there that are funding content and publishing.”

Indeed, Survios could become one of those publishers in addition to evolving into a multi-project VR studio. “Something that we’re looking at ourselves is looking at doing third-party publishing across all platforms,” Hewish tells me. “We definitely are working on additional games,” he adds. “The way that we’re built we have our core game studio and then we have our prototype team that’s part of the studio that works on rapid prototypes and iterations of different ideas and mechanics and we have a couple that have really hit and we are ramping up to get into full production on some of those to launch some additional games next year. We absolutely are looking at a portfolio approach to the business.”

Publishing deals and funding exclusives has been one way that Oculus has helped to grow the VR market, enabling some developers to build out more robust games than would have been possible otherwise. Oculus boasted during Oculus Connect that it’s invested $250 million into the ecosystem already and will invest another $250 million on top of that. And while there are many positives around this infusion of capital, Hewish cautions that developers have to think carefully about their studio approach.

“I think it’s one leg of the stool, and it’s important. It certainly doesn’t come without its risks, but I think it can be important in sustaining studios through the initial growth curve of the market. The risk is that as a studio if you’re given a big wad of cash to develop exclusively for one platform and you spend all of that on developing that game, then you don’t have an ongoing revenue stream to get you into the next game, and once the market matures those funds for exclusive content may be harder to get or may shift to go to developers that are proven in AAA, so it’s just a risk,” he advises.

“I would say any studio that does that should be planning, how do they survive after that? Where are they going to get funding next? Or have they put enough aside out of that investment to sustain into the next game when they aren’t getting funded for exclusives? Conversely, they could look to studios that are not doing platform exclusives,” he continues, hinting at Survios’ potential future in publishing. “With an Oculus or someone it might be more a straight work for hire model, fully funding an exclusive title, whereas for us it would be more a publisher model we’re looking at so there would be an ongoing revenue stream for the developer to help them grow.”

“The one thing we know looking back at history, within a couple years the hit genres and the hit content on VR may not be what we think it is currently or there’ll be something new that evolves”

Aside from the economics of development, one critical component that Survios has learned about from being in Early Access is optimization. “Being a startup, we are still trying to play catchup when it comes to having a robust compatibility lab and being able to test across multiple configurations. I hearken back to the day of making games for PCs and you really had to worry about the different configurations and drivers people had running on their machines and that’s really important in VR. We kind of developed on the hardware we had at the time so we’re playing catchup in that regard in terms of getting the performance and the optimization equal across all configurations. I would say going forward for any VR developer, really budgeting extra time for that and communicating to your audience that you’re working on it and engage them to give you feedback so you can optimize properly is pretty important. So we’re now budgeting extra time for optimization and performance into each of our spreads even if it means pushing content out a bit further,” Hewish notes.

Speaking of optimization, while Survios built Raw Data for Vive, the studio is platform agnostic and is working on bringing the game to other VR platforms, but they will have to be optimized against the strengths and weaknesses of each.

“I’ve been in the industry long enough where I’ve seen people just develop for a lead platform and port it across everything and it’s just a crap experience because they just simply get it to run and that kind of approach is not a AAA approach and could kill the market before it even gets going,” Hewish warns.

With that in mind, Raw Data will need special attention for something like PSVR, which doesn’t have the precise tracking of Vive. “We’ll take as long as we need to take to make sure that the experience is great on that platform,” Hewish stresses. “So what you’re saying about the Move and PS4, maybe we’ll do things like adjust the intensity of how quickly the enemies spawn or where they spawn from, or maybe we work on some of the haptics and some of the controls, or maybe we rewrite a little bit of stuff so the motion doesn’t need to be as precise… I’m just throwing stuff out there, not saying we’re actively doing these things. On the Vive we’re trying to get closer to 1:1 movement but maybe on Sony we go for a pattern movement that triggers an animation or something – so to the PSVR player it feels great.”

In the end, Hewish is just excited to be part of the VR revolution. “The one thing we know looking back at history, within a couple years the hit genres and the hit content on VR may not be what we think it is currently or there’ll be something new that evolves,” he says. “Like on mobile, it really brought back strategy games and iterated on those, and puzzle games, which had been around but they evolved to match the medium. VR has that same potential.”

Microsoft’s Cloud Business Continues To Be A Success Story

October 24, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

microsoft-building-150x150Microsoft’s continued investment in the cloud paid dividends once again over the past quarter, as strong growth from Azure and Office 365 offset declines in the PC market.

The company announced on Thursday that its quarterly revenue for the three-month period ending in September was flat overall at $20.5 billion. The company’s net profit was down 4 percent year-over-year from $4.9 billion to $4.7 billion.

Those results were driven by quarterly revenue from the company’s Intelligent Cloud segment, which includes Azure and Windows Server, and its Productivity and Business Processes segment, which includes Office 365 and Dynamics. Intelligent Cloud revenue grew 8 percent year-over-year to $6.4 billion, while Productivity and Business Processes segment revenue grew 6 percent to $6.7 billion.

It’s another positive sign for the cloud-focused strategy that the company adopted under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella.

Azure revenue grew by 116 percent year over year, and Microsoft revealed for the first time that its profit margin from its cloud platform is 49 percent. The company continues to keep the exact revenue and profit numbers from its public cloud platform under wraps, however.

Office 365 commercial revenue grew 51 percent year-over-year. Microsoft reported it now has more than 85 million commercial monthly active users of its cloud-based productivity suite as a service offering.

Surface sales were another bright spot for Microsoft. The company’s line of tablets and laptops brought in $926 million over the past quarter, compared to $672 million during the same period in 2015. Phone revenue continued to drag the company down for another quarter, however — revenue from that division dropped by 72 percent year-over-year.

Microsoft’s non-GAAP results of $22.3 billion in revenue and earnings of $0.76 a share blew past analyst expectations for the quarter. The consensus of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters was an expected $21.7 billion in revenue and earnings of $0.68 a share. Investors rejoiced at the news, sending the company’s stock to an all-time high above $60 per share, beating a previous high set in 1999.


Is Sharp Making A Comeback?

October 24, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Troubled Japanese television manufacturer Sharp is expecting significant improvement in annual profit due to restructuring with its new owner Foxconn.

Shares in the outfit soared more than 10 percent after the Nikkei business daily reported that Sharp forecasts operating profit of about $385 million for the business year through March which was much better than expected.

Meeting the forecast would mark the first operating profit in three years for Sharp, which is rebuilding under Taiwan’s Foxconn which bought two-thirds of the telly maker in August.

Sharp slashed about 6,000 jobs in the last financial year through early retirement and an operations overhaul including withdrawal from its money-losing North American TV set business.

Sharp said it expected profit to improve but revenue to fall. Its shares subsequently jumped nearly 11 percent to their highest price in about six months, far outperforming the benchmark Nikkei average share price index.

However the prospects of Sharp’s mainstay display panel business are not that hot. The global panel market is on the cusp of improvement as a production cutback resolved a supply glut.

But Sharp still has to find ways to compete with Chinese peers rapidly expanding capacity, and with South Korean makers far ahead in next-generation technology.

Sharp said it would provide a full-year earnings forecast on 1 November when it announces its second-quarter results.


Are Intel Processors Have A Security Issue?

October 24, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Researchers claim that they have discovered a bug in Intel chips that could compromise system securities.

According to IOActive, which describes itself as an ethical hacking company, researchers there can bypass address space layout randomization (ASLR), which is often used as a defense against malware.

The ASLR function randomizes code locations which is intended to cause systems to crash rather than be completely compromised.

Alfredo Pironti, a senior security consultant at IOActive, said that the flaw means that hardware security is important in preventing hacks.

Pironti said: “This is an interesting case as it shows that software isn’t always the easiest point of entry, particularly for those hackers that have a deeper knowledge of hardware and its vulnerabilities. But this is not the first case of something like this happening, and hardware side-channel attacks are something we have been aware of for a while.”

He continued: “It is worth noting that these attacks are often more expensive and time consuming to conduct, compared to classical software attacks. Usually they also have stricter conditions, such as running a specific software on the victim’s machine and being able to collect CPU metrics. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant. Cybercriminals are more sophisticated, well-funded and – worst of all – patient than ever before, and are always looking for new and surprising ways to infiltrate. This is why it is vital that companies have their chips pen tested during the development stage, as the cost and complexity of remediating an attack of this kind is enormous.”


Yahoo Wants Clarity On Its Email Scanning Controversy

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

yahoo-hq-150x150Yahoo is asking the U.S. government to provide further clarity  on requests for user data, following reports that said the internet company secretly scanned customer emails for terrorism-related information.

On Wednesday, Yahoo sent a letter to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, saying the company has been “unable to respond” to news articles earlier this month detailing the alleged government-mandated email scanning.

“Your office, however, is well positioned to clarify this matter of public interest,” the letter said.

The scanning allegedly involved searching through the email accounts of every Yahoo user and may have gone beyond other U.S. government requests for information, according to a report from Reuters.

However, Yahoo has called the Reuters report misleading. “The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems,” the company said.

A separate report from The New York Times suggested the email scanning was done on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice and was intended to look for signs of code belonging to a foreign terrorist group.

The recent news stories on the email scanning have “provoked broad speculation” about Yahoo and U.S. government activities, the internet company said in its letter. Although Yahoo respects the need for confidentiality, the company is urging more transparency over how the U.S. government goes about legally obtaining users’ private communications.

“Transparency underpins the ability of any company in the information and communications technology sector to earn and preserve the trust of its customers,” the letter said.

Yahoo has agreed to be sold to Verizon as part of a $4.8 billion deal. But the internet company’s value may have diminished on news of the secret email scanning and a massive data breach publicized in September.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google Signs Deal With CBS For Web TV Service

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

google-web-tv-150x150Alphabet Inc unit Google has inked a deal with CBS Corp to carry the network on its planned web TV service and is in advanced negotiations with 21st Century Fox and Viacom Inc to distribute its channels, three sources told Reuters.

The service, which will be part of Google’s YouTube Platform, is expected to launch in the first quarter and will include all of CBS’ content, including live NFL games, one of the sources said.

Google’s so-called “skinny bundle,” with fewer channels than a typical cable subscription, will cost $30 to $40 a month, the source said. It was unclear which Fox and Viacom networks would be part of the Google service, two of the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because the discussions are confidential. A spokesperson for YouTube declined to comment.

Google will be launching into an increasingly crowded market. Dish Network Corp and Sony Corp, which in the past year have launched skinny bundles to appeal to younger viewers who do not want to pay for cable.

And both AT&T Inc and Hulu, the online video service owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast Corp and Time Warner Inc, have streaming television offerings that are expected to go live in the next few months.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, said Google was also in advanced talks with Walt Disney Co.

A representative at Disney was not immediately available for comment. CBS, Viacom and Fox declined to comment.

Google has been talking to media companies about its web TV for years, but its plans have just ramped up over the past few months, one of the sources said. Apple Inc had looked at a similar service but has shelved that plan for the time being, sources had previously told Reuters.


Big Blue Appears To Be On The Up Swing

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

The ever shrinking Biggish Blue posted better-than-expected third-quarter revenue thanks to its moves to the cloud and analytics businesses.

Since Ginni Rometty took over IBM, the outfit has attempted to shift toward more profitable areas, such as cloud services, artificial intelligence, analytics, and security. Meanwhile it has killed off its traditional hardware and services businesses.

Revenue from those areas, which the company calls “strategic imperatives,” rose 16 percent to $8 billion in the third quarter. Cloud revenue jumped 44 percent compared with a 30 percent rise in the second quarter, it said.

Curiously though, shareholders were not that impressed and were more concerned about the fact the company had reported its 18th straight quarter of declining revenue. Shares were down 3.1 percent at $150.60 in after-market trading.

IBM has made a string of acquisitions focused on elements of its strategic imperatives business, including The Weather Company and Truven Health, spending $5.45 billion so far this year. IBM spent $821 million on acquisitions in the same period last year.

IBM’s operating gross margin fell 2.1 percentage points to 48 percent in the quarter, as a result of higher investments in the company’s cloud business and the shift to a subscription-based as-a-service model.

The company’s revenue marginally fell to $19.23 billion in the quarter ended 30 September from $19.28 billion a year earlier, but beat the average analyst estimate of $19 billion. Net income fell to $2.85 billion from $2.95 billion.


Will EA’s Battlefield 1 Be A Hit?

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

The conventional wisdom said that military first-person shooters avoided World War I because it wasn’t a “fun” war. EA DICE set out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong with Battlefield 1, and the initial wave of reviews suggests they succeeded.

As Polygon’s Arthur Gies noted in his 9 out of 10 review of the game, one of the ways DICE accomplished that was by using its single-player War Stories mode as a way to convey just how horrific the war really was.

“Battlefield 1 navigates the tonal challenges of the awful human cost of WWI well, in part by not ignoring them,” Gies said. “There’s a consistent acknowledgment of the abject terror and hopelessness that sat atop the people involved in the conflict on all sides, in part thanks to a grimly effective prologue. There’s also less explicit demonetization of the ‘enemy’ – something that feels like a real relief in the military shooter space, which seems hell-bent on giving players something they can feel good about shooting at.”

War Stories is a mostly unconnected series of short campaigns that total about six hours of playtime in total. The anthology puts players in the roles of different individuals in different combat zones, each one with their own distinct motivations and skill sets.

“Battlefield 1 feels like a move away from military shooter doctrine in plenty of ways,” Gies said. “But the biggest departure is in how little shooting there can be, at least compared to the game’s contemporaries. From tank pilot to fighter ace, from Italian shock trooper to Bedouin horse-back resistance fighter, I was never bored, because I was never doing the same thing for long.”

The change in setting also impacted the multiplayer portion of the game, which Gies appreciated. While DICE made some changes in player classes that Gies seemed to think unnecessary but “mostly fine,” he was particularly taken with the way the series’ signature physics-driven chaos and destruction felt fresh in a new (old) setting.

“Small issues aside, Battlefield 1 marks an impressive, risk-taking reinvention for the series,” Gies said. “That the multiplayer is as good and distinctive as it is is less surprising than a campaign that takes a difficult setting and navigates it with skill and invention. The end result is a shooter than succeeded far beyond my expectations, and one that exists as the best, most complete Battlefield package since 2010.”

Like Gies, GameSpot’s Miguel Concepcion gave the game a 9 out of 10. Also like Gies, Concepcion labelled the game as the best Battlefield since Bad Company 2, praising the War Stories single-player mode and its novel approach to entertaining while also attempting to inform players as to the horrors of the war.

“Beyond these heartfelt tales of brotherhood and solemn reflection, War Stories gracefully complements the multiplayer scenarios as a glorified yet effective training mode,” Concepcion said. “Along with practice time commanding vehicles and heavy artillery, it provides an opportunity to learn melee combat, as well as how to survive against high concentrations of enemy forces.”

Concepcion was also taken with the audiovisual impact of the game, long a selling point for the Battlefield franchise.

“However accurate or inaccurate Battlefield 1 is–lite J.J. Abrams lens effects notwithstanding–the immersive production values superbly amplify the sights and sounds that have previously existed in other war shooters,” Concepcion said. “Examples include the distinct clatter of empty shells dropping on the metal floor of a tank and the delayed sound of an exploding balloon from far away. The brushed metal on a specific part of a revolver is the kind of eye-catching distraction that can get you killed. Beyond the usual cacophony of a 64-player match, salvos from tanks and artillery guns add bombast and bass to the large map match. And many vistas are accentuated with weather-affected lighting with dramatic results, like the blinding white sunlight that reflects off a lake after a rainstorm.

“With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters. It brings into focus countries and nationalities that do not exist today while also shedding light on how the outcome of that war has shaped our lives.”

In giving the game four stars out of five, Games Radar’s David Roberts also lauded the way DICE balanced a fun shooter with the horror of war.

“Even though Battlefield 1 skews toward fun rather than realism whenever it gets the chance, it’s as much about the reflection on the real history of these battles and the people who fought in them as it is about the gleeful embrace of ridiculous virtual combat,” Roberts said.

Like his peers, Roberts was impressed by the game’s War Stories single-player mode, but found the anthology format slightly restricting.

“As much as I enjoyed the narratives these missions tell, I wished each one had a little more time to breathe,” Roberts said. “Each chapter is about an hour long, and just when you get invested, they’re over. Battlefield 1’s War Stories barely skim the surface of the history, but – to be fair – this is in-line with the game’s focus on fun over fastidious accuracy.”

As for the multiplayer, Roberts said its “as good here as it’s ever been” for the Battlefield franchise. Even though the setting meant trading in the modern assault rifles of previous Battlefield games for more antiquated rifles and iron sights, Roberts said the overall impact has been an improvement on the game’s online modes.

He also found the franchise focus on destruction was given new meaning by its fresh context.

“When all’s said and done, when the matches end and the dust settles, you’ll see that large portions of the maps have transformed, their buildings pockmarked by blasts, their fortifications turned into piles of rubble,” Roberts said. “Even though bloody entertainment is at Battlefield 1’s heart, the post-game wasteland is a reminder of the toll that conflict takes on the people it consumes. Whether in single or multiplayer Battlefield 1 absolutely nails the historical sense of adventure and expectation before swiftly giving way to dread as the war takes a physical and mental toll on its participants. And this – as much as the intimate, brutal virtual warfare – is the game’s most impressive feat.”

While EGM’s Nick Plessas gave the game an 8 out of 10, he included slightly more critical comments than some other reviewers doling out equivalent scores. He was generally upbeat about the War Stories approach, but said it “misses the forest for the trees somewhat by not giving any story enough time for effectual investment.” He also identified two other issues that hamper the gameplay segments of the single-player mode.

“First, enemy AI leaves much to be desired, so that even on Hard difficulty your foes’ failure to react, flank, or recognize you as a threat syphons some of the fun out of fights,” Plessas said. “Second, the game adds a focus on stealth with a collection of mechanics like enemy awareness levels and distraction tools. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the Battlefield games’ fast pace and stiff controls don’t suit stealth very well, and the enemies’ recurring AI deficiencies makes these sections a slog.”

As for online, Plessas said new features like Behemoth vehicles (zeppelins, trains, and warships) were well-handled, as were “elite” classes like flamethrower troops. The addition of cavalry troops and era-appropriate weapons and planes will also require players to adjust the tactics they might have relied on in previous Battlefield games. However, the adjustment may not be as drastic as one might expect.

“These comparisons are integral because they represent the crux of what is truly new in Battlefield 1,” Plessas said. “A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before-and returning players may fall into a familiar groove quicker than expected. This isn’t necessarily bad for those in love with Battlefield, however, and while the setting may be the most significant shift, those invested in the series will find Battlefield 1 as another terrific reason to load up.”


With Polaris In Mind AMD Has New VR Projects On The Horizon

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

In a bid to push its Polaris chip, AMD has launched several new VR projects.

On the list of cunning plans is a VR GPU certification, enhancements to its software/hardware platform and setting up a new VR supply chain. If this pans out, it should expand its presence in the VR market, and provide a rather nice channel for its Polaris GPUs.

Also included is a cunning plan to pushing VR Internet cafes in China. AMD has been assisting the development of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive as well as partnering with content providers to create applications for the gaming, entertainment, education, science, medical care and news sectors.

Other projects include AMD’s LiquidVR project which aims to help simplify and optimise VR content creation. It has started promoting its Radeon Pro technology solution to help VR content creators create movie-like VR content.

This is all about Polaris. The VR solution is based around AMD’s Polaris-based Radeon Pro WX 7100 GPU which is priced at $1,000. We will see it  released at the end of 2016.  Well, when we say we will see it, the day that I am allowed to spend $1000 on a GPU is the day I have won the lottery.

AMD  is also marketing its Loom project to help partners create Ultra HD-standard VR movies. The open source project will also be released at the end of the year.


DNA Testing As Part Of Job Applicant Screening?

October 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

dna-testing-150x150Currently it is illegal to require DNA testing for employment, but as science advances its understanding of genes that correlate to certain desirable traits — such as leadership and intelligence — business may want this information.

People seeking leadership roles in business, or even those in search of funding for a start-up, may volunteer their DNA test results to demonstrate that they have the right aptitude, leadership capabilities and intelligence for the job.

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s possible based on the direction of the science, according to Gartner analysts David Furlonger and Stephen Smith, who presented their research at the firm’s Symposium IT/xpo here. This research is called “maverick” in Gartner parlance, meaning it has a somewhat low probability and is still years out, but its potential is nonetheless worrisome to the authors.

It isn’t as radical as it seems. Job selection on the basis of certain desirable genetic characteristics is already common in the military and sports. The average athlete in the National Football League, for instance, is 6’2″ in height and nearly 247 pounds, versus the average man at 5’9″ and 182 pounds.

Science has demonstrated a linkage between genes and IQ in twins, and new research has identified genes linked to leadership. One firm, BGI in China, is working to identify human intelligence.

Genetic testing to glean personal insights is also mainstream. People are interested in what genetic testing reveals about their health and ancestry. Science is certain to unlock more information from these genetic tests as time goes on.

If businesses come to believe that some employees are born predisposed to leadership, they may be interested in identifying people early in their careers who have the genes that may help them become the next great CEO, CIO or CFO. But one thing businesses can’t do is to ask for a blood test.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits employers from collecting this information. The law was motivated, in part, by concern that employers will use genetic test information to screen out job applicants who may be at risk for certain types of illnesses. A blood test may be unnecessary.

Businesses, using this understanding about how some characteristics are genetically determined, may develop new interview methodologies and testing to help identify candidates predisposed to the traits they desire, such as leadership.

Now that scientists know some characteristics are genetically driven, “we can move with a little more confidence and start modeling out what we think it might look like in ways that don’t break the law,” Smith said.

Singapore To Put Self-driving Buses On The Road

October 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

self-driving-buses-150x150Singapore has signed an agreement to begin testing self-driving buses, as the city-state pushes ahead with its vision of using autonomous technology to help deal with the challenges posed by its limited land and labor.

Countries around the world are encouraging the development of such technologies, and high-density Singapore is hoping driverless vehicles will prompt its residents to use more shared vehicles and public transport.

“They say big dreams start small, so we are collaborating with NTU (Nanyang Technological University) on an autonomous bus trial, starting with two electric hybrid buses,” Singapore’s transport regulator said in a Facebook post.

The Land Transport Authority hopes eventually to outfit existing buses with sensors and develop a self-driving system that can effectively navigate Singapore’s traffic and climate conditions.

It did not specify when the trial would start.

Earlier this week, Singapore said it would seek information from the industry and research institutes on the potential use of self-driving vehicles for street cleaning and refuse collection.

Self-driving vehicles are also being tested in another western Singapore district, where a driverless car collided with a truck on Tuesday when changing lanes. Developer nuTonomy, which started trials of the world’s first robo-taxis in August, said it was investigating the accident.

Is AMD’s Polaris Getting Tweaked?

October 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-polarisWhile no-one had been expected much from AMD before Vega in the next few months, it appears the outfit is going to ship revised versions of the Polaris 10 and 11 graphics chips.

Word on the street is that they will have a 50-percent improvement in performance per watt, which seems a bit high. These are the beasties you will find in the RX 480 and RX 460 which were already praised for their high performance with low power draw.

It could mean that an embedded Polaris 11 card which had a 75w draw will go to 50w and get a 0.35 Tflop increase in raw performance.

This should bring about a range of mid-generation GPUs with refreshed internals that make them far more capable.
Polaris 10 found in the RX 480 will get 5.8 Teraflops performance need less than 95 watts.

They should be out under RX 4XX branding in a few months but it will mean that the mid-range laptops that have them will have much longer battery life.
While the specs are pretty good, Vega will clean their clock so it is probably better to wait.


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