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Young Star Helps Astronomers Solve Stellar Mystery

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Astronomers using the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have precisely measured the rotating fountains of gas flowing out from a massive newborn star, revealing the complex interplay between the star’s magnetism and centrifugal forces.

Astronomers are still puzzled by the way massive stars form in interstellar space, the new study’s researchers said in a statement. When a massive rotating cloud of gas collapses under gravity, stellar fusion becomes possible, and a baby star is born. As angular momentum is conserved while the cloud shrinks, the resulting baby star should be spinning very fast, according to the laws of physics. 

To get a better idea of the conservation of angular (or rotational) momentum, imagine a spinning ice-skater. As ice-skaters spin with their arms outstretched, they spin slowly; when they bring their arms close to their bodies, they spin faster. Physics dictates that this concept should hold true for a shrinking cloud of star-forming gas: As it shrinks, it should spin faster.

But astronomers have found that stars in our galaxy spin much more slowly than the laws of physics predict they should. Therefore, there must be some mechanism that’s dissipating angular momentum from stars soon after they are born, the researchers said.

In the new work, published online June 12 in the journal Nature Astronomy, astronomers observed a massive newborn star called Orion KL Source I in the Orion Nebula and used ALMA to reveal the rotation of its powerful stellar winds. 

“We have clearly imaged the rotation of the outflow,” Tomoya Hirota, an assistant professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and SOKENDAI (the Graduate University for Advanced Studies) and lead author on the paper, said in the statement. “In addition, the result gives us important insight into the launching mechanism of the outflow.”

Hirota’s team noticed that the outflow of stellar gases is rotating in the same direction as the star and that it emanates from Source I’s hot gas disk, and not from the star itself. This finding agrees with a theoretical “magnetocentrifugal disk wind model,” the researchers said.

In this model, gas is ejected from the rotating disk and is forced to move outward. Like a spinning lawn sprinkler, propelled by centrifugal forces, the water spirals outward, away from the sprinkler head, siphoning some of the star’s angular momentum. But in the case of this star, the spinning gases leaving the disk are also directed up and down along magnetic-field lines to create the spinning outflows that ALMA has detected. And the researchers believe that these flows are dissipating rotational energy from the baby star, slowing down its rotation, and therefore possibly explaining why stars in our galaxy rotate more slowly than expected.

“In addition to high sensitivity and fidelity, high resolution submillimeter-wave observation is essential to our study, which ALMA made possible for the first time,” Hirota said. “Submillimeter waves are a unique diagnostic tool for the dense innermost region of the outflow, and at that exact place, we detected the rotation.

“ALMA’s resolution will become even higher in the future,” Hirota added. “We would like to observe other objects, to improve our understanding of the launching mechanism of outflows and the formation scenario of massive stars with the assistance of theoretical research.”

Courtesy-Space

Amazon Files Patent For ‘Drone Towers’ Delivery Facility

June 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

One can argue that Amazon has some lofty ideas for drone delivery.

The e-commerce giant has filed a patent application for a “multi-level fulfillment center” that would allow drones to deliver packages in urban areas. Basically, it sounds like a giant robot-powered tower that would make it easy for drones to zip in and out as they deliver packages around a city.

There’s a “growing need and desire to locate fulfillment centers within cities, such as in downtown districts and densely populated parts of the cities,” Amazon says in the patent application, published Thursday by the US Patent and Trademark Office along with several other drone-related applications by the company.

The other patent applications, which were earlier spotted by The Mercury News, cover things like drone performance and noise control. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of course, patents are no guarantee this drone tower will become a reality, but Amazon’s been pursuing drone deliveries in recent years. In March, the company’s drone delivery arm, Amazon Prime Air, shipped its first package out in public in the US. Amazon, UPS, Google and others are also developing drone delivery tech in hopes of bringing shipments to customers more quickly and cheaply.

Nissan-Renault Planning Driverless Ride-hailing Service

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Renault SA alliance plan to launch driverless ride-hailing and ride-sharing services in coming years, as the car makers place their focus beyond making and selling cars to survive an industry being quickly transformed by new services.

Automakers are leveraging expertise in automated driving functions for mass-market cars to develop mobility services, as they compete with tech firms such as Alphabet Inc and Uber Technologies Inc  in the fast-growing “pay-per-ride” market which threatens to hit demand for car ownership.

Ogi Redzic, head of Nissan-Renault’s Connected Vehicles and Mobility Services division, said the alliance would begin self-driving services based on its electric cars “certainly within 10 years,” though not likely before 2020.

“We think that the big opportunity for us is in automation, electric vehicles and ride-sharing and hailing together,” Redzic said in an interview on Thursday.

Nissan and Renault join a small group of automakers aiming to enter the ride-hailing market, which Goldman Sachs last month estimated would grow eightfold by 2030 to be five times the size of the taxi market.

Redzic said the Japanese and French partners were testing self-driving vehicles, and that any service would run on pre-mapped courses with predetermined pick-up and drop-off points.

The two automakers are developing the system with Japanese game software maker DeNA Co Ltd and French public transport operator Transdev SA.

German rival BMW AG is also testing autonomous vehicles for use in ride-hailing services, while Uber has been developing self-driving technology.

U.S. tech firm nuTonomy Inc and ride services company Lyft Inc, which counts General Motors Co as a major shareholder, this month announced they would begin piloting an autonomous vehicle ride-hailing service in Boston.

Redzic said to market a self-driving service, regulations need to change to allow driverless cars on roads. At the moment, most global jurisdictions do not expressly authorise vehicles to operate on regular roads without a driver.

“It doesn’t just depend on us,” he said. “To become fully driverless you need laws to change.”

Is Google Poaching From Apple To Help The Pixel Phone

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has reportedly scooped up veteran chip architect Manu Gulati from Apple, fuelling speculation that the firm is designing custom silicon for its Pixel smartphones. 

Gulati has confirmed his move to Google on his recently updated LinkedIn profile, where he’s now listed as ‘Lead SoC Architect’ at the Mountain View firm.

His profile doesn’t give much else away, but Variety reports that Google has roped in Gulati to help it build custom chips for its future Pixel smartphones, as it looks to ditch Qualcomm in a bid to better take on the iPhone. 

Gulati certainly has the experience, having been instrumental in Apple’s efforts in building custom chips for the iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV, from the single-core A4 chip found inside the original iPad to the six-core A10X Fusion processor powering the new iPad Pro. 

What’s more, prior to joining Apple, Gulati worked for almost 15 years at chip makers AMD and Broadcom, giving him a total of 27 years of experience in the industry.

Coinciding with Gulati’s hire, Google has posted a number of job advertisements for chip design-related positions, including one for a ‘Mobile SoC CPU Architect’ and a ‘Mobile SoC Architect,’ who will “help define the architecture of future generations of phone and tablet chips.”

As well as shifting to custom silicon for its homegrown smartphones, Google is shifting OEM partners, according to 9to5Google. It reports that HTC has been binned in favour of LG, which has been roped in to build the next-generation Pixel XL, codenamed ‘Taimen’. 

It’s unclear why Google has ditched HTC in favour of LG, but the report notes that firm was perhaps dissatisfied with HTC’s manufacturing scale, given that both the Pixel and Pixel XL experienced severe shipping delays.

Courtesy-Fud

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Gets August Launch Date

June 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd  plans to host a launch event in New York City for its next Galaxy Note smartphone in the second half of August, a person familiar with the matter has revealed to Reuters.

The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and so declined to be identified, said the Galaxy Note 8 will sport a curved screen that is marginally larger than the 6.2-inch version of the Galaxy S8 smartphone and feature two rear cameras. The Note 7 was equipped with a 5.7-inch curved screen and one rear camera.

The person did not elaborate further on the phone including pricing. A Samsung Electronics spokesman declined to comment.

Samsung is intent on continuing the premium Note series despite the costly collapse of the Galaxy Note 7, which it was forced to scrap roughly two months from launch in October due to fire-prone batteries. The incident, one of the biggest product safety failures in tech history, cost the firm 6.1 trillion won ($5.4 billion) in operating profit and hurt its credibility.

The firm disclosed its preliminary findings in January that different battery problems from two suppliers caused the fires, which was corroborated by two other independent probes. The firm implemented several steps including a new set of battery safety checks to avoid repeat incidents, which analysts said is helping it win back consumer trust.

Strong initial response for the Galaxy S8 smartphones that began selling in April indicate the firm is recovering quickly, with some analysts forecasting the device to set Samsung’s internal sales records and push the firm towards what is widely expected to be its best-ever profit for April-June. There have been no battery fire incidents reported for the S8.

Counterpoint Research estimates Samsung regained its spot as the top global smartphone maker in the first quarter after ceding the spot to archrival Apple Inc in the previous quarter. Apple is widely expected to unveil its next iPhones by October.

Amazon’s Acquisition Of Slack Could Mean Deeper Enterprise Presence

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Online retail giant Amazon is rumored to be interested in purchasing collaboration firm Slack Technologies — a possibility that could give Amazon a more direct entry into the enterprise.

“Bottom line: this could be a good move for Amazon in terms of upping their game in the enterprise collaboration market, but the devil is in the details of staying power and execution versus competitors like Google, Microsoft and Facebook,” said Forrester analyst Art Schoeller.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Amazon is considering the move in a deal that could be valued at $9 billion.

A Slack official declined to comment on the report. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Slack has more than 5 million daily users, and has seen widespread adoption since its inception three years ago. More recently, Microsoft was thought to be eyeing the company, but backed away from a deal when it determined the price — possibly as much as $8 billion — was too high, Schoeller said.

Microsoft eventually shifted tactics and formed Microsoft Teams, which launched in November 2016.

The Amazon interest in Slack is noteworthy, given that in February it released a video and audio conference service named Amazon Chime. Schoeller also noted that Amazon’s WorkMail offering has not put much of dent in the popularity of Microsoft’s well-established Exchange/Outlook combo or Google Gmail.

Acquiring Slack would help boost Amazon’s market position, Schoeller said, but it would need to follow through with more investment after any purchase if it hopes to take on the major collaboration rivals. He also noted there could be spillover effects on Amazon’s cloud operations.

“If Amazon continues to add business applications on top of Amazon Web Services, it will give other partners pause because they would now operate on a competitor’s platform,” Schoeller said.

Although Amazon Chime already has a Chat Room capability, Schoeller expects Slack would displace that as instant messaging gives way to similar team messaging apps.

Chime competes with online web conferencing services such as Zoom, Uber Conference and Join.me. Alan Lepofsky, vice president at Constellation Research, noted that besides WorkMail, Amazon also offers Amazon Docs which is a file-sharing service.

“It will be interesting to see if Amazon and Slack make a good combination,” Lepofsky said. “Amazon has been trying to improve their reach inside corporate accounts, outside of just developers. They have their Workspaces virtual desktop, WorkMail and WorkDocs, Chime and Do…, but we don’t hear much about corporate customers adopting these tools.

“Perhaps Slack would provide them a foot in the door, kick starting the opportunity for more of their platform,” he said.

Slack could also act as a front end to many of Amazon’s A.I. services, Lepofsky added. The company could wind up with an Echo product line and the Slack platform for software.

YouTube Introduces New Steps To Fight Extremists Videos

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google has committed to introducing more measures to identify and remove terrorist or violent extremist content on its video sharing platform YouTube, the company said in a blog post.

Google said it would take a tougher position on videos containing supremacist or inflammatory religious content by issuing a warning and not monetizing or recommending them for user endorsements, even if they do not clearly violate its policies.

The company will also employ more engineering resources and increase its use of technology to help identify extremist videos, in addition to training new content classifiers to quickly identify and remove such content.

“While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now,” said Google’s general counsel Kent Walker.

Google will expand its collaboration with counter-extremist groups to identify content that may be used to radicalize and recruit extremists, it said.

The company will also reach potential Islamic State recruits through targeted online advertising and redirect them towards anti-terrorist videos in a bid to change their minds about joining.

Germany, France and Britain, countries where civilians have been killed and wounded in bombings and shootings by Islamist militants in recent years, have pressed Facebook and other providers of social media such as Google and Twitter to do more to remove militant content and hate speech.

Facebook on Thursday offered additional insight on its efforts to remove terrorism content, a response to political pressure in Europe to militant groups using the social network for propaganda and recruiting.

Facebook has ramped up use of artificial intelligence such as image matching and language understanding to identify and remove content quickly, the company said in a blog post.

Are Connected Cars On The Rise

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Demand for connected cars has been rising and the type of vehicles is expected to account for 29.1 per cent of overall car shipments in 2017 and by 2035, according to beancounters at Fuji Keizai.

In a new report the analyst think that by 2035 90 per cent of cars shipped will be equipped with Internet connectivity. It is pretty likely, and so far in the future that most people will have forgotten about the prediction by then anyway.

Car vendors have already started pushing Internet of Things (IoT) service system for their vehicles such as Toyota’s T-Connect, BMW’s Connected Drive and Ford’s Car-Net-App-Connect.

Connected cars using embedded communication modules will enjoy better growth than models using tethered-type and other-type of communication modules, the outfit claimed.

A tethered-type communication module requires an external device such as a smartphone to connect to the Internet, while an embedded one can directly connect to the Internet via its built-in Sim card support.

One of the key events for next-generation IoT for cars will be the development 5G networks among communication device and component makers is expected to accelerate in order to satisfy high-speed transmission demand from the new IoT infotainment systems.

Courtesy-Fud

Mozilla Rolls Out Improved Version Of Firefox

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla continued its years-long campaign to make Firefox more technologically competitive with the competition, Google’s Chrome in particular, by boosting performance, increasing stability and reining in memory consumption.

The open-source developer also patched 31 security vulnerabilities, three of them rated “Critical,” the firm’s most serious ranking.

Firefox 54, released June 13, expanded on Mozilla’s multi-process project, code-named “Electrolysis” (shortened to “e10s”), that since 2009 has tried to mimic Chrome, and separate the browser’s operation into more than one CPU process. Previously, Firefox split its user interface (UI) and all content into separate processes — running all tabs in one of those processes — to prevent the browser from completely crashing when a website or web app failed. Firefox 54 uses up to four processes to run the browser’s tabs, assigning each to one of the CPU buckets.

“By separating the tabs into separate processes, we make better use of the hardware on your computer, so Firefox can deliver you more of the web you love, with less waiting,” assured Nick Nguyen, the product lead for Firefox, in a post to a company blog. In the same piece, Nguyen bragged that version 54 was “the best release of Firefox ever.”

Because operating multiple processes bloats a browser’s memory consumption, and also because Firefox pre-e10s was extensively criticized as a RAM pig, Nguyen asserted that version 54 uses “significantly less RAM” than rivals such as Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Edge. Elsewhere, Ryan Pollack, a product marketing manager at Mozilla, argued that the four-process limit is the correct compromise between low and high memory use. He even cited the Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairy tale to declare that the balance between performance (lots of processes) and memory consumption (few processes) is perfect.

“Firefox uses four content processes because it’s the ‘just right’ number for many Firefox users,” said Pollack. “With four content processes, your computer should have plenty of memory left to run apps besides Firefox.”

Chrome has relied on a multi-process model since its 2008 launch. Because it devotes a separate process to each tab, and each process requires memory, Chrome generally consumes much more memory than other browsers. (Safari uses a similar, but not identical, multi-process model that ultimately eats less RAM than Chrome. Edge, too, uses multiple processes.) So, it wasn’t surprising that Pollack compared Firefox 54’s memory appetite primarily to Chrome’s, and charged that in a 30-tab test the latter required up to 2.4 times the RAM of Firefox.

Users with devices boasting larger amounts of RAM — more than 8GB, Pollack said — can boost the number of processes Firefox 54 consumes by typing about:config in the browser’s address bar, then changing the number for the dom.ipc.processCount setting.

While e10s has been a focus of Mozilla engineers for two years, the project also illustrated how far Firefox had fallen behind other browsers, notably Chrome but even, in areas, Edge. Mozilla has suffered several massive defeats in recent years, including a drubbing over mobile operating systems and a lesser beating from a stab at in-browser advertising. Lately, it has rededicated itself to Firefox, but the jury remains undecided, with some, including a former CTO, maintaining that the browser has no chance of unseating Chrome.

Last month, Firefox accounted for 12% of all browsers used worldwide, about a fifth of the share owned by Chrome and half that of a combined Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge. That May number was the highest of the year so far, but it was also nearly identical to Firefox’s share of 24 months earlier, showing how mired the browser had become.

After Acquiring Whole Foods Is Slack The Next Amazon Target?

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Online retail giant Amazon is said t be interested in snapping up collaboration firm Slack Technologies — a possibility that could give Amazon a more direct entry into the enterprise.

“Bottom line: this could be a good move for Amazon in terms of upping their game in the enterprise collaboration market, but the devil is in the details of staying power and execution versus competitors like Google, Microsoft and Facebook,” said Forrester analyst Art Schoeller.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Amazon is considering the move in a deal that could be valued at $9 billion.

A Slack official declined to comment on the report. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Slack has more than 5 million daily users, and has seen widespread adoption since its inception three years ago. More recently, Microsoft was thought to be eyeing the company, but backed away from a deal when it determined the price — possibly as much as $8 billion — was too high, Schoeller said.

Microsoft eventually shifted tactics and formed Microsoft Teams, which launched in November 2016.

The Amazon interest in Slack is noteworthy, given that in February it released a video and audio conference service named Amazon Chime. Schoeller also noted that Amazon’s WorkMail offering has not put much of dent in the popularity of Microsoft’s well-established Exchange/Outlook combo or Google Gmail.

Acquiring Slack would help boost Amazon’s market position, Schoeller said, but it would need to follow through with more investment after any purchase if it hopes to take on the major collaboration rivals. He also noted there could be spillover effects on Amazon’s cloud operations.

“If Amazon continues to add business applications on top of Amazon Web Services, it will give other partners pause because they would now operate on a competitor’s platform,” Schoeller said.

Although Amazon Chime already has a Chat Room capability, Schoeller expects Slack would displace that as instant messaging gives way to similar team messaging apps.

Will Samsung’s Bixby Compete With Apple’s HomePod

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The as-yet-unnamed speaker will be powered by the Samsung’s Bixby AI assistant, according to the Korea Herald, which the firm has already confirmed will be coming to IoT gadgets as well as smartphones and tablets.

However, this is likely a sign that the speaker won’t be arriving any time soon, as Samsung last week announced plans to delay the rollout of Bixby to Galaxy S8 handsets in the US, because it’s, er, struggling to understand English. 

We don’t yet know much else about Samsung’s smart speaker, although the report notes that the firm has been granted patents for the mooted device in South Korea. 

News of Samsung building its own AI-powered speaker comes, unsurprisingly, just days after Apple took the wraps off its first stab at the Amazon and Google-dominated market. The speaker, called the Apple HomePod for some God-forsaken reason, is a 7in tall bin-like device

The speaker, called the HomePod for some godforsaken reason, is a 7in tall bin-like device, which can be controlled using Apple’s Siri AI assistant. 

Inside you’ll find Apple’s A8 processor, which the company claims is “the biggest brain inside of a speaker”. This sits alongside a 4in Apple-built subwoofer and a seven tweeter array with precision acoustic horns and directional control. We don’t really know what that means, either, but Apple claims it will “rock the house”. Er. 

The speaker also features “spatial awareness,” which allows it to automatically tune the sound to the space that the speaker is in.

“Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

“HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a beautiful speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion-free music and be a helpful assistant around your home.”

The Apple HomePod will be available from December, priced at $349. UK pricing has not yet been announced.

Courtesy-TheInq

Android Pay Adds First International Remittance Firm WorldRemit

June 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Cross-border money transfer service WorldRemit is teaming up Android Pay, making it the first international remittance firm to run on the Google payments system, the company said on Tuesday.

Connecting with Android Pay will enable WorldRemit customers in developed markets like Europe or North America to make instant international money transfers to reach the 112 million accounts available via WorldRemit’s network of payment channels.

London-based WorldRemit says it handles about three-quarters of mobile phone-based international money transfers, a small but fast-growing segment of the global $575 billion worldwide remittance market. Recipients using WorldRemit can up pick cash or deposit money in banks or mobile money accounts or top up mobile accounts.

Android Pay is a secure way for smartphone users to store credit, debit or loyalty cards to make payments online or in stores which Google has set up in about 15 of the world’s most advanced markets since launching it two years ago.

In effect, smartphone users where Android Pay is available will have a simple and secure way to make money transfers to the 125 countries where WorldRemit operates.

“Our customers often complete money transfer transactions while talking to family or friends on WhatsApp,” WorldRemit Chief Executive Ismail Ahmed said in an interview last week at the MoneyConf financial technology conference in Madrid. “Anything we can do to simplify that process is a big thing for us.”

Ahmed, a former United Nations development advisor from Somaliland, set up WorldRemit in 2010 and has raised nearly $150 million in equity funding from venture firms including Accel and TCV and another $45 million in debt financing.

Once Android Pay is set up, transfers can be done in five clicks via the WorldRemit service, the company said. Using this route, customers no longer have to re-enter credit card details or pass additional security tests that can derail transactions.

The cost of transfers via Android Pay are in line with other credit or debit card processing fees it charges – normally well under 5 percent – WorldRemit said.

WorldRemit makes money by charging basic handling fees and a small mark-up on foreign exchange rates, which typically undercut rates charged by traditional, agent-based transfer firms like Western Union and MoneyGram.

Online payments firm PayPal began offering Android Pay to U.S. customers for domestic shopping or other transactions in April, but has not expanded internationally.

Apple, Dell Said To Be Joining Bid For Toshiba’s Chip Unit

June 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Tech titans Apple and Dell Inc will join a Foxconn-led consortium bidding for Toshiba Corp’s highly prized chip unit, the CEO of the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer told Reuters on Monday.

Terry Gou, Foxconn’s founder and chief executive, said U.S.-based Kingston Technology Co, a maker of memory products, would also be part of the bidding group, while Amazon.com Inc was close to joining.

The Taiwanese firm is also in discussions with Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems Inc  about their participation in the bid, he said.

He declined to comment on the total size of the offer or say how much Apple and other U.S. firms planned to invest.

“I can tell you Apple is in for sure,” Gou said in an interview, adding that its participation had been approved by the Chief Executive Tim Cook and Apple’s board of directors.

Toshiba is rushing to find a buyer for the world’s second-largest producer of NAND chips, which it values at $18 billion or more, to cover billions of dollars in cost overruns at its now-bankrupt U.S. nuclear business Westinghouse Electric Corp.

Foxconn, however, has not been seen as a frontrunner for the unit due to its deep ties with China, where it manufactures much of its products. The Japanese government has said it will block any deal that would risk the transfer of key chip technology out of the country.

But Gou said that Foxconn-led consortium contained no Chinese capital and had the advantage of not inviting as much antitrust scrutiny as other suitors.

“The key is that we are all customers, we are users,” he said.

Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, and its Japanese unit Sharp Corp would have a combined stake of not more than 40 percent, he added.

Representatives for Apple and the other U.S. firms named by Gou could not be immediately reached for comment outside of regular business hours. Sharp declined to comment.

U.S. Banks To Launch New Payments Network Zelle

June 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. banking industry is gearing up to launch its answer to the popular mobile payments app Venmo, in what is likely to be the biggest change in years in how individuals exchange funds digitally.

Over the next week, five of the largest U.S. banks will light up their segments of a new payments network called Zelle, executives said in interviews. They plan to announce details of the launch on Monday, and expect another two dozen banks and credit unions to join over the next year.

The long-awaited network will allow tens of millions of bank customers to send money to each other instantly – known as person-to-person payments – with a few taps on their smartphones. That is an improvement over Venmo, which immediately alerts users that a money transfer is in progress, but takes time to shift funds between bank accounts.

Customers who use existing bank payment apps may not notice much of a change beyond marketing. Transfers will simply happen faster because the banks are finally linking to each other, executives said.

“By coming together to offer Zelle, we are providing a large majority of Americans with a safe, fast and easy way to move money,” said Bill Wallace, head of digital at JPMorgan Chase & Co, the biggest U.S. bank by assets.

JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, U.S. Bancorp and Capital One Financial Corp will be the first to plug into Zelle. The network is the product of an industry consortium called Early Warning Services LLC, whose seven owners have more than 86 million U.S. mobile banking customers.

Zelle took years to establish because fierce rivals had to come together to make it work. In the interim, Silicon Valley has made inroads into digital payments, particularly with the young customers coveted by banks.

In addition to Venmo, which is owned by PayPal Holdings Inc, Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc all offer payment platforms that allow individuals to send money to each other. The banks want to leap over those sleek but scattered offerings by connecting their critical mass of account holders through a single network.

“Fragmentation has been frustrating for consumers,” said Paul Finch, chief executive of Early Warning. “Inconsistent experiences have made it difficult to send and receive money between banks.”

Despite losing some ground to technology companies, banks still have a big advantage: No matter what network is used to transfer money, banks hold the vast majority of funds.

And despite the popularity of apps like Venmo, they transfer far less money than banks. The value of digital payments processed through non-financial firms was one-fifth of what banks and credit unions processed last year, research firm Aite Group estimates.

“We are excited to bring the service to everybody and anybody, regardless of which brand of phone you have in your hand or which generation you belong to,” said Gareth Gaston, head of omnichannel banking at U.S. Bank.

Along with building customer loyalty, banks hope that Zelle will reduce their costs from handling checks and cash. Eventually, they would like to sell access to businesses that want to eliminate their own paper-related costs.

As more banks connect and more customers use the service, sending cash to another individual will simply involve knowing the person’s mobile phone number or email address. Later this year, individuals with accounts at banks not connected with Zelle will be able to use its real-time features by downloading an app and pairing it with a Visa Inc or Mastercard Inc debit account.

In launching Zelle, banks are being careful not to confuse customers by offering yet another payments app.

For instance, Chase will initially twin the brand with the QuickPay app its customers already use by showing “QuickPay with Zelle” on its mobile app and website. Eventually, the QuickPay name could fade away.

Google Sells Robotics Business Units To SoftBank

June 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

SoftBank Group Corp announced that it has agreed to acquire two firms that build walking robots from Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, adding to the Japanese company’s growing artificial intelligence portfolio.

SoftBank said it would buy Boston Dynamics and Tokyo-based Schaft, which design and manufacture robots that simulate human movement, but did not disclose the terms of the transactions.

Shares of the company rose as much as 7.9 percent after the deal was announced, hitting a 17-year high.

“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution, and Marc (Raibert) and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots,” SoftBank Group Chairman Masayoshi Son said in a statement on Friday.

Raibert is CEO and founder of Boston Dynamics.

SoftBank has embarked on an aggressive acquisition campaign to boost its research and development capabilities. The group is backing the $93 billion Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity fund that seeks to invest in technologies expected to grow significantly in the near future, such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

Son, Japan’s richest man, describes the fund as essential for setting up SoftBank for a data “gold rush” which he expects to happen as the global economy becomes increasingly digitized.

Boston Dynamics and Schaft could eventually be vested with the Vision Fund, a person familiar with the deal told Reuters

Schaft, a University of Tokyo spinoff, develops bipedal robots designed to negotiate uneven terrain.

“Robotics as a field has great potential, and we’re happy to see Boston Dynamics and Schaft join the SoftBank team to continue contributing to the next generation of robotics,” an Alphabet spokesperson said.

Boston Dynamics has produced a number of robots that mimic human and animal movement, including Atlas, a humanoid model that co-ordinates motion and balance using its arms and legs and can pick itself up off the ground when knocked over.

It is best known for building robots that look as if they belong in science-fiction movies and are often co-developed or funded by the U.S. military. Its military projects would mean the acquisition is likely to be subject to regulatory approval from Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

The company was acquired by Google in 2013 during a robotics shopping spree led by Android creator Andy Rubin, but the team struggled to find its place within the tech giant after Rubin’s departure, former Boston Dynamics employees said.

“They’re advancing the state of the art in independent robotics. They are probably the leader in the U.S.,” said Arnis Mangolds, a robotics expert who has worked with Boston Dynamics.

“But the problem is it’s not ready for prime time, and very few people have a tolerance for that.”

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