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Eagles Trained To Take On Errant Drones

February 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

When it comes to the problem of handling errant drones, there’s been a number of high-tech solutions — from radio jamming to laser beams to nets launched by other drones  –  but a group in The Netherlands has a rather unique low-tech solution that’s much more elegant.

The Guard From Above says it is training birds of prey to attack drones, taking advantage of their natural predatory instincts and precision in the sky.

A video posted by the company on YouTube shows a bird attacking a DJI Phantom drone as it hovers, grabbing the drone with its feet and flying away with it.

The bird’s claws have scales that should prevent it from getting injured by the fast rotating blades, said the company. But it did say it is investigating extra protective measures that could be taken.

It also appears to be a concern to the Dutch National Police, which is investigating the use of birds to take down drones. The police have asked the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) to research potential danger to birds.

To date there have only been a handful of incidents in which drones were used to breach security and get to places they are not supposed to be, such as The White House lawn or the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office.

Tech companies are also racing to provide high-tech solutions to skittish security agencies. In the meantime, a decision by police on whether to move ahead with using the eagles is expected by the end of the year.



Toshiba To Shed Part Of Chip Business

January 26, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Japan’s Toshiba Corp plans to shed part of its chip business as it attempts to recover from a $1.3 billion accounting scandal.

The electronics conglomerate has started accepting bids, with early interest shown by the Development Bank of Japan Inc, said the sources, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

The state-owned bank has already invested in Seiko Holdings Corp’s semiconductor operations.

The sale would exclude Toshiba’s mainstay NAND flash memory operations, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter and one person familiar with the discussions.

On the block are businesses that handle system LSI and discrete chips, which are widely used in cars, home appliances and industrial machinery. The loss-making operations posted sales of 330 billion yen ($2.78 billion) in the year ended March 2015.

A Toshiba spokesman told Reuters the company hasn’t made a decision yet on the sale of its chip operations, while a spokeswoman at the Development Bank of Japan declined to comment.

Following the accounting scandal, Toshiba has been focusing on nuclear and other energy operations, as well as its storage business, which centers on NAND flash memory chips used in smart phones.

The Tokyo-based company, which is selling off non-core chip operations, plans to invest heavily in its flash memory production capacity in Japan to better compete with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.


2015 Was A Really Bad Year For Worldwide IT Spending

January 19, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Worldwide IT spending shrank by nearly 6% last year — the largest one-year decrease research firm Gartner says it has ever seen. The global forecast for 2016 is for an improving, but relatively flat, $3.54 trillion. That would be a 0.6% increase.

Gartner blames a strong U.S. dollar for the global decline, because it effectively increased the price of exports by as much as 20%. Political and economic instability in countries such as Russia and Brazil also contributed to the spending problems. By comparison, the U.S. saw an increase in IT spending.

In the U.S., IT spending increased 3.1% to $1.14 trillion. The U.S. forecast this year is for a 1.2% increase.

Globally, “we’re just in this anemic growth period,” John-David Lovelock, a research vice president at Gartner. The countries who saw the most problems with IT spending include Russia, Japan and Brazil.

The economic issues also changed how firms bought IT products and services, said Lovelock.

Instead of buying a product license for $1 million, for instance, users are switching to SaaS products for $100,000 a year. Cloud services have also replaced physical servers, he said.

Globally, there were declines in every area of IT spending, including software, devices and services. The only area to post growth was data center systems spending, largely thanks to cloud.

The IT area expected to see the largest gains this year is software; it is expected to rise 5.3% to $326 billion globally. CRM is the hot area, as users seek to integrate social media with the business needs.


Huawei’s Enjoying Success, Passes 100M Smartphones Shipped

January 7, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Huawei Technologies Co became the first Chinese handset vendor to ship more than 100 million mobile phones in a year when its 2015 shipments defied a market slowdown and jumped 44 percent, thanks to strong sales domestically and in Western Europe.

Shenzhen-based Huawei disclosed on Wednesday it shipped 108 million smartphones last year, as it sought to shed its budget supplier image to target higher-margin premium models. In comparison, the global industry is expected to have grown at a single-digit rate in 2015 for the first time.

Huawei’s upbeat performance comes at a time when industry leaders Samsung Electronics Co and Apple Inc are potentially facing a tough year ahead.

Samsung said it expected a difficult business environment in 2016 due to a weak global economy and heightened competition, while a Nikkei report said Apple was expected to cut production of its latest iPhone models by about 30 percent in the January-March quarter due to mounting inventories.

Chinese handset makers are providing stiffer competition for the smartphone industry giants as cost-conscious consumers are looking for cheaper alternatives with similar features and frills.

“There are increasingly more Chinese vendors who can offer good products, so you don’t necessarily have to buy a phone from Samsung,” said Avril Wu, analyst at research firm TrendForce.

“They (Chinese vendors) are taking market shares from the top leaders.”

But it was too early to say if Huawei could stay as a solid contender to Samsung and Apple, as smaller Chinese players such as Xiaomi Inc and Lenovo Group Ltd often swapped rank after price wars, analysts said.

“In China it’s true that Huawei grew tremendously over the past six months, but it’s a bit of a dog fight within the Android ecosystem,” said Carolina Milanesi, analyst at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.



Toshiba Struggles Continues, Slashing 7,000 Jobs

December 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Japan’s Toshiba Corp announced it will cut nearly 7,000 consumer electronics jobs after a $1.3 billion accounting scandal, in an overhaul that will streamline the sprawling conglomerate into a company focused on chips and nuclear energy.

Toshiba also said it would sell its television manufacturing plant in Indonesia, and that eventual job cuts spanning the entire PC-to-nuclear company could be over 10,000 including previously announced cuts and those seeking voluntary early retirement.

Due to restructuring costs, which include the sale of its Indonesian TV plant, Toshiba said it expected a net loss of around 550 billion yen ($4.53 billion) in this fiscal year ending in March.

“By implementing this plan, we would like to regain the trust of all stakeholders including shareholders and transform ourselves into a robust business,” it said in a statement.

Toshiba confirmed in August that it overstated profits going back to fiscal 2008/09 by 155 billion yen. It also reported a 37.8 billion yen net loss for the last financial year to reflect more costs and conservative estimates on operations, including the South Texas Project, a U.S. power plant project.

An independent accounting probe said in July that the company suffered from dysfunction in governance and a culture of discouraging employees from questioning their superiors.

Toshiba’s stock has fallen about 40 percent since news of its accounting problems began to emerge in early April. The scandal and subsequent earnings restatements highlighted weaknesses in a range of Toshiba’s businesses.

Analysts have said restructuring was long overdue. The company launched the world’s first mass-market laptop in 1985 but has seen its consumer electronics business dwindle amid price competition with Asian rivals.

The change in fortune highlights the decline of the 140-year-old conglomerate, which remains highly influential in the Japanese business community. Over the years, its former executives often played key policy advisory roles in government.



Is Samsung Trying To Make The Snapdragon Exclusive?

December 21, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung has reportedly bagged exclusivity on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chip until April, adding further weight to the rumors that it will feature inside the Galaxy S7.

A report from China said that Samsung has signed a deal with Qualcomm that will give it exclusive rights to the firm’s next-gen chip until April next year.

If true, this means that, for the first three months of 2016, no other manufacturer will be able to launch a device sporting the next-gen SoC, while Samsung is widely expected to launch the Snapdragon 820-equipped Galaxy S7 at Mobile World Congress at the end of February.

Samsung hasn’t yet responded to our request for comment, but these latest rumors follow reports that the firm has been optimizing Qualcomm’s latest chip ahead of the upcoming launch to ensure it doesn’t suffer the same overheating problems as the Snapdragon 810 before it.

Qualcomm has been quick to debunk talk of potential overheating, though, saying in a statement: “The rumors circulating in the media regarding Snapdragon 820 performance are false. The Snapdragon 820 improves on all IP blocks and is fabricated in the second generation of the 14nm process technology.

“It is meeting all of our specifications, but more importantly, it is satisfying the thermal and performance specifications from our OEMs.”

Alongside the Snapdragon-packing Galaxy S7, Samsung is also reportedly planning to launch a version that features its own Exynos 8890 processor.

We don’t yet know what is likely to feature inside Samsung’s next smartphone, but a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week claimed that the Galaxy S7 will launch with a pressure-sensitive display, offering similar functionality to the 3D Touch technology that debuted on the iPhone 6S earlier this year.

The same report also said that the smartphone looks set to arrive with a USB Type-C port, retina scanning functionality and a microSD slot, unlike the Galaxy S6.



Will Facebook Go Open-Source

December 16, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has unveiled its next-generation GPU-based systems for training neural networks, Open Rack-compatible hardware code-named “Big Sur” which it plans to open source.

The social media giant’s latest machine learning system has been designed for artificial intelligence (AI) computing at a large scale, and in most part has been crafted with Nvidia hardware.

Big Sur comprises eight high-performance GPUs of up to 300 watts each, with the flexibility to configure between multiple PCI-e topologies. It makes use of Nvidia’s Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform, and as a result is twice as fast as Facebook’s previous generation rack.

“This means we can train twice as fast and explore networks twice as large,” said the firm in its engineering blog. “And distributing training across eight GPUs allows us to scale the size and speed of our networks by another factor of two.”

Facebook claims that as well as better performance, Big Sur is also far more versatile and efficient than the off-the-shelf solutions in its previous generation.

“While many high-performance computing systems require special cooling and other unique infrastructure to operate, we have optimised these new servers for thermal and power efficiency, allowing us to operate them even in our own free-air cooled, Open Compute standard data centres,” explained the company.

We spoke to Nvidia’s senior product manager for GPU Computing, Will Ramey, ahead of the launch, who has been working on the Big Sur project alongside Facebook for some time.

“The project is the first time that a complete computing system that is designed for machine learning and AI will be released as an open source solution,” said Ramey. “By taking the purpose-built design spec that Facebook has designed for their own machine learning apps and open sourcing them, people will benefit from and contribute to the project so it can move the entire industry forward.”

While Big Sur was built with Nvidia’s new Tesla M40 hyperscale accelerator in mind, it can actually support a wide range of PCI-e cards in what Facebook believes could make for better efficiencies in production and manufacturing to get more computational power for every penny that it invests.

“Servers can also require maintenance and hefty operational resources, so, like the other hardware in our data centres, Big Sur was designed around operational efficiency and serviceability,” Facebook said. “We’ve removed the components that don’t get used very much, and components that fail relatively frequently – such as hard drives and DIMMs – can now be removed and replaced in a few seconds.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Big Sur announcement is Facebook’s plans to open-source it and submit the design materials to the Open Compute Project. This is a bid to make it easier for AI researchers to share techniques and technologies.

“As with all hardware systems that are released into the open, it’s our hope that others will be able to work with us to improve it,” Facebook said, adding that it believes open collaboration will help foster innovation for future designs, and put us closer to building complex AI systems that will probably take over the world and kill us all.

Nvidia released its end-to-end hyperscale data centre platform last month claiming that it will let web services companies accelerate their machine learning workloads and power advanced artificial intelligence applications.

Consisting of two accelerators, Nvidia’s latest hyperscale line aims to let researchers design new deep neural networks more quickly for the increasing number of applications they want to power with AI. It also is designed to deploy these networks across the data centre. The line also includes a suite of GPU-accelerated libraries.



IBM Pushes Further Into IoT With Watson ‘Experience Centers’

December 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Strengthening its footprint further into the Internet of Things, IBM is making a range of application programming interfaces (APIs) available through its Watson IoT unit and opening up new facilities for the group.

The unit, formed earlier this year with a $3 billion investment into IoT, will have its global headquarters in Munich, IBM announced Tuesday.

IoT will soon be the largest source of data in the world but, IBM officials point out, almost 90 percent of that information is never acted on — at least not yet. Many vendors are jumping on the IoT bandwagon and IBM faces a variety of competitors, including tech giants such as Cisco and Microsoft as well nontraditional rivals such as General Electric.

IBM formed the new unit to  bring its Watson analytics and cognitive computing services to bear on IoT and highlight its efforts in the technology. The Watson IoT group is courting users and enterprises in the automotive, industry, public utility, insurance, heath care and retail sectors, among others.

“Some of the leading thinking around industrial IoT started in Germany, and there are companies in the automotive industry working on things like connected cars,” said Bret Greenstein, vice president of Watson IoT, explaining the decision to put the group’s headquarters in Munich.

The Munich facility will bring together 1,000 IBM developers and researchers, and will also serve as an innovation lab for applications involving cognitive computing and IoT, the company said.

IBM also announced that it has opened eight new Watson IoT “Client Experience Centers,” intended to give clients and business partners access to cognitive computing services and personnel to develop new products. The centers will be in: Beijing; Boeblingen, Germany; Sao Paulo; Seoul; Tokyo; and Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas in the U.S.

IBM has scooped up talent, companies and technology in a race to establish a stronghold in IoT and cognitive computing via cloud services. In October, it announced it planned to acquire and other digital assets from The Weather Company for the Watson IoT Unit. It has also appointed Harriet Green, former CEO of insurer Thomas Cook, as general manager of the group.




Samsung Announces Entry Into Auto Industry

December 14, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has announced it will begin manufacturing electronics parts for the automotive industry, with a primary focus on autonomous vehicles.

The South Korean electronics giant is only the latest tech firm to make a somewhat belated push into the carmaker industry, as vehicle computer systems and sensors become more sophisticated.

In October, General Motors announced a strategic partnership with South Korea’s LG Electronics. LG will supply a majority of the key components for GM’s upcoming electric vehicle (EV), the Chevrolet Bolt. LG has also been building computer modules for GM’s OnStar telecommunications system for years.

Apple and Google have also developed APIs that are slowly being embedded by automakers to allow smartphones to natively connect and display their infotainment screens. Those APIs led to the rollout in several vehicles this year of Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto.

Having formerly balked at the automotive electronics market as too small, consumer computer chipmakers are now entering the space with fervor.

Dutch semiconductor maker NXP is closing an $11.8 billion deal to buy Austin-based Freescale, which makes automotive microprocessors. The combined companies would displace Japan’s Renesas as the world’s largest vehicle chipmaker.

German semiconductor maker Infineon Technology has reportedly begun talks to buy a stake in Renesas.

Adding to growth in automotive electronics are regulations mandating technology such as backup cameras in the U.S. and “eCalling” in Europe, which automatically dials emergency services in case of an accident.

According to a report published by Thomson Reuters, Samsung and its tech affiliates are ramping up research and development for auto technology, with two-thirds of their combined 1,804 U.S. patent filings since 2010 related to electric vehicles and electric components for cars.

The combined automotive software, services and components market is worth around $500 billion, according to ABI Resarch.





Can Tag Heuer Take On The Apple Watch?

December 9, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer has found that there was a market for an expensive smartwatch if you were not Apple.

Tag Heuer’s trial smartwatch, the Tag Heuer Connected can’t keep up with demand and has had to increase its production from initial 1,200 to 2,000 watches weekly.

Bloomberg said that the watchmaker has received orders over 100,000 pieces of the Connected watch from retailers and dealers which is a good indicator of demand in the market. This is nothing like

Apple’s figures but is still a lot of money for a watchmaker and probably indicates the development of a serious market rather than just an Apple fanboy fad.

Jean-Claude Biver, the CEO of Tag Heuer shares that more smartwatch models from the company will be unveiled at the end 2016 or early 2017 – with options of new materials and diamonds.

The $1,500 Tag Heuer Connected smartwatch is pricey and the fact that it has an upgrade to a mechanical watch if you don’t like it appears to have helped.



Can Robots Replace Bus Drivers?

December 9, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Japan is on the fast track to have a 50 percent robot workforce in the next two decades, while the UK will make do with a third.

Japan is tipped to be at the top of a robot underling revolution in a report produced by analyst firm Nomura Research Institute (NRI), which suggested that the UK and the US will not be far behind.

Japan is primed for robots and already has a hotel staffed by them, but the UK, where we protest at talking car park ticket machines, may find adoption harder, particularly after the death of a worker in a Volkswagen factory. The UK will have to lump it and welcome the automated way of doing things.

People most likely to fall to a robot include receptionists, metal polishers, factory workers, bus drivers and cleaners.

NRI researcher Yumi Wakao said that this will happen over the next 20 years. Hopefully we will all be retired by then anyway. Wakao compared this against other research, which looked at the advance of artificial intelligence in the UK and US, and found that Japan is the market leader.

The US will be the closest rival with a 45 percent no-toilet-break-taking workforce, while the UK will replace around 35 percent of workers with a piece of hardware that has no interest in things like X Factor and celebrities in jungles.

We have had to automatically translate the original NRI statement on this, which makes everyone involved look like an idiot.

“In this study result, art, history, archaeology, occupations that use knowledge to organize and create an abstract concept such as philosophy and theology, requires co-ordination with others, understanding of others, persuasion, negotiation, professional services. Intentionality is required as an alternative in artificial intelligence,” NRI said.

“There is a difficult trend. On the other hand, the special knowledge and skills cannot be obtained in the profession. Orderly and systematic manipulation of data is required in artificial intelligence and the like.”



Can Nintendo Ship 12 Million NX’s In 2016?

December 4, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

The Nintendo NX may surpass the Wii U’s lifetime installed base in its first year on shelves. According to a Digi-Times report, Nintendo’s upstream component suppliers are expecting to provide the company with enough hardware to ship 10-12 million units in 2016.

That would mark a rebound after the Wii U, which through September had put up lifetime sales of a little under 11 million. However, Nintendo may be expecting even more from its next platform; in July, Digi-Times reported that the company was planning to ship 20 million Nintendo NX systems globally in 2016.

The report states that Foxconn Electronics will manufacture the NX, with mass production beginning at the end of the first quarter. Foxconn Technology, Macronix, Pixart Imaging, Coxon Precise Industrial, Nishoku Technology, Delta Technology, Lingsen Precision Industries and Jentech are expected to be supplying components for the NX.


Is Yahoo’s Internet Business Up For Sale?

December 3, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo’s board may be mulling over the sale of its core Internet business, after an activist investor demanded last month that the company explore the sale of its core search and display advertising businesses.

The board will be meeting this week to discuss the sale in a series of meetings from Wednesday through Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo had previously planned to spin off its shares in Alibaba Holding Group, through a company called Aabaco Holdings, but has held back on the move because of uncertainties about potential tax implications.

In a letter last month to Maynard J. Webb, chairman of Yahoo’s board, and its CEO Marissa Mayer, investor Starboard Value’s Managing Member Jeffrey C. Smith wrote that the proposed spin off of Aabaco was not Yahoo’s best alternative, and the company should instead be exploring a sale of Yahoo’s core business of search and display advertising, while leaving Yahoo’s ownership stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan in the existing corporate entity.

Smith threatened that his firm “will look to make significant changes to the Board if you continue to make decisions that destroy shareholder value.”

Yahoo’s core business has not been very strong, despite a turnaround effort by Mayer, including a search advertising agreement with rival Google announced in October. Its revenue grew 6.8 percent in the third quarter to US$1.2 billion, while profit dropped to US$76 million. The company also had some key staff leaving.

A separation of Yahoo’s Alibaba Group and Yahoo Japan stakes from the core business would unlock immediate value for shareholders and allow Yahoo’s core business to better recruit and retain talent, according to Starboard Value.



Samsung Replaces Head Of Mobile Business

December 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics promoted D.J. Koh, head of mobile research and development, to the title of chief of the company’s mobile communications business.

The move follows setbacks in Samsung’s mobile business during the tenure of the former head J.K. Shin, including an underestimation this year of demand for the Galaxy S6 Edge, while overestimating demand for the Galaxy S6 with a non-curved screen.

Samsung said Tuesday that Shin and another co-chief executive officer would step back from day-to-day operations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The South Korean company is the largest player in the smartphone market, but this did not get reflected in the third quarter, when profits in the mobile phone business fell slightly from the previous quarter, because the company cut the price of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge to help boost sales, and also sold a higher percentage of cheaper, low- and mid-range phones.

The company shipped 84.5 million smartphones in the third quarter, up by 6 percent from the same period last year, for a 23.8 percent market share, according to IDC. Samsung faces competition from cheaper phones by Chinese brands at the low end and from Apple at the high end.

Sub-$200 devices drove a majority of shipments in many key emerging markets, according to IDC. The company has tried to make up for low margins on cheaper phones by focusing on premium handsets, with the launch of its Galaxy S6 edge+ and Note5.

In its annual management reshuffle last year, Samsung retained Shin as one of three co-CEOs, despite speculation that he could lose his job after underwhelming smartphone sales.


Sprint Introduces New ‘Half Off’ Rate Plan

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint has introduced a new simplified wireless plan offering 50% off competitors’ rates — part of an effort to lure consumers to try its faster LTE Plus network, which promises speeds of 128Mbps or more.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the costs of the new program will be more than offset by revenues from new customers. “There’s absolutely no way anybody can beat this offer,” he said during a briefing with reporters.

Sprint, the nation’s fourth largest carrier with about 59 million customers, has said it must cut up to $2 billion or more in operating expenses for the next fiscal year starting in April and will eliminate thousands of jobs to do so.

Even against that dreary backdrop, Claure said the new rate plan will bring in more customers. He didn’t indicate how many more are expected.

“There’s been a lot of skepticism on our network and the only way to convince them is to have them try,” he said. “Rest assured, we’ve done sufficient analysis and this is very accretive to Sprint” profits.

Sprint’s newest deal allows customers to take 50% off the price of most Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile rate plans. The only rate plan excluded is T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan, which costs $90 a month. Sprint will still offer a $70-a-month unlimited data plan.

Businesses are not included in the deal, a spokeswoman said.

The offer goes into effect for activations beginning this Friday, Nov. 20 until Jan. 7, 2016; the 50% off deal remains in effect until Jan. 8, 2018. Claure said that with a free tablet and a free year of service, along with the half-off pricing, “that’s the bet we’re making” to get new customers.