To do so, the office supply chain store is bringing its iconic Easy Button to life.
Massachusetts-based Staples is testing a smart assistant device that looks like its Easy Button, which was launched as a marketing campaign and gained a bit of a cult following, but that customers can use to order products, track shipments and help with returns.
One day, according to Staples’ chief digital officer Faisal Masud, the device, backed by artificial intelligence-based IBM Watson, will also be able to call up janitorial services, make restaurant reservations, check traffic and weather, set reminders, act as an alarm clock and play the radio.
“We want to be the assistant’s assistant,” Masud told Computerworld in an interview at the IBM World of Watson conference here this week. “Offices are going to evolve, and these services and products shouldn’t be more than a click away. I need the carpets cleaned, the windows cleaned. I need reservations for the boss at a restaurant… It will be for more than ordering pens and pencils.”
Staples’s smart office assistant will go into alpha testing with five to 10 customers by the end of the year. It’s scheduled to go into a larger beta test with about 100 large customers in the first quarter of next year.
Depending on the results of those two tests, the Easy Button device could be released in the second or third quarter of 2017, Masud said.
Initially, the device will be focused on ordering products, returns and tracking orders, but Staples has a bigger roadmap planned for it.
As new versions of the product are released, the Easy Button is expected to gain more abilities. Users will be able to ask it for the weather forecast or traffic advisories, to make dinner reservations for the CEO, or call a repair service to fix the coffee machine in the break room or to have the office carpets cleaned.
Eventually, Masud expects it to be 4G-enabled so it won’t need to connect to Wi-Fi.
It’s about getting ahead of, or at least keeping up with, the growing trend toward conversational commerce, which refers to interacting with companies in new ways, like messaging, voice commands and chat apps.
“Conversational commerce is here already, and we need to play a role in it,” Masud said. “I think it’s less about [gaining] advantage over competitors. It’s about where the market is going. Conversational commerce is the future. You won’t be tied to the screen. We believe we need to give customers choices. It could make us more competitive, but that’s not the reason we’re doing it.”
LG Chem Ltd, the world’s largest automotive battery manufacturer, will debut in the fledgling U.S. market for home energy storage through a partnership with rooftop solar company Sunrun Inc, the companies said on Wednesday.
The move will put LG in direct competition with electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc, which unveiled its own home battery packs, called Powerwalls, last year. Sunrun has been using Tesla batteries in its home storage systems in Hawaii since earlier this year, and this deal will add LG to its list of suppliers.
Financial terms were not disclosed. The agreement is not exclusive to either party, Sunrun said.
“Tesla makes all the headlines, but LG manufactures most of the lithium ion batteries,” Sunrun Executive Chairman Ed Fenster said in an interview. LG’s entry into the market will help bring down battery prices and help them make economic sense for more households, he added.
The deal comes as Tesla is planning to buy Sunrun’s bigger rival, SolarCity Corp, as part of its bid to sell a fossil fuel-free lifestyle in which people can have solar panels on their roofs generating electricity to power their homes, charge home battery packs and recharge their electric car batteries.
Home battery systems allow customers to store solar power generated during the day for use after sunset. Eventually, as utilities move to charging higher rates for power used in the evening, when demand is greatest, the batteries could bring customers significant savings. Battery packs can also serve as a backup power source in case of an outage.
Sunrun currently offers batteries with its solar installations only in Hawaii, where sky-high power prices make such systems economically attractive. The batteries have enabled many residents there to supply all their own electricity needs without relying on the grid.
Most of Sunrun’s battery systems are deployed through leases or power purchase agreements, which allow consumers to use the technology by paying a monthly fee and avoiding a large upfront cost.
In addition to Sunrun customers, LG Chem’s batteries will be available to the entire solar industry through AEE Solar, Sunrun’s solar products distribution arm.
Work on Google Fiber is to continue in the cities where it has been launched or is under construction, wrote Craig Barratt, senior vice president at Alphabet and CEO of its Access unit, of which Google Fiber is a part. In the “potential Fiber cities” where Google Fiber was still at the stage of exploratory discussions, the project will pause operations.
“In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base,” wrote Barratt, who under the new dispensation moves to the position of adviser to the venture. A new CEO has not been named.
Google Fiber set about five years ago laying fiber optic cabling to provide high-speed Internet access to a number of cities starting in Kansas City. The project claims its subscriber base and revenue are growing quickly, and it expects that growth to continue. But the company has also run into competition from other broadband players like AT&T and hassles of negotiating local bureaucracy.
In July, the Federal Communications Commission also adopted rules to open up 11GHz of high-frequency airwaves for 5G wireless broadband, throwing up opportunities for players like AT&T and Verizon to use wireless to deliver high-bandwidth data services using the spectrum.
Google Fiber had already seen opportunities for making the Internet available to consumers through wireless technologies. It said in June that it was acquiring Internet service provider Webpass to be able to increase its urban coverage quickly and offer customers a combination of fiber and wireless delivery of high-speed Internet. Most of the acquisition, except for a smaller affiliate Webpass Telecommunications, was completed this month.
In April, Google Fiber obtained approval to test Internet delivery on 3.5GHz spectrum in parts of Kansas City that could result in fast, short-range wireless connections to serve areas not reached by Google Fiber.
“Now, just as any competitive business must, we have to continue not only to grow, but also stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet,” Barratt wrote.
According to a couple of reports, it seems that AMD is working on a couple of cut down versions of its Polaris 10 Ellesmere GPU that should put additional pressure on Nvidia’s recently released GTX 1050 Ti and GTX 1050 graphics cards.
According to a report from Videocardz.com, AMD’s Polaris 10 GPU with 36 Compute Units (CUs), 2,304 Stream Processors, is the perfect candidate as there is enough room to make a cut-down GPU that should fit between the RX 460 and RX 470.
The cut down Polaris 10 GPU could end up with 28 Compute Units (CUs), which means it should end up with 1,792 Stream Processors. With RX 470 with 32 CUs and 2048 Stream Processors, this new SKU could squeeze in between this graphics card and RX 460. According to a leak from Chiphell.com, such graphics card, conveniently named RX 470 SE, could still pack 4GB of GDDR5 7.0GHz clocked memory with the same 256-bit memory interface, leaving it with the same 224GB/s memory bandwidth.
According to leaked 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme and 3DMark Time Spy benchmarks, such graphics cards could be around 11 percent slower than the RX 470 but still end up faster than the GTX 1050 Ti, putting a lot more pressure on AMD in the market segment.
In any case, AMD will have to come up with those graphics cards soon and be ready for the Christmas shopping season if it wants to put a big dent in Nvidia’s Geforce sales.
The widespread job cuts could come before the company releases its third-quarter earnings on Thursday, according to Bloomberg, which cited people familiar with the matter. It cautioned that the precise number of jobs affected could change.
A Twitter spokeswoman said in an email that the company doesn’t comment on rumor or speculation.
Twitter announced in October last year that it was laying off 336 employees.
Unlike many of its peers, the company has failed to grow significantly the number of its users or adequately monetize through advertising the number of users it already has on the site.
For the second quarter of 2016, the company reported that average monthly active users (MAUs) of the service for the quarter were 313 million, up 3 percent year-over-year and compared to 310 million in the previous quarter. Revenue at $602 million was up 20 percent year-over-year, but the company posted a loss of over $100 million under generally accepted accounting principles.
The company has been trying to give users better ways to express themselves on Twitter, including through streaming video and by not counting @names in replies and media attachments in the 140-character limit for a tweet.
The company had hired bankers to explore a sale, but Salesforce.com, The Walt Disney Company and Alphabet, which had shown interest, later backed out from the process, according to reports. The company has seen a steep decline in its share price over the last one year.
Up to 10,000 webcams will be recalled following a cyber attack that blocked access last week to some of the world’s biggest websites, Chinese manufacturer Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co has announced.
In Washington, a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence committee asked three federal agencies what steps the government can take to prevent cyber criminals from compromising electronic devices.
In a new type of attack last Friday, hackers harnessed hundreds of thousands of webcams and other connected devices globally to flood U.S.-based internet infrastructure provider Dyn with so much traffic that it could not cope, cutting access to websites including PayPal, Spotify and Twitter.
Hangzhou Xiongmai said it would recall some surveillance cameras sold in the United States after researchers identified they had been targeted in the attack.
Liu Yuexin, Xiongmai’s marketing director, estimated the number of vulnerable devices at fewer than 10,000 to be recalled. He said the company would recall the first few batches of surveillance cameras made in 2014 that monitor rooms or shops for personal, rather than industrial, use.
Xiongmai had now fixed loopholes in earlier products, prompting users to change default passwords and block telnet access, Liu said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it had discussed the attacks with 18 major communications service providers and was working to develop a new set of “strategic principles” for securing internet-connected devices.
Authorities have yet to identify suspects in the attack, but the Director of U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper, said on Tuesday that an early analysis did not point to a foreign government.
Cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint concurred.
“The evidence that we have strongly suggests it is amateur, attention-motivated hackers,” said Allison Nixon, Flashpoint’s director of security research.
Nixon said the same infrastructure was used on Friday in an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt internet access to a major video game manufacturer, which she declined to identify.
“Nation states generally don’t attack gaming companies,” she said.
U.S. Senate intelligence committee member Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, sent letters on Tuesday asking DHS, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission if they have adequate tools for combating the threat posed by “bot net” armies of infected electronic devices.
“Manufacturers today are flooding the market with cheap, insecure devices, with few market incentives to design the products with security in mind, or to provide ongoing support,” Warner said.
He asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler if communications providers have authority to deny internet access to electronics devices they deem insecure.
Xiongmai devices were unlikely to suffer similar attacks in China and elsewhere outside the United States, where they are typically used in more secure industrial networks, Liu said.
The company may take further steps to beef up security by migrating to safer operating systems and adding further encryption, Liu said.
AT&T announced the deal late on Saturday, stoking urgency in the telecoms and media sectors, where carriers facing a saturated wireless market are looking for content to attract mobile users and producers of shows and movies are seeking digital distribution.
T-Mobile took most of the wireless industry’s subscriber and revenue growth in the third quarter. Its strong balance sheet and fast-growing wireless business makes it an attractive target for a pay-TV or media company, analysts said.
T-Mobile shares jumped 9.5 percent on Monday after it announced third-quarter financial results. At least nine analysts raised their target price on the No. 3 wireless company, which said it added 851,000 postpaid subscribers in the quarter.
T-Mobile has taken market share from bigger rivals Verizon and AT&T, and that momentum is expected to continue, analysts said.
“The takeout target over the next twelve months has got to be T-Mobile,” New Street Research analyst Spencer Kurn said. Potential buyers include Comcast Corp, satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp, and Mexican telecom company America Movil, analysts said.
Comcast and Dish declined to comment. America Movil could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Content of all kind is rapidly landing on the internet and the internet itself is rapidly transforming toward mobile,” T-mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert told Reuters.
T-Mobile is “very interested” in exploring strategic opportunities, he said.
Sprint Corp, which is aggressively working towards reviving its wireless business, is another takeout candidate, analysts said.
Sprint received more calls than usual from bankers over the weekend after the AT&T-Time Warner deal was announced, Chief Executive Marcelo Claure said on an earnings call on Tuesday.
“Our strategic value to many has significantly grown,” he added.
The RAM uses LPDDR4 technology and the 10 nm process. The arrival of 64-bit processors has allowed phone RAM to increase beyond 4GB but few manufacturers could be bothered. Even Samsung passed on it. However, now it seems that with the new generation of RAM Samsung thinks it is worthwhile and will be jumping directly from 4 to 8GB by next year.
LPDDR4 is currently the fastest type of low power memory in the mobile market. Samsung says it is the same as PC-class DDR4 RAM and has twice the speed, operating at 4,266 Mbps, versus the PC’s 2,133 Mbps.
By using 10 nm processing, the DRAM only takes up 15 x 15 x 1 mm and can be stacked above or under other chips. While we can’t see the point of the technology in mobile phones, it does make a lot of sense in tablets.
While Samsung has hinted that it is going to release the technology on the mobile world, by the end of the year so we should see next year’s flagship models with 8Gb next year.
TSMC thinks that it can win back Qualcomm’s chip business with its 7nm process technology, but has all but given up expecting it to return for 10nm.
Qualcomm was once TSMC’s biggest customer until 14nm came along and it placed orders with Samsung instead. Qualcomm reportedly reached a deal with Samsung under which Samsung would make the Snapdragon 820 chips in exchange for Samsung using Qualcomm’s chips in its flagship smartphone devices.
Apparently Samsung swung a similar deal with Qualcomm for its 10nm chips in exchange for Qualcomm supplying the chips for Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S8. TSMC worked out it would not get the deal when Qualcomm did not tape out Snapdragon 830 chips on TSMC’s 10nm FinFET process.
TSMC will remain the sole provider of A11 chips for Apple. Other TSMC 10nm customers include MediaTek, HiSilicon and Xilinx.
But according to Digitimes TSMC thinks its 7nm will woo Qualcomm back into the fold, although it is not clear why this would be the case. After all, Samsung only has to negotiate another deal for its next generation of smartphone and assuming it does not catch fire, Qualcomm will be quids in.
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 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 Alibaba.com.
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.
Automakers 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.
A research analyst has forecast that the market in health related wearables will revolutionize the lives of people suffering from diabetes.
ABI Research said it estimates that by 2021, over nine million continuous glucose monitor (CGM) wearables will ship worldwide.
There are already half a billion people on the planet that suffer from diabetes, and wearable CGMs may really help people cope with the condition.
Ryan Harbison, a research analyst at ABI Research, said: “Wearable device manufacturers have integrated the new, non invasive CHMs and insulin pumps with cloud services, analytic tools, and predictive software to provide new types of pattern analysis in near real time.”
The diabetic testing market will be worth $17 billion in 2021, a rise from $12 billion this year. And Harbison predicts that CGM revenues will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 41 percent over the same period.
New players will challenge giants like Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, he added.
“Medtronic has a substantial advantage with its MiniMed CGM system, Abbott focuses on the European market, and Dexcom innovates on existing CGM devices to create all-in-one experiences through mobile integrations.Glucose meter manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson and Roche Diagnostics, can further disrupt this market by developing new form factors, such as contact lenses and skin patches, to create less invasive and more accurate monitoring devices.”
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.
Target has installed 147 megawatts (million watts or MW) of solar capacity on 300 stores, according to the 2016 Solar Means Business Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
“We’re incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made in improving building efficiencies and reducing environmental impact. Our commitment to installing solar panels on 500 stores and distribution centers by 2020 is evidence of that progress,” John Leisen, vice president of property management at Target, said in the SEIA statement.
Walmart had held the top spot for the previous four years and still claims second place with 145MW of solar power installed on 364 buildings, according to the SEIA, which has been tracking corporate solar deployments for the past five years.
This year, real estate developer Prologis came in third with 107.8MW of solar. Apple, which is in fourth place with 93.9MW of installed solar power, is a likely contender for first place sometime next year.
Last year, Apple announced it was investing $850 million in a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation’s largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and provider of utility-scale PV plants.
Through a 25-year purchasing agreement, Apple will get 130MW from the new California Flats Solar Project. The project is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Other Top 10 companies recognized in the SEIA’s report include Costco (50.7 MW), Kohl’s (50.2 MW), IKEA (44 MW), Macy’s (38.9 MW), General Growth Properties (30.2 MW) and Hartz Mountain Industries (22.7 MW).