Google Plasters Its Name on a New Hardware Collection


Google on Tuesday unveiled a new smartphone and home hub that squarely aim at products from market leaders Apple and Amazon.

The company’s new branded smartphone, called “Pixel,” marks a departure from past efforts. Up to now, Google’s Nexus phones were made by a variety of manufacturers that sold them under their brands.

The Pixel has a 2,770 mAh battery, while the Pixel XL’s is 3,450 mAh. Both batteries have a quick-charge feature that gives the phone seven hours of runtime on a 15-minute charge.

Pixel users who want to dabble in virtual reality will be able to do so with another new product introduced at the Google event. Daydream is a fabric headset that allows Pixel to be used as a VR screen. It will sell for $79 starting in November.

Google also rolled out a competitor to Amazon’s Echo home hub. Called “Google Home,” the unit is voice-controlled and can play music, communicate with other devices in the home, provide anticipated information, and assist in everyday tasks like creating shopping lists, making dinner reservations and buying concert tickets.

“The search on Echo is no way near as effective as plugging into Google search,” he told TechNewsWorld. “When it comes to search, there is really no one better than Google at it.”

Google Plasters Its Name on a New Hardware Collection

Google: There’s No Hub Like Home

No longer willing to let Amazon have the space to itself, Google on Tuesday officially launched Google Home, its long-awaited wireless hub. Google Home is an interactive personal assistant and entertainment center that takes full advantage of the company’s deep advantages in Web search, AI and machine learning.

The Google Assistant technology will allow the Google Home device to bring a much more personalized experience to the user than Amazon’s devices can provide, and Google’s technology has greater capabilities in terms of recognizing and deciphering nuances in language, handling unstructured queries, and being available to users across different platforms.

“It’s shortfalls are that it currently lacks the Echo’s ever-more-robust ecosystem for home automation, it doesn’t support multiple users, and not as many people use Google Music as use Prime Music,” he told TechNewsWorld.

In addition, Google Home is only one device, Enderle noted, while Amazon’s Echo is part of a growing family of devices, including the Amazon Tap and the Echo Dot, which is a relative bargain at $49.95.

Google: There’s No Hub Like Home

Udacity Fuels Autonomous Vehicle Engineering Dreams


Online education company Udacity on Tuesday introduced a new “nanodegree” program in self-driving auto engineering. President Sebastian Thrun made the announcement during an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt.

The goal is to build a crowdsourced, open source self-driving car, he said.

The program is the first of its kind, according to Thrun.

Students will learn the skills and techniques used by self-driving car teams at the most innovative companies in the world, Udacity has promised. The course spans three 12-week terms and covers deep learning, computer vision, sensor fusion, localization and controllers.

Each of the three terms will cost US$800. The first term begins in mid-October.

Registration is now open for the 250 seats available. More than 1,200 applicants have applied so far, according to Udacity spokesperson Jeanne Hornung.

Students are expected to have prior experience in Python or another scripting language and at least some background in probability, statistics and calculus. Scholarships are available for qualified applicants.

Thrun will teach the courses, along with David Silver, who was an autonomous vehicle engineer at Ford before joining Udacity, and Ryan Keenan, who previously worked as a freelance data analyst.

Thrun is a pioneer in the development of the self-driving car. While at Stanford, he led the team that built the autonomous car Stanley, which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. He also was a leader at Google X.

Udacity Fuels Autonomous Vehicle Engineering Dreams

DoT Refreshes Rule Book to Include Self-Driving Cars


U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Tuesday introduced new federal guidelines for the emerging highly automated vehicle industry — including self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles — creating a framework that will help drive one of the most important new sectors in the national economy.

Foxx, joined by Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, outlined the framework that will form new federal regulations to govern how the self-driving industry goes forward.

Efforts are under way to create safety and operational standards at a time when nearly every major automaker, technology and ride-sharing firm is racing to compete in the nascent multibillion dollar industry. Its promise is to provide new levels of mobility for millions of Americans who currently cannot access personal transportation.

The federal plan calls for a 15-point safety assessment that would create the framework for the design, manufacture, testing and deployment of automated vehicles. It would ensure that cars would be crashworthy, have a mechanism to react to vehicle failure, be protected against hacking, and be able to share data, among other things.

The guidelines would influence how the federal government would split up jurisdictional issues with the states over which issues would be handled at what level — for example, issues of licensing, insurance, enforcement, etc.

Federal safety regulations would apply to vehicles fully automated with software, for example, while states would be in charge of vehicles with a driver in control, Foxx said.

DoT Refreshes Rule Book to Include Self-Driving Cars

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

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Amazon is planning two music subscription services, according to rumors that began circulating last week. One is a US$10 a month offering that is similar to Spotify and Apple Music, and the other is a $4-$5 a month cut-rate service available only on Amazon’s Echo device.

Amazon reportedly wants to launch both in September, but it has yet to finalize deals with major music labels and publishers, or to settle on pricing for the Echo-only service, which will be ad-free and offer unlimited music on demand.

Eighty-seven percent of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29 who participated in a recent Pew survey said they had listened to an online radio or music service on their phone, while 41 percent of those aged 50 and above had done so.

“The upside to streaming services is you’re not tied to a device — your music is anywhere that you are,” noted Mike Goodman, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

“If the service works only on an Amazon Echo, the user’s now tied down to a single location, and while it may cost less, it will also be less functional,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Amazon “wants to sell things retail, and Echo is its way to integrate retail into people’s daily activities,” he pointed out. “If I were Pandora, I wouldn’t worry about this, but, if I were Target, I would.”

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

The Best Smart Lights You Can Buy

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Smart home gadgets can make your life way more convenient. The trouble is, a lot of them aren’t very good — and they can become more of a headache than a convenience.

That’s particularly true for smart lighting. If you know what to get, smart lighting can be surprisingly helpful and do some pretty cool things: turn off when you leave the house, turn on when you come home, make lights warmer or cooler throughout the day, and flash to notify you of events or new information, making lighting even more useful than normal.

But it’s really, really important that you pick out the right system. A good smart lighting system is easy to install, easy to use, and gives you plenty of options for how to set up your home. A bad system, on the other hand, might fail all of that and be a pain day after day. And once you buy into a lighting system, you’re more-or-less stuck with it, so you’d better make the right choice.

Fortunately, there’s one clear standout for best smart lights.

The Best Smart Lights You Can Buy

Nucleus Home Intercom Gets Alexa Advantage

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The smart home of the future could be a wee bit smarter with the addition of the Alexa-powered connected intercom system Nucleus announced last week.

The Nucleus intercom, which last fall made its debut without Alexa, is a tablet that connects to a home network through WiFi or Ethernet to allow family members to communicate with each other both inside and outside the home.

The inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa technology in the US$250 Nucleus lets it understand voice commands. For example, users can ask it to play music from services like Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. They also can call up the latest weather report by saying, “Alexa, what’s the weather?” or add an item to a list, for example, “Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.”

The Nucleus intercom has an 8-inch touchscreen with 1280 x 800 resolution, a 5-MP camera with a wide 120-degree viewing angle, a microphone for two-way conversations, and stereo speakers for streaming music.

It can be paired with a smartphone through an iOS or Android app.

The promotional material for Nucleus suggests a potential target market for the intercom, observed LSA’s Sterling.

“The reason that multiple generations are featured in its promotional video is that this may be an easier solution for older adults and grandparents than navigating Hangouts, FaceTime or Skype,” he said.

“The appeal for this might be in connecting remotely with people who are technically challenged,” said ABI’s Collins. “They can go to a simple device for a simple application.”

Nucleus Home Intercom Gets Alexa Advantage

Amazon Wants Developers to Make Choose Your Own Adventure Games for Alexa

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Amazon really wants developers to start making choose your own adventure style games for their Alexa device. There is a new framework available called Alexa Skills Kit that allows authors and developers to create decision trees to program audio mysteries and adventures.

Choose your own Adventure started to become very popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s and they sold 250 million copies during this time period. They were published by Bantam, which is now owned by Penguin Random House, but they let the copyright lapse and other companies picked it up.

I think this platform will appeal to authors that grew up in the 80’s and want to create an adventure style game that would take advantage of new technologies and appeal to a new generation.

Amazon Wants Developers to Make Choose Your Own Adventure Games for Alexa

Alexa Takes On Smart Home Security Responsibilities

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Millions of customers using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant technology now can add locks that can be controlled remotely to the growing ecosystem of smart home capabilities.

August Home last week announced that Amazon’s line of voice-assisted products, including the best-selling Echo, now support its smart products, allowing users to lock and unlock their front doors and other points of access using simple voice commands.

August product line includes the August Smart Lock, the August Smart Keypad and the August Smart Doorbell Cam, which allow customers to secure and keep track of home security using a smartphone app.

The ability to remotely control home security marks the latest series of capabilities for Alexa voice-command products, which now have about 1,900 third-party skills from a range of companies, including Kayak, Lyft, Honeywell and others.

Customers are using Alexa-enabled devices to listen to music, set alarms, get news, shop online, order pizza, and perform a variety of household talks including controlling lights and window blinds.

Alexa Takes On Smart Home Security Responsibilities

Zenbo Home Robot Pours on the Charm

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Asus recently unveiled a family robot that can serve as a home healthcare assistant, control connected devices in the smart home, monitor security, perform various online tasks, and function as a playmate, among other things.

Asus’ Zenbo made its debut at last month’s Computex computer show.

At the same time, Asus launched a program that provides devs with access to the Zenbo SDK.

Zenbo will be priced at US$600, but Asus did not announce when it will be available to consumers.

Zenbo, which bears a resemblance to popular movie robot WALL-E, is capable of moving freely and independently around a family home.

It has a camera with facial recognition that can take photos and videos, make video calls, and function as a remote-controlled camera monitor.

Zenbo can hear and respond to natural language voice commands, Asus said. It can provide voice reminders and tell stories. It can play music over its high-quality stereo system.

Zenbo can connect to and control smart home devices, assist users in shopping online, and interact with social media and other online services.

Proactive artificial intelligence lets Zenbo learn and adapt to user preferences, Asus said.

Zenbo Home Robot Pours on the Charm