Category: Technology

Watch Out for Driverless Cars

Google's_Lexus_RX_450h_Self-Driving_CarFord has recently announced that they will begin testing driverless cars in 2016. If you haven’t been keeping up with the development of driverless cars, that may seem exciting. If you have been keeping up, you may be wondering what took Ford so long. The auto company is just one in a long string of companies that includes Google, Tesla, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Delphi, Bosch, Nissan and Cruise Automation, who which have all been test driving – or rather test-not-driving – their own autonomous vehicles around Palo Alto, California.

Ford had previously been working on driverless technology for a while, but this will be their first step toward trying out fully autonomous cars. The company has been testing their driverless tech at Mcity, a fake town designed specifically as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles by the University of Michigan. The town attempts to simulate a wide variety of realistic driving conditions that will put the cars through their paces.

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The Future According to Bill Gates

Bill_Gates_June_2015You’d be hard-pressed to pick a well-known figure who is more involved in either the tech world or the world of philanthropy than Bill Gates. But what do tech and philanthropy have to do with each other? At the start of this year, Bill and Melinda celebrated fifteen years of running their foundation. Bill laid out some thoughts on the next fifteen years in a great video interview and also explained how his role in technology has informed his approach to philanthropy. As this year draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back on Gates’ thoughts. From health and agriculture to education and money, Gates seems passionate about the idea that advances in technology will provide the keys to unlocking a better future for the world.

A thread that runs throughout Gates’ entire vision is that of helping poorer countries to become self-sufficient rather than trying to apply bandages to their problems. At every turn, he seems committed to building lasting changes rather than just

Netflix – Evolve or Die

NetflixStreaming platforms have become so popular that they are becoming bywords. Netflix has been the subject of numerous internet memes and is notorious on college campuses for its ability to distract students for hours on end. It’s pretty common to hear people recommend TV shows and then mention that they are available on Netflix, making the assumption that just about everyone has access to an account. Sites like Netflix seem to have become integrated into our popular culture.

I explained in a past article how streaming services can offer a convenient way of saving a little money on your media intake. This is one of many reasons people are starting to favor internet streaming over cable for watching their favorite shows. Streaming is also far more convenient in that it allows for control over one’s viewing experience; no more pandering to TV’s rigid schedule or flipping through channels endlessly to find that there’s simply nothing good on. Streaming allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, and to watch as much of it as they want. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of digital content which is a package that’s hard to beat.

Even as Netflix has reached meme status, its foothold could be slipping. In much the same way that Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services have undercut cable and started eating into that market as cheaper alternatives, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick are beginning to challenge the growth of streaming services by offering even cheaper options. It just goes to show that you should never get too comfortable, resting on your laurels. That’s why Netflix is currently working on implementing a couple of new plans to adapt to the competitive nature of the industry.

Undaunted by competition and potential threats, the streaming company has been gradually making the shift towards producing its own original content. Several recent Netflix original shows have reached mainstream popularity, and are well-loved by critics and fans alike. With sites like YouTube steadily increasing in popularity and viewership over the years, people generally seem more open to original content produced solely for the internet than they might have been just a few years ago. Netflix appears to be the first major streaming service to move in this direction, which could grant them the advantage of seniority.

Their tech people have also been working on new methods for encoding their content that could cut data usage and give them a little boost in speed and efficiency. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a layman’s explanation of encoding is that it’s the method used to store media as digital information that can then be transmitted. Currently, Netflix uses algorithms to choose bit rates at which to stream, based on their users’ connection speed. The new algorithms also take into account the complexity of the video being streamed. This means that content with lower complexity can be streamed at a higher quality than more complex content at the same bit rate. Streaming through Netflix with these encoding algorithms would be optimized for each individual piece of content as well as for network conditions, which should lead to a better streaming experience all around.

Only time will tell if Netflix’s moves to stay ahead will pay off. It’s hard to imagine that something as ubiquitous as Netflix could die off, but remember that MySpace was once relevant too. Netflix seems to be forward-thinking and hopeful, despite share prices that have been slipping.

Foibles of a Free Internet

adblock logoThe latest round in the battle for a free internet came last week when Yahoo opted to ban adblockers from Yahoo Mail. Users of the mail service who were running adblockers were barred from accessing their email and presented with a message telling them to disable the plugins in order to continue. Needless to say, this move wasn’t very well received, but this type of heavy-handed tactic didn’t come completely out of the blue. Companies like Yahoo are increasingly bemoaning the negative impact of adblockers on the viability of ad-supported free content models. Yahoo’s action even led tech news site Cio.com to declare the web as ‘broken’.

The internet is most certainly at an important crossroads. The free and open nature – that allowed it to blossom and become the vast network that forms the backbone of modern society – may be poised to undo itself. 

The greatest threat to the very principles that made the internet so revolutionary and disruptive are not external but internal.

Don’t Push the Big Red Button!

pizza buttonIt’s here, and it’s just in time for the holidays! Domino’s has unleashed a quick order button housed in a micro-sized pizza box. Amazon already unveiled their Dash Button, which allows customers to order frequently purchased items through Amazon Prime at the touch of a button. It was only a matter of time before the pizza gods would bless us with the same kind of convenience and fun; no one can resist pushing a big button.

The first batch of buttons is slated for release in the U.K. this December, with a second batch scheduled for February. Domino’s has said that they will let the public know when plans are finalized for releasing the button in other places.

Smart Glass at Last

iStock_000017536838Medium We’ve all seen them. The semi-reflective, black grid panels set on a hillside or a rooftop. Solar panels, though an eyesore, are a renewable energy dream. It’s no secret that solar energy aims to be the primary source of power in the foreseeable future. Solar tech has become especially useful in rural areas where laying power lines is not an option. But what about urban city life? These bulky and aesthetically unappealing panels are not ideal for a city packed with skyscrapers and office buildings.

The answer – according to a relatively new and exciting company Ubiquitous Energy Inc. – is quite simple. They propose eliminating the external solar panel altogether, and instead building skyscrapers with their state-of-the-art ‘smart glass.’ In short, smart glass is coated with the trademarked Clearview Power film which absorbs UV and infrared light rays, converting them into renewable energy. By using glass coated with Clearview Power, architects are achieving a structurally sound building, as well as one that is entirely energy efficient. Ubiquitous Energy (UE) has a similar glass film in the works for mobile devices which would theoretically provide battery life ad infinitum.