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05.17.16 | 12:05 am

Google veterans start a self-driving truck company

If Google's driverless car project fulfills its wild ambitions, it'll change everyday life in a way that few technologies ever have. Otto, a new San Francisco startup founded by some folks who were formerly part of Google's effort—and staffed with alumni of Apple, Tesla, and other companies—is tackling a challenge that's a tad more specific: It's developing tech to let trucks drive themselves. The company, which was formed in January and is officially unveiling itself today, has already been testing modified Volvo trucks on public roads.

By focusing on trucks and the U.S.'s 222,000 miles of highways, Otto doesn't need to think as much about oncoming traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and other facts of life which are unavoidable if you're trying to teach an automobile to drive itself on surface roads.

Cofounder Anthony Levandowski told me that Otto's goal isn't to render human truck drivers obsolete but rather to help owner-operators make more money by allowing them to safely keep their vehicles on the road far longer than would be possible if they were behind the wheel 100% of the time. "We could make their lives a lot better by allowing them to be more of a navigator than a skipper, in a marine sense of the term," he says.

09.29.16 | 13 minutes ago

This scathing exposé reveals how Asos treats its warehouse staff

Today, Buzzfeed published a long-form story, based on three months of reporting, about how the British online fashion brand Asos treats its U.K. warehouse staff. Workers describe being unable to take regular toilet breaks or water breaks for fear of missing targets; some have had their contracts terminated because they were ill or tending to a sick relative. 

In the U.S., Gawker published similar stories about Amazon's warehouse practices. It's possible that Asos modeled its warehouse after Amazon's since, founder Nick Robertson said he wanted his company to become the "Amazon of fashion." 

09.29.16 | 33 minutes ago

Soon, our kids will have robot babysitters

We got a taste for what this will look like at the RoboBusiness exhibit in California. iPal, a 3-foot-tall humanoid robot, is designed to look after children ages 3 to 8 for several hours unsupervised. It is created by a robotics company called Avatar Mind, which is based out of Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Silicon Valley.

The Guardian asked experts what they thought of iPal and the consensus seemed to be that it is a terrible idea. As a temporary amusement, robots can be fun and educational, but child development experts worry that robotic nannies will not provide children with the emotional support they require. 

09.29.16 | an hour ago

Facebook wants to boost your marketing career for the low, low price of your soul

Blueprint launched last year as a training tool for marketers. Now Facebook is offering a certification program to validate that you're a professional who's fluent in Blueprint. 

That sounds harmless enough, except the process for getting it makes the SATs look like a free-for-all. Mainly, you have to let Facebook peer into your eyes, your home, and deep into your everlasting soul. Oh, and there's also a test you have to take, administered by Pearson, and a $150 fee. But hey, all in the name of your marketing career. 

This uncomfortably upbeat instructional video feels like a dark and inscrutable metaphor for the dystopian fate that awaits all of humanity, but it technically isn't.

09.29.16 | an hour ago

In the race to automated cars, do not ignore the automated pizza

Uber, Google, Tesla, and GM all are at work on autonomous vehicles, an innovation that is expected to remake our city infrastructure.

Meanwhile, a startup called Zume has been working on a more humble but no less important project: the automated pizza. As NPR explains:

Here's how it works. A customer places an order on the app. Inside the Zume factory, a team of mostly robots assemble the 14-inch pies, which get loaded par-baked–or partially baked–each into its own oven.
Whether the truck has five pies or 56, it needs just one human worker—to drive, slice, and deliver to your doorstep.

[Photo: Zume]

09.29.16 | an hour ago

Deloitte has a team of 5,000 promoting use of Apple gear in enterprise clients

We wrote here recently about the inner workings of Apple's app-making partnership with IBM, which might end up placing more Apple devices in the workplace. Apple also has deals with SAP and Cisco. Now it's linked up with the global consulting firm Deloitte to further establish iDevices in the enterprise, the Associated Press reports. Deloitte consultants will help clients use Apple devices like the iPhone and the iPad for specialized business tasks like insurance claims adjusting and retail sales management, the companies say.

Apple has said it sold $25 billion in hardware and services into the enterprise in the year ending September 2015 (the split between hardware and services isn't known). Apple's enterprise sales are still small compared to the $233 billion in sales it reported in the same period. Hopefully we will hear some more concrete data on Apple's progress selling its devices to the enterprise when the company reports earnings October 27.

09.29.16 | 2 hours ago

Why did it take so darn long for Congress to provide funds to fight Zika? 

Funds to stop the spread of Zika, a virus that can be passed from a pregnant women to the fetus and cause serious birth defects, took a very long time to come by. In that time, 23,135 cases were confirmed in the U.S.. A few reasons for the delay: 

* President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in February (you read that right, February), but Republicans controlling Congress acted slowly on the request on account of a fight on Capitol Hill. 

* Republicans attached restrictions on any of the money going to Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. Democrats blocked the $1.1 billion measure. As a result, $650 million needed to be shifted from elsewhere, including from the fight against Ebola. 

* The seven-week summer break.

09.29.16 | 2 hours ago

Why airplane internet is so slow and what one company plans to do about it

It's all about supply and demand. The proliferation of mobile devices over the last decade has overtaxed in-flight Wi-Fi services, where bandwidth is limited but appetite for connectivity keeps growing. Gogo Inc., an early leader in the field, hasn't had a major upgrade since 2008—a time when the iPhone was in its infancy and the iPad didn't exist. 

Now, the company says it's planning a major upgrade that will bring speedier service to U.S. carriers, but travelers won't notice any change until 2018, the Wall Street Journal reports. That's because the upgrade will require vast infrastructure improvements on both airplanes and cell towers. In the meantime, a number of rivals are nipping at Gogo's heels, providing faster service at lower costs.

Read more from WSJ.

09.29.16 | 2 hours ago

Goodbye, Google Apps—hello, G Suite 

For a decade, Google has offered a suite of apps—including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and a lot more—aimed at business users. It started out calling the combined offering "Google Apps for Your Domain" and later renamed it "Google Apps for Work."

Today, at its enterprise-focused Horizon conference in San Francisco, the company announced that it's going to refer to its suite as a suite: "G Suite," to be exact. The new name is meant to convey the integrated and collaborative nature of the productivity tools it encompasses.

Beyond the shift in branding, Google is rolling out some new features for the apps that make up G Suite, such as:

• Calendar is getting a feature that intelligently finds available blocks of time for group meetings, based on what it knows about each user's scheduling habits. 

• Team Drives is a collaboration-focused version of Google Drives.

• The Hangouts videoconferencing service will give every session a phone dial-in for folks who can't do video.

• Search and Assist offers work-oriented, Google Now-style features such as the ability to proactively show you documents you need for a meeting on your schedule.

09.29.16 | 2 hours ago

Apple’s new “Red Balloon” TV ad artfully pushes new messaging features in iOS 10

Apple now calls messaging in its OS "expressive messaging." The new ad, which began airing on TV on Thursday, features a bright red balloon coming out of a farmhouse window and flying against gray skies and over the ocean until making it to a city setting where it floats through a window to somebody's birthday party. The point is that iOS 10 messaging is now capable of expressing a far wider array of emotional meanings, and in a more compelling way.

It's interesting that Apple sees the messaging app as important enough to tempt buyers to buy the new iPhone 7. Messaging in iOS is far more dynamic than in earlier versions of the OS. You can now add colorful backgrounds (like rising balloons or confetti or disco laser lights), make text larger, smaller, and animated, add video or music within the messages, or add in content from messaging app partners like Jib Jab. A new feature makes suggestions where you might want to replace words with emoji.

09.29.16 | 3 hours ago

AOL’s new card-based email app, Alto, is actually pretty cool

"AOL's new email app" aren't exactly words that inspire excitement. But this one is actually pretty cool: Alto has several handy features, the most notable of which is the Dashboard, which picks out flights, calendar events, hotel bookings, shipments, and more and converts them to Trello-like cards that are ordered based on their relevance to the user at a given time. 

Alto works with any email account (no @aol.com address required) and is available for iOS and Android starting today.

09.29.16 | 3 hours ago

Afternoon roundup: IBM snaps up financial consulting firm, 1 dead in NJ Transit crash

• Last week's bombing in Aleppo, Syria by the Russia-backed Syrian government has resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, with almost no medical care accessible in the city. Reuters reports the U.S. is "on the verge of ending its Syria diplomacy with Russia and is looking at new options on how it might seek to end the 5 and 1/2 year civil war."

• IBM has acquired consulting firm Promontory Financial Group to help train Watson to advise banks on regulatory issues.

1 dead, possibly 100 injured after a New Jersey Transit train crashed in the Hoboken terminal on Thursday morning.

Google has rebranded its Google Apps for Work with a new name, G Suite. Watch the video here: 

• Make sure to check this list before you take a selfie at the voting booth, or you could be breaking the law.

09.29.16 | 3 hours ago

Why is IBM buying a financial consulting firm?

Short answer: the technology giant wants to train Watson, its artificial intelligence software, to advise financial institutions on regulatory questions. 

IBM announced today that it had acquired the firm, Promontory Financial Group, for an undisclosed amount. It plans to engage some of Promontory's 600 employees in training Watson on topics of interest to banks and similar customers. 

Promontory emerged as an influential Wall Street force following the 2007-09 financial crisis, but has faced scrutiny for its close ties to both executives and regulators. Last year Promontory paid New York State $15 million to settle a two-year investigation into its business dealings.