Oculus Buys Pepple

July 27, 2015 by  
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Facebook’s Oculus unit announcd that it has agreed to acquire Israeli gesture recognition technology developer Pebbles Interfaces for an undisclosed amount.

The announcement was made in a blog posted by Oculus.

Israel’s Calcalist financial news website said the deal was worth tens of millions of dollars.

While other companies pioneering the virtual reality field focus on full-body movement, Pebbles’ technology detects and tracks hand movement. It is aimed primarily at gamers but also has applications for TV, computers, or smartphone operation while driving.

Recently Pebbles integrated its technology with Oculus glasses, which translate finger gestures into virtual movement through a camera mounted on the glass frame, Calcalist said.

Investors in Pebbles include Chinese mobile phone maker Xiaomi, Israeli venture capital fund Giza and U.S. storage firm SanDisk, Calcalist said.

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Microsoft Unveils Hologram Visor

February 4, 2015 by  
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Microsoft Corp surprised the tech world with the unveiling of a prototype hologram visor that can bring the Minecraft video game, Skype calls and even the landscape of Mars to three-dimensional life.

The veteran tech pioneer, which long ago lost the mantle of the world’s most inventive company, is making a bold play to regain that title in the face of stiff competition from Google Inc and Apple Inc.

Virtual or enhanced reality is the next frontier in computing interaction, with Facebook Inc focusing on its Oculus virtual reality headset and Google working on its Glass project.

Microsoft said its wire-free Microsoft HoloLens device will be available around the same time as Windows 10 this autumn. Industry analysts were broadly excited at the prospect, but skeptical that it could produce a working model at a mass-market price that soon.

“That was kind of a ‘Oh wow!’ moment,” said Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner who tried out the prototype on Wednesday. “You would expect to see a relatively high-priced model this year or next year, then maybe it’ll take another couple of years to bring it down to a more affordable level.”

Microsoft does not have a stellar record of bringing ground-breaking technology to life. Its Kinect motion-sensing game device caused an initial stir but never gripped the popular imagination.

The company showed off a crude test version of the visor – essentially jerry-rigged wires and cameras pulled over the head – to reporters and industry analysts at a gathering at its headquarters near Seattle.

It did not allow any photographs or video of the experience, but put some images on its website.

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Nvidia Unveils New Tegra X1 Chip

January 16, 2015 by  
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Chipmaker Nvidia debuted a new processor aimed at powering high-end graphics on car dashboards as well as sophisticated auto-pilot systems.

At an event in Las Vegas ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show, Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said the Tegra X1 chip would provide enough computing horsepower for automobiles with displays built into mirrors, dashboard, navigation systems and passenger seating.

“The future car is going to have an enormous amount of computational ability,” Huang said. “We imagine the number of displays in your car will grow very rapidly.”

The Tegra X1 has twice the performance of its predecessor, the Tegra K1, and will come out in early 2015, Nvidia said.

An upcoming platform combining two of the X1 chips can process data collected from up to 12 high-definition cameras monitoring traffic, blind spots and other safety conditions in driver assistance systems, Huang said.

Combined with next-generation software, the chips can help detect and read road signs, recognize pedestrians and detect braking vehicles, he said.

Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia in recent years has been expanding beyond its core business of designing high-end graphics chips for personal computers.

After struggling to compete against larger chipmakers like Qualcomm in smartphones and tablets, Nvidia is now increasing its focus on using its Tegra mobile chips in cars and is already supplying companies including Audi, BMW and Tesla.

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Samsung Goes With Tizen

January 13, 2015 by  
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Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has announced that all its new smart television products launched in 2015 will be powered by the Tizen operating system, marking a fresh effort by the company to increase the usage of the software platform.

Smart TVs offer additional software and connectivity functions, such as video streaming and web browsing capabilities. Samsung demonstrated TV sets powered by Tizen at developer conferences last year.

“We are focusing our efforts on Tizen right now,” Kim Hyun-suk, Samsung’s president of visual display business, told Reuters in an interview. “We hope that other TV makers will also use it and help build an ecosystem that will help the platform grow.”

Televisions would be an addition to the modest stable of Tizen products, which consists of a few smartwatches and cameras despite years of development and support by the world’s top maker of smartphones and TVs.

The platform represents the most visible effort on the software front by Samsung, which has sought to free itself from Google Inc’s Android platform.

But Tizen has so far failed to take off, due in part to Samsung’s failure to launch a smartphone powered by the system. Some analysts are skeptical about the platform’s viability despite Samsung’s standing as top smartphone maker, especially as Android and Apple Inc’s iOS tighten their grip in the smartphone sector.

Developers say that until there is a meaningful user base for Tizen they will have little incentive to make innovative software applications for the system, deemed crucial if Samsung is to convince wary consumers to try it out.

While the launch of Tizen-based TVs will increase the platform’s user base, it is unclear if that alone will be enough to pique developers’ interest. Users of smart TVs tend to use fewer apps than they would on smartphones.

Still, the operating system is expected to play a key role in Samsung’s smart-home business. Tizen can also run on devices with low computing power such as refrigerators and washing machines, offering a way for users to monitor and control such devices remotely.

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Kodak Enters The Smartphone Space

January 12, 2015 by  
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Many people use their smartphone as their primary camera because it is always with them and sharing those photos is easy from your phone. Kodak announced they will be offering an Android-powered smartphone at CES in a couple weeks with a tablet and connected camera coming later in 2015.

The Kodak brand has been synonymous with cameras so it is encouraging to see them placing their brand on a new smartphone.

Apple’s iPhone is one of the most popular camera phones, primarily due to its simplicity and solid quality. The press release states that Kodak will not compromise on design and user experience while improving the printing and sharing experience.

The release also states that Kodak will include advanced remote management software to allow family members and friends to provide help and support. This sounds like Amazon’s Mayday service for the Fire Phone. With statements like this, it sounds like the new Kodak Android smartphone will be targeted to the masses and not the smartphone enthusiast.

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Office 365 Goes Video Streaming

December 3, 2014 by  
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Microsoft unveiled Office 365 Video, a YouTube-like streaming service where enterprises and large organizations can post in-house video content for communication and training.

“Office 365 Video provides organizations with a secure, company-wide destination for posting, sharing and discovering video content,” said Mark Kashman, a senior product manager with the Office 365 team, in a blog posting.

Kashman touted Video as a tool for internal communications, citing the examples of new-employee orientation, management messaging and worker training. Employees will also be able to contribute to a “Community” section, though most companies will probably frown on cat antic clips.

The service rolls out over the next few days to companies that have registered for Office 365′s First Release early distribution program, then through early 2015 to others.

Video will be available only to subscribers of Office 365′s plans for enterprises — E1 through E4 — and universities (A2 through A4). It will not be offered to consumer subscribers or firms with small business-oriented plans like Business Essentials, Business and Business Premium.

Kashman also said Office 365 plans for government agencies will get Video at some point, but he did not proffer a timeline.

The other requirement is SharePoint Online, an off-premises component of the enterprise and academic plans, but missing from the increasingly popular Office 365 ProPlus, the rent-not-buy plan used by organizations that have decided to retain their back-end services, like SharePoint and Exchange, on premises.

Although Office 365 Video has elements of consumer streaming services like Google’s YouTube, it’s strictly an in-house affair: It will be available only to employees, and then only those whom IT administrators have assigned access rights.

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Toshiba Develops Mobile Sensor

September 10, 2014 by  
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Toshiba has created a new image sensor for mobile phones and tablets that promises better image resolution for run-of-the-mill smartphones when it goes into mass production.

The T4KA7 is a 1/2.4-inch, 20-megapixel backside illuminated sensor with a 1.12 micrometer pixel size, which provides for a smaller sensor size overall.

The sensor allows for a lower module height of under 6 millimeters compared to the current 20-megapixel, 1.2-micrometer sensors, the company said.

“T4KA7 is the first 1.12-micrometer, 20-megapixel sensor on the market with a high frame rate of 22 fps at full resolution,” a Toshiba spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The frame rate is 1.8 times the speed of Toshiba’s previous 20-megapixel sensor, the T4K46.

When zooming digitally, the sensor provides crisper images compared to 13- and 16-megapixel sensors, which are resolutions widely adopted in recent smartphones, she added.

Announced earlier this year, Samsung’s camera-phone hybrid Galaxy K zoomhas a 20.7-megapixel image sensor that is supposed to perform well when taking photos in low-light settings.

Without a specific measurement for comparison, it’s hard to say whether the T4KA7 would do any better in low-light shooting situations than other sensors, the Toshiba spokeswoman said.

“We think we are providing top-class sensors in terms of pixel performance,” she added.

Toshiba is producing samples of its new sensors now, with mass production of up to half a million units per month to begin in November.

Higher-end smartphones already featuring 20-megapixel cameras include the Sony Xperia Z1, the Nokia Lumia 930 and 1520.

Announced last month, the Nokia Lumia 1020 sports a camera designed for photographers — it has a sensor with 41-megapixel resolution.

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Do Chip Makers Have Cold Feet?

March 27, 2014 by  
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It is starting to look like chip makers are having cold feet about moving to the next technology for chipmaking. Fabricating chips on larger silicon wafers is the latest cycle in a transition, but according to the Wall Street Journal chipmakers are mothballing their plans.

Companies have to make massive upfront outlays for plants and equipment and they are refusing, because the latest change could boost the cost of a single high-volume factory to as much as $10 billion from around $4 billion. Some companies have been reining in their investments, raising fears the equipment needed to produce the new chips might be delayed for a year or more.

ASML, a maker of key machines used to define features on chips, recently said it had “paused” development of gear designed to work with the larger wafers. Intel said it has slowed some payments to the Netherlands-based company under a deal to help develop the technology.

Gary Dickerson, chief executive of Applied Materials said that the move to larger wafers “has definitely been pushed out from a timing standpoint”

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Is Ethernet For Autos?

March 11, 2014 by  
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The most ubiquitous local area networking technology used by large companies may be packing its bags for a road trip.

As in-vehicle electronics become more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, cameras, and infotainment systems, Ethernet has become a top contender for connecting them.

For example, the BMW X5 automobile, released last year, used single-pair twisted wire, 100Mbps Ethernet to connect its driver-assistance cameras.

Paris-based Parrot, which supplies mobile accessories to automakers BMW, Hyundai and others, has developed in-car Ethernet. Its first Ethernet-connected systems could hit the market as soon as 2015, says Eric Riyahi, executive vice president of global operations.

Parrot’s new Ethernet-based Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology uses Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet controller chips.

The AVB technology’s network management capabilities allows automakers to control the timing of data streams between specific network nodes in a vehicle and controls the bandwidth in order to manage competing data traffic.

Ethernet’s greater bandwidth could provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each back-seat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.

“In-car Ethernet is seen as a very promising way to provide the needed bandwidth for coming new applications within the fields of connectivity, infotainment and safety,” said Hans Alminger, senior manager for Diagnostics & ECU Platform at Volvo, in a statement.

Ethernet was initially used by automakers only for on-board diagnostics. But as automotive electronics advanced, the technology has found a place in advanced driver assistance systems and infotainment platforms.

Many manufacturers also use Ethernet to connect rear vision cameras to a car’s infotainment or safety system, said Patrick Popp, chief technology officer of Automotive at TE Connectivity, a maker of car antennas and other automobile communications parts.

Currently, however, there are as many as nine proprietary auto networking specifications, including LIN, CAN/CAN-FD, MOST and FlexRay. FlexRay, for example, has a 10Mbps transmission rate. Ethernet could increase that 10 fold or more.

The effort to create a single vehicle Ethernet standard is being lead by Open Alliance and the IEEE 802.3 working group. The groups are working to establish 100Mbps and 1Gbps Ethernet as de facto standards.

The first automotive Ethernet standard draft is expected this year.

The Open Alliance claims more than 200 members, including General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault, Volvo, Bosch, Freescale and Harman.

Broadcom, which makes electronic control unit chips for automobiles, is a member of the Open Alliance and is working on the effort to standardize automotive Ethernet.

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Sony Exits PC Business

February 19, 2014 by  
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Sony will unload its struggling PC business to a Japanese investment firm, the company said Thursday, raising the possibility that the “Vaio” brand could all but disappear from markets outside Japan.

Tokyo-based investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) will operate the Vaio PC brand under a newly established firm and initially sell PCs in Japan only.

In another reform aimed at bolstering its restructuring efforts, Sony also said it would turn its beleaguered TV business into a subsidiary.

The moves come as Sony said it now expects a net loss of $1.1 billion for the year to the end of March, a reversal of its October profit forecast.

Vaio, which Sony introduced in 1996, looks set to vanish from most markets, at least for short term, as the new company will initially concentrate on selling consumer and corporate PCs in Japan. Whether or not Sony will continue to produce products under the Vaio brand remains to be seen, Sony said.

Although Sony is selling its PC business, it will continue to produce tablet computers, part of its renewed focus on mobile devices including smartphones.

Sony did not put a price on the sale. Sony will take a 5% stake in the new firm, it said.

Sony will stop making and selling PCs after its 2014 Spring lineup launch, but about 250 to 300 Sony staff, including some from a subsidiary that produces TV sets, cameras and computers at factories in Japan, will be hired by the new company, which is to be based at the hub of Sony’s current PC business in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture.

Meanwhile, Sony said it will turn its TV business, which has faced a decade of losses, into a wholly owned subsidiary by July 2014.

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