Google will use 100% renewable energy in 2017

Google today said it will be able to power all of its global data centers and corporate offices from 100% renewable energy in 2017, a goal the company has been working toward for years. Six years ago, Google began signing long-term contracts to buy renewable energy directly from solar and wind farm suppliers. The company’s first contract was to purchase all the electricity from a 114-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Iowa. Last year, Google purchased another 842MW of renewable energy, nearly doubling the clean power it had purchased, which took it to 2 gigawatts (GW) of cumulative renewable power. “Today, we are the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable power, with commitments reaching 2.6 gigawatts (2,600 megawatts) of wind and solar energy. That’s bigger than many large utilities and more than twice as much as the 1.21 gigawatts it took to send Marty McFly back to the future,” Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, stated in a blog. Google pursued a multi-pronged approach to reach its 100% renewable energy goal, buying electricity through power purchase agreements (PPAs) that locked in contracts for carbon-free energy at a set price. The guaranteed revenue from PPAs also allowed renewable energy suppliers to invest with confidence in additional capacity, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. Google also started creating more efficient facilities that would use less energy. Google has signed onto 20 renewable energy projects around the world — about two-thirds of which are in the U.S. — amounting to more than $3.5 billion in clean energy investments. Google also purchased its power through renewable energy credits, each one of which represents 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity sold separately from commodity power sources and fed into the general electrical grid. “Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60% and 80%, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option,” Hölzle said. “Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.” “Our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone — not just Google — has access to clean energy,” he added. Corporations increasingly demand more renewables Google is far from alone in working toward achieving 100% renewable energy usage. In September, Apple announced its commitment to running all of its data centers and corporate offices on renewable energy, joining a group of other corporations committed to the same clean energy goal. Also in September, Microsoft announced plans to power its data centers around the world using 50% renewable energy by 2018. The company also plans to boost its use of renewable power for its data centers to 60% by the early 2020s. 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. Increasingly, corporations are also pressing governments to change policies to favor the use of renewable energy, which — depending on the region — can be less expensive than power from traditional sources such as coal-fired power plants. Increasing the use of renewable energy has become a targeted goal of almost half of Fortune 500 companies, according to one report. In 2014, more than half of Fortune 100 companies collectively saved $1.1 billion in energy costs by rolling out renewable energy programs. “Operating our business in an environmentally sustainable way has been a core value from the beginning, and we’re always working on new ideas to make sustainability a reality,” Hölzle said. Source: computerworld.com

‘Smart’ home devices used as weapons in website attack

Hackers used internet-connected home devices, such as CCTV cameras and printers, to attack popular websites on Friday, security analysts say. Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit were among the sites taken offline on Friday. Each uses a company called Dyn, which was the target of the attack, to direct users to its website. Security analysts now believe the attack used the “internet of things” – web-connected home devices – to launch the assault. Dyn is a DNS service – an internet “phone book” which directs users to the internet address where the website is stored. Such services are a crucial part of web infrastructure. On Friday, it came under attack – a distributed denial of service (DDoS) – which relies on thousands of machines sending co-ordinated messages to overwhelm the service. The “global event” involved “tens of millions” of internet addresses. Security firm Flashpoint said it had confirmed that the attack used “botnets” infected with the “Mirai” malware. Many of the devices involved come from Chinese manufacturers, with easy-to-guess usernames and passwords that cannot be changed by the user – a vulnerability which the malware exploits. “Mirai scours the Web for IoT (Internet of Things) devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords,” explained cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs, “and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.” The owner of the device would generally have no way of knowing that it had been compromised to use in an attack, he wrote. Mr Krebs is intimately familiar with this type of incident, after his website was targeted by a similar assault in September, in one of the biggest web attacks ever seen. Have hackers turned my printer into an offensive weapon? Do smart devices mean dumb security? Media affected by attack – Leo Kelion, technology desk editor It has emerged that the BBC’s website was also briefly caught up in Friday’s attack. The BBC is not a customer of Dyn itself, but it does use third-party services that rely on the domain name system hosting facilities provided by Dyn. I understand that these include Amazon Web Services – the retail giant’s cloud computing division – and Fastly – a San Francisco-based firm that helps optimise page download times. Both companies have acknowledged being disrupted by the DDoS assault. Only some BBC users, in certain locations, would have experienced problems and they did not last long. But there are reports that other leading media providers also experienced similar disruption. It serves as a reminder that despite the internet being a hugely robust communications system, there are still some pinch points that mean a targeted attack can cause widespread damage. The incidents mark a change in tactics for online attackers. DDoS attacks are typically aimed at a single website. Friday’s attack on Dyn, which acts as a directory service for huge numbers of firms, affected several of the world’s most popular websites at once. The use of internet-connected home devices to send the attacking messages is also a relatively new phenomenon, but may become more common. The Mirai software used in these attacks was released publicly in September – which means anyone with the skill could build their own attacking botnet. On social media, many researchers and analysts expressed frustration with the security gap being exploited by attackers. “Today we answered the question ‘what would happen if we connected a vast number of cheap, crummy embedded devices to broadband networks?’” wrote Matthew Green, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. Jeff Jarmoc, head of security for global business service Salesforce, pointed out that internet infrastructure is supposed to be more robust. “In a relatively short time we’ve taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters,” he tweeted. Source: bbc.com

Military Grade Password Security Device Now Available To Public

This password encryption device is budget friendly and makes it nearly impossible for identity thieves to break into your online accounts. It’s hard to come up with strong passwords and then remember them all. Especially if you want a unique password for each website you sign in. It’s not even funny how often I use the “forgot password?” feature to create a new one just because I forgot it. And using the same password for all websites is not an option. It’s just too risky. Did you know that 1 in 4 people experienced identity theft last year? And that with millions of attempted hacks each day, it’s just a matter of time before you’re next? The internet is not a safe place anymore and having your e-mail account hacked is a nightmare. Imagine how you would feel if someone you don’t know gained access to your Facebook account. Not fun. Now you’re probably wondering “but what can I do about it?” Obviously, nobody can remember a dozen of complex passwords in their head. Let alone figure out the right password for the right website… But what if I told you that there is a device that will generate passwords for you and then automatically log in your website accounts without you pushing a button? Sounds like a dream, right? Well, guess what? There actually is such a device and it was just released to public. It is called Everykey. It’s a tiny device that provides virtually impenetrable password security for your website accounts. In fact, the highest levels of the military use the very same technology to protect their top secret documents! What Exactly Does it Do? This powerful little device is like your own personal digital master key. It truly is the future of access control! It automatically creates incredibly complex, impossible-to-remember passwords for all password protected website you can’t afford to have hacked and exposed. It uses military grade AES 128-bit encryption to guard those complex passwords – rendering hackers and identity thieves virtually powerless. It automatically logs you into the websites when you’re nearby. When you walk away, it automatically logs you out. So with Everykey you never have to remember any of your passwords again! You get the security of those impossible-to-remember passwords with U.S. military level encryption, plus the convenience of never having to log in or out again! What If I Lose My Everykey? Not a big deal. Simply lock it. If you lose your Everykey, you can easily lock it down with your phone using their app or you can call Everykey directly and have them freeze it for you. But here’s the thing, the Everykey device itself doesn’t store your passwords. They’re safely stored in an encrypted format on an Everykey secure server. So even if you lose or have your Everykey stolen, it’s totally useless in anyone’s hands except yours! What Else Does it Do? Not only will it type passwords for you, but it will also unlock your phone, tablet and laptop. Everykey is future ready. It was designed to work with Bluetooth enabled devices like your car, house, lights and more. Plus, their Software Development Kit lets third party developers create new applications for Everykey. So the possibilities are endless. Source: studylifestyle.com

Intel doubles down on VR sports with Voke purchase

Very few people have likely either seen or heard of VR sports at this point, but that hasn’t stopped Intel from quickly snapping up its second startup, Voke, to lock up what it calls “immersive sports experiences.” Intel said Thursday that it has bought Voke, described as a leader in bringing “live, virtual reality experiences to consumers.”  “Imagine being able to witness a slam dunk from the defender’s perspective or the defensive rush from the quarterback’s perspective,” James Carwana, the general manager of Intel’s Sports Group, wrote in a blog post. “This kind of experience may sound futuristic, but it’s closer than you think.” Voke uses an array of paired-lens, stereoscopic cameras to capture events like the Final Four and New York’s Fashion Week, then allows users to hopscotch around them to view the action from their choice of perspective. That’s somewhat similar to Intel’s second VR acqusition, Replay Technologies, which Intel bought in March. Replay uses what it calls “freeD” cameras scattered around a basketball court, and combines the video inside Intel’s own servers. The aggregated, stitched-together video feed essentially turns a live feed of a basketball game into a live 3D model of the action, which users can also rotate or zoom in and out of to experience the action as they want. It appears that Voke’s technology may be used to provide more realistic video images that could be later stitched together using the Replay technology. Voke’s technology can be viewed via phones, the Web, or the PC, as well as a VR headset. The company partnered with Oculus and Facebook to broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball final in 3D. Why this matters: If you’ve sat through any of Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich’s recent speeches, you’ve probably seen Intel’s newfound love of data represented in a variety of ways: 4K camera-equipped drones, or measuring the “vert” of a BMX biker as she flies through the air. All of these either use an array of sensors or machine interpretation of live video, generating tons of data for Intel’s processors to crunch. Meanwhile, Intel’s hoping that a new generation of fans who tweet and blog and play fantasy football regularly will be interested in a sports broadcast experience that can be manipulated and assessed in real time, turning fans into analysts. Culturally, that means one major change, too: Because broadcasters like NBC can’t deliver an interactive experience, that means games delivered via the Voke technology would be viewable only on a PC or smartphone. Meanwhile, so-called smart TVs have typically only been able to display streaming media like Netflix. Could Intel have something more powerful in mind? Source: pcworld.com

Oakley and Intel pack a fitness coach into new pair of smart glasses

For wearables to succeed, many people believe technology should be inconspicuous, not popping out and making a fashion statement of its own. Google Glass may have gotten it wrong, and Oakley and Intel may have done it right with the new Radar Pace At first glance, Oakley’s Radar Pace sunglasses look undeniably cool. But hidden inside is technology that turns the sunglasses into a voice-activated coach that answers questions and provides fitness training recommendations. It’s like having Siri in your sunglasses. The sunglasses are expensive. At US$449, they have a hefty markup, but Oakley sunglasses and cool technology won’t come cheap. The glasses will be handy for hard-core athletes, but Oakley is also targeting casual athletes. The smart glasses will start shipping on Oct. 1 in the U.S. and other countries. Radar Pace has sensors that can track heart rate, distance, cadence, speed, and other vital workout information. The data is synced with a smartphone connected to Radar Pace via Bluetooth, where an app called Radar Pace App monitors the workout, answers questions, and provides voice recommendations. Users hear the information through earphones in the sunglasses. A cool feature is the ability to ask questions through a microphone, with users getting answers back. The questions are passed on to the smartphone app, which formulates and sends back an answer to Radar Pace. The voice-activated system can convey daily workout plans, or answer questions that will provide real-time information on speed, race, metrics, and heart rate to people wearing Radar Pace. The smartphone app can analyze workout data in real time. For example, the glasses can advise a runner to increase the pace, slow down, or end a workout. The mobile app interprets and answers queries through a natural-language processing engine developed by Intel called Real Speech. For example, a runner can ask questions like, “what’s my heart rate?” or “what’s my pace?” Voicing “time” or “distance” will prompt the app to convey the answers. The smart glasses are a result of a two-year alliance between Luxottica, which owns Oakley, and Intel, which developed the core technology and architecture. Intel has pushed for technology to be invisible in wearables, and that design philosophy was the main focus when designing Radar Pace. Many smart sunglasses for fitness are hitting the market. A notable competitor is Solos, which is a kind of Google Glass for athletes. Solos has a tiny heads-up display that shows metrics like heart rate, pace, distance, and cadence so athletes can see data in real time. It was used by U.S. cyclists in the recent Rio Olympics. But unlike Google Glass and Solos, the Radar Pace doesn’t have a screen. A voice-activated system works better because information on a screen can be distracting when cycling or running, Oakley officials said. Also, the added-on tech hasn’t looked cool in some smart glasses. The technology protruding out of Google Glass was so visible that it upset people who thought they were being spied on. Oakley and Intel came up with a design where the technology is as hidden as possible, though the headsets are clearly visible on the side. The smartphone app that works with Radar Pace also can pull data from other fitness apps and devices to formulate workouts. That’s handy, especially when people like using Fitbit and other devices to track fitness data. The sunglasses weigh 56 grams and run for about four to six hours on a single battery charge. They have an accelerometer, gyroscope, and sensors to measure pressure, humidity, and proximity. The glasses have some cool add-on features. They can play your favorite music on the smartphone. You can take phone calls via Radar Pace, and the app works with Android and iOS devices. For Intel, the Radar Pace is a breakthrough in wearables. The chipmaker has a handful of wearable products on the market, but Radar Pace is the most important for the company. Unfortunately for Intel, the glasses don’t use an x86 chip, but an embedded processor based on another architecture that Intel wouldn’t specify. That also highlights a  problem — Intel’s chips aren’t used in many wearables partly because the company doesn’t have the right processors in its portfolio. Intel is committed to developing chips for wearables, a representative said. Source: itnews.com

Why Apple dropped the headphone jack in the iPhone 7

As had been rumored, Apple removed the headphone jack from the upcoming iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and introduced wireless AirPods for listening to music, talking to Siri and making phone calls. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, offered up a thorough argument for why dropping the jack is a good technology move. Simply put, doing so leaves room in a slender phone body for other technology. Plus, Apple is shipping — in the box — EarPods that connect via wire to the lightning power port, which also supplies sound to the EarPods. And, if a user has third-party headphones or accessories still requiring a headphone jack port, Apple is also shipping in the box a small 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter to connect to the iPhone’s lightning port. Schiller used the removal of the headphone jack as a way to transition to wireless EarPods, which Apple calls AirPods, that go on sale for $159 in late October. The AirPods operate on a new low-power W1 chip that’s designed to provide highly efficient audio playback with a consistent connection. Infrared sensors inside the AirPods will detect when they are in the ear. Accelerometers will respond to touch, and a double touch will activate Siri and help determine the direction of a person’s voice. The AirPods will work for five hours of listening on a single charge and can be stored in a wireless charging case that has 24 hours of battery life. That case can itself be charged via a lightning port. AirPods can also be activated across an iPhone and Apple Watch at the same time. “We’re just at the beginning to a truly wireless future where tech enables a seamless and automatic connection to you and your devices,” Schiller exclaimed. “It is a breakthrough design to deliver a truly Apple magic experience.” The pre-announcement online talk about the removal of the headphone jack and the possibility of wireless headphones was intense among analysts and Apple fans. Some were concerned that Apple was forcing too much change on users, and worried that Apple would require users to carry around an adapter. Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the lack of a headphone jack will have “minimal to no impact on iPhone 7 sales. The relatively few customers that care about this won’t be much of a burden to Apple’s sales efforts.” Even so, Schiller took the time to address the concerns over removing the jack. “Some people have asked us why we would remove the analog headphone jack,” he said. “It’s been with us a really long time. It comes down to one word: courage. Our team has tremendous courage. Our smartphones are packed with technologies, faster processors…and all of it fights for space.” That argument alone makes it less reasonable for “maintaining an ancient single-purpose analog connector.” Other innovations to the camera and processors in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus might bring more sales to Apple, but Schiller put a premium on the removal of the headphone jack and launch of AirPods. Analyst Patrick Moorhead at Moor Insights and Strategy, tweeted about the importance of the move. “Did Apple just fix crappy Bluetooth headphone experience with AirPods? Probably,” he tweeted. Moorhead added later via email that Apple has a tradition of tackling customer experience concerns, like poor Bluetooth headphones and headsets. “From what I experienced with AirPods, they…fixed Bluetooth headsets. AirPods connect consistently, are truly wireless, stay in your ear and are easy to charge and harder to lose. I think Apple has a real winner here.” Apple has a long history of moving reluctant customers along to new technology. The lightning port was one such innovation, introduced on Sept. 12, 2012. It replaced the 30-pin dock connector in many Apple devices. Making the adjustment meant that customers needed an adapter for speakers and other devices. Schiller said there are now 900 million lightning connector devices in use. With the AirPods, Apple is not relying on standard Bluetooth technology in its W1 chip, according to a report by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that was obtained by AppleInsider. Kuo also argued that the wireless headphones will become the default option for many iPhone users. The low-power wireless communications used in the W1 chip could become the basis for communications with smart home accessories and smart automobiles. Kuo said that Apple needed higher requirements for power savings than what the Bluetooth specification provides. Source: computerworld.com

Dell believes VR will be as important as gaming to PC’s

Twenty years ago, Frank Azor and three other Alienware founders built and sold their first gaming PCs. Gaming was a niche market at the time, but two decades later, it’s booming. Virtual reality occupies a similar space as gaming for Azor, who is general manager for Alienware and XPS products at Dell. For him, VR is the future of PCs and will be as hot as gaming. Though full of promise, VR is still raw, however. VR is important for Dell, but Azor doesn’t want to rush in and then regret it. He’s taking a measured approach to evaluating VR because problems with headsets and user experiences have yet to be resolved. “There’s so much to learn still. We don’t want to be haphazard about jumping in and doing something careless and making some mistake,” Azor said. Dell has built Alienware PCs that run VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and the company has made innovative products like backpack PCs for untethered VR. But Azor is not interested in building products unless they resonate with users. Dell is in no hurry to build a VR headset. Top-rated VR headsets are already available, and Dell prefers partnerships to fill product gaps instead of wasting resources by unnecessarily building products. “We, at this time, have no intention of creating our own head-mounted display,” Azor said. “This could change in the future. At this time we want to see how the [VR] technologies evolve and where are going to be our opportunities for differentiation.” If Dell decides to slap an Alienware logo on a head-mounted display, it will do it using the exacting standards reflected in the gaming PCs, Azor said. The VR headset will have to outperform rivals, be innovative, have an iconic design, and will be built with high-quality standards. Moreover, the headset will need service offerings that make it unique. Many issues need to be considered before building a headset, Azor said. Dell needs to know what makes a VR headset tick — whether it’s the ergonomics, size and weight, wire-free features, screen resolution, audio quality, industrial design, or cost. Dell’s stance is pragmatic considering several competitors are chasing VR and mixed reality headsets. Lenovo and Asus are making VR headsets, while Acer is partnering with a company called Starbreeze to design and market headsets. HP isn’t planning a headset but is building a 3D computing strategy around 3D printers and interactive desktops like the Sprout. Dell and HP are also selling workstations compatible with VR headsets for content creation. Intel has shown a mixed reality headset called Project Alloy, which like Microsoft’s HoloLens, mixes real worlds with virtual worlds. Intel and Microsoft will release tools for device makers to build headsets based on the Project Alloy design, though there are no takers yet. Azor’s team has met with the Microsoft HoloLens group a few times, and the company is interested in the mixed reality usage model. Dell started off as a company making PCs in a garage but has built up its creative portfolio with products like the Steam Machine, a SteamOS-based gaming console. But it has also experienced miscues with products like netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. VR, in Azor’s eyes, is not an overnight sensation. It’ll drive computing and PCs for the next 20 years, he said. “VR and mixed reality will be as important to our future as gaming and other use cases,” Azor said. Source: itworld.com

This anti-drone ray will protect the US airports

Every once in a while you’ll hear of a drone causing trouble, either because it breached security perimeters or because someone though it’d be a great idea to strap a firearm to one in what might be the least smart thing to do since flying one over the White House walls. But there’s a bigger, more realistic, and all-too-regular issue: people are flying drones far too close to aircraft. A trio of British companies have banded together to develop an anti-drone ray, which will soon be arriving at US airports, as part of the federal government’s efforts to keep small, unmanned aircraft away from the larger, manned variety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will soon begin trials of the ray, known as the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), to detect and identify potentially dangerous or hostile drones in the near vicinity to airports. The FAA didn’t say which airports will receive the AUDS, but will study their use while ensuring that they’re not getting in the way of existing airport security policies. AUDS works by tracking the drone with a thermal imaging camera, then sending high-powered radio frequency signals to the drones, making them unresponsive to the controller. In as little as eight seconds, the drone can be knocked from the skies of up to a range of about six miles. The three British companies separately provide electronic-scanning radar target detection systems, electro-optic tracking and classification, radio-frequency disruption technologies to create the ray. It can’t come soon enough, given the rate of suspected drone sightings near US airports. According to the FAA, the administration receives more than 100 reports each month from pilots and others who spot unmanned drones flying too close to airplanes. Homeland Security also last year warned that terrorists could use drones as weapons, but did not provide specifics on any imminent threat. Source: zdnet.com

FAA setting up advisory panel on drones led by Intel CEO

The Federal Aviation Administration is setting up an advisory committee, led by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, to guide it on the integration of unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace. The formation of the committee could link to plans by the FAA to finalize much-awaited rules for the commercial operation of drones, which will likely pave the way for the widespread use of the airborne devices for deliveries and other applications by companies like Amazon.com and Google. “By late spring, we plan to finalize Part 107, our small UAS rule, which will allow for routine commercial drone operations,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a speech at a drone event on Wednesday. Huerta had said in January that the the rules would be finalized at the end of spring, but there has been skepticism as the process has been plagued by delays, including missing a September deadline mandated by the U.S. Congress. Members of the new drone advisory committee will include representatives from a variety of organizations with interests in drones, including manufacturers and operators, application service providers, pilots, the FAA, NASA, representatives of manned aviation and the Department of Defense. Unlike bodies like the UAS registration task force, which developed recommendations for the registration of UAS devices, and the micro UAS aviation rule-making committee set up recently by the FAA for a single purpose and limited duration, the new drone advisory committee is intended to be a long-lasting group that will essentially serve the same purpose as the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, Huerta said. Selections by the FAA of members of the advisory committee are expected to be made by May 31, the agency said. Huerta will be the designated federal official on the committee. The FAA proposed in February last year draft rules, which would possibly allow programs like those of Amazon for the commercial delivery of packages by drones to take off. But the commercial drones would still operate under restrictions such as a maximum weight of 55 pounds (25 kilograms), flight altitude of a maximum of 500 feet (152 meters) and rules that limit flights to daylight and the visual line-of-sight of the operators. The Senate passed last month the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016, which while recognizing the opportunities for the use of drones for commercial applications, aims to impose safety rules and technologies like geofencing, particularly to curb the reckless use of consumer drones by hobbyists. The legislation, which still has to pass the House of Representatives, also tries to avoid a “patchwork quilt” of rules by states and local authorities by giving the FAA rules preemption over local and state laws governing the use of drones. Source: itworld.com

Google Home

Google offers up billions of answers to queries every day. Now the search giant thinks it has an answer to the Amazon Echo At its annual I/O developer conference, Google on Wednesday revealed a new smart speaker that houses its “OK Google” digital voice assistant, offering one of the first major competitors to the Echo. The plug-in speaker, coming out later this year, will be able to play music and connect to devices around the home. “Google Home will become more and more a control center for your whole home,” Mario Queiroz, Google vice president of product management, said on stage at Wednesday’s event. “It’s like having a voice-activated remote control to the real world whenever you need it.” The Home, along with the new Allo messaging app, will be some of the first new places Google will be putting its more robust Google digital assistant so it can provide natural two-way conversations with users. Google’s entry underscores the notion that the home has increasingly become a battleground in tech, with companies scrambling to gain a piece of a new market that includes biometric door locks and refrigerators plastered with tablet screens. After launching in late 2014, the Echo has become a sleeper hit, with the cylindrical speaker letting people to use voice commands to control their connected lightbulbs and thermostats, order Domino’s pizzas or check their bank balance. Thanks to all its features, the Echo has enjoyed early success as a hub for the connected home, with Amazon selling an estimated 3 million devices so far. But Google likely wants to deny Amazon that lofty position. Google’s parent Alphabet already spent $3.2 billion to buy Nest, which makes connected smoke alarms, webcams and thermostats, and Google would rather its hub — not the Echo — operate these products. Google and Amazon also have become fiercer rivals, with the tech titans fighting over consumer electronics, grocery deliveries and cloud storage services. Google Home, which was rumored to come out, provides yet another battlefront. Google’s advantage in this fight could be its large portfolio of popular apps, including Google Maps, Google Photos and Google Calendar, as well as Nest’s smart-home devices. Also, Google’s digital assistant, known as “OK Google” or Google Now, already resides in Android smartphones and the Google search app. Having a device that can bring all those items together in an easy-to-use, voice-controlled speaker could give the Echo a run for its money. For example, Google executives said people will be able to use the Home to control their Nest devices or play music in different rooms using speakers enabled with Google Chromecast Audio. The Echo, though, already works with Nest devices and Google Calendar, and includes more than 300 different capabilities, from reading Bible verses to ordering an Uber car. “There certainly will be some catch-up that Google has to play,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau said. “Not being first isn’t that much of a disadvantage, but waiting too long can be. I don’t think waiting too long has happened yet.” An Amazon representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. The Google Home can be personalized with different materials and colors, and may let users ask a broader range of questions than the Echo can manage, since Google’s digital assistant connects to the company’s powerful search platform. “We’re creating a new set of entry points into the conversation that you can have with Google,” Scott Huffman, a search engineering executive at Google, said in an interview, “that are explicitly focused on this idea of having a natural conversation.” With the help of machine learning, the Google assistant will improve over time by learning a specific user’s preferences and patterns. While “OK Google” will start as the Home’s wake word, other options like “Hey Google” will be added. Users will have the same privacy controls as they do with Google search histories, with users able to delete some or all their queries to the Google Home. Google’s new speaker increases the chances that devices will have more voice controls going forward, which could help people navigate complicated sets of commands without having to use a remote or touchscreen. Apple has worked to add its Siri digital assistant into more devices, as is Microsoft with its Cortana platform. “The future of conversational user interfaces is pretty bright,” Gartner’s Blau said. “It seems that talking to your home is popular these days.” Source: cnet.com

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