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Comcast says Internet fast lanes may encourage self-driving innovation

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to gut the 2015 net neutrality laws, which declared that internet service providers (ISPs) could not offer paid prioritization to web companies and lower speeds for other services.

Comcast is happy to see the regulations go, it was one of the ISPs that introduced fast lanes, most notably forcing Netflix to pay or face slower service. However, it is no longer looking to tax web companies, instead it has set its sights on developing businesses that require faster speeds.

See Also: Volvo, Autoliv and Nvidia aim for self-driving car debut by 2021

One of those, according to Comcast’s filed comments, is autonomous cars.

“The Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public,” said Comcast. “For example, a telepresence service tailored for the hearing impaired requires high-definition video that is of sufficiently reliable quality to permit users “to perceive subtle hand and finger motions” in real time. And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine.”

“Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it.”

Comcast is not the first to assert that fast lanes may be required for intensive tasks like self-driving and telemedicine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made similar comments in 2014, arguing that special priority service was required for services that have an impact on everyday life.

While creating fast lanes for services that aren’t touched by everyday consumers might generate less income for Comcast and other ISPs, it may also reduce the amount of backlash. Consumers hate when Netflix is slow, but they won’t have the same connection to a Waymo or Uber self-driving car, at least not until the cars are available to most U.S. consumers.

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Fitbit hit with lawsuit over haptic feedback patents

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Fitbit hit with lawsuit over haptic feedback patents

Fitbit has been hit with a lawsuit from Immersion, a developer of haptic feedback technology, claiming that the Alta HR and Charge 2 maker has infringed on its patents.

Immersion asks for Fitbit to cease manufacturing of all infringing devices, which, we suspect, includes all fitness trackers currently on the market. Fitbit makes use of haptic feedback for notifications, breathing exercises, and touch control, found on all trackers.

See Also: Apple drives wearables to $6 billion in first quarter sales

“We are disappointed that Fitbit rejected our numerous attempts to negotiate a reasonable license for Fitbit’s products, but it is imperative that we protect our intellectual property both within the U.S. and through the distribution chain in China,” said Immersion CEO, Victor Viegas.

It should be noted it is not the first time Immersion has taken a large tech company to court over haptic feedback technology. In 2016, it took Apple to court over its 3D Touch technology; some media outlets have labelled Immersion a patent troll.

It has taken Motorola and Sony to court as well, over similar alleged infringements.

Fitbit has been struggling to maintain its dominance in the wearable market, slipping to third in sales to Apple and Xiaomi in the first quarter of 2017. There have been rumors that the company is struggling to build a smartwatch to compete with the Apple Watch, and may be looking at the health industry as a possible route to increase profits.

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Self-driving cars pass first federal hurdle with House panel approval

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A bill to standardize self-driving across all states and exempt tens of thousands of cars every year from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rules has unanimously passed a House panel vote, paving the way for a full House vote in after the August recess.

The full House Energy and Commerce Committee may vote on it as soon as next week, according to Bloomberg, and there’s a high chance it will make its way through the full House vote.

See Also: Waymo narrows case against Uber as court date nears

It received bipartisan support after Democratic proposals were accepted, including a directive for the NHTSA to write the rules for self-driving cars in 18 months. Automakers also need to show that the autonomous technology is fit for public roads.

“Today’s markup represents the most significant step this subcommittee has taken to date to ultimately enact comprehensive legislation on self-driving technologies and services,” said Bob Latta, the Ohio Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection panel. “Our work is not done and we will continue to perfect language as we prepare to move quickly to full-committee markup.”

The legislation would ban all states from regulating self-driving cars, software, and services. Google, Tesla, and other stakeholders want to see the legislation pass, as some states have been slower to legalize parts of self-driving, while others have asked for a lot of private data in return for access to public roads.

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With hundreds of choices, how can you pick an IoT platform?

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For those involved in the IoT space, it feels as if not a day goes past without the launch of yet another IoT platform, promising a seamless conduit between connected devices and user applications.

Talk to any platform vendor and they’ll all earnest declare that their platform is the best, providing features and capabilities that exceed those of other platforms.

See also: IoT and dev platforms — connecting the world together

German research company IoT Analytics recently released its current Global IoT Platform Companies List. The database now includes 450 IoT Platform companies worldwide, which marks a 25% increase compared to the previous year.  Of the 13 industries analyzed, most of the vendors now focus on supporting IoT Solutions in Industrial/Manufacturing (32%), Smart City (21%) and Smart Home verticals (21%).In previous lists, Smart Home had been the leading vertical.



How to choose a platform

For any prospective customer traversing the platform landscape, differentiating between the current 450 plus platforms on the market is a bewildering. To help, IoT Network recently launched IoT Pilot, a free, completely independent, analyst-driven tool designed to help enterprises navigate and evaluate the IoT platform landscape. It was created in conjunction with IoT research firm Beecham Research and I spoke to Saverio Romeo, their chief research officer to find out more. 

He explained that Beecham Research had identified 25 key indicators against which to independently evaluate the performance of different IoT platforms. These include market experience, partnerships network, ease of use by system integrators, and advanced application development capabilities.

The consumer enters some information about their needs such as the purpose of the IoT device (for example, monitoring, predictive analytics and/or autonomous operability); the storage site of data (premises, cloud or hybrid location);  and whether the vendor wants to integrate with existing workplace enterprise systems. A list of suggested platforms is generated with their key advantages detailed. Romeo explained that the purpose was to “provide a starting point for vendors to find a suitable IoT platform.”

A saturated market without a dominant player

Romeo noted that the challenge of finding an IoT platform was complex in a saturated market where there are currently no specific platforms dominating the market (as with iOS and Android in mobile). “Currently there’s no market leader creating one industry standard”. Rather there are small industry specific platforms, those that are specific to particular regions and those that focus on particular devices and functions.  “Their difference might include security levels, their experience in the market or their level of support offered to clients.”

It’s a highly competitive space, Romeo noted:

“There are a good number of companies, specialized in a particular subsection of IoT or with specialized platform services such as prescriptive analytics. There will be some acquisition of smaller platforms by bigger ones but at the same time, I think  the key issue here is being able to create the right ecosystem which is flexible enough to move you from being a player into system leader into several sectors.  I think the management of ecosystems is really a challenging one but a key competitive asset in IoT.

Some people believe that the numbers will decrease we will end up with a small number of platforms able to do everything. But I’m not entirely convinced about that because of the context nature of IoT.”

Other focus areas for IoT analysis

The platform finder is really Beecham Research’s first foray into customer research with their target market typically vendors. Romeo sees many areas that need research and analysis:

“We need to understand more about the behavior of the network. If we have too many devices on the network we will start to feel the heaviness of all the devices on the network, so we will need to do network planning, we will probably need to prioritize traffic.”

Romeo also commented on two key complexities in the platform ecosystem: “Firstly, security. From a developer’s point of view, they say, ‘Somebody told me that I need to start using guidelines, but which ones?  Who should I trust? The other one is the evolution of analytics and primarily the analytics at the edge. So how clever the edge device should be- and when?”

Romeo believes that data privacy and data ownership need to be discussed industry-wide, noting that the incoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in Europe do not fully touch IoT but offer some indicators. He also believes that device security needs to be viewed not only from the consumer perspective but also the greater ethical issues:

“The experience of explaining design innovation to engineers has been quite extraordinary over the last 10 years. I think the next step is to make them aware of how the stuff they do has a social impact. We see some of this emerging in the Horizon 2020 research program.  There are a number of initiatives in which your organization can go basically and test the device from an ethical point of view, and so I think there is a move towards that.”

Anything that helps bring order, logic, and clarity of points of difference to the jumbled platform market can only be a good thing as the number of connected devices increases daily. It would be great to see other researchers provide their own similar pilots to enable the sector to have more independent analysis rather than self-regulation.

What platforms will survive in the next decade and which will fail? More than 30 of the companies included in the Global IoT Platform Companies List 2016 edition have ceased to exist-having either gone out of business or being acquired. Which kinds will become market leaders for specific use cases? These questions alone suggest that the IoT platform ecosphere may look very different in the future.

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Google finds its Glass after two years in the dark

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After two years in the dark, Google Glass has returned, launching a new enterprise edition (EE) that several major corporations have already deployed into their workforce.

Google Glass EE improves on the first model — sold to enthusiasts for $1,500 — with better networking, security, a faster processor, more battery life, and a higher megapixel camera.

See Also: Google slashes needs for YouTube creators working on VR content

The search giant has listened to complaints over the last two years, as corporations trialled the technology in secret. When recording video, Google Glass now flashes a green light, and the electronics can be unclipped from the frame and added to normal prescription lenses.

The software has also been improved to work in multiple workplace environments. DHL, General Electric, Samsung, and Volkswagen, amongst others, have built software on-top of Glass, which employees use as step-by-step guides on how to perform a task.

Building employee performance

Results over the two years show a significant increase in performance by employees that wear Google Glass. According to Backchannel, AGCO, an agriculture equipment manufacturer, is so impressed by Glass that is plans to order between 500 to 1000 devices in the next 18 months, enough for its entire workforce.

Glass was touted as the possible successor to the iPhone when it was first revealed, but that seems very unlikely now, and Google has seemingly settled on its usefulness in the enterprise.

That said, Apple is exploring ways to make augmented reality palatable to consumers, launching ARkit at WWDC this year. IKEA will launch an AR app as one of Apple’s launch partners this fall.

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WeChat’s director of user growth talks up new features for overseas clients

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I got a chance to sit down at RISE 2017 in Hong Kong with WeChat’s Director of User Growth Stephen Wang. 

For those unfamiliar, WeChat began as a messaging app back in 2010 created by China’s Tencent, but over the years, it has quickly become a tool of everyday life in mainland China. WeChat has 889 million monthly active users; 83 percent of people surveyed use WeChat for work, and 93 percent of respondents from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities use WeChat’s internal payment system for offline purchases.

See also: Why do major American corporations struggle in China?

Having such a deep hold on the Chinese consumer base both in terms of engagement and pure numbers, WeChat has naturally become of interest to both domestic and foreign enterprises. As a result, WeChat has begun releasing more and more features over the years to assist with business operations and communications in China, and recently, foreign brands have begun launching WeChat official accounts to promote brand awareness and sales.

Now, WeChat is rolling out two brand-new features, social ads and cross-border pay, to further cater to non-Chinese companies.

ReadWriteHow will social ads better aid foreign companies looking to promote themselves in China via WeChat?

Stephen Wang: Socials ads [are] a product that we only introduced only a little less than two years ago, and it has been growing very rapidly. [It functions] basically [by] narrowing targeted ads that businesses can [use to] target consumers in China, in [both] their moments feed and official accounts articles. 

Social ads … raise awareness and acquisition for international businesses and particularly for international businesses. We have been beta testing on a whitelist limited basis different brands who have been leveraging Social Ads. [The brands that have tested this new feature] are international businesses [that use social ads to narrowly target] users on WeChat from China who are traveling or are about to travel — Duty Free Shops and Cartier. We have [found] that these customers have been really satisfied with the product and as a consequence, next month, we plan to open up [social ads], which was previously invitation-only, to all international businesses to help them with their awareness and acquisition campaigns.

RW: What is cross-border pay and how does it make foreign merchants’ business transactions in China easier and more efficient?

SW: Cross-border pay is WeChat pay enabled for foreign merchants overseas, so Chinese [WeChat pay] consumers, of which there are over 600 million every month, [can] experience [the] same convenient, elegant payment mechanism whether they are inside China or … abroad. Right now we support 10 different currencies, and we have been rapidly developing this program all through East and Southeast Asia, particularly in Japan. We’ve seen four times growth within the last six months of total spend … in Japan.

As a consequence, in addition to the expansion we just announced last week in Tokyo at our first partner’s conference for WeChat-pay cross-border, we [also] just launched what we call the “open platform” for cross-border pay. What the “open platform” allows you to do is similar to [what] social ads [allow you to do]: it allows businesses in different countries — we have a qualified list of countries right now because [of our] list of supported currencies — to go online and instantly enroll in cross-border pay. Merchants and financial institutions … can [now] begin offering WeChat pay themselves in their stores overseas.

Our second announcement is our participation with Stripe, one of the leading software payment providers, to offer WeChat pay as a turnkey solution for mobile and web e-commerce [so that] merchants can, by checkbox approach, fulfill the requirements [they need to] begin accepting payments from Chinese consumers through mobile apps or their [own] websites. We are actually already seeing, via a prior partnership [with] Adyen, another leading software payments provider … that we launched with, … multiple merchants [finding] success leveraging WeChat pay on their mobile apps and websites. [A lot of start-ups] are already Stripe or Adyen customers, and they can instantly find a whole new source of consumers and revenue by just checking a box.

RW: Why should foreign companies use WeChat, or do business in China?

SW: There [were] 135 million outbound travelers from China last year. More than that, … 261 billion USD [was] spent by those outbound travelers. That actually [is] more than double the amount of [money spent by the world’s] second largest spenders, U.S. [travelers]. And it’s growing actually very, very quickly. We feel that [WeChat and its new features] present a really unique and unprecedented opportunity for international businesses to find success.

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Microsoft’s Cortana turns up heat with smart thermostat

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Microsoft has unveiled the first smart thermostat that comes with integrated Cortana voice controls, built in partnership with Johnson Controls, an Irish manufacturing conglomerate.

The thermostat, named GLAS, will run the Windows 10 IoT Core operating system, designed for Internet of Things devices like smart fridges, smoke detectors, and door locks. Users will be able to adjust the temperature in a room, check air quality, and view calendar information.

See Also: In the coming cloud computing war, storage is the next front

Like most smart thermostats, the temperature will change on the fly and it will modify as it learns a user’s preferences. GLAS has motion sensors to recognize if someone is in the room, and can hear voice commands from other rooms.

Johnson Controls has designed GLAS, a translucent piece of glass that attaches to any wall. Microsoft will supply the cloud services to run the thermostat through Azure.

The promotional video for GLAS seems to be aimed at commercial properties, like hotels. The collaboration with Johnson Controls adds to the potential commercial focus, although we haven’t heard anything from Microsoft regarding the release date or price.

Microsoft has been looking for a route into the growing smart home market, currently a free-for-all with Amazon, Apple, Google, and Samsung competing for users. The thermostat could be Microsoft’s first short, as it is the staple device for most vendors, often doubling as a hub.

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