20 Mar 2015
Back in December 2013 when Amazon announced it was going to start trailing the use of drones to provide rapid delivery of certain items a few eyebrows were raised.
Not only was the idea somewhat fanciful but the fact it was announced in the run-up to Christmas and so would gain Amazon plenty of digital column inches was also notable.
However, it appears Amazon wasn't just out to grab headlines and has now secured permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly such devices.
Specifically it received an “experimental airworthiness“ for “unmanned aircraft (UAS)” certificate, with some provisos.
“All flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.”
Amazon must also provide monthly data to the FAA on topics including the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links.
“The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates,” it added.
Amazon is not the only tech company to take to the skies, with Google and Facebook both donning their flying jackets to test the use of hot air balloons and gliders to deliver the internet to far-flung regions of the globe.
In the UK the rise of drones is causing some concerns among the powers that be, with a House of Lords report suggesting a full database of users and flights should be created to help track their use.
The number of people tapping away on smartphones in public is evidence of how deeply technology has penetrated everyday life.
But technology has now entered the afterlife following the news that Facebook will provide the ability to appoint ‘heirs' to manage an account when its owner dies.
The company explained how a ‘legacy contact' can be added to an account, allowing the assigned person to write a final post to be displayed on the deceased's timeline.
The account will then become a digital memorial which Facebook claims will allow other users to "pay tribute to the deceased".
Legacy contacts will also have the option to change the account's profile picture, meaning that the departed will have relinquished control over their final image.
Those looking to set up a legacy contact will need to pick a trustworthy friend who doesn't take advantage by adding an embarrassing picture to the memorialised profile.
More disturbing still is the ability for the heir to respond to new friend requests, opening up the potential for confusion, disruption to grieving, and rumours of a user's death being greatly exaggerated.
Those concerned about digital skeletons in the closet will be relieved to know that legacy contacts are not granted permission to sift through private Facebook messages.
Legacy contacts can also ask Facebook to permanently delete the account on its owner's death, bypassing the potential for any misunderstanding and inappropriate posting.
At first glance, the addition of legacy contacts on Facebook might seem macabre. But it highlights a growing concern about the status of someone's online information when they die.
Google introduced its take on digital heirs back in 2013, giving users the option to decide on the future of their data when they shuffle of the mortal coil.
The increasing amount of personal information people are pushing onto the internet will no doubt lead to more online services offering the option to assign digital heirs.
This might seem strange to non-digital natives and people who shun social networks, but for active users and future generations, the legacy of personal digital data is likely to receive the same level of consideration as physical possessions in the last will and testament of the deceased.
While the US is benefitting from Google's 1Gbps fibre service, called Fiber, UK citizens will sadly be left behind as the search giant confirms that it has no serious plans to bring its Fiber service to British shores.
Last week, a (clearly unreliable) source informed The Telegraph that Google was in talks with British fibre specialist CityFibre, with the intention of extending the Google Fiber project beyond the US and over to Blighty.
Unfortunately, this discussion broke down as concerns were voiced that CityFibre's existing partnership with BSkyB would be threatened. Despite this curveball, optimistic fibre fans held out hope that Google would lavish the UK with its full-fibre network.
Rumours remained in circulation until a Google spokesperson shot them down telling Engadget: "We have informal conversations with other telecom companies all the time. But we've never had any serious planning discussions about bringing Google Fiber to Britain."
This is a shame as Google Fiber, currently operating in four US cities and with plans to extended it to cover another 34, is a service that could well appeal to those stuck with slow broadband.
What makes the Google Fiber networks so coveted is that they use fibre-optic cabling for the entire network to deliver speeds of 1000Mbps. Comparatively, most of BT's fibre network delivers a 'mere' 76Mbps and rely on old copper wires to connect homes to the street-based cabinets.
Nevertheless there are some fibre projects in the works. In a bid to reduce their dependency on BT Openreach networks, a joint venture between BSkyB, TalkTalk and CityFibre aims to establish a 1Gbps city-wide fibre networking in York.
While the three companies have a vision to roll out the service to other UK cities, for the immediate future Britain has no alternative except to mourn the lack of Google Fiber.
The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?
It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.
Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.
It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.
In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.
Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.
It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.
In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.
There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.
Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.
27 May 2014
Given that skies full of dark, forbidding rain clouds make up the majority of British summers, finding the weather to go out and visit some of the country’s cultural and historical sites can be pretty rare.
But with the announcement that popular tourist destinations will be added to Street View in Google Maps, sightseers will not need to wait for the sun to make an appearance before they can glimpse the majestic ruins of Byland Abbey (pictured above), for example.
Google has added famous destinations ranging from grand historical structures such as Alnwick Castle and Gardens, through to renowned racecourses including Epson Downs and Newmarket (below).
In order to fill Google Maps with 3D views of these tourist hotspots, the search giant needed to look beyond using its traditional Street Views cars as it had to get up close to some of the UK’s most popular attractions without damaging treasured parts of British heritage or alarming bemused onlookers.
So, working with partners, Google used a combination of trekker backpacks and trollies to capture many of the various sights and vistas of Britain, making them viewable on the screens of PCs, tablets and smartphones through its same Street View interface.
Now Google maps users can effectively tour the sights of Britain without even leaving the comfort of their own homes.
Plus, with virtual reality technology becoming more of a reality, thanks to the Oculus Rift and Sony Project Morpheus headset hardware, perhaps this could this be the end of real-world tourism?
Some technology has the power to change society for the better. Smartphones, for example, have given awkward types something to stare at whenever a real-life interaction is proving uncomfortable: an astounding feat of technical engineering.
Google Glass might be the next piece of tech to drive social change, but with great power comes great responsibility. And that responsibility includes telling us to not "be creepy" while wearing them, which is exactly what Google has done.
Realising that people who pay $1,500 to be early adopters for an unproven, ungainly and unsightly new technology may quite possibly have some underlying social quirks, Google has published a guide to prevent users from becoming "Glassholes".
Google told early adopters, known as Explorers, to not "Glass out". "If you find yourself staring off into the prism for long periods of time you're probably looking pretty weird to the people around you. So don't read War and Peace on Glass. Things like that are better done on bigger screens."
Sports are also outlawed: "Glass is a piece of technology, so use common sense. Water skiing, bull riding or cage fighting with Glass are probably not good ideas."
If you're on a hot date, it's advisable to conceal Glass, too: "If you're worried about someone interrupting that romantic dinner at a nice restaurant with a question about Glass, just take it off and put it around the back of your neck or in your bag."
We'd advise hiding it pre-date, just so you don't make a strange first impression.
This final statement of the completely obvious pretty much sums up the whole post: "Don't be creepy or rude (aka, a 'Glasshole'). Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don't get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren't allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass.
"If you're asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers."
The future is here, and it's rude and disrespectful.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's constantly making a glass of himself
Just when we thought we might get some legal precedent on how wearable tech might affect driving laws, a landmark case on the topic has been thrown out of court.
Although the case in question only relates to driving in California, other law enforcement bodies and government departments were likely watching the proceedings of Glass early adopter Cecilia Abadie, who was stopped by police for speeding last October. The officer then apparently noticed her $1,500 headwear and decided to add the felony of using a television monitor while driving to her list of alleged crimes.
The case has been thrown out of court, simply because there's no proof whether Abadie's glasses were turned on at the time. She denies it, and that's all the court has to go on.
The interesting thing here is the Californian law in question, which essentially states that no screens can be used while driving, other than those which provide "information about the state of vehicle, to assist the driver to see the road ahead or adjacent to him/her or to navigate to his/her destination."
As The Frontline wrote last week, it's looking ever more likely that car manufacturers are going to embrace Glass-like tech for their own customers, providing information such as navigation information about speed and fuel.
So, in this case, there's no closure. And future cases won't be helped at all, but it may be a warning shot for Google and other would-be driving glasses manufacturers to build in mechanisms to prevent devices from being used in ways which may be considered illegal – such as watching a movie or conducting a video conference call.
It's going to be an interesting few years for wearable technology.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who wears his heart on his sleeve – also a traffic offence
"Turn around where possible," your satnav says when you're doing something silly. The Department for Transport (DfT) looks to be under similar instruction with its stance on Google Glass.
In August, the DfT said that it would be "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before anyone from the department had even had the chance to try out the tech for themselves. Now, according to Sunday Times Driving supplement, they may be having a change of heart, and the possibilities are exciting.
"We have met with Google to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass," it is reported as saying. "Google are anxious their products do not pose a road safety risk and are currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law."
That's a pretty big change of heart, although it remains to be seen whether it will be legal in the UK, more importantly, the rest of the world. The state of California is currently debating the legality of Glass, for example, and we hear there are a lot of cars in that neck of the woods. Meanwhile, Nissan is developing its own '3E' glasses for in-car use.
So, assuming Glass is actually legal, what can we hope to do with it? Well, Mercedes has a few ideas. In-eye and in-ear satnav is a given, and is already in the very early stages of development. Another, less obvious use for the hardware is the displaying of a car's rear-facing parking camera to allow people with neck pain not to have to turn their heads.
At the moment, more in-depth info about your car such as fuel, mileage and speed doesn't work with Glass, but with Google having announced a partnership with firms such as Audi, Honda and General Motors, we can't imagine Android and Glass compatible cars being far away.
Sunday Times Driving reports that manufacturers are justifying the legality of Glass by saying the superimposed images displayed don't require drivers to look away from the road, similar to a windscreen-mounted satnav.
Road safety organisations want to make sure users are given ample choice as to the level of interference posed by their headwear, asking for what would in effect be a "driving mode" for headwear that connects to a smartphone.
There's certainly a line to be drawn between apps that are suitable for driving and those which are not. Playing Angry Birds on your Glass using eye and head movements, for example, would be utterly inappropriate.
We still don't know how much Google Glass is going to cost, and its uses while walking around town are questionable. In-car headwear looks like a much more exciting proposition, although whether it's anything more than a gimmick remains to be seen.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who will drive you round the bend