05 Dec 2013
Google has fingers in plenty of pies, but the latest news from Palo Alto is that one of those fingers might be made of cold stainless steel.
The New York Times had a chat with former Android chief Andy Rubin, who's now been put in charge of Google's robotic activities. Rubin has a history with robotics, having worked on manufacturing projects with the likes of Carl Zeiss. To that end, it would seem that Google's intentions are for robots to be hidden away inside factories rather than being walking, talking metal men (or drones) made to carry your shopping.
The piece also states that Google has bought seven technology companies with the intention of developing robots.
Nonetheless, it's an interesting development for a firm that currently doesn't have a particularly huge stake in the manufacturing and retail sectors – which both benefit hugely from robotics – and has only recently started offering home delivery for retail.
Of course, Google has a little bit of experience with creating autonomous machines, with its driverless car making headlines around the world and scaring regular users of zebra crossings to boot.
Rubin, who took Android from a fringe mobile OS to a dominant force in the smartphone space, says he has a "a history of making my hobbies into a career". In other words, he has a track record of getting things right, which probably made his task of convincing Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to get on board a little easier.
It's interesting that this news should come during the same week as Amazon's teasing look at its automated delivery drones. It rather seems like there's a bit of one-upmanship going on in the tech world, with major firms looking to steal headlines as the year comes to a close.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who always obeys the first law of robotics
The executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, has penned a length post telling mobile users how they can switch from iPhone to Android devices.
Fresh from offering tips on using cloud computing, Schmidt has now turned his attention to the mobile market, using his page on Google+ to show users how easy it is to move to Android, and all it can offer.
“Like the people who moved from PCs to Macs and never switched back, you will switch from iPhone to Android and never switch back, as everything will be in the cloud, backed up, and there are so many choices for you,” he wrote.
"The latest high-end phones from Samsung (Galaxy S4), Motorola and the Nexus 5 have better screens, are faster, and have a much more intuitive interface."
What follows is a lengthy, complicated and caveat-heavy list of the steps you’ll need to take for this switch to Android, which runs to just over 600 words. This includes how to get Gmail on your phone, back up photos and move your music to your new device.
While Schmidt attempts to paint the transition as painless – as anyone who has ever moved phone, even within the same ecosystem, will know – such a task is never easy, and is always fraught with frustrations.
This isn't an issue with Android, or Apple, or anyone else, it just seems that anything that requires moving data is complex and time-consuming. Still, at least industry leaders such as Schmidt are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to try and help the average user, which is nice.
By V3's Dan Worth, who's happy with his iPhone
Google’s Street View service has been a wonderful addition to the web, as it allows the world to check out landmarks and future holiday destinations in real-life glory, although the images are usually a few years out of date.
The firm has always shown it is keen to expand the services wherever it can, with shots of remote wilderness, canals, rivers and even mountains. Now, the latest location to face the all-seeing eye of Street View is Cern, near Geneva.
V3 has seen the site in the flesh and from the outside it isn’t much to look at, appearing very much like your standard set of offices in the European hinterland. But inside it’s a treasure trove of scientific wonder, with scientists tackling some of the most pressing questions about our universe.
So, the chance to peer around thanks to Street View is a great opportunity, and one that Google was keen to embrace, as Google Street View program manager Pascale Milite explained in a blog post.
"We’re delighted that CERN opened its doors to Google Maps Street View allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to take a peek into its laboratories, control centres and its myriad underground tunnels housing cutting-edge experiments,” she said.
“Street View also lets scientists working on the experiments, who may be on the other side of the world, explore the equipment they're using."
As ever, the images are slightly out of date, with the photography taking place back in 2011, Google said, but the firm did get access to some of the most important parts of the site, which are usually only seen by its top scientists, so we'll forgive them for the lateness.
"You can check out experiments, like ATLAS, ALICE, CMS, LHCb and the Large Hadron Collider tunnel in Google Maps,” she added.
And if you're really lucky, perhaps you'll spot a Higgs boson lurking in the background.
Google has officially turned 15 marking a milestone moment in the search-turned-hardware and software giant's history.
While Google has celebrated the news, like all teenagers, Google's fifteenth year looks set to be a turbulent one. This is because despite concerns from privacy groups, having taken control of well over 90 percent of the search market, Google has been increasingly eager to create new ways to monetise its valuable customer data over the last half decade.
The story of Google and its quest for customer data, as all great start-ups do, started in a basement, where in September 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched the first iteration of Google Search. Taking on the then embedded leaders, like former heavyweight Yahoo, Google proved a hit and by July 2000 the search engine was listed as the world's most popular, responsible for one billion indexes.
Riding off the early success and clearly realising the value of its search data, Google decided to embark on a wave of service releases designed to expand and refine the amount of data it could collect. This started in 2001 when it expanded its search engine to offer image search to its users. However it was only in 2005 when Google really hit its stride, releasing its Earth, Maps, Talk and Video services and making what could be argued as its most important purchase to date - Android.
The purchase of Android was a clear bid by Google to increase the data it could collect, with smartphones and tablets running the OS offering the firm a means to collect previously unknown information, like customer location data. Aware of this, Google's focus has gradually shifted to devices as well as software, with the company releasing its first own-brand Nexus device, the Nexus One in 2010 and buying former mobile heavyweight Motorola in 2011.
Since then Google's device and software development business has boomed, with Android currently being listed as the most used mobile operating system in the world. However, the success has come with a cost, with numerous privacy groups getting increasingly angry about the amount of data Google's storing. This anger culminated over the summer when it was revealed Google was one of the main companies targeted by the NSA during its PRISM campaign - which saw the agency siphon vast amounts of customer data from Google.
Unperturbed by this, Google's unveiled its latest KitKat Android version and has pushed forward with the development of its Google Glass wearable computer - a device again surrounded by privacy concerns. For this reason, while Google's first 15 years may have been entirely focused on collecting customer data, its next 15 may well be about finding ways to secure it and win back concerned customers trust - a fact apparently not lost on Google, which according to recent reports has begun working to better encrypt data being stored and passing through its data centres.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
It has emerged this week that the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) would be looking into having Google Glass banned from UK roads. The justification for this decision isn't in question (although we'll look at that later), the problem is the manner in which the statement has been made.
Currently, Glass is not on general sale; it's only available through Google's Explorer programme. We have to assume that the DfT didn't gain access to the Explorer campaign for two simple reasons. One: it was only for US citizens. And two: $1,500 is a lot to pay for a concept device, which may have little bearing on a final product. Plus, the public sector is hardly flush with cash.
We did contact the DfT, asking whether any of its staff had indeed tried Glass, but we had received no reply by the time of publishing.
It does seem a little bizarre, therefore, that the DfT says it is "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before it has even tried the product.
But putting that aside, what's the case for and against Glass? Let's look at it in the eyes of the law first of all. The DfT's website states the following about hands-free devices: "You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you're driving or riding." But the crux of the matter is what follows: "But if the police think you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised."
So really, unless the DfT is really going to push through legislation banning wearable tech, it may just be down to interpretation.
The government's Think! road safety site states that crashes are four times more likely for drivers using their mobiles, with reaction times 50 percent slower. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that drivers holding or using hands-free phones make numerous mistakes and makes it clear that it would prefer all devices, hands-free or otherwise, to be banned.
V3 readers seem to agree, too. Stupot commented: "Looking at a GPS display takes the driver's eyes off the road. This in itself is dangerous enough. How can computer displays do anything but add to the number of accidents on the roads?"
Meanwhile, Kemlyn_IT tweeted us, saying: "It's not about the technology, about the effect on driving. Some have been penalised for eating a sandwich for example."
So while there would seem to be absolute justification for the government to say that there is a potential problem, coming out and saying outright that they would look to ban the devices, despite hands-free phones and satnavs being legal, seems a little short-sighted and premature. We suggest Google sends the DfT a sample of the gadget before it proceeds any further.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's an excellent backseat driver
22 Jul 2013
Apple and Motorola are both preparing to release new smartphones this year, with rumours that Apple's new iPhone and Motorola's Moto X are on the horizon.
For Motorola, the release will be at a 1 August event in New York. The firm will also use the occasion to unveil its Moto X handset, which will be the first handset release since the company's acquisition at the hands of Google.
Despite owning Motorola, Google had vowed to continue to work with other mobile vendors and the company has maintained its Nexus hardware line. Google has said from the start that it will allow Motorola to function on its own, and analysts have speculated that the $12bn deal was largely made in order to beef up Google's patent portfolio.
Apple, meanwhile is said to be nearing the arrival date for its new iPhone. The handset, known in the media as the iPhone 6, is set to arrive this autumn and is likely to include a number of new hardware improvements.
According to a report form the International Business Times, the arrival for the new iPhone will be slated for 27 September. The publication speculated that the new iPhone will hit the market a few days after the release of the iOS platform.
The release would fall in line with Apple's release schedule, which usually involves new iPhone models being released in early to mid-September and iOS updates are usually showcased several months prior to release at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).
Google is doing its hardest to make sure you never have to leave your chair and thus never cease using its lucrative web-based products. In its latest war against the holiday, Google has added Venice and the Eiffel Tower to its roster of places to virtually visit.
Silliness aside, the technical feat of mapping Venice is actually something to behold, and something Google has been unable to do until relatively recently. As is rather obvious if you know anything about Venice, roads are relatively hard to come by in a city made up of more than one hundred islands. You have two realistic choices: Walking or gondola...ing. Google has chosen to do the former, by attaching a camera to a four-foot pole and mounting it to a backpack (see above).
Known as the Trekker, this piece of tech is operated by an Android device, with pictures snapped through 15 lenses every 2.5 seconds. The specially designed gear has already been to the Grand Canyon, so Venice should be a comparative walk in the park. The images collected should be up by the end of the year.
It's not the oddest piece of Street View tech out in the wild, however; the tie is currently between the Street View Trolley and the Street View Snowmobile, used for museums and mountains respectively.
Elsewhere, Google's lesser-known Cultural Institute has put together a rather excellent interactive exhibition for the Eiffel Tower. Complete with archive images and informative slideshows, the collection also features a Street View version of the Iron Lady which allows users to explore each of the three accessible levels of the tower. It's fantastic.
With Google now covering so much of the Earth's best tourist spots, it almost has the holiday experience covered through vertical integration; Earth for the flight, Street View for the destination and the Play Store for dreadful in-flight movies. Bliss.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's in need of a holiday
Google may have killed off its Reader platform, but users who are looking for another way to manage their news feeds got welcome news from Digg.
The link-sharing site said that its own version of Reader is beginning its rollout to some users.
The RSS Reader feature will be offered as part of the Digg app for iOS. iPhone and iPad users will be able to access the feature and import their feeds from their Google accounts. Additionally, the company has begun to roll out beta versions of the Reader application to users who participated in a survey programme.
Users can also sign up to participate in the beta by adding their name to a waiting list.
“This beta version is aimed first and foremost at Google Reader users looking for a new home in advance of its imminent shutdown,” the company explained.
“Once you connect your Google Account, you’ll find all of your feeds and folders set up and ready to go.”
The decision by Digg to launch its own Reader came after Google revealed that it would be discontinuing its RSS aggregator of the same name. The company said that with interest in RSS readers waning, the project was no longer worth continuing.
Given the early response to Digg's project, however, Google might have been a bit hasty in declaring the death of Reader.