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The Latest Drone Technology Helps Keep an Oyster Farm Thriving

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 11:42
As marine farming grows worldwide, there is an urgent need to study the effects—both positive and negative—on the local ecosystems. Deana Mitchell visits Tomales Bay in Northern California where researchers are using the latest drone technology to investigate.

We're Techy, too! Deere, Tide Maker Head to CES Gadget Show

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 23:23
The companies founded by blacksmith John Deere and candle-and-soap-making duo Procter & Gamble may not be the hip purveyors of new technology they were in 1837. But they’re first-time exhibitors at this year’s CES gadget show, along with other unlikely newcomers such as missile-maker Raytheon, outdoorsy retailer The North Face and the 115-year-old motorcycling icon Harley-Davidson. The four-day consumer-electronics show opens Tuesday with some 4,500 companies exhibiting products and services and more than 180,000 people expected to attend. It’s the place startups and established tech giants alike go to unveil everything from utilitarian apps to splashy devices. So what are these legacy companies doing here? “Every company today is a technology company,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES. Shapiro said many companies already send executives to Las Vegas each January to gauge trends, so it’s not surprising that they eventually unveil their own new technology as well. It’s also part of a more fundamental economic shift as consumers increasingly expect to buy not just goods and services, but a personal experience, which often skews digital, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, a brand analyst at Forrester Research. “We’re still doing old-fashioned things: Ordering clothes, buying detergent, getting a cup of coffee, but there are new-fangled ways of doing it,” he said. “Brands have no choice but to play a role in this new technology space.” That’s one reason Harley-Davidson is using the show to announce the commercial launch of its first electric motorcycle LiveWire. The motorcycle will have a cellular connection, as many cars do these days, so people can keep track of their motorcycle’s charge or check where they parked it through an app. Consumer goods giant P&G, best known for Pampers diapers and Tide detergent, is showcasing heated razors, a toothbrush with artificial intelligence and a wand-like device that scans the skin and releases serum to cover up age spots and other discoloration. P&G is also showing off an internet-connected scalp adviser: The Head & Shoulders-branded device uses ultraviolet light and other techniques to uncover scalp issues and recommend products. The device is available only in Europe and Asia for now. Expect these gizmos to cost more than the plain-old “dumb” versions. P&G’s Oral-B toothbrush, for example, is expected to cost $279, while a regular Oral-B electric toothbrush can be had for less than $30. And every new connected device means more data collection about people’s personal habits — a gold mine for advertisers and hackers alike. The North Face is using virtual reality to provide a fine-grained look at its waterproof fabrics. Raytheon is demonstrating the everyday applications of GPS anti-jam technology, which was originally designed to protect military forces. And John Deere has hauled in self-driving tractors and a 20-ton combine harvester aided by artificial intelligence. The combine has cameras with computer-vision technology to track the quality of grain coming into the machine so that its kernel-separating settings can be adjusted automatically. Farmers can monitor it remotely using a smartphone app. It’s hard to imagine what 19th century Illinois blacksmith John Deere might think if he were plopped into his company’s 2019 booth at the flashy Vegas convention center, but Deanna Kovar believes he’d be “amazed and astonished.” “His innovation was making a self-powering steel plow that could cut through the heavy, rich soils of the Midwest,” said Kovar, the company’s director of production and precision agriculture marketing. “We’ve been a technology company since the start.” Kovar said American farmers have been using self-driving tractors for decades — and CES is a chance to let everyone else know. Chatterjee said such messages are directed not just at a company’s customers, but to investors, potential corporate partners, startup acquisition targets and the technically skilled employees these more traditional firms are hoping to attract. “These are brands that are aggressively looking to work tech into their DNA,” Chatterjee said. “They want to be perceived all around as a tech-forward innovative brand.”

At Consumer Electronics Show, Sensors and Robots Are the Stars

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 19:50
Hundreds of thousands of visitors will attend the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future.  And the future, it turns out, is going to be chatty and connected. Attendees will see more voice-activated assistants, such as the Amazon Alexa speaker, but in many more gadgets, cars and appliances. And these devices will be connected, gathering data about users and offering customized services.  These new products represent a shift in the tech industry. Over the past 30 years, tech firms have focused on connecting people. Now they are connecting things, said Steve Koenig, vice president of research at the Consumer Technology Association.  The age of consumer data  “We are coming to the end of the connected age,” Koenig said. “We are fast approaching the data age of consumer technology.”  Not surprisingly, online privacy and data security will continue to be main concerns in 2019, he added.  Two of the biggest drivers of tech today are smart speakers and video doorbells with “intelligent imaging” that can identify a family member’s face versus a stranger’s, Koenig said.  Smart speakers are expected to grow 7 percent in revenue in the U.S. in 2019, according to CTA. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. consumers have used a voice assistant for the weather, according to a survey by CTA. And voice assistants will be in more devices, cars and appliances, the organization forecasts.  Smart home technologies such as video doorbells will also see sales rise by 17 percent in the U.S. in 2019.  'Resilience' products and services New to CES this year is a “Resilience” area with exhibitors in fields such as cybersecurity, disaster preparedness, anti-terrorism and public alert systems.  “With all the natural disasters that have been happening all over the world, these are technologies that can help you either stay connected or help recover after something takes place,” said Karen Chupka, executive vice president of CES.  One example is Zero Mass Water from Arizona, which allows a person to take what looks like a solar panel and condense water vapor out of the air.  A drop in Chinese companies’ presence Given the trade tensions between the U.S. and the Chinese government, about 1,200 Chinese companies, a 20 percent drop from last year, are exhibiting at CES, according to the South China Morning Post.  But companies from China represent up to 14 percent of the total show floor space, with some of the biggest Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu and others expanding their presence, according to CTA.  One company at the center of the tensions — Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei — is exhibiting this year. But its CEO is not delivering a keynote address as he did last year. 

At Consumer Electronics Show, Sensors and Robots are the Stars

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 19:42
More than 4,000 exhibitors from 155 countries are in Las Vegas this week for the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the year's biggest conventions for companies to show off their latest technology. Michelle Quinn got a look at some of the products that are hoping to make a splash.

Giving Up Gas: China's Shenzhen Switches to Electric Taxis

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 13:00
One of China's major cities has reached an environmental milestone: an almost entirely electric-powered taxi fleet. The high-tech hub of Shenzhen in southern China announced at the start of this year that 99 percent of the 21,689 taxis operating in the city were electric. Last year, it still had 7,500 gasoline-powered taxis on the roads. A few can still be found, but electric ones far outnumber them. The metropolis of 12.5 million is the second to achieve this feat in China and the largest. The northern China city of Taiyuan, with a population of 4.3 million, has had only electric taxis since 2016. Shenzhen "has taken the lead among major Chinese cities,'' said Cui Dongshu, the secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association. Shenzhen's bus fleet has been all-electric since 2017. It's one of 13 pilot cities promoting alternative-energy public transport to cut smog and develop the alternative energy industry, the Shenzhen Municipality Transport Committee said.  Beijing and other Chinese cities are served by legions of electric scooters, bicycles and three-wheeled delivery vehicles that help reduce emissions - and sometimes startle pedestrians with their near-silent operation.  Shenzhen's 20,000-plus electric taxis will reduce carbon emissions by about 850,000 tons a year, the city's transport committee said. However, the all-electric initiative doesn't include Uber-like ride-hailing and ride-sharing services, which are popular in China. Providing places to recharge taxis has been a big hurdle since Shenzhen rolled out its first 100 electric cabs in 2010. Cui praised the city for its network of about 20,000 public charging stations, which he said should be enough to meet most of the demand. The electric taxis are equipped with an on-board terminal that tells drivers where taxis are in short supply, such as the airport, train station or other locations. It also clearly displays the fare and the taxi's route, which the Shenzhen transport committee said would help prevent drivers from overcharging or taking a roundabout route. Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, is home to Huawei Technologies and a host of other Chinese technology companies.

Home Items Get Smarter and Creepier, Like It or Not

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 09:34
One day, finding an oven that just cooks food may be as tough as buying a TV that merely lets you change channels. Internet-connected "smarts" are creeping into cars, refrigerators, thermostats, toys and just about everything else in your home. CES 2019, the gadget show opening Tuesday in Las Vegas, will showcase many of these products, including an oven that coordinates your recipes and a toilet that flushes with a voice command. With every additional smart device in your home, companies are able to gather more details about your daily life. Some of that can be used to help advertisers target you — more precisely than they could with just the smartphone you carry. "It's decentralized surveillance," said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based digital privacy advocate. "We're living in a world where we're tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information." Yet consumers seem to be welcoming these devices. The research firm IDC projects that 1.3 billion smart devices will ship worldwide in 2022, twice as many as 2018. Companies say they are building these products not for snooping but for convenience, although Amazon, Google and other partners enabling the intelligence can use the details they collect to customize their services and ads. 'Smart' features Whirlpool, for instance, is testing an oven whose window doubles as a display. You'll still be able to see what's roasting inside, but the glass can now display animation pointing to where to place the turkey for optimal cooking. The oven can sync with your digital calendar and recommend recipes based on how much time you have. It can help coordinate multiple recipes, so that you're not undercooking the side dishes in focusing too much on the entree. A camera inside lets you zoom in to see if the cheese on the lasagna has browned enough, without opening the oven door. As for that smart toilet, Kohler's Numi will respond to voice commands to raise or lower the lid — or to flush. You can do it from an app, too. The company says it's all about offering hands-free options in a setting that's very personal for people. The toilet is also heated and can play music and the news through its speakers. Kohler also has a tub that adjusts water temperature to your liking and a kitchen faucet that dispenses just the right amount of water for a recipe. For the most part, consumers aren't asking for these specific features. After all, before cars were invented, people might have known only to ask for faster horses. "We try to be innovative in ways that customers don't realize they need," Samsung spokesman Louis Masses said. Whirlpool said insights can come from something as simple as watching consumers open the oven door several times to check on the meal, losing heat in the process. "They do not say to us, 'Please tell me where to put [food] on the rack, or do algorithm-based cooking,"' said Doug Searles, general manager for Whirlpool's research arm, WLabs. "They tell us the results that are most important to them." Samsung has several voice-enabled products, including a fridge that comes with an app that lets you check on its contents while you're grocery shopping. New this year: Samsung's washing machines can send alerts to its TVs — smart TVs, of course — so you know your laundry is ready while watching Netflix. Other connected items at CES include: * a fishing rod that tracks your location to build an online map of where you've made the most catches; * a toothbrush that recommends where to brush more; * a fragrance diffuser that lets you control how your home smells from a smartphone app. These are poised to join internet-connected security cameras, door locks and thermostats that are already on the market. The latter can work with sensors to turn the heat down automatically when you leave home. 'Being spied on' Chester said consumers feel the need to keep up with their neighbors when they buy appliances with the smartest smarts. He said all the conveniences can be "a powerful drug to help people forget the fact that they are also being spied on." Gadgets with voice controls typically aren't transmitting any data back to company servers until you activate them with a trigger word, such as "Alexa" or "OK Google." But devices have sometimes misheard innocuous words as legitimate commands to record and send private conversations. Even when devices work properly, commands are usually stored indefinitely. Companies can use the data to personalize experiences — including ads. Beyond that, background conversations may be stored with the voice recordings and can resurface with hacking or as part of lawsuits or investigations. Knowing what you cook or stock in your fridge might seem innocuous. But if insurers get hold of the data, they might charge you more for unhealthy diets, warned Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. He also said it might be possible to infer ethnicity based on food consumed. Manufacturers are instead emphasizing the benefits: Data collection from the smart faucet, for instance, allows Kohler's app to display how much water is dispensed. (Water bills typically show water use for the whole home, not individual taps.) The market for smart devices is small, but growing. Kohler estimates that in a few years, smart appliances will make up 10 percent of its revenue. Though the features are initially limited to premium models — such as the $7,000 toilet — they should eventually appear in entry-level products, too, as costs come down. Ditching the 'dumb' Consider the TV. "Dumb" TVs are rare these days, as the vast majority of TVs ship with internet connections and apps, like it or not. "It becomes a check-box item for the TV manufacturer," said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with IHS Markit. For a dumb one, he said, you have to search for an off-brand, entry-level model with smaller screens — or go to places in the world where streaming services aren't common. "Dumb" cars are also headed to the scrapyard. The research firm BI Intelligence estimates that by 2020, three out of every four cars sold worldwide will be models with connectivity. No serious incidents have occurred in the United States, Europe and Japan, but a red flag has already been raised in China, where automakers have been sharing location details of connected cars with the government. As for TVs, Consumer Reports says many TV makers collect and share users' viewing habits. Vizio agreed to $2.5 million in penalties in 2017 to settle cases with the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey officials. Consumers can decide not to enable these connections. They can also vote with their wallets, Stephens said. "I'm a firm believer that simple is better. If you don't need to have these so-called enhancements, don't buy them," he said. "Does one really need a refrigerator that keeps track of everything in it and tells you you are running out of milk?"

Tesla Breaks Ground on Shanghai Factory

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 17:49
Tesla broke ground Monday on a new factory for its electric cars in China, the first of its factories to be located outside the United States. Chief Executive Elon Musk appeared at a ceremony alongside local officials on the outskirts of Shanghai to mark the start of the project. He said the goal is to finish initial construction by summer and start production by the end of the year. Tesla will build its Model 3 vehicles at the site and says it hopes to eventually have a production capacity of 500,000 vehicles per year. The factory is wholly owned by Tesla, a departure from usual Chinese policy for foreign businesses. The new factory comes as the United States and China negotiate trade issues that have led each side to impose higher tariffs on the other's goods, including the automotive sector. By having a factory in China, Tesla will not have to worry about consumers there facing higher prices on cars imported from the United States.

US Gadget Love Forecast to Grow Despite Trust Issues

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 13:04
The trade group behind the Consumer Electronics Show set to start the Tuesday forecast that US gadget love will grow despite trust and privacy issues hammering the tech world. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) predicted that US retail revenue in the sector would climb to a record high $398 billion this year. "There are so many cool things happening in the consumer electronics industry right now," said CTA vice president of market research Steve Koenig. "We are fast approaching a new era of consumer technology." Trends gaining momentum, and expected to be on display on the CES show floor, included super high resolution 8K televisions; blazingly-fast 5G wireless internet, and virtual aides such as Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa woven into devices of all kinds. The CTA forecast revenue growth in the US for smart phones, speakers, homes and watches along with televisions, drones, 'in-vehicle tech,' and streaming services. Amid trade wars, geopolitical tensions and a decline in public trust, the technology sector is seeking to put its problems aside with CES, the annual extravaganza showcasing futuristic innovations. The January 8-11 Las Vegas trade event offers a glimpse into new products and services designed to make people's lives easier, fun and more productive, reaching across diverse sectors such as entertainment, health, transportation, agriculture and sports. But the celebration of innovation will be mixed with concerns about public trust in new technology and other factors that could cool the growth of a sizzling economic sector. "I think 2019 will be a year of trust-related challenges for the tech industry," said Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research. CES features 4,500 exhibitors across 2.75 million square feet (250,000 square meters) of exhibit space showcasing artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart homes, smart cities, sports gadgets and other cutting-edge devices. Some 182,000 trade professionals are expected.  

At Major Tech Show, a Chance for Small Startups to Shine

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 00:20
Every January, tech insiders head to Las Vegas, Nevada where the biggest tech companies show off their latest devices at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Smaller start-ups also vie for attention at one of the largest tech gatherings of the year. Tina Trinh meets with a Brooklyn startup as they prepare to head west.

Green Technology Provides Safe Drinking Water for Thousands of Rohingya Refugees

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 23:27
Thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, now have safe drinking water thanks to a combination of green technology and sunlight. Cox's Bazar has plenty of refugees. More than 900,000. Most have arrived in Bangladesh since August 2017, when violence and persecution by the Myanmar military triggered a mass exodus of Rohingya refugees.   The refugees are living in squalid conditions across 36 different locations in Cox's Bazar. Water is scarce in most locations. But sunshine is plentiful. Over the past six months, the U.N. refugee agency and partners have been putting into operation solar-powered safe water systems. The UNHCR reports the first five systems are now running at full capacity. It says the new safe water systems run entirely on electricity generated through solar panels. UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says this new network is providing safe water to more than 40,000 refugees.  "Using the solar energy has allowed the humanitarian community to reduce the energy costs and emissions," said Mahecic. "So, there is a clear environmental impact of this. Chlorination is also a life-saver in refugee sites of this scale. The recent tests revealed that most contamination of drinking water occurs during collection, transport and storage at the household level." Mahecic notes chlorinated water is safe for drinking and also eliminates the risk of the spread of disease.   The UNHCR along with its partner agencies are hoping to install nine more solar-powered water networks across the refugee camp in the coming year. The project, which is funded by the agency, will cost $10 million. It will benefit an additional 55,000 Rohingya refugees. The UNHCR says its ultimate aim is to provide 20 liters of safe water to every single refugee on a daily basis. It says this will be done by piping in the solar powered water to collective taps strategically installed throughout the Kutupalog-Balukhali refugee site.

Weather Channel App Sued, Accused of Selling Users’ Data

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 11:36
People relied on the most popular mobile weather app to track forecasts that determined whether they chose jeans over shorts and packed a parka or umbrella, but its owners used it to track their every step and profit off that information, Los Angeles prosecutors said Friday.  The operator of The Weather Channel mobile app misled users who agreed to share their location information in exchange for personalized forecasts and alerts, and they instead unwittingly surrendered personal privacy when the company sold their data to third parties, City Attorney Michael Feuer said.   Feuer sued the app’s operator in Los Angeles County Superior Court to stop the practice. He said 80 percent of users agreed to allow access to their locations because disclosures on how the app uses geolocation data were buried within a 10,000-word privacy policy and not revealed when they downloaded the app. “Think how Orwellian it feels to live in a world where a private company is tracking potentially every place you go, every minute of every day,” Feuer said. “If you want to sacrifice to that company that information, you sure ought to be doing it with clear advanced notice of what’s at stake.”  App defends practices A spokesman for IBM Corp., which owns the app, said it has always been clear about the use of location data collected from users and will vigorously defend its “fully appropriate” disclosures. Feuer said the app’s operators, TWC Product and Technology LLC, sold data to at least a dozen websites for targeted ads and to hedge funds that used the information to analyze consumer behavior.  The lawsuit seeks to stop the company from the practice it calls “unfair and fraudulent” and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation. Any court decision would only apply to California.   Marketed as the “world’s most downloaded weather app,” The Weather Channel app claims approximately 45 million users a month, the lawsuit said.    Users who download the free app are asked whether to allow access to their location to “get personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts.” It does not say how the company benefits from the information.   While disclosures may be included in the privacy policy, state law says “fine print alone can’t make good what otherwise has been made obscure,” Feuer said. He said he learned about the sale of the private data from an article in The New York Times. Personal data The lawsuit comes as companies, most notably Facebook and Google, are increasingly under fire for how they use people’s personal data. Both companies faced congressional hearings last year on privacy issues, which are likely to remain on lawmakers and regulators’ minds both nationally and in California.  In June, California lawmakers approved what experts are calling the country’s most far-reaching law to give people more control over their personal data online. That law doesn’t take effect until next year. Feuer said he hopes the case inspires other lawsuits and legislation to curb data-sharing practices.   IBM bought the app along with the digital assets of The Weather Company in 2015 for $2 billion but did not acquire The Weather Channel seen on TV, which is owned by another company.

Chinese Rover Making Tracks on Dark Side of the Moon

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 17:02
The Chinese Jade Rabbit 2 rover is making tracks on the soft, snowlike surface of the far side of the moon. The rover drove off its lander’s ramp and onto the lunar surface late Thursday, about 12 hours after the Chang’e-4 spacecraft made the first-ever landing on the moon’s far side. China’s space agency posted a photo online, showing tracks the rover left as it departed from the spacecraft. “It’s a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation,’’ Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, said on state broadcaster CCTV, adapting American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong’s famous message “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” when he stepped onto the lunar surface July 20, 1969. “This giant leap is a decisive move for our exploration of space and the conquering of the universe,” Wu Weiren said. First to the far side The Jade Rabbit 2 rover has six individually powered wheels, so it can continue to operate even if one wheel fails. It can climb a 20-degree hill or an obstacle up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) tall. Its maximum speed is 200 meters per hour. The United States, the former Soviet Union and more recently China have sent spacecraft to the near side of the moon, but the latest Chinese landing is the first on the far side. The probe will conduct astronomical studies and surveys of the surface’s mineral composition and radiation tests of the surrounding environment. Satellite for communication Shortly after landing, the Chang’e-4 sent a photo of the lunar surface to the Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge”) satellite, which was launched last May in the first phase of the historic mission. The Queqiao satellite is deployed about 455,000 kilometers from Earth, where it will relay communications between ground controllers and the Chang’e-4. This is China’s second probe to make a soft-landing on the moon, following 2013’s Jade Rabbit lunar rover mission. Beijing plans to launch a third lunar rover, the Chang’e-5, later this year, which is expected to collect samples from the moon’s surface and bring them back to Earth. The unmanned lunar missions are part of China’s ambitions to join the United States and Russia as a major space power. Its plans include establishing a permanent manned space station, a manned lunar landing, and eventually probes to Mars.

With Slump in iPhone Sales, Are We Post Peak Smartphone?

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 05:28
Behind Apple's disconcerting news of weak iPhone sales lies a more sobering truth: The tech industry has hit Peak Smartphone, a tipping point when everyone who can afford one already owns one and no breakthroughs are compelling them to upgrade as frequently as they once did. Some manufacturers have boosted prices to keep up profit, but Apple's shortfall highlights the limits of that strategy. The company said demand for iPhones is waning and revenue for the last quarter of 2018 will fall well below projections, a decrease traced mainly to China. Apple's shares dropped 10 percent Thursday on the news — its worst loss since 2013. The company shed $74.6 billion in market value, amid a broader sell-off among technology companies, which suffered their worst loss in seven years. Apple's news is a "wake-up call for the industry," said analyst Dan Ives of research firm Wedbush Securities. And it's not just Apple. Demand has been lackluster across the board, Ives said. Samsung, long the leading seller of smartphones, has been hit even harder, as its phone shipments dropped 8 percent during the 12 months ending in September. "The smartphone industry is going through significant headwinds," Ives said. "Smartphone makers used to be like teenagers, and the industry was on fire. Now it feels like they're more like senior citizens in terms of maturity." Victim of its own success Tech innovations in phones grew in leaps and bounds earlier in the 2010s, with dramatic improvements in screen size, screen resolution, battery life, cameras and processor speed every year. But the industry is a victim of its own success. Innovation began to slow down around 2014, once Apple boosted the screen size with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models. While phones kept improving, new features tended to be incremental, such as a new flash technique to already excellent phone cameras. It's the stuff consumers won't typically notice — or want to shell out for. "Since the iPhone 6 you've seen it has been tough to innovate to continue to raise the bar," Ives said. Apple customers now upgrade every 33 months on average, longer than the 24 or 25 months three years ago, he said. Apple's diminished growth projections, fueled by plummeting sales in China, have reinforced fears the world's second-largest economy is losing steam. Its $1,000 iPhone is a tough sell to Chinese consumers unnerved by an economic slump and the trade war with the U.S. They also have a slew of cheaper smartphones from homegrown competitors such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo to choose from. The fact that even Apple's iPhone juggernaut is suffering cements a larger trend for all major smartphone makers. After a steady rise for a decade, worldwide smartphone shipments fell 3 percent to 1.42 billion in 2018, the first annual drop, according to International Data Corp., which tracks such movements. IDC estimates that shipments will rebound 3 percent in 2019 to 1.46 billion, but that still falls short of 2017 levels. No 'silver bullet' It doesn't help that top phones come with four-digit price tags — $1,100 for the iPhone XS Max and $1,000 for Samsung's Galaxy Note 9. The top-end Max model sells for $1,450 in the U.S. "They're getting more and more expensive while offering fewer and fewer new, innovative features that I'll actually use," said Zachary Pardes, a tech-savvy 31-year-old in Fairfield, Connecticut. "I'll upgrade when the battery stops working. When I'm forced to buy a new phone, I'll buy a new phone." Vivian Yang, a manager at a Beijing technology company, also balked at the price. "Nobody needs such a phone," she said. IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the cycle might bottom out and start growing again in 2021 or 2022, when people's current phones start reaching the end of their useful life. "People will still replace their phones. It's going to happen eventually," he said. But there's no "silver bullet" that will spur growth to levels seen in the past when the industry was less mature. Foldable smartphones, with screens that unfold like a wallet to increase display size, are one thing that could spur excitement, but they're expensive and not due out until at least the end of the year. Another thing that might spur growth: 5G, the next-generation that telecom companies are currently in the process of building, expected to be faster and more reliable than the current 4G network. The first 5G compatible phones are due out this year. "There's more pressure on 5G as the next-wave smartphone," since sales are so lackluster, said Ives. "There will be a battle royale for 5G phones." But 5G will take years for broad, nationwide deployment, so the new 5G smartphones coming out this year are not likely to make much of a splash immediately either. Analysts say smartphone makers need to push into under-saturated areas like Africa and elsewhere, and also sell more services like cloud storage, streaming music and phone software. But the glory days of untrammeled growth appear to be over. "It's going to be a slow slog," Llamas said. "By no means is this the end of the smartphone market. But this is an indication that the smartphone market can be a victim of its own success."

Snacks on Wheels: PepsiCo Tests Self-driving Robot Delivery

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 01:21
Forget vending machines, PepsiCo is testing a way to bring snacks directly to college students. The chip and beverage maker says it will start making deliveries with self-driving robots on Thursday at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Students will be able to order Baked Lay's, SunChips or Bubly sparkling water on an app, and then meet the six-wheeled robot at more than 50 locations on campus. Other companies have been using self-driving vehicles to deliver food. Last month, supermarket operator Kroger announced it would start delivering groceries in a driverless vehicle from a store in Scottsdale, Arizona. The robots used at the University of the Pacific will move at speeds of up to 6 miles per hour, according to Robby Technologies, which makes the robots. Three workers on the campus will be refilling the robots with food and drinks and replacing the batteries with recharged ones when they go dead. At first three robots will be used, but then grow to a fleet of five over time. The robots, which weigh 80 pounds and are less than 3 feet tall, drive on their own and stop when someone is in front of it, Robby says. PepsiCo says it's testing this way to deliver its snacks because more of its customers want a convenient way to buy them on their phones.

Chinese Craft First to Land on Moon’s Far Side

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 15:53
A Chinese spacecraft Thursday made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon in the latest achievement for the country’s growing space program. The relatively unexplored far side of the moon faces away from Earth and is also known as the dark side. A photo taken by the lunar explorer Chang’e 4 at 11:40 a.m. and published online by the official Xinhua News Agency shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the probe. Chang’e 4 touched down on the surface at 10:26 a.m., the China National Space Administration said. The landing was announced by state broadcaster China Central Television at the top of its noon news broadcast. Growing ambitions in space The landing highlights China’s growing ambitions as a space power. In 2013, Chang’e 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the then-Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. The United States is the only other country that has carried out moon landings. The work of Chang’e 4, which is carrying a rover, includes carrying out astronomical observations and probing the structure and mineral composition of the terrain. “The far side of the moon is a rare quiet place that is free from interference of radio signals from Earth,” mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to Xinhua. “This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution.” Communicating One challenge of operating on the far side of the moon is communicating with Earth. China launched a relay satellite in May so that Chang’e 4 can send back information. China plans to send its Chang’e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples, the first time that will have been done since the Soviet mission in 1976. A Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang’e 4 blasted off Dec. 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China. Chang’e is the name of a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia.

2019 Promises to Be Big Year in Space

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 13:35
This year marks the 50th anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon, so it is fitting that there are a number of exciting projects pushing us back into space. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports on some of 2019's biggest stories in space.

Apple Cuts Revenue Forecast on Weak China Sales 

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 07:09
Apple on Wednesday cut the revenue forecast for its latest quarter, citing fewer iPhone upgrades and weak sales in China, and its shares tumbled in after-hours trade.    The company forecast $84 billion in revenue for its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 29, which is below analysts' estimate of $91.5 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Apple originally forecast revenue of between $89 billion and $93 billion.    "While we anticipated some challenges in key emerging markets, we did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in greater China," Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in a letter to investors. "In fact, most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPad." Wednesday was the first time that Apple issued a warning on its revenue guidance ahead of releasing quarterly results since the iPhone was launched in 2007.  Sharp drop   Apple shares, which had been halted ahead of the announcement, skidded 7.7 percent in after-hours trade, dragging the company's market value below $700 billion.    A slew of brokerages reduced their first-quarter production estimates for iPhones after several component makers in November forecast weaker-than-expected sales, leading some market watchers to call the peak for iPhones in several key markets.    On Apple's earnings call in November, Cook cited slowing growth in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Russia for the lower-than-anticipated sales estimates for the company's fiscal first quarter. But Cook specifically said he "would not put China in that category" of countries with troubled growth.    That all came before the damage to the Chinese economy from trade tensions with the United States became clear. On Wednesday, China's central bank magazine said the country's economic growth could fall below 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter as companies face increased difficulties there.    Apple has held firm on its premium pricing strategy in China despite the risk of a slower economy, a factor that has been exacerbated by the strong U.S. dollar. Apple tends to set its prices in U.S. dollars and charge a broadly equivalent amount in local currencies.     "The question for investors will be the extent to which Apple's aggressive pricing has exacerbated this situation and what this means for the company's longer-term pricing power within its iPhone franchise," James Cordwell, an analyst at Atlantic Equities, told Reuters. 

Tesla Shares Drop on Price Cut, Disappointing Model 3 Deliveries

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 04:16
Shares in Tesla dropped as much as 9 percent on Wednesday on worries of future profitability, after the electric car maker cut U.S. prices for all its vehicles to offset lower green tax credits, while falling short on quarterly deliveries of its mass-market Model 3 sedan. Analysts questioned whether the $2,000 price cut on all models signaled lowered demand in the United States, and ultimately whether the move would undermine nascent profitability at the Silicon Valley automaker, which has never posted an annual profit. "In our view, this move could suggest that what many bulls assume to be a substantial backlog ... for Tesla may be less robust," wrote Bank of America analyst John Murphy in a client note. Chief Executive Elon Musk, who has often set goals and deadlines that Tesla has failed to meet, surprised investors by delivering on his pledge to make Tesla profitable in the third quarter, for only the third time in its 15-year existence. But the company is unprofitable for the first nine months of 2018, and cash flow remains a concern for investors. Pressure to deliver on promise Musk has been under intense pressure to deliver on his promise of stabilizing production for the Model 3, which is seen crucial for easing a cash crunch and achieving long-term profitability. It said it was churning out almost 1,000 Model 3s daily, broadly in line with Musk's promises but slightly short of Wall Street expectations. The company said it would begin delivering Model 3s to Europe and China in February. The price cut of $2,000 beginning on Wednesday on the Model 3 — as well as on its higher-priced Model S and Model X — took the market by surprise and weighed on the stock, pushing it down 9.4 percent in morning trade. Shares were last down 6.7 percent at $310.48. The price cut comes as automakers expect U.S. new vehicle sales to weaken in 2019, and increased competition from new electric vehicle entrants. Tesla sales benefited from a $7,500 federal tax credit on electric vehicles throughout 2018, but that full credit expired at the end of 2018, and new buyers will now receive only half that amount. Under a major tax overhaul passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress in 2017, tax credits that lower the cost of electric vehicles are available for the first 200,000 such vehicles sold by an automaker. The tax credit is then reduced by 50 percent every six months until it phases out. "The price cut is what's driving the stock lower, as it openly acknowledges the sunset of subsidy dollars is a material headwind," said Craig Irwin, an analyst with Roth Capital Partners. But some said fears of eroded demand were overblown. Gene Munster of Loup Ventures calculated that the lowered tax credit equaled, on average, to a 3-percent discount on a Tesla. If Tesla had a demand issue, therefore, the company would have cut its prices by more than 3 percent, he wrote in a note.  Also on Wednesday, General Motors said it had sold its 200,000th electric vehicle in 2018, similarly triggering a phase-out of the federal tax credit, according to a source. Effect on profit? Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Nicholas Hyett estimated in a client note that if Tesla continues to deliver cars at the current rate, the price cut will mean $700 million in lost revenue in 2019. Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives, meanwhile, said the price cut was "a potential positive" for demand, "but not what the bulls wanted to hear on the impact to profitability and ultimately the bottom line." Tesla delivered 63,150 Model 3s in its fourth quarter, falling short of FactSet estimates of 64,900. Tesla said that based on its own compilation of analysts' forecasts, its delivery numbers were in line with market expectations. Bank of America analyst John Murphy wrote that the numbers were in line with market consensus, though below the bank's estimate of 71,500 Model 3s. Deliveries rise, forecasts missed Total deliveries rose from the third quarter to 90,700 cars, but missed forecasts, which had been influenced by analysts' expectations of a surge in buyers looking to cash in on the tax credit before year-end. The automaker's third-quarter pre-tax profit was around $3,200 per vehicle delivered, but for the first nine months of 2018 the company suffered a third-quarter loss per vehicle delivered of $8,019, according to Reuters calculations. Overall, total production rose 8 percent to 86,555 vehicles. The company churned out 61,394 Model 3s, up from a total of 53,239 Model 3s in the third quarter. "Tesla disappointed the market. The deliveries are below our estimates and the consensus estimates. I don't expect that Tesla operates in the black in 2019," said Frank Schwope, an analyst with NORD/LB.  

Facebook Apologizes for Banning Evangelist Franklin Graham

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 22:55
Facebook has apologized for temporarily banning North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham from its platform over a 2016 post about the state's "bathroom bill." The Asheville Citizen Times reports Facebook apologized to Graham on Sunday. Graham, the son of the late Rev. Billy Graham, said last week that the platform banned him for 24 hours in December, saying the post violated community hate speech standards. Graham said the post focused on the now-repealed House Bill 2, which required transgender people to often use restrooms matching their birth certificates. Graham said his post was about Bruce Springsteen canceling a concert over the bill and "backward progress." Graham said in the post that "a nation embracing sin and bowing at the feet of godless secularism and political correctness is not progress."

How Do Workers Compete With Machines In the Near Future?

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 19:00
Many of today's jobs did not exist 10 years ago. And a decade from now, technology's march will likely replace many jobs of today. Jennail Chavez, 25, said it was a mid-life crisis that brought her to a noisy classroom where sounds of hammering and sawing surrounded her. She was working at a warehouse and wanted to do something more rewarding. She found her answer back at school. After completing a two-year program at the Los Angles Trade Technical College, Chavez plans to be a general contractor. As a person who loves working with her hands, choosing a career in a male-dominated profession did not intimidate her.  "I need a trade to match my personality and why not come into construction," said Chavez. But Chavez realized what she is learning to do may soon be replaced by machines. "I actually came across a 3-D printer that actually built houses, and I was like 'no, I'm actually in the industry to start building houses. What am I going to do?" "Re-skilling is an essential part of so much of the economy right now," said Laurence Frank, president of the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. He said workers constantly have to learn new skills to keep up with advancing technology. Jacob Portillo is well aware of the need to keep up. He recently graduated from a program that trained him to work on diesel trucks, and already has had to adapt to changes in brake systems. "Every year that passes by it evolves into something different, something new. Just keep learning and keep evolving along with the field," Portillo said, who has found a good paying job working on trucks. Jobs that require critical thinking will be hard to replace with robots. "Plumbers, people that work as electricians, where there has to be constant problem solving, constant decision making - those jobs are pretty secure," Frank said.  Soft skills such as communication, time management and teamwork will also help workers stay employed in the future. "So, are we teaching people to be good communicators? Are we teaching people to work in teams? At secondary or post-secondary level? Are we teaching people to synthesize and analyze," asked Jane Oates, president of Working Nation, a campaign to help American workers prepare for future jobs.  Oates said many high schools and universities in the United States are not keeping up with the pace of technology to prepare students. "They're teaching things that are antiquated because that's what they have the professors to do," Oates said, suggesting schools hire faculty from industry and develop apprenticeships with industry professionals.  "In the 21st century, you are not ever going to be done learning and adapting and figuring out how you fit into the new paradigm," said Oates. After graduating from trade school, Jennail Chavez said she plans on working for a few years before returning to school to learn how to work with electric and solar power.

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