Amazon unveiled its vision for smart homes powered by the Alexa voice assistant, with a dizzying array of new gadgets and features for almost every room in the house -- from a microwave oven to a security camera and wall clock. The Seattle internet giant is pushing Alexa more deeply into customers' lives, hoping to popularize technology that has yet to go mainstream and connecting people more to Amazon's universe of things to buy. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos sees voice as the next interface linking people and machines, like a mouse on personal computers and touchscreens on smartphones. The $50 hockey puck-shaped Dot is one of Amazon's best-selling devices, and with 70 percent better sound it's going after audiophiles on Sonos Inc.'s turf. Amazon also introduced a subwoofer to go along with existing Echo products as well as a pair of amplifiers that work like audio control centers for the home.
This year that game is undeniably Fortnite Battle Royale, an online free-for-all that every teen in America suddenly seems to be playing. It's not just kids, though–everyone from rapper Drake to Los Angeles Laker Josh Hart is a fan. That groundswell of support has propelled Fortnite from a simple video game into a cultural sensation, with hundreds of millions of fans worldwide who play the game, wear the gear and even learn the characters' victory dances. "Fortnite is another in a long line of games like World of Warcraft or Guitar Hero or Minecraft that is changing everything underfoot," says Mat Piscatella, a video-game industry analyst with research firm NPD Group. Fortnite's big draw is a madcap multiplayer mode that drops up to 100 players on an island in a last-person-standing showdown.
More than a dozen human rights groups have sent a letter to Google urging the company not to offer censored internet search in China, amid reports it is planning to again begin offering the service in the giant Asian market. The joint letter dated Tuesday calls on CEO Sundar Pichai to explain what Google is doing to safeguard users from the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance. It describes the censored search engine app, codenamed "Dragonfly", as representing "an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights. "The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities' repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China," said the letter That follows a letter earlier this month signed by more than a thousand Google employees protesting the company's secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship. The letter called on executives to review ethics and transparency at the company.
Toyota Motor Corp. is expanding an alliance with Uber Technologies Inc. through a new investment and a plan to get self-driving cars on the road. The Japanese automaker is investing $500 million in Uber, the companies said on Monday. The deal values the ride-hailing giant at $72 billion, said a person familiar with the matter. As part of the pact, Toyota will manufacture Sienna minivans equipped with Uber's self-driving technology, and another company will operate the fleet. They have yet to identify the third partner, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.
Sony is bringing its iconic Aibo robotic dog back to the U.S. for the first time in more than a decade -- though this time, the pricey gadget will feature some cloud-connected features that make it more expressive and engaging than previous iterations. The U.S. relaunch of Aibo, which was announced Thursday, will be the sixth-generation of the company's line of robotic dogs, first introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2006. Since re-introducing it in Japan this past January, Sony says it has already sold over 20,000 Aibo units over a seven-month period. The new Aibo, for better or worse, shares a similar design language with its predecessors, though it looks much more like an actual dog thanks to a pair of large, expressive OLED eyes that blink, get drowsy and show anger. Compact motors designed by Sony give Aibo 22 axes of movement, making it much more lifelike than Sony's previous robots -- though traditional dog-based activities, like scratching its ears or stretching its legs, look pretty comical compared to the real thing.
Dronemaker DJI announced Thursday two new models aimed squarely at the prosumer-to-professional crowd: The Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom. Both of DJI's new Mavic 2 drones are built around the same basic design. The key difference is in the camera payload: The Mavic 2 Pro packs a 20-megapixel camera with 1-inch CMOS sensor from Hasselblad, the high-end camera maker in which DJI invested in 2015. The Mavic 2 Zoom, meanwhile, offers a 24-48mm lens that lets photographers and videographers reach farther-away subjects or add telephoto compression effects to their work. The lens on the Mavic 2 Zoom also allows for the drone's new "Dolly Zoom" effect, which works by zooming in on a subject while simultaneously flying away from it.
Google's workforce is demanding answers over the company's secretive plans to build a search engine that will comply with censorship in China. More than 1,000 employees have signed a letter demanding more transparency over the project so they do not unwittingly suppress freedom of speech. In a version of the letter obtained by the New York Times, the employees say they lack the "information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment." China's censorship requirements "raise urgent moral and ethical issues," it adds. The letter, which has circulated through Google's internal communications, has gained more than 1,400 signatures, according to the Times.
Eight years after their very public falling out, could China and Google be pals once again? Whispers circulating Monday, first reported by The Intercept, suggested that Google would soon launch a Chinese version of its search engine that will kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party by scrubbing various bête noires: not least criticism of its human-rights record, calls for Tibetan independence and the bloodshed around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
A federal probe into Facebook's sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica now involves the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, the Washington Post reported. Representatives from these agencies have joined the Federal Trade Commission in the inquiry, the newspaper reported, citing five unnamed people familiar with the matter. Those people spoke on condition of anonymity because the probes are not complete. The probe reportedly centers on what Facebook knew in 2015, when it learned that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users. Facebook didn't disclose the incident with the political firm, which later worked for the Trump campaign and other Republican candidates, until this March.
The human backup driver in an autonomous Uber SUV was streaming the television show "The Voice" on her phone and looking downward just before fatally striking a pedestrian in suburban Phoenix, according to a police report. The 300-page report released Thursday night by police in Tempe revealed that driver Rafaela Vasquez had been streaming the musical talent show via Hulu in the 43 minutes before the March 18 crash that killed Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened road outside the lines of a crosswalk. The report said the crash, which marks the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, wouldn't have happened had the driver not been distracted. Dash camera video shows Vasquez was looking down near her right knee for four or five seconds before the crash. She looked up a half second before striking Herzberg as the Volvo was traveling about 44 miles per hour.