Waymo just became the first company allowed to test fully self-driving cars--the kind with no carbon-based beings behind the wheel--in the state of California. The outfit that started life as Google's self-driving car project has been running driver-free cars in Arizona for almost a year, where the state testing rules are far more lax than in California, and where it plans to launch a commercial robo-taxi service by the end of the year. But securing the right to do the same in its home state is still a milestone, and evidence it can win over even comparatively wary regulators to the way of the robot. To begin, the truly driverless cars will test only at up to 65 mph in the southern Bay Area, in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto. The company said it will inform local governments before expanding its tests any further.
It may be a long time before you can own a truly self-driving car. But chipmakers are placing bets that you will. On Tuesday, the Japanese chipmaker Renesas, the second-largest provider of semiconductors for the automotive industry, said it will acquire San Jose based chipmaker Integrated Device Technology (IDT) for $6.7 billion, in part to prepare for autonomous vehicles. IDT has not historically provided chips for cars, but it does have sensor and wireless technologies that could help Renesas compete in the market for chips for autonomous vehicles. "Renesas and IDT have complementary technologies," says Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy.
When it comes to relationships, even the business kind, sometimes you just have to make nice. That's what Tesla's Elon Musk did this week, when he expressed regret about sounding a bit overtaxed during an ultimately upbeat quarterly earnings call for the tumultuous electric carmaker. He's still in the depths of production hell, you see. Meanwhile, the autonomous developers at Waymo decided to make friends with public transit officials in Phoenix, agreeing to work with them to ensure their driverless vehicles work for seniors and writers with disabilities. And in Sacramento, officials are opening their doors, er, streets to all the Bay Area self-driving developers who are sick of the fog and high housing costs.
It also means we're finally at the end of a four-day slog of press conferences from some of the gaming world's largest publishers. While Activision Blizzard still doesn't do its own pre-E3 event, just about everyone else does, which means these 96 hours have been a deluge of announcements and reveals that we did our best to get our arms around. We didn't even cover them all: the Square Enix press conference was basically devoid of new information, and the PC Gaming Show, while compelling, was mostly a long list of indie game announcements--some of which we'll be getting to later this week. So, for now, here's everything you need to know about every press conference you need to know about. Get through this, and you'll be ready for all the other E3 news that starts....well, now.
Lawmakers, child development experts, and privacy advocates are expressing concerns about two new Amazon products targeting children, questioning whether they prod kids to be too dependent on technology and potentially jeopardize their privacy. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, two members of the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus raised concerns about Amazon's smart speaker Echo Dot Kids and a companion service called FreeTime Unlimited that lets kids access a children's version of Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled digital assistant. "While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new educational and entertainment opportunities, Americans' privacy, particularly children's privacy, must be paramount," wrote Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), both cofounders of the privacy caucus. The letter includes a dozen questions, including requests for details about how audio of children's interactions is recorded and saved, parental control over deleting recordings, a list of third parties with access to the data, whether data will be used for marketing purposes, and Amazon's intentions on maintaining a profile on kids who use these products. Echo Dot Kids is the latest in a wave of products from dominant tech players targeting children, including Facebook's communications app Messenger Kids and Google's YouTube Kids, both of which have been criticized by child health experts concerned about privacy and developmental issues.
But when Sonos started working on integrating Alexa into its multi-room wireless music system a year and a half ago, though, that setup posed a problem. Most Sonos users have more than one speaker, and a surround sound system full of blinking lights would turn their homes into an ersatz light show. Plus, it felt wrong: Sonos is an audio company, betting its future on sound as the interface for all the tech in your home. There had to be an audible way for Alexa to let you know it's listening. The team seized on a setting buried in the Alexa app, which enables what Amazon calls "sound cues."
Google once had a reputation for bankrolling moonshots. It spent billions creating a self-driving car, started Google Fiber to bring ultra-high-speed internet to the masses, and acquired the Darpa-backed robotics company Boston Dynamics. But since restructuring itself as a holding company called Alphabet in 2015 and moving many of its bigger ideas outside the core Google business structure, Mountain View's ambitions have become a little more sober and its investment strategy more restrained. As Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat put it during an earnings call last year: "We continue to rationalize our portfolio of products to ensure we efficiently and effectively focus our resources behind our biggest bets across Alphabet." In practical terms, that's meant scaling back Google Fiber and selling off some of its wilder projects, and it's also opened the door for another company–the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank–to take the lead on some of today's most audacious bets in global tech.
Kameron Hurley's science fiction novel The Stars Are Legion almost never saw the inside of a book store. She came up with the idea in 2012, but she and her agent didn't think anyone would buy it. But two years later, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice swept the major science fiction awards, Guardians of the Galaxy became a surprise box office smash, and Syfy announced plans to make The Expanse into a TV show. Hurley's book soon found a home at Saga Press. "Publishers started snapping up space operas, leading to a huge demand that needed to be filled," she says.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich promised $7 billion today to resume construction of a chip factory near Phoenix that could one day employ 3,000 people. But he didn't make the announcement at the job site or on stage during a Silicon Valley keynote. Instead, Krzanich stood in the Oval Office holding a sheet of microchips next to President Trump. The photo-op played into Trump's #AmericaFirst promise of more US manufacturing jobs, and the president didn't waste time exploiting the PR moment. But everything was not as it looked.
When you finally get your chance to ride in an autonomous Uber, you may find yourself clambering into a Mercedes-Benz. That's because Daimler, which owns Mercedes, announced today that it will use Uber's immense network to deploy its own robocars. Last year, it struck up with Volvo, which built Uber's autonomous tech into a fleet of XC90 SUVs for testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco (until the California DMV kicked it out). But the Daimler deal marks a new approach for Uber. Until now, its public plan called for stuffing its homegrown tech into vehicles built by an established manufacturer like Volvo, then deploying it.