Wall Street Journal


Restaurants Tackle Mobile-Ordering Problems

Wall Street Journal

New signs in the store direct customers who placed online orders to the pickup area, and employees were given extra training that includes guiding to-go customers to the right area. Now, during peak traffic periods at certain cafes, a barista uses one machine to make drinks for mobile customers while another uses the second to make drinks for in-store guests. Some companies that have offered digital ordering for years, like Domino's Pizza Inc., are facing new challenges as technology evolves. "If it's a local coupon that's only available in one or two stores, the voice assistant has a hard time figuring out which coupon you're talking about," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's chief digital officer.


How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds

Wall Street Journal

A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people's phones beep or buzz while they're in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier--whether they check the phone or not. In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the "integration of smartphones into daily life" appears to cause a "brain drain" that can diminish such vital mental skills as "learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity." In a similar but smaller 2014 study (involving 47 subjects) in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.


Sonos, a Wireless-Speaker Pioneer, Plays Catch Up

Wall Street Journal

On Wednesday, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company is announcing its first smart speaker, the $199 Sonos One, powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. By next year, the company will integrate Alphabet Inc.'s GOOGL 0.86% Google voice assistant, and down the road hopes to make its smart speaker compatible with Apple Inc.'s AAPL -0.06% Siri and others. As part of its strategy of working with the very rivals that upended it, Sonos said it would support Apple's AirPlay 2 in 2018, letting owners control their Sonos speakers through any Siri-enabled device such as an iPhone. Partnering with a tech giant won't make it any less a competitor, analysts said.


Chip Makers Are Adding 'Brains' Alongside Cameras' Eyes

Wall Street Journal

Blue River Technology, a Silicon Valley startup acquired for $305 million last month by Deere & Co., is using computer vision powered by Nvidia Corp. to help lettuce farmers boost productivity and reduce or reallocate labor costs. Willy Pell, who oversees new technology at Blue River, believes machines outfitted to perceive the world and act on what they sense without human intervention will drive the next wave of Silicon Valley investment. Machines outfitted with camera eyes and silicon brains soon will be able to take over "all kinds of repetitive tasks." Deepu Talla, Nvidia's vice president in charge of AI for applications such as robotics and drones, believes both local and remote processing will be necessary.


Google Doubles Down on Hardware With New Phones and Speakers

Wall Street Journal

Google, the core unit of Alphabet Inc., is betting the upgraded devices will help it crack the competitive market for consumer-tech devices and catch up to juggernauts Apple Inc., AAPL -0.06% Samsung Electronics Co. and Amazon.com Google's new home speakers range in price from $50 to $400, challenging Apple at the top of the market and Amazon at the bottom. Throughout the event, Google touted the devices' smarts as a main selling point, versus their hardware upgrades. With that move, Google also debuted $160 wireless headphones called Google Pixel Buds, which have a feature to enable real-time translation between speakers using Google's translation service. Regardless of the Pixel's upgrades, "Google's main challenge is now…to make them available to consumers on the shelves," Forrester analyst Thomas Husson said.


Self-Driving Systems Present Control Challenges

Wall Street Journal

But the rollout by Volkswagen AG's luxury unit--with production for the U.S. originally planned to begin this year--is now uncertain, as the car maker continues to wait for Congress to pass legislation paving the way for autonomous vehicles. Audi's conundrum reflects the challenge for auto makers as they plunge into an awkward phase of development years before fully driverless cars are ready: how exactly to pass control back and forth between driver and machine. General Motors Co. GM -0.49% is marketing the new Cadillac CT6 sedan, due out this fall, which lets drivers go hands-free on the highway--but the car also features eye-tracking technology that forces the driver to look at the road or the robot pilot will disengage. Audi now says that gradual production of the Traffic Jam Pilot will begin next year on the A8 sedan, with timing dependent upon government approvals, and that the company is aiming for the feature to reach the U.S. by the fall of 2018--though it is still debating whether it will begin production of the system without knowing if it will be sold.


A Rare Joint Interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Bill Gates

Wall Street Journal

Nadella, more soft-spoken than his predecessors, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, assumed the company's helm amid one of its stormiest chapters. In the book's foreword, Gates, 61, who co-founded Microsoft, reigned atop the company for a quarter century and now co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lauds Nadella's humility and pragmatism. Satya Nadella: I ran into Steve Ballmer maybe a couple of months after he had finished as CEO, and I asked him, "Hey, are you writing a book?" SS: Elon Musk has fretted that artificial intelligence could turn humans into "house cats" once computers become smarter than us.


A Shape-Shifting Car? Patent Filings Point to Auto Industry's Future

Wall Street Journal

In 2016, 10 of the world's largest car makers submitted 9,700 patent applications, up 110% from 2012, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Toyota, long the industry leader in patent filings, innovated several hybrid-vehicle technologies that rivals eventually needed when looking to compete in combo gas-electric cars. Unlike Silicon Valley companies, traditional vehicle makers face huge overhead and capital requirements for their factories and product lines. General Motors Co., for instance, has bought or invested in Silicon Valley firms working on autonomous technology but narrowed its own patent filings to about 1,000 in the U.S. last year, down 3.4% from 2012.


Samsung's New $300 Million Fund Bets on Automotive Innovation

Wall Street Journal

SEOUL-- Samsung Electronics Co. has created a $300 million fund targeting new investments for automotive software and technology, the latest sign of the world's largest smartphone maker's desire to diversify beyond traditional electronics. Like many of its Silicon Valley peers, Samsung doesn't plan to manufacture its own vehicles but sees vast potential to create autonomous-driving software it could one day sell to traditional car makers. The $300 million investment, called the Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund, will target bets on smart sensors, machine vision and artificial intelligence that get used by connected cars, the company said. Three days after Mr. Lee's conviction, Samsung announced a fresh $2.3 billion investment in semiconductors.


Google Plots to Conquer Self-Driving Cars---by Making Peace With Detroit

Wall Street Journal

John Krafcik can speak two languages, Motor City and Silicon Valley, and if Google makes progress in developing self-driving cars, it might have his translation skills to thank. After building his career at Ford Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co., Mr. Krafcik, 55 years old, now heads Google's self-driving car effort, called Waymo. General Motors Co. was so annoyed with Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., GOOGL 0.40% it once tossed one of its software engineers off a test track for plowing through cones. Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car unit, Waymo, drove more miles in California last year than its competitors.