April 30, 2012

Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE preview (video) -- Engadget

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What was the exciting new collaboration that HTC and Sprint's bigwigs just couldn't wait to tell us about? Anyone who's been following the smartphone scene at all as of late surely won't be surprised to find out that the one-time Nextel bedfellow is getting a member of the One family to call its own. It's just the precise name of the device that wasn't too predictable.

When the handset goes on sale sometime in Q2 for $199 it'll be saddled with the decidedly unwieldy moniker HTC EVO 4G LTE -- a rather clunky title for such a svelte device. What the name does offer, however, is a direct connection to the original EVO 4G. That phone, which arrived in consumer hands way back in June 2010, was branded as Sprint's first "4G" handset, courtesy of the carrier's WiMAX network. It's understandable, then, that its spiritual successor would carry that redundant 4G LTE moniker. The companies also clearly wanted to retain some of those happy memories, while setting the phone apart from those other One handsets on the market. How'd they do such a thing? Meet us after the break where we lay it all out.

So, how does the EVO 4G LTE differ from the One X? As HTC tells it, the company was focused on three major factors: design, camera and sound. The first is really what distinguishes it, and much to HTC's credit, the EVO does its best to stand apart from the tightly packed crowd of large-screened slabs. The vast majority of the front is monopolized by that big, bright 4.7-inch 720p HD display, flanked by three touch buttons on the bottom and a thin speaker grill (not machine-drilled as seen on the One X and S, unfortunately), along with a 1.3MP front-facing camera on the top. Flip it over, though, and you'll see some fairly interesting design choices on the rear.

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The bottom two-thirds of the back is fashioned out of black aluminum. The top portion, which includes the rear 8-megapixel camera, is protected by a removable polycarbonate plastic back. Slip that off and you can have a look at a number of antennae, including NFC (compatible with the pre-loaded Google Wallet, among others). There, you'll also find the microSD slot, which lets you expand the phone's built-in 16GB of storage to 32GB -- a welcome feature for the multimedia fanatics who will likely be drawn to the phone but were concerned about the lack of external storage on the One X or S. According to HTC, the dual-material rear was put in place to make it easier for users to position their hands while taking photos -- in other words, you can feel the difference on the back without looking. Fair enough, though we wish striking aesthetics mattered just a bit here too.

The materials are split by a long, thin, spring-loaded kickstand, whose red metallic color hearkens back to the original EVO 4G. HTC corrected a pretty glaring design flaw this time out, allowing users to use the kickstand with the phone positioned on either side, so you can actually charge the thing while you're consuming all your media hands-free. Speaking of correcting glaring flaws, the company assured us that, unlike past models (ahem, Thunderbolt), this guy should have ample runtime, courtesy of a 2,000mAh battery -- a sizable improvement over the One X's 1,800mAh juicepack. No word on how much usage time that translates to with LTE enabled, but for now we're cautiously optimistic.

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Of course, you can't discuss bold design decisions without mentioning the aluminum band circling the perimeter of the device, not unlike the metal ringing the iPhone 4. An HTC rep repeatedly used the word "oozing" to describe this particular flourish. In spite of that odd phrasing, it doesn't look bad, per se, but it certainly contributes to the cluttered, somewhat schizophrenic design, and it also lends the handset a slightly jagged feel in-hand. Up top, you'll find a door for the micro-USB slot, mic and headphone jack, so you can take that proprietary Beats Audio for a spin. Unlike the Rezound, though, the phone doesn't ship with Beats earbuds -- an sacrifice to the cost-cutting gods. On the right side is the volume rocker and dedicated camera button. Lastly, the phone comes in at 0.35 inches (8.9mm) thick, just like the global One X, and weighs in a mere tenth of an ounce heavier at 4.7 ounces (133 grams).

A lot of thought clearly went into the device's picture-taking capabilities, thanks in part to the ImageSense functionality that comes part and parcel with HTC's Sense 4 skin for Ice Cream Sandwich skin. To recap, it brings the experience in line with what you'll get on the One X and S. For starters, that dedicated button lets you access the camera functionality with the phone switched off. You can snap four shots a second with blast image capture, with the phone emitting a machine gun-like shutter sound effect (this can be turned down for all of those animated GIFs you want to capture in your local libary). Also nice is the ability to capture still images while shooting video. According to HTC, the phone's f/2.0 lens lets in "up to 44 percent more light than other leading smartphones," making it a solid choice for low-light shooting. Additionally, the flash on the rear automatically adjusts based on distance and light level, so you don't go blowing out shots.

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As we noted in our review, Sense 4 feels quite light on top of Ice Cream Sandwich. So far as we could tell in our brief hands-on period, the handset is quick and responsive, thanks in part to the 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 chipset (Update: Sprint has confirmed that it uses MSM8960, the same chip inside the AT&T One X). HTC also promises that sound quality has been improved -- in fact, the EVO 4G LTE is set to become Sprint's first HD Voice-capable phone (update: our impressions are here!), boasting hardware improvements on the handset itself, which should help reduce background noise and forthcoming boosts to the network, which are set to begin rolling out later this year. Apparently people still use these things to make phone calls. Who knew?

All in all, the EVO 4G LTE is a promising team-up from HTC and Sprint. We prefer the simplistic look and feel of the One X, though the companies get some points for at least trying something different -- even if the cluttered design does feel a bit like a "too many chefs" situation. We also appreciate the focus on actual usable features, as opposed to, say, the gimmickry of the EVO 3D. Again, the EVO 4G LTE will be available for $199 at an unspecified time in Q2. If you need something to mark in your calendar, however, the May 7th pre-sale date seems a pretty good place to start.

by Brian Heater Engadget Apr 4, 2012


Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE preview (video) -- Engadget

April 23, 2012

Are Apple and Google Playing HTML5 Chess with Facebook? - Forbes




The mobile web is broken. Big time. This week at the Breaking Development Conference in Tampa, some of the smartest minds in web development gave presentation after presentation about missing APIs, unresponsive images and load times from hell.

Just as Marc Andreessen has said that “Software Will Eat the World,” on the web, applications are eating content. “Content is king,” yes, and we need to think about “content first,” but increasingly people are consuming content through applications.

So, as I have said, there is a showdown between open standards HTML5 for delivering applications on the mobile web and native apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The flow of the future would seem to be going the way of HTML5, because as the device landscape gets more complicated and fractured, the cost of maintaing all of those different code bases becomes prohibitive, both in terms of time and money.

But, there’s a rub, in fact two. For the most part, HTML5 apps are slower than native apps, and in some cases, significantly so. In the world of mobile, optimizing for speed is the name of the game—see the success of Instagram and Tango, both native apps. And on top of that, mobile browsers do not provide device API support for many important features—especially the ability to access the camera.

As I speculated last week, Facebook’s Instagram buy is an attempt to maintain a competitive advantage in photo sharing through whatever means necessary while they wait for the HTML5 situation to improve. They may be waiting for a long time.

This is where the chess analogy comes in. If developing for the web is like three-dimensional chess to print’s two dimensions, then developing for mobile is like four-dimensional chess. But it turns out that the rivalry between Facebook, Apple and Google is turning this into HTML5-dimensional chess. Here’s what I mean:

Since Facebook launched its HTML5 application platform last year, they have placed major bets on the open web. They have developed a sophisticated HTML5 testing suite, called Ringmark, and released the code as open source. That they have twice as much traffic on their web app then on their native apps would seem to be a vindication of this approach. But the path to HTML5 apps is simple only if you ignore the important overlay of how these companies get paid.

Right now, Apple and Google get a 30% slice of any revenues, including in-app purchases, that run through their app stores. And consumers have shown a surprising willingness to pay a dollar or five for an app, but not the equivalent amount for access to a website that performs the same functions.

Facebook’s motivation for pursuing HTML5 is to play an end-around Apple and Google in the application market the way they have with their 30% take on the credits in the casual game market. Facebook may have the flow of history, and the ultimate best interests of their users on their side, but they are as commercially motivated as their opponents.

Along with releasing Ringmark, which defines mobile browser capabilities interms of a series of rings from zero to three with increasing levels of functionality, Facebook is courting developers to build “consensus” on “priorities” that the mobile browser makers, Apple, Google and now Microsoft, should build for. To that end, they have dispatched James Pearce, Head of Mobile Developer Relations, to present to developers, including those at Breaking Developement, “The real possibilities and opportunities that standardized device and network APIs can offer.” The goal is to convince them that, “Our hopes and dreams for a rich, contextual, social web will depend on them.”

Facebook, in this case, would seem to be playing white, but that doesn’t mean that they will definitively win any time soon.

by Anthony Wing Kosner Forbes Apr 22, 2012


Are Apple and Google Playing HTML5 Chess with Facebook? - Forbes

April 11, 2012

Wireless providers to disable stolen phones

Smartphone and cellphone thefts made up 30% to 40% of all robberies in 2011 in major U.S. cities.
By Mario Tama, Getty Images Smartphone and cellphone thefts made up 30% to 40% of all robberies in 2011 in major U.S. cities.


Cellphone providers, police, regulators and legislators are teaming up to thwart a rise in smartphone thefts.

A new nationwide database aimed at preventing the use of stolen smartphones will be announced Tuesday by the cellular industry. That will be strengthened by a bill proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., making it illegal to circumvent the database.

Smartphone and cellphone thefts made up 30% to 40% of all robberies in 2011 in major U.S. cities, accounting for as many as 27,000 thefts, police say. More than 40% of all robberies in New York City involve pricey phones. And thefts are on the rise in Washington, D.C., too, where 1,611 of last year's 4,208 robberies (38%) involved them.

"It is a big crime trend, and that is what the police chiefs brought to our attention," says Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski, who will be joined by police chiefs from New York, Philadelphia and Washington at the official announcement.

Cellphone service providers pledge to cooperate on a database, fully operational within 18 months, that will prevent stolen smartphones from being used on other networks in the U.S. or globally. Today, not all carriers can prevent stolen phones from being reactivated. "The police chiefs are convinced that that will significantly reduce the value of the phone and reduce the black market economics to steal a phone," Genachowski says.

Companies also plan to encourage customers to use passwords that lock their phones and to find and use applications that allow them to remotely lock or wipe data off their phones if they are stolen. And a public education campaign will alert people about smartphone safety.

Victims of smartphone theft cannot only lose their device and personal data but get hurt in the process. In New York, robbers have pushed victims in front of subway trains and cars before snatching their smartphones, says Phil Pulaski, chief of detectives at the NYPD, which has been working with carriers since 2009 on the project. "It's nasty business," he says.

"Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet," said Schumer in a statement. "By permanently disabling stolen cellphones, we can take away the incentive to steal a cellphone in the first place and put a serious dent in the growing rates of iPhone and smartphone theft.

"I want to commend FCC Chairman Genachowski and the cell carriers for working with us to help crack down on this growing crime trend and putting in place a comprehensive database that will allow carriers to identify stolen cellphones so they cannot be reactivated once sold on the black market."

by Mike Snider - Apr. 10, 2012 09:18 AM USA Today


Wireless providers to disable stolen phones

Avnet shows off digital signs that interact with, monitor viewers

A 55-inch LCD monitor uses Intel's AIMsuite software to detect and analyze a viewer's demographic profile, and then display advertising specifically for that viewer.
Avnet A 55-inch LCD monitor uses Intel's AIMsuite software to detect and analyze a viewer's demographic profile, and then display advertising specifically for that viewer.


The face of commercial signage is about to be transformed, experts say, and Phoenix-based Avnet Inc. is hoping to lead the revolution.

Electronics-industry analysts predict that by 2015, about 22 million traditional signs in grocery stores, shopping malls, restaurants, health clinics and other businesses will be replaced with digital displays that interact with consumers in various ways.

Many of those new signs will allow touch-screen input, such as ordering a menu item or renewing a prescription.

Some signs will monitor and count each person who passes in front of them, even analyzing faces to determine demographic information such as gender and age.

Such displays may show customized advertisements based on that data, perhaps pitching aftershave lotion or athletic wear to a group of young men, and then changing to vitamin supplements or vacation packages for a group of older women.

The technology to do all of the above has been available for some time, said Gina Tammo of Avnet's Embedded Display Solutions Group, and it has finally become cost-effective for many businesses.

Avnet hosted a special tour Monday at its Global Solutions Center in Chandler to show off new digital-sign products it is selling to commercial customers.

Those products include a 16- by 12-foot high-definition video screen, a 70-inch touch-screen digital whiteboard, a 70-inch holographic display that shows 3-D images viewers can discern without special glasses, and a see-through display that projects color images inside a pane of clear glass.

Many of the digital-sign products that Avnet showed off at the event also have digital cameras or sensors, along with embedded computers loaded with image-recognition software. They can watch while they are being watched, Tammo said, primarily to gather consumer-traffic and demographic information for use by marketers.

Avnet does not manufacture the digital-sign components; rather, it assembles them into ready-to-use systems, and it installs and services those systems for its customers.

A typical digital-signage system might have a touch-screen display panel by Sharp or Samsung, a Logitech video camera and a microprocessor by Intel running Microsoft's Windows 7 for Embedded Systems operating system.

"Avnet has relationships with all kinds of suppliers that provide all kinds of parts," Tammo said.

A commercial-grade digital sign can run all day, every day for up to 10 years without burning out or breaking, Tammo said.

Digital signs can be programmed to display daily or hourly specials, gather consumer data, receive direct input from customers and perform other useful tasks for retailers and other businesses, she added.

Chuck Kostalnick, the senior executive in charge of Avnet's digital-signage unit, said industry analysts are predicting compound annual growth of 24 percent in the field for the foreseeable future.

Avnet CEO Rick Hamada said tours that allow potential customers to interact with digital-sign products in person are the most effective way to market the new technology.

"Brochures never quite do it justice," Hamada said.

by J. Craig Anderson - Apr. 10, 2012 06:18 PM The Republic | azcentral.com



Avnet shows off digital signs that interact with, monitor viewers

April 9, 2012

Google creates Internet-connected glasses

In this undated handout photo provided by the Google[x] group's
Google/AP In this undated handout photo provided by the Google[x] group's "Project Glass", an early prototype of Google's futuristic Internet-connected glasses, are modeled. The specs are said to give you directions, let you video chat, shop and do everything else you now need a handheld gadget to accomplish. Google gave a glimpse of "Project Glass" in a video and blog post this week.


If you think texting while walking is dangerous, just wait until everyone starts wearing Google's futuristic, Internet-connected glasses.

While wearing a pair, you can see directions to your destination appear literally before your eyes. You can talk to friends over video chat, take a photo or even buy a few things online as you walk around.

These glasses can do anything you now need a smartphone or tablet computer to do --and then some.

Google gave a glimpse of "Project Glass" in a video and blog post this week. Still in an early prototype stage, the glasses open up endless possibilities -- as well as challenges to safety, privacy and fashion sensibility.

The prototypes Google displayed have a sleek wrap-around look and appear nothing like clunky 3-D glasses. But if Google isn't careful, they could be dismissed as a kind of Bluetooth earpiece of the future, a fashion faux-pas where bulky looks outweigh marginal utility.

In development for a couple of years, the project is the brainchild of Google X, the online search-leader's secret facility that spawned the self-driving car and could one day send elevators into space.

If it takes off, it could bring reality another step closer to science fiction, where the line between human and machine blurs.

"My son is 4 years old and this is going to be his generation's reality," said Guy Bailey, who works as a social media supervisor for a university outside Atlanta, Ga. He expects it might even be followed by body implants, so that in 10 years or so you'll be able to get such a "heads-up display" inside your head.

But is that what people want?

"There is a lot of data about the world that would be great if more people had access to as they are walking down the street," said Jason Tester, research director at the nonprofit Institute For the Future in Palo Alto, California.

That said, "once that information is not only at our fingertips but literally in our field of view, it may become too much."

Always-on smartphones with their constant Twitter feeds, real-time weather updates and "Angry Birds" games are already leaving people with a sense of information overload. But at least you can put your smartphone away. Having all that in front of your eyes could become too much.

"Sometimes you want to stop and smell the roses," said Scott Steinberg, CEO of technology consulting company TechSavvy Global. "It doesn't mean you want to call up every single fact about them on the Internet."

Still, it doesn't take much to imagine the possibilities. What if you could instantly see the Facebook profile of the person sitting next to you on the bus? Read the ingredient list and calorie count of a sandwich by looking at it? Snap a photo with a blink? Look through your wall to find out where electrical leads are, so you know where to drill?

"Not paint your house, because the people who looked at your house could see whatever color they wanted it in?" pondered veteran technology analyst Rob Enderle.

Wearing the glasses could turn the Internet into a tool in the same way that our memory is a tool now, mused science fiction writer and computer scientist Vernor Vinge. His 2007 book, "Rainbow's End," set in the not-so-distant future, has people interacting with the world through their contact lenses, as if they had a smart phone embedded in their eyes.

Unlike Google's glasses, at least in their current state, Vinge's lenses know what you are looking at and can augment your reality based on that. That could come next, though.

"Things we used to think were magic, we now take for granted: the ability to get a map instantly, to find information quickly and easily, to choose any video from millions on YouTube rather than just a few TV channels," wrote Google CEO Larry Page in a letter posted on the company's website Thursday.

In Google's video, a guy wearing the spectacles is shown getting subway information, arranging to meet a friend for coffee and navigating the inside of a bookstore, all with the help of the glasses. It ends with him playing the ukulele for a woman and showing her the sunset through a video chat.

Google posted the video and short blog post about Project Glass on Wednesday, asking people to offer feedback through its Google Plus social network.

By Thursday, about 500 people did, voicing a mix of amazement and concern about the new technology. What if people used it in cars and got distracted? What about the effect on your vision of having a screen so close to your eye?

Some asked for prototypes, but Google isn't giving those out just yet. The company didn't say when regular people can expect to get their hands on a piece of Project Glass, but going by how quickly Google tends to come out with new products, it may not be long. Enderle estimates it could be about six months to a year before broader tests are coming, and a year or more for the first version of the product.

With such an immersive device as this, that sort of speed could be dangerous, he cautions.

"It's coming. Whether Google is going to do it or someone else is going to do it, it's going to happen," Enderle said. "The question is whether we'll be ready, and given history we probably won't be. As a race we tend to be somewhat suicidal with regard to how we implement this stuff."



by Barbara Ortutay Associated Press Apr 5, 2012




Google creates Internet-connected glasses

Why Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock - latimes.com

Instagram

Not since Google bought YouTube has an acquisition grabbed the world's attention the way Facebook's $1-billion deal to buy Instagram. And it's bound to get tongues wagging again about startup valuations shooting into the stratosphere.

“It’s unprecedented on almost any metric you look at,” said Paul Kedrosky, a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation.

The San Francisco startup has just 13 employees. That works out to be $76 million per employee, Kedrosky pointed out.

At the same time, Instagram had no business model, no revenue. “That's going to make some people’s eyes roll back in their heads and connect to their ears," Kedrosky said.

So why did Facebook pay so much for a photo-sharing app? As we've written in the past, Instagram was not just a photo-sharing app. Sure it made photo sharing applications for smartphones that allow users to take photos and jazz them with retro filters. But it was becoming a very powerful mobile social network that let you share the photos with friends on Instagram or on other social networks

So Instagram may not have given Facebook a run for its money, but it was sure giving Facebook a run for its popularity, and on the most important platform of all: mobile.

“It was not just a photo-sharing app. It was a way that people were communicating with each other the same way they might have on Facebook,” Kedrosky said. “Facebook saw it as a fast-growing competitor.”

Its Android app was adding 1 million users a day, its IOS app 25 million.

“It was becoming a competitive social platform,” Kedrosky said.

Which is why Facebook did the deal in the midst of its federally required quiet period, mucking up what had so far been a very orderly and neat march toward a $100-billion initial public stock offering.

“In many ways, Facebook would rather not have done this. It creates a mess for them with having to issue an amended S-1 with this highly material transaction,” Kedrosky said. “What that tells you is that Facebook felt like it had to do the deal.”

Instagram had just raised a new round of funding that valued the app maker at $500 million. Other Facebook competitors were also circling, raising the possibility of a bidding war.

“Getting it done beats losing Instagram to a competitor,” Kedrosky said.

And that makes the price and the timing worth it.

by Jessica Guynn Los Angeles Times Apr 9, 2012


Why Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock - latimes.com

Reports: Facebook will list its stock on Nasdaq

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a meeting in San Francisco in October 2011.Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a meeting in San Francisco in October 2011.

By Paul Sakuma, AP Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a meeting in San Francisco in October 2011.



NEW YORK - Facebook will list its shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange, according to media reports.

That would be a big win for Nasdaq, which competes fiercely with NYSE Euronext, which operates the New York Stock Exchange, especially for an initial public offering (IPO) as large as Facebook's, pegged at $5 billion.

The New York Times and CNBC cited anonymous sources on the potential listing.

Calls to Facebook and Nasdaq OMX Group were not immediately returned Friday.

Part of the reason the Nasdaq is considered the more attractive option for Facebook is because of the Internet heavyweights already listed there, which include Apple, Google and Microsoft.

NYSE snared LinkedIn's IPO last year. The professional networking site doubled its IPO price in its first day of trading in May 2011 to give it a market value of nearly $9 billion. It was the largest for any Internet company since Google had its IPO in 2004.

Facebook is in another economic sphere. In papers filed in early February, it was disclosed that Facebook's IPO could place the value of the company at $100 billion. That would make it one of the world's most valuable companies eight years after it began as a startup at Harvard University.

If Facebook can raise $5 billion by selling a small percentage of its shares to the public, as is expected, it will dwarf all preceding Internet IPOs. The final tally will shift with Facebook's bankers gauging demand for those shares on Wall Street.

Joining corporate America's elite would give Facebook financial clout as it tries to expand its global audience of about 845 million users. It also could help Facebook fend off a challenge from Google, which wants to rival Facebook as with its own social networking system.

Following the model of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg set up two classes of stock that will ensure he retains control of Facebook as the sometimes conflicting demands of Wall Street exert new pressures on the company. He will have the final say on how nearly 57 percent of Facebook's stock votes, according to the company's February filing.

Facebook is expected to begin trading under the ticker "FB" in either May or June.

by Associated Press Apr 6, 2010



Reports: Facebook will list its stock on Nasdaq

April 3, 2012

Robot companies come to bury C-3PO | Cutting Edge - CNET News

A two-armed concept robot from ABB can be carried and has sensors that allow it to work in close proximity to people.
A two-armed concept robot from ABB can be carried and has sensors that allow it to work in close proximity to people, a sign of how current robots are being developed.
(Credit: ABB)


If the word "robot" conjures up for you machines with two eyes and four limbs, it's time to think again.

The robots having a commercial impact today have little to do with C-3PO, Terminator, Rosie the Maid, or other humanoid robots from popular culture. Instead, working robots are surprisingly diverse and, rather than mimic humans' every move, focus on a few very specific tasks.

For a sign of how robotics is shaping up, consider Amazon's $775 million purchase of Kiva Systems last month. Kiva's machines are designed to navigate warehouses to collect products and automate order fulfillment for e-commerce shipments. Hence Amazon's interest.

Kiva's robots, which look like orange-colored bumper cars, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workhorse robots.

The U.S. military has deployed thousands of portable robots, which resemble miniature tanks, to search for explosives and perform other dangerous tasks. iRobot has sold millions of floor-cleaning Roomba robots. Surgeons have been leaning on robotics for minimally invasive operations for years. And the auto industry started using robots for manufacturing as far back as the 1960s.

If you look a little further, though, you see the core ideas of robotics, including machine learning and automation, are seeping into an ever-wider set of uses.

Makani Power is building a wing-shaped wind turbine that relies heavily on autonomous control. Why? The turbine, which flies in circles like a kite to generate power, needs to decide without human intervention when there's sufficient wind speed to go aloft or to come down and set itself on a perch. "It is a robot, 100 percent," said CEO Corwin Hardham.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, wants a robotic aircraft that can land on and take off from an aircraft carrier autonomously. It's working with Northrop Grumman on a pair of X-47B prototypes that have made their first few flights on land. The Navy hopes to kick off its first carrier tests in 2013.

Even agriculture is ripe for robotic automation. Stanford University spin-out Blue River Technologies is developing a device that scans a row of vegetables to determine whether a plant is a weed or, say, head of lettuce. Once identified, the machine, pulled by a tractor, will spray the weed, explained CEO Jorge Heraud.

"When you think about robotics, you may think of military applications or other problems, but we think we can have a nice impact in agriculture," he said, adding that organic vegetable farming needs automation to scale and keep prices down.

Human-robot collaboration

Even with more entrepreneurs gravitating toward robotics, it remains a challenging field in which to find business success. A number of technical issues, such as computer vision, remain difficult to solve, and the industry lacks common platforms for developing software for machines, experts say.

And it's always a challenge to divine which products will resonate in niches where they haven't been used before. iRobot, for example, envisioned that its military ground robots could be used for cleaning up nuclear power plants. But it wasn't until the Fukushima disaster last year that iRobot sold four units to measure radioactivity levels. Earlier this week, it sold three robots to utility Progress Energy in the U.S.

Making robots look and act like humans remains an active field of research, and certainly characters such as C-3PO of "Star Wars" fame have inspired countless engineers to work in artificial intelligence. But robotics is creeping into commercial products in more subtle ways, such as cars that use radar to alert a driver to a potential collision, or self-driven hospital carts that can deliver drugs and supplies.

"Users just want to get a task done. They don't care if it's a cool robot. You may, but they may not care if it's a robot at all," Rodney Brooks, robotics pioneer and CTO of manufacturing company Heartland Robotics, said at a recent conference.

While many robots are indeed meant to replace manual labor, there's a movement to have robots work side by side with humans. Heartland Robotics, which remains in stealth mode, is working on robots to work alongside humans in manufacturing. Last fall, the National Institute for Standards and Technology launched a standards and testing effort to ensure safety of people working next to robots.

Robots are gaining better sensing capabilities, which make the prospect of human-robot collaboration realistic for more tasks, said Julie Shah, a professor of robotics at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

"It's an enormously exciting time to be working in the area of human-robot collaboration," she said. "People are beginning to see if you make robots intelligent enough to work with people, everyone benefits."

by Martin LaMonica CNET Apr 3, 2012


Robot companies come to bury C-3PO | Cutting Edge - CNET News

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