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Tech outlook 2014: After a blah 2013, new year brings clearer images on future of technology

Whilst many of my visitors might be interested by some of my own posts, here’s one i discovered whilst rummaging around stumbleupon.com that is much better written than I could ever expect to reach. Maybe someday I’ll get to this rank, you never know.

Tech enthusiasts didn’t have much to cheer about in 2013.

There wasn’t a lot of jaw-dropping or game-changing technology introduced. Instead, it was a year in which old guard companies, such as BlackBerry, Microsoft and Intel, struggled to remain relevant, set new goals and looked for new leadership. Newer companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, matured — at least enough to make some money — but are still haven’t proved they have a long-term business plan.

And it was a year that brought questions about consumer privacy and security to the forefront, with high-profile data breaches and revelations about surveillance programs at the National Security Agency.

In short, 2013 was a year that raised a lot of questions but provided few answers. Looking ahead, analysts say 2014 could be when the rough sketches about the future of technology, and how it affects our lives, get fleshed out.

Here are the areas of tech to watch in 2014:

Wearables

Technology has become a part of our daily lives, but 2013 showed the promise of what could happen if it becomes part of our bodies.

From our socks to our glasses, tech companies have found ways to add sensors to everyday items that turned them into mini computers. Fitness trackers and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which can take photos and answer phone calls, showed consumers the potential of wearables.

Companies are “increasingly putting consumers at the center of a host of digital technologies, devices and services,” said John Curran, a managing director at Accenture.

And there’s far more expected in the pipeline. The Google Glass headset, which pushes users’ smartphone alerts to a screen hovering just above a users eye, is expected to see a wide consumer release in 2014.

Analysts also expect Apple, which has yet to offer even a whisper about a wearable device, to release a smartwatch of its own sometime this year.

Analysts say that the market is already a billion-dollar industry, and is on pace to hit $6 billion to $8 billion by 2018.

But tech developers ability to collect a range of personal data about users — your heartbeat, eating habits and location — has some privacy advocates concerned. The Federal Trade Commission has scheduled a February workshop to examine how companies and consumers can deal with the influx of data being held by these companies.

Different forms

Consumers can also expect some of their high-end devices change form in 2014 with the wider introduction of curved screens for smartphones and televisions.

Tech companies have been studying how to curve screens for years and now appear ready to introduce it more widely to the public, said Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, which tests and calibrates screens.

Samsung and LG have both already announced that their largest TVs will have a bit of a bend in them, and some firms are considering curved or flexible screens for smartphones that would fit more naturally against a users face. Screens can also be curved to so that they perform better in direct light, said Soneira.

But manufacturing these new screen forms is still a costly process, Soneira said. While consumers will see more of them in 2014, they’ll probably stay confined to high-end or specialty products, he said. “They’ll make a major technical statement in 2014, but not a major consumer statement,” he said.

Flying above

Flying drones and advanced robots will generate a lot of buzz in 2014, but probably won’t be in every home by the end of the year.

Google and Amazon.com invested heavily in the development of unmanned aircraft and robots this year, raising expectations for 2014.

Google’s purchase of Boston Dynamics, best known for making robots for the Defense Department, raised expectations the tech giant would develop robots for a mainstream audience. Their robots can carry heavy loads even on bumpy terrain.

Amazon says it is planning to use drones to deliver some packages within 30 minutes of being ordered online.

But commercially-produced drones will face a few more roadblocks before they take to the skies. The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that it selected six states to test unmanned aircraft system, but it’s unclear when drones will have easy access to the nation’s airspace.

Companies to watch

Microsoft endured a tumultuous 2013, including the continued deterioration of the PC market and the retirement of longtime chief executive Steve Ballmer.

Now all eyes are on the companies as it attempts to find its footing.

“Their successes are overwhelmed by their failures,” said Rob Enderle, technology analyst for the Enderle Group. “They do need to simplify the company. They’re fighting too many battles and they need to bring it back to something that can be managed.”

Twitter, on the other hand, has the opposite problem — the social media company needs to grow, and grow quickly. Fresh off its 2013 market debut, the six-year old company can boast that 18 percent of all Americans have an account on the service, according to data from the Pew Center for Internet and American Life.

And though Twitter must focus on aggressive growth to satisfy investors, it also has to be careful not to lose its scrappy start-up vibe, particularly as it faces competition from an ever-growing wave of new messaging services such as Snapchat, which lets users send private messages that erase themselves after 10 seconds.

Watch your back

Cybercrime is expected to become even more common in 2014, posing a tricky challenge for tech companies and retailers encouraging consumers to share information online.

Most recently, hackers gained access to as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used by customers of Target during the height of the holiday shopping season, and analysts say that breach was only the tip of the iceberg.

Data breaches jumped from about 1,700 incidents in 2012 to 2,200 in 2013, according to an end-of-the-year report from financial information services firm Experian. The firm forecast that at least two-thirds of companies will buy cyber-breach insurance by the end of 2014. Many of those, the report said, will be in health-care sector as more doctors and hospitals put their data in online databases.

One in four Americans has received at least one notice of a data breach, said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of data breach resolution at Experian’s consumer services unit. That’s led to apathy from some consumers who are tired of changing their passwords and canceling their credit cards — a trend that Bruemmer calls “data breach fatigue.”

But not all consumers are taking the growing number of breaches lying down; Bruemmer said that there’s also been a spike in lawsuits against companies whose systems are cracked into by cybercriminals.

“There’s been a corresponding increase in class-action lawsuits, and I think you’ll see that into 2014,” he said.

Glyph: Headset from Avegant beams video into your eyes

headset. earphonesThis short article is posted with the faithful authorization of earphone.com, which is the original website. please get agreement from that website before reposting this article.

Forget about the big screen, the small screen and even the second screen.

A headset due to be released this year promises to beam movies, video games or even video calls directly into your eyeballs.

Yes. The Glyph headset, from Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Avegant, will create visuals that don’t need a screen — just your retinas and your brain.

If that conjures up exciting images of living like “Star Trek’s” Geordi La Forge or Cyclops from “The X Men,” you’re not alone.

A Kickstarter campaign was launched last month and set out to raise $250,000 to bankroll the project. It blew past that mark with ease and, with half a month left, was on the verge of breaking the $1 million mark Wednesday.

“We knew we had something really cool and that we’d do well on Kickstarter, but nobody thought we’d hit our goal in less than four hours,” said Edward Tang, Avegant’s CEO. “It’s like ordering flowers for your girlfriend and they show up with a whole truck full of flowers.”

The technology that powers the Glyph centers around a set of 2 million microscopic mirrors — 1 million per eye — that reflect visuals, including 3-D, into the user’s eye.

Unlike some entries into the emerging wearable tech field, the Glyph won’t be limited to a set of specially designed apps. Tang said the headset, which donors can receive for a $499 “donation” to the campaign, is designed to plug into just about anything you own that has a screen — be it a smartphone, laptop, television or gaming console.

Users would play the video content on their mobile or entertainment device but watch it on the Glyph instead of their device’s screen. The Glyph has a battery life of about three hours, Tang said.

“I think Google Glass is really interesting … (but) I think it’s a couple years away,” he said. “If you ask people what they’re doing with their devices today, they’re streaming Netflix, they’re playing video games and they’re listening to music. We created a device that really focused on those aspects.”

The startup also wanted to avoid the “Glasshole” effect. Google promises Glass will be stylish when it’s released to the public, but the look of early test versions has been distracting to some and downright jarring to others.

Glyph, on the other hand, looks like a pair of headphones sitting on the user’s head when not in use. In fact, it doubles as a pair of high-end headphones with noise canceling that compares with some of the leading brands on the market, according to Avegant. To add visuals, the user flips down the band over their head, making it an eyepiece.

The company has opened the headset to outside developers, who they hope will find unexpected uses for its features, which include head-tracking technology.

“By giving developers this brand new tool box, they start to think of amazing applications that we couldn’t in our wildest dreams come up with,” Tang said.

But, wait. Mom always said not to sit too close to the TV set. And we all know that bleary-eyed feeling we get from staring at a smartphone or tablet for too long. Won’t this be worse?

Quite the opposite, Tang said.

He said eye fatigue comes from staring at the artificial, pixelated light from our screens. Remove the screen, remove the problem.

“We agree with the moms of the world,” he said. “What we’re doing is mimicking the actual light around you … . It’s the kind of light that your eyes have been conditioned to see, have evolved to see.”

It’s all so magically futuristic sounding. Which raises an obvious question: Is Glyph all hype?

Folks who have taken an early look don’t think so. At January’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Glyph was one of 40 products chosen for the Editor’s Choice Award. More than 3,200 exhibitors attended the show.

“What I could tell was that the projected image, just like my last time with Avegant’s virtual retinal display tech, was exceedingly bright and vivid, lacking any sense of pixelation,” CNET’s Scott Stein wrote from CES. “A deep-sea 3-D movie looked like it was projected in a tiny little movie theater in front of my eyes.”

David Pierce wrote for The Verge: ” ‘Life of Pi’ displayed perfectly in 3-D without any tweaking, and I played ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’ right off a PlayStation 3. All you need to do is to tune the glasses — you focus each eye individually, then set the two eyeholes the right distance apart so they create a single picture. From then on, content just works.”

The Kickstarter campaign runs through February 21. Avegant plans to ship units to donors by the end of the year and says the model that will ship will be smaller and lighter than the test models on display.

Avegant is based in the heart of Michigan’s manufacturing region and hopes to manufacture the Glyph as much as possible in the United States, Tang said.

Samsung Galaxy S2 It’s Accessories

Samsung Galaxy S2 & It’s Accessories
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Making Her Into Reality

headset. earphonesMaking “Her” Into Reality
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Spike Jonze’s latest movie, “Her,” creates a future where technology is less visible, yet more ubiquitous than today. The main character uses an earpiece and handheld device to communicate with an operating system that follows a user across any platform, rarely utilizing the traditional desktop screens except when at work. And the main way of interacting with the operating system is through natural, conversational speech.

Even though it is science fiction, “Her” seems to be the end state for many current acquisitions and research from real-life tech companies. These companies are pursuing enhanced artificial intelligence and speech recognition. And the companies who don’t jump on this future will be left in the digital dust.

Established artificial intelligence
The most well-known characters in AI today are IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri.

Watson takes human’s natural language and filters through data to find the most probable answers. It can take “unstructured data,” that is, data computers typically cannot read because it isn’t structured in tables, rows, or columns, and turn it into knowledge accessible not through complex queries but simple, vocal questions. It’s now being used to help doctors find better cancer treatments and financial planners find better investments. IBM hopes Watson will bring in $1 billion in revenue by 2018.

Siri first debuted in Apple’s iPhone 4S, allowing for simple functions like searching the web and initiating a call or writing a text message. The latest iOS version added more functionality for Siri, like sourcing information from Wikipedia and Twitter.

Apple’s latest acquisitions point to further enhancements for Siri. In 2013, the company picked up intelligent calendar application Cue, which helps layout a user’s day similar to Google Now. It also bought Topsy, which allowed customers to analyze and search social posts. And, a recently published patent points to expanding Siri from phones to docks.

Up and coming AI
Now, Google spent a rumored $400 million on an artificial intelligence company called DeepMind. DeepMind’s website describes its software as useful in “simulations, e-commerce, and games,” and the company has an impressive talent list with a former child chess prodigy and a Skype co-creator. This piles on to Google’s other recent acquisitions of robot maker Boston Dynamics and smart home hardware maker Nest. If Google can succeed in integrating these seemingly disparate companies, it seems like having a conversation with your thermostat isn’t too far off.

Losers of an AI future
While these companies are priming themselves to own any science fiction-like future, there are companies doomed to languish if they don’t change their path.

This includes the lowly hardware maker. The future presented in “Her” doesn’t contain several devices in multiple form factors as we have now, but one handheld device and one wearable earpiece that connects to a cloud-based operating system. IBM, a case study in staying relevant, keeps shedding its hardware operations with its latest $2.3 billion sale of its server business to Lenovo. As the main players build their artificially intelligent ecosystems, the hardware becomes less important as it’s commoditized, and the main differentiation becomes software. Companies might also want more control over their hardware and the user experience, and produce their own. For example, Apple recently purchased a cutting-edge chip maker, Primesense. Microsoft stepped into producing its own hardware with its Surface tablets.

Just a movie?
On the other hand, “Her,” like most future predictions, could be far off base. While it seems artificial intelligence will play a large role in future computing, we may combine such technology with even more screens. The point where computers become more intelligent than humans, called the singularity, may not come as quickly as predicted, and these future bets may be too far off to have any impact on company values today.

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MOTOTRBO Delivers Integrates GPS, Text Messaging and Voice to Cut Response Times for Tbilisi.

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Leveraging Digital Technology for Fast, Efficient Emergency Services

Named the “033 service” after the country’s emergency response telephone number, Tbilisi Medical Emergency Response Service Centre operates in and around the Georgian capital. The service provides 24/7 emergency medical care for Tbilisi’s 1.3 million citizens from its 120 ambulances and intensive care vehicles.

Tbilisi Requires Advanced Digital Technology while Optimising its Investment in Analogue Radios

Tbilisi Medical was upgrading its fleet to provide new ambulances and equipment for its skilled emergency teams. As part of the modernisation programme, Tbilisi Medical wanted to replace its existing Motorola analogue two-way radios with a digital system. Investing in a leading edge, future-proofed solution would help it save more lives by delivering uncompromising clarity for life-or-death critical communications to improve emergency response times.

In addition to ensuring complete coverage across the city and its outskirts, Tbilisi Medical wanted to combine voice, text and position location services in a single device. Text messaging would allow paramedics and first-aid teams to record and share written details of a patient’s condition, prognosis and recommended treatment. GPS capability would give ambulance controllers a
real-time status of each vehicle’s current location and activity to minimise delays in despatching medical crews to the scene of an accident.

Also important was compatibility with the analogue radios used by doctors at the 10 hospitals in and around Tbilisi to where casualties are transported. The service needed a solution that was both affordable and could meet all its communications needs cost effectively. Tbilisi Medical’s long-term supplier and Motorola Licensed Partner recommended MOTOTRBO for its breadth of coverage, unrivalled audio clarity, cost-effective use of spectrum and depth of functionality.

Next-Generation Communications at an Affordable Price

The Motorola Authorised Partner set up MOTOTRBO base stations and DR3000 repeaters at Tbilisi Medical’s two control centres, installed a Motorola DM3601 enhanced display mobile radio in each of the 200 ambulances and built the GPS interfaces. Tbilisi Medical also purchased 60 DP3600 portable display and keypad radios for use by medical response teams working at the scene of an accident or in a patient’s home. The display panel allows users to create and receive text messages, identify callers, scan channels and monitor traffic. The DP3600’s navigation buttons allow rapid access to the radio’s intuitive, menu-driven features and one-touch programmable options. A large, textured push-to-talk button ensures ease of use, even when wearing gloves.

MOTOTRBO’s support for digital TDMA technology splits a single channel into two virtual channels
to provide twice the capacity of analogue. This gives Tbilisi Medical six channels for the cost of three and halves the number of base stations and repeaters needed. Two of the three channels are used to cover the east and west sides of the city, with each one providing voice and data over one virtual channel and GPS services over the other. The third channel is a dedicated emergency response covering the entire city. This has also been split to manage voice/data and GPS.

The Motorola Authorised Partner managed user training for the new MOTOTRBO system. Ambulance crews were quick to learn how to
operate the DP3600s and became competent users after just 12 minutes training. The eight control room dispatchers quickly adapted to the new system and continue to work closely with MZE to refine channel tuning and define and implement new functionality as they need it.

MOTOTRBO’s backward-and forward-compatible platform means that radios can be switched to analogue mode when ambulance crews need to liaise with hospital staff. Compatibility with analogue allows the migration to digital to be phased in over several years as part of the ongoing upgrade of its two-way radios.

MOTOTRBO’s built-in location tracking functionality has been activated in the Motorola DM3601 mobile radios to give controllers a real-time display of fleet activity. Dispatchers can programme the system to receive the geographical coordinates of each vehicle at pre-programmed intervals, on demand or upon pressing the emergency button. Integrated position location is of critical importance to Tbilisi Medical Emergency Response Service Centre and optimises fleet management, scheduling, route planning

and despatching. Working from accurate real-time information is critical for controllers at the point of decision and helps save time, money and lives.

The robustness of the DP3600 hand portables, that are also dustproof and water resistant, enables them to withstand sustained rough use in all weather conditions. The long-life battery also helps improve efficiency by allowing emergency crews to use the radios for around 16 hours before recharging is needed.

MOTOTRBO Helps Save Time, Money and Lives

MOTOTRBO has streamlined both routine and emergency call-outs for Tbilisi Medical. The improved speech clarity of digital over analogue means clearer communications, with messages getting through first time, even against the background of traffic in a noisy street. The wider range has eliminated communication black spots at the city limits while integrated GPS has optimised response times. Digital also enables users to make one-to-one as well as group calls, which means that medical crews only receive calls that are relevant to them. MOTOTRBO’s emergency and man-down features ensure that all users are alerted instantly to a colleague in distress or requiring immediate assistance. MOTOTRBO is also highly affordable and meets all Tbilisi Medical’s communications needs at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions.

Tbilisi Medical is the first emergency response service in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to purchase MOTOTRBO, but anticipates that others will follow its lead. MOTOTRBO’s advanced digital platform breaks through to new levels of performance and allows organisations to meet their future needs flexibly and cost-effectively. Tbilisi Medical anticipates achieving a return on its investment in MOTOTRBO within 12 months.

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