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Car Food the Volvo Way

A computer-scientist friend of mine opined long ago that the Internet will truly come of age only when he can download a beer. He was referring to the last-meter problem of online shopping: that of getting stuff through the door of an unoccupied house.

Maybe someday robot trucks will push containerized products through cat-flap-style openings in your garage. But why go to the garage when you can have access to the trunk of the car?

That's the solution proffered this week by Volvo. The company's plan for “roam delivery” would have stores deliver groceries straight to your locked car, using a one-time-only public encryption key. The transaction relies on Volvo on Call, an app that helps owners keep track of their cars when they’re away from them. The app tells the store where your car is parked so a courier can fill the trunk with groceries. Or maybe a hot pizza.

Tests went well in Sweden, an extremely orderly country, by all accounts. There are certain sectors of New York City, however, that I wouldn’t advise this app to invade, at least not until sensor-rich cars are able to instantly photograph whoever tries to open their trunks.  

Mitsubishi Planning Predictive User Interface for Cars

It’s Saturday afternoon and you have to drive your daughter to soccer practice and pick up her friend on the way. You also want to listen to a particular radio program and make some important phone calls. To make your driving experience easier, Mitsubishi Electric is developing predictive technology that will suggest a route based on your previous driving history, come up with an alternative route if you hit a traffic jam, and make it simple as pushing a button to find that radio program, make those phone calls, and even adjust the air conditioning to boot.

Mitsubishi expects to ship its Ultra-simple HMI (human-machine interface) technology for in-car operations to auto manufacturers from spring 2018. It demonstrated a prototype system in a recent Open House event at its headquarters in Tokyo.

In a mock-up driver’s seat, the driver was able to easily operate four main functions: navigation, phone, air conditioner, and audio-visual system. This was done in one or two steps using a set of three buttons on the steering wheel while viewing three predicted operations on a 44-cm heads-up display (HUD) on the windshield above the dashboard—operations such as Go to soccer practice ground, Call boss, Tune to radio station XYZ.Voice commands can also be used to control such operations and is activated by long-pushing one of the buttons. For navigation control, the voice recognition technology uses “data stored on board, as well as up-to-date cloud-stored destinations data covering about 10 million locations,” explains Hiroaki Sugiura, general manager of Mitsubishi’s design center.

The predictive technology relies on such operational history as past destinations and routes taken, and previous use of in-car functions, as well as time and day, location, speed, fuel level, and current traffic and driving conditions. It then estimates the three most likely operations to be used and displays them on the HUD. They can be overridden using a set of four separate buttons that provide direct access to the main functions.

The Slow and Painful Death of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin Exchange

I've always considered the death scene in Cyrano de Bergerac to be a bit too drawn out and overly wrought. But when watching it, you at least know that Cyrano is in fact going to die, that the show will end and catharsis will be yours.

Today, I'm watching what I think may be the last gasping breaths of Mt. Gox, Bitcoin's most fabled online exchange. And yet, neither I nor anyone else seems to know whether it is actually going to die.

Last night, the Mt. Gox rumor mill caught fire and exploded. Kindling for the blaze was supplied at around midnight when a mysterious and unverified document surfaced on Ryan Galt's blog, "The Two-Bit Idiot." The document, which allegedly originated from within Mt. Gox (a claim which Galt has not been able to prove) details the finances of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange and outlines a strategy for its gradual re-entry into the market. It claims that, over a period of several years, theft and incompetence drained the company of more than 744 000 bitcoins. The theft was blamed primarily on a flaw in the Bitcoin software, called transaction malleability, which Mt. Gox highlighted earlier this month but which the core developers of the Bitcoin protocol have understood for many years. If the numbers in the document are correct, the amount of lost coins adds up to a staggering six percent of the total bitcoins in circulation.

And now, everyone who has money tied up in the Mt. Gox exchange has nothing to do but wait and see whether the rumors are true. Mt. Gox itself is remaining defiantly taciturn. The company has deleted the entire history of tweets from its official Twitter account and just this morning, after initially disabling its website, Mt. Gox has put it back up with a short message that, in essence, says absolutely nothing.

Dear MtGox Customers,

In the event of recent news reports and the potential repercussions on MtGox's operations and the market, a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will react accordingly.

Best regards,
MtGox Team

Other Bitcoin companies seem to know more about what is going on behind the curtain at Mt. Gox, but as yet, none have gone on record to definitely accuse Mt. Gox of being insolvent. Today, Coinbase, a bitcoin wallet provider located in San Francisco, published a joint statement signed by the CEOs of five influential Bitcoin companies (including Mt. Gox's main competitors, Kraken, BitStamp, and BTC China).

They write, "as with any new industry, there are certain bad actors that need to be weeded out, and that is what we are seeing today. Mtgox [sic] has confirmed its issues in private discussions with other members of the bitcoin community."

However, the statement neglected to elaborate on what those issues were. Instead, it looked to the future. "We strongly believe in transparent, thoughtful, and comprehensive consumer protection measures. We pledge to lead the way."

The comments were clearly calibrated to shore up confidence in a community of rattled investors. These most recent disruptions arrived just as the value of Bitcoin was floating high at around US $800. Today, it has crashed down around $500.

Since the document in question was published, Bitcoiners have rallied on both sides, either calling it a fake or embracing it as the evidence they've been needing. After a day spent parrying threatening emails and a deluge of backlash in the comment section of his blog, Galt, who also writes about Bitcoin for CoinDesk, is standing by his decision to publish the document. Galt claims to have sold all of his own bitcoins shortly after acquiring the leaked document.

At this point, it doesn't even matter whether it is a fake. At the very least, it is a reflection of what everyone fears. And today, those fears are ruling the market.

Ford's Smooth-Driving Autonomous Research Car

Ford's first autonomous research vehicles, with protruding sensors and instruments, “kind of look[ed] like a science project” says Chris Attard, a Ford research engineer who works on their replacement. The new one, a Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicle—announced in December and displayed here at at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain—looks like someone installed a few gas canisters on the car's roof rack, except that the canisters spin.

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Why a Simple Messaging App's Technology Is Worth $19 Billion to Facebook

Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion may sound like a Silicon Valley tycoon's ransom for a simple mobile messaging service. But the acquisition gives Facebook access to a mobile messaging service that can reach millions of people worldwide who access mobile Internet services through either smartphones or simpler feature phones.

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Moon Rover Teams Gear Up for $6 Million X Prize Purse

Now might be the time to start keeping closer tabs on the Google Lunar X Prize. Today, five of the 18 registered teams in the competition have been named finalists for interim "Milestone Prizes". Over the coming months, they'll work to demonstrate how far they've progressed in three categories: landing systems, rover mobility, and imaging subsystems. All three technologies will be needed to make it to the moon and nab the top prize (set at $US 20 million, minus any money awarded in the interim).

An independent panel of judges selected the finalists, and two teams swept all three categories. One is the Silicon Valley-based team Moon Express. The other is Astrobotic, a company based in Pittsburgh that was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. (We covered some of Astrobotic's early efforts in 2009 in our special report on Mars.)

The performance of these teams might lead you to conclude that there are really only two horses left in the running. But when I caught up today with Andrew Barton, director of technical operations at the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), he told me not to read too much into the rankings. Only a handful of slots were available in each category, he said, and the two teams just so happened to be quite mature in all three.

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5G Service On Your 4G Phone?

A new San Francisco-based start-up, Artemis Networks, announced today that it plans to commercialize its “pCell” technology, a novel wireless transmission scheme that could eliminate network congestion and provide faster, more reliable data connections. And the best part? It could work on your existing 4G LTE phone.

If it proves capable of scaling, pCell could radically change the way wireless networks operate, essentially replacing today’s congested cellular systems with an entirely new architecture that combines signals from multiple distributed antennas to create a tiny pocket of reception around every wireless device. Each pocket could use the full bandwidth of spectrum available to the network, making the capacity of the system “effectively unlimited,” says Steve Perlman, Artemis’s CEO.

First introduced in 2011 under the name DIDO (for distributed input, distributed output), pCell seems almost too fantastic to believe. And no doubt Artemis will have plenty of critics to pacify and kinks to smooth out before operators like Verizon or AT&T pay serious attention. But there are at least a couple reasons why the idea might have some real legs.

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Renewable Power Tops Climate Change Solutions in Expert Survey

How would you advise a $100-billion venture capital fund to spend its money on preventing dangerous levels of global warming over the next 100 years? Climate experts recently chose distributed renewable energy, energy efficiency, and next-generation nuclear power as the ones most likely to make a big impact on climate change.

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Philips Creates Shopping Assistant with LEDs and Smart Phone

If you're like me, fumbling around the supermarket looking for obscure items is a pretty common—and frustrating—occurrence. Lighting giant Philips has developed a solution: smart lights.

The company yesterday introduced a system that connects in-store LED lights with consumers' smart phones. Using a downloadable app, people will be able to locate items on their shopping lists or get coupons as they pass products on the aisles. Retailers can send targeted information such as recipes and coupons to consumers based on their precise location within stores, while gaining benefits of energy-efficient LED lighting, says Philips.

“The beauty of the system is that retailers do not have to invest in additional infrastructure to house, power and support location beacons for indoor positioning. The light fixtures themselves can communicate this information by virtue of their presence everywhere in the store," said Philips Lighting's Gerben van der Lugt in a statement.

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