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Zero Zero's Camera Drone Could Be a Robot Command Center in the Future

Startup Zero Zero Robotics just took the wraps off its eye in the sky, the Hover Camera. The company hasn’t set a price but expects the lightweight drone (it weighs in at 240 grams) to cost under US $600.

The flying camera is a relatively new type of gadget. It all started about a year ago, when startup Lily Camera came out of stealth with its $500 to $1000 camera drone and argued that it wasn’t so much a drone as a simple-to-use flying camera. This March, drone-maker DJI introduced the Phantom 4, with autonomous flying and tracking features that essentially make it that company’s first flying camera at $1400.

Flying cameras are drones designed for use by consumers that don’t want to learn how to fly a drone; they just want to take pictures. The cameras have tracking capabilities so they can keep a subject in sight, and can autonomously hover or circle, as well as take off and land on command without the user having to control the ascent or descent precisely.

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Which Companies Pay Engineers the Most?

Recruitment firm Glassdoor this week ranked the top 25 highest paying companies in the U.S. Tech firms—in particular, those in the San Francisco Bay Area—generally dominated the list (though management consulting firms sat in the number one and two slots).

Of the tech companies, Juniper Networks, which was number three overall, came out on top, with a median compensation—that’s salary plus bonus and other extras—of $157,000.

Google was the next tech firm in the ranking. Its median compensation of $153,750 was high enough to land it at number five. VMware took sixth place, and Amazon Lab126, a Silicon Valley R&D firm that is a subsidiary of Amazon.com, came in seventh.

Guidewire ranked ninth, Cadence Design Systems tenth, and Facebook 12th. After that, it was tech all the way, with spots 13 through 25 held by Twitter, Box, Walmart eCommerce, SAP, Synopsys, Altera, LinkedIn, Cloudera, Salesforce, Microsoft, F5 Networks, Adobe, and Broadcom, anchoring the top 25 at $140,000. (Of these tech companies, only SAP, Microsoft, and Broadcom aren’t based in Northern California.)

Addressing the results of the study, Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, quoted in a blog post from the company, said, “In technology, we continue to see unprecedented salaries as the war for talent is still very active, largely due to the ongoing shortage of highly skilled workers needed.”

To conduct the study, Glassdoor looked at companies whose U.S. based employees submitted more than 50 salary reports detailing their base salary and other forms of compesation over the past year ending 29 March. The full report is here.

IBM Layoff Epidemic Spreads Worldwide

Last month, I reported on a wave of IBM layoffs hitting U.S. facilities. Cuts were happening all across the country, and one source told me he’d been informed that one-third of the U.S. workforce would be affected. IBM quickly denied that number, and other reports put the numbers of those severed in the 20 to 25 percent range—something like 18,000 to 25,000 in the United States.

(We’ll never be able to know the exact percentage, simply because IBM no longer releases a U.S. headcount; worldwide, as of the end of 2015, the company had approximately 378,000 employees.)

At the time, U.S. employees suspected that what the company called “workforce rebalancing,” in order to “aggressively” focus on cognitive and cloud computing, had less to do with focusing on cloud and cognitive and more to do with moving jobs to countries like India, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

Here we are six weeks later. IBM has said little more about the layoffs publicly, yet they don’t appear to be over. The March round appears to have been the beginning, not the end. A Facebook group, Watching IBM, is gathering reports from around the world. These dispatches are by no means comprehensive, but are at least painting a rough picture of what is going on.

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Intel Confirms Major Layoff, 11 percent of Employees To Go

Intel Corp. today announced that it would cut some 12,000 jobs—that’s 11 percent of its total workforce—by mid-2017, with the majority of those affected getting the bad news within the next two months.

In a press release, the company said the “restructuring initiative” would “accelerate its evolution from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and the billions of smart, connected computing devices,” and that the compnay would be increasing its investments in “data center, IoT, memory, and connectivity businesses.”

Said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in an email today to employees, “These are not changes I take lightly. We are saying goodbye to colleagues who have played an important role in Intel’s success. We are deeply committed to helping our employees through this transition and will do so with the utmost dignity and respect,” and promised more details soon.

Intel Said to Be Planning Major Layoff

The Oregonian reports that Intel plans “to reduce employment in some parts of the business by double-digit percentages,” with thousands of jobs cut companywide. The axe is expected to fall just after Intel reports first-quarter financial results Tuesday. The company had some 107,000 employees worldwide at the end of December.

At TheLayoff.com, commenters are speculating that Venkata “Murthy” Renduchintala, who is now executive vice president and president of most of Intel’s product businesses was recruited recently from Qualcomm specifically to oversee these layoffs. Renduchintala was executive vice president at Qualcomm and president of the company’s mobile and computing division when that company planned company-wide layoffs last year.

If you are an Intel employee, please let us know in the comments below if these layoffs hit your group or division.

Facebook’s Aquila Drone Creates a Laser-net In the Sky

Facebook’s goal of networking the world means extending communications to everyone on the planet. Facebook has started to test new approaches to ground-based systems. And it’s continuing to work on its futuristic drone-based communications system, Aquila.

At the company’s F8 developer conference held in San Francisco today, Facebook vice president of engineering Jay Parikh talked a little more about Aquila’s development, and how it would use laser links to bring the internet to rural areas in developing countries.

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Facebook Says Terragraph and Aries Are the Keys to Better Urban and Rural Wireless Internet

Facebook’s overriding goal is to have everybody in the world sharing everything all the time. And that takes technology for fast, seamless, constant connectivity—technology that, it seems, wireless carriers aren’t developing nearly quickly enough.

So today, at Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference, vice president of engineering Jay Parikh announced two projects coming out of what the company calls its Connectivity Lab: Terragraph and Aries. Terragraph will use 60-gigahertz WiGig technology for fast internet in dense urban areas; Aries is intended to give rural cell towers better reach and more capacity using a version of a technology called Massive MIMO. Facebook plans to make both innovations open to the wireless research community.

Here’s a little more detail, as provided by Facebook under embargo before today’s announcement.

Terragraph: Terragraph’s WiGig approach uses WiGig, or IEEE 802.11ad, which operates in the 60 GHz frequency range (Wi-Fi operates in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz range), with data transmission rates using current technology of 7 Gb per second, some 10 times faster than today’s Wi-Fi. However, WiGig sacrifices range and doesn’t pass through walls and other solid objects making it, to date, of limited use for communications outside of a single room. The Terragraph plan is to get around that limitation by using steerable arrays of antennas to avoid buildings and dodge general network interference from crowded frequencies. It will require transmitters placed every 200 to 250 meters throughout a city.

Says Parikh:

“60 GHz has always been frowned upon because it gets easily absorbed by water and oxygen—we take advantage of the fact that it doesn’t have a good range to minimimize interference and keep capacity high.”

The technology, the company said, combined with Wi-Fi access points for longer-range transmissions, is a low-cost way of rolling out street-level gigabit communications. Facebook is testing Terragraph on its Menlo Park campus, where it has been hitting multi-gigabit-per-second, transmission rates and is planning a trial in San Jose later this year. “It’s really exciting that we will be able to see this thing in the wild,” says Parikh, “and from there will expand to more cities around the world.”

Aries: Aries (Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum) is Facebook’s attempt to cheaply and easily extend cellular communications networks from city centers to more rural areas as far as 40 kilometers away. The project uses Massive MIMO, a large antenna array designed to increase network capacity and to allow signals to travel further at lower power. To date, Facebook has built a proof-of-concept test platform with 96 antennas that can handle 24 mobile devices simultaneously using the same spectrum.

“We  have set what we believe is a record of 71 bits per second per hertz, in a couple of weeks we believe we will hit 100 bits per second,” Parikh said. “We think this is at least an order of magnitude better than what is available today.”

Updated 13 April 11 a.m. PDT.

Facebook’s Plan to Connect the World is Not Just Social; it’s Political

“As I travel the world I see people turning inward, away from the global community,” says Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “People are talking about building walls, blocking immigration, and in some places, blocking access to the Internet.”

That, Zuckerberg said, as he opened Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, held this week in San Francisco, is not the Facebook way. His proposed solution: 

“If the world starts turning inwards, our community will have to work harder to bring people together...You have to be optimistic to change the word. People will call you naïve...[but the path forward is] to bring people together, not push them apart.”

“We are one global community,” including, he said, “that young boy in Syria who is doing the best he can with the cards he has been dealt.”

After painting this dark picture of the current world mood, Zuckerberg then rapidly reviewed Facebook’s plans for the next 10 years. Generally, Zuckerberg said, the goal is to “build the technology to give everyone in the world the ability to share anything they want with anyone”—one-to-one, in small groups, in large groups, or publicly. New tools coming out in the near term include Messenger for businesses (so the next time I want to unload on a certain dishwasher manufacturer I will turn to Messenger instead of Twitter and email), and the ability for app developers to incorporate Facebook’s live-streaming video capability (so the drone hovering over your backyard barbecue can stream that view of your burgers burning directly to all your friends).

In the 10-year timeframe, Zuckerberg said the company will be pushing to build: better systems for connectivity in order to give the 4 billion people in the world who aren’t currently online access to the Internet; artificial intelligence, to build systems that are better than people at perception; and virtual and augmented reality.

Facebook has been going to extremes to solve the connectivity problem; the company’s solar-powered airplane, the Aquila, he said, can “beam down Internet” for months before it has to land. “If you told me 10 years ago that Facebook would build a plane, I would have told you that you were crazy,” he said. The company will launch its first satellite, providing Internet coverage for sub-Saharan Africa, in a few months, he said. And tomorrow, the company plans to announce a product that will improve connectivity in urban areas.

To move artificial intelligence forward using more than its own steam, Facebook has opened designs for the servers that it uses to train its neural networks, he reminded the group.

And for virtual reality, of course, the company recently started shipping the Oculus Rift VR system. But that, Zuckerberg said, is only the very beginning. “In the next 10 years, we will have normal looking glasses that do both augmented and virtual reality. If I want to show my friends a photo today, I pull out my phone. In the future, you’ll be able to snap your fingers and be able to show it to people through AR glasses.”

Eventually, he said, TVs won’t exist; television will just be another $1 app (viewed through AR glasses).

Zuckerberg concluded his opening address by going Oprah on the crowd, telling them that everyone in the audience would receive a Gear VR headset and a Samsung phone to power it. But he reminded them, once the cheering stopped, that part of the reason to work to connect everyone is to solve the world’s problems. Perhaps the world’s problems will look less intimidating through the lens of a VR headset.

Andy Grove, Former Intel CEO, Dies at 79

Andrew “Andy” Grove, who was the first person hired by Intel founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, and went on to become Intel’s CEO and a legendary Silicon Valley leader, died today at age 79. Grove had long struggled with Parkinson’s Disease.

Intel put out a statement this afternoon with the sad news. “Andy approached corporate strategy and leadership in ways that continue to influence prominent thinkers and companies around the world,” said Intel Chairman Andy Bryant in the statement. “He combined the analytic approach of a scientist with an ability to engage others in honest and deep conversation, which sustained Intel’s success over a period that saw the rise of the personal computer, the Internet and Silicon Valley.”

I’d met Grove several times over the years working on a variety of feature stories. He was unfailingly blunt and gracious—both a patient and challenging interviewee. 

One of those early interviews was for a series describing the first jobs of prominent engineers. Grove told me that he’d interviewed with 22 companies across the U.S. to find an engineering job, and the search taught him that “You meet a lot of self-important assholes out there.” Discovering Gordon Moore at Fairchild was, for Grove, “a breath of fresh air.” He turned down an offer from Bell Labs to go with “this strange little upstart” and followed Moore when he left Fairchild to start Intel. The rest of Grove’s story—of leading Intel, of moving the company from memory chips to microprocessors, and of becoming a best-selling author of management books—is a well-known bit of history.

What it wasn’t, was part of a plan. “Life,” Grove once told me, “is a random walk. You just walk along, and certain opportunities come your way.”

Today, sadly, marks the end of that walk for one of Silicon Valley’s greats.

Robo-Recycling: Apple’s Liam Robot Is Ready to Take Your iPhone Apart

Before turning to the expected round of product announcements at today’s Apple event, held at the company’s campus in Cupertino, Calif., Apple introduced a technical development that won’t be a product anytime soon: Liam, the recycling robot.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, said that though Apple’s track record of reusing iPhones that are exchanged for upgrades is good, the company recognized that eventually, these things can’t be reused. Therefore, she indicated, Apple decided to up its recycling game. The company’s engineers in Silicon Valley developed a recycling robot, named Liam, that recognizes all the key parts on an iPhone, takes the handset apart, and pulls out the most valuable materials, including cobalt, lithium, gold, copper, silver, platinum, and tungsten.

With a team of Liams in place, ready to mine phones for precious metals, Jackson announced a free recycling program for iPhones. Customers can drop the phones at Apple stores, or print a prepaid mailing label at home. She urged customers to recycle devices in a way that is “safe for data and safe for the planet,” and will keep a little Liam and his friends busy.

Later in the event, Siri was asked “How do you feel about recycling?” She wisecracked, “I love the Apple renew program, but Liam really tears me apart.”

Check out Liam in this video from Apple:

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View From the Valley

IEEE Spectrum’s blog featuring the people, places, and passions of the world of technologists in Silicon Valley and its environs.
Contact us:  t.perry@ieee.org

Senior Editor
Tekla Perry
Palo Alto
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