Alejandro Freixes
Apr 13, 2012

High-Tech Nova Weekly: Top five trends for 4/9-4/13

This week's high-tech headlines and trends ...

The secret high-tech augment reality arms race

Project Glass design study photo, courtesy of Google+Bionic contact lenses, augmented reality glasses and Google's teaser preview reveal a secret high-tech arms race where Google seems to be in the lead. We may still be years away from the sort of technology that would allow Mission-Impossible-esque contact-mounted displays, but it wouldn't be surprising if Google doesn't have any big plans for functional contact lenses in the near future. Secrecy is common for project teams coming out of Google X Lab, a super-secretive research lab devoted to working on the fringes of technological innovation. What Google did not say -- but implied -- by going public without any sort of concrete release date for a consumer version is even more telling. First, they have reached a point in their research where they have a question they are not able to answer. The introductory Google+ post raises this question: "What would you like to see from Project Glass?" More importantly, Google is making a statement not only about how important this technology is likely to become, but also about their confidence in their lead in development over major competitors like Apple and Intel.

Robocop UAVs patrolling the neighborhood

A drone equipped with cameras and sensors flies over a simulation of a contaminated area during a training exercise simulating a nuclear accident following an earthquake in the region of the nuclear site of CadaracheThe FAA is now seeking public input concerning a law that was discretely signed into the FAA's 2012 funding bill on February 14; the law could see UAVs being used by law enforcement and emergency responders as soon as May of this year. The FAA expects to finalize the rules for licensing commercial and civilian UAVs into national airspace by September of 2015. As far as artificial intelligence sophistication, the UAVs that could potentially patrol civilian skies will likely still be heavily controlled by humans -- so don't expect to see swarms of self-piloted drones executing their own decisions anytime soon. While it is entertaining to speculate on Hollywood movie situations where unmanned aerial vehicles and robots take over mankind, or where government forces subjugate the masses with technology, such speculation is counterproductive to say the least. Advances in UAVs will not grind to a halt and their increased use in civilian airspace is inevitable, so while the FAA is offering opportunities for the public to get plugged in and involved, we should begin consuming as much information as possible. After all, a man in North Dakota was arrested a few months ago using evidence from a predator drone and vows to fight the SWAT team's use of drone evidence when he is scheduled to appear in court April 30.

Chips as mini Internets

MIT, taking a cue from the Internet, is using 'virtual bypassing' techniques to advance chip efficiency and speeds (Image courtesy of Christine Daniloff/MIT)The data-routing techniques that undergird the Internet could increase the efficiency of multicore chips while lowering their power requirements. Computer chips have stopped getting faster; in order to keep increasing chips’ computational power at the rate to which we’ve grown accustomed, chipmakers are instead giving them additional “cores,” or processing units. Today, a typical chip might have six or eight cores, all communicating with each other over a single bundle of wires, called a bus. With a bus, however, only one pair of cores can talk at a time, which would be a serious limitation in chips with hundreds or even thousands of cores, which many electrical engineers envision as the future of computing. Li-Shiuan Peh, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, wants cores to communicate the same way computers hooked to the Internet do: by bundling the information they transmit into “packets.” Each core would have its own router, which could send a packet down any of several paths, depending on the condition of the network as a whole.

Microsoft, AOL and the consumer fallout from mega patent deals

Patent trolling, whether via lawsuits or mega patent purchases, ultimately takes away value from consumersOn Monday, AOL announced that it has sold 800 of its patents to Microsoft for $1.056 billion, a move that the company says is in the interest of "unlocking value" for customers. Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs for Microsoft, says that the company has had interest in the patents for years and that, "AOL ran a competitive auction and by participating, Microsoft was able to achieve our two primary goals: obtaining a durable license to the full AOL portfolio and ownership of certain patents that complement our existing portfolio." While this deal will cause AOL to lose well over half of its patents, it is a smart move from a tax standpoint from a company that made only $13 million in profit on its $2.2 billion in revenues last year.  The company plans to claim a capital loss, and "as a result, cash taxes in connection with the sale should be immaterial," essentially meaning that it has no direct effect on AOL's end users and investors. The deal will, however, have a more significant impact on Microsoft (and its patrons). In 2007, Microsoft bought $240 million (or 1.6 percent) of preferred stock in Facebook. This was clearly a wise move as that investment is now worth over twice its original value, but it also means that AOL can no longer sue Facebook over the patent infringements that it has been claiming. The only downside to this deal is on the consumer end: that billion dollars has to come from somewhere, so costs will likely rise to accommodate the expenses of the deal.

Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion

A photo edited with the various filters on InstagramFacebook made Instagram an offer it couldn't refuse. The total consideration for San Francisco-based Instagram was approximately $1 billion in a combination of cash and shares of Facebook. The transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to close later this quarter. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, posted about the transaction on his Timeline: "I'm excited to share the news that we've agreed to acquire Instagram and that their talented team will be joining Facebook. For years, we've focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we'll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests. We believe these are different experiences that complement each other. But in order to do this well, we need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram's strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook. That's why we're committed to building and growing Instagram independently. Millions of people around the world love the Instagram app and the brand associated with it, and our goal is to help spread this app and brand to even more people." Facebook, in one mega purchase, has removed a competitor in the increasingly photo-laden social media space, bought Instagram before another social media giant could and will likely integrate their photo abilities into Facebook's limited photo editing tools.