US Agency May Approve Drone Use for Filmmakers

The US Federal Aviation Administration is expected to grant permits to seven movie and television production companies allowing them to fly drones. This should, say proponents of the technology, be a key step toward commercial use of unmanned aircraft. Terms of the permits, which should be released 25 September 2014, may limit drones to use on closed sets and stipulate that a three-person team be employed for operating them. To date, the FAA has only issued a limited commercial drone operation permit to Conoco Phillips. Companies in various industries are increasingly interested in using commercial drones for inspection of facilities, including bridges, as well as pipeline monitoring and agricultural use. There are seven companies -- Aerial MOB, Astraeus Aerial, Flying-Cam, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, Vortex Aerial, and Snaproll Media -- that have been working with the Motion Picture Association of America to gain the agency’s approval. Using video-camera equipped drones will enable directors to get footage they could never obtain using conventional equipment. There is concern the FAA may place restrictions such that the benefits possible could be eliminated by costs and other compliance issues. (The Associated Press)(The Washington Post)

Laser System Could Propel Self-Driving Cars

Technologies making self-driving vehicles possible have been fairly expensive and cumbersome, but a California company has created a small laser system that may eliminate those hurdles. Velodyne Acoustics – best known for the $85,000 Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system used on Google’s self-driving cars – released a small LiDAR sensor called the Puck. The $7,999 system has 16 lasers and is 4 inches tall and 1.3 pounds, which may help make autonomous autos more feasible for commercial release. The smaller number of lasers does limit the vehicle’s field of vision and resolution, but the technology has other features that make it attractive, including its low energy use as well as its cost. It may be some automakers would opt to place more than one Puck in a car to compensate for the limited field of vision based on the lower price point. Because it is smaller, the Puck can also be unobtrusively placed on a vehicle. The company is aiming to eventually have one of these units cost $1,000. The 3D LiDAR sensor can also be used in applications such as robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles. (WIRED)(Robotics Tomorrow)(Velodyne Acoustics)

All Eyes on Unlikely Kickstarter Phenom as Potato Salad Bash Becomes Reality

It started 3 July 2014 innocently enough as a joke by a guy asking for help making his first potato salad, but Zack “Danger” Brown and his $10 quest exploded in such proportion as to make him the stuff of Internet legend. Media attention fueled the month-long campaign further. There was no plan when the campaign launched, Brown told the Associated Press, “We said, ‘Here’s the joke; if you enjoy the joke, give us some money.’ And we made a ton of money.” By the end of his crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, he earned $55,492 and had 4.1 million views, ranking it, to date, the fourth-most viewed Kickstarter project. Instead of keeping the money, he decided to use it for good once the backer benefits were delivered. Each backer who donated at least $3 was promised a half-ounce each of potato salad. Brown and some assistants are making 300 pounds of potato salad in preparation. The spuds are courtesy The Idaho Potato Commission and other corporate sponsors have contributed other ingredients to make it possible. PotatoStock 2014 takes place in downtown Columbus, Ohio, 26 September 2014. Long after the last bit of potato salad is taken, an endowment Brown established with The Columbus Foundation will assist area charities focused on combating hunger and homelessness. The endowment was started with $20,000 in post-campaign corporate donations. PotatoStock proceeds will also be added to the fund. (The Associated Press)(The Columbus Dispatch)

Bash Vulnerability Affects Millions of Users

A software vulnerability found in Bash could potentially affect as many as 500 million computers according to security researchers. The software component is found in many Linux systems and the Apple Mac OS X operating system. The Shellshock bug can be used to remotely take control of almost any system using Bash, also known as the Bourne-Again Shell. The command prompt is found on Unix computers as well as those operating systems based on Unix, including web servers using Apache. Researchers say this bug is more serious than Heartbleed. Some security firms say they have seen it being used to infect servers with malware and in other cyberattacks. “It’s super simple and every version of Bash is vulnerable,” Josh Bressers, manager of Red Hat product security, told Kaspersky Labs’ ThreatPost. “It’s extremely serious, but you need very specific conditions in place where a remote user would be able to set that environment variable. Thankfully, it’s not common.”  The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued a warning about Shellshock, asking users to immediately update their operating system. (BBC)(The Associated Press)(Reuters)(ThreatPost)

Samsung Stops Laptop Sales in Europe

Samsung announced it will no longer sell laptop computers in Europe, including its best-selling Chromebook. The South Korean company says the decision is based on “market needs and demands” and “not necessarily reflective of conditions in other markets.” IDC forecast that laptop sales should grow by 5.6 percent in 2014; however, Samsung is not on the market research firm’s top five list of PC sellers. Other mobile devices have eroded laptop sales worldwide, including smartphones, tablets, and the so-called phablet. (BBC)(PC World)

Toshiba Announces $1 B Investment in SE Asia

On the heels of announcing layoffs, Toshiba says it intends to invest $1 billion in Southeast Asia over five years. It is seeking to double its current sales in Southeast Asia in that same timeframe, which would be $7 billion in sales. The company recently announced it was eliminating 900 jobs in its consumer personal computer business. Among the planned business activities in the region are launching an infrastructure business in Indonesia and constructing a medical equipment manufacturing plant in Malaysia as well as other efforts related to supporting its healthcare technologies. (Reuters)(ZDNet)

Taiwan Investigating Potential Chinese Cyberthreat

The Taiwanese government is investigating whether a Chinese technology firm constitutes a threat to its cybersecurity and is mulling a ban of its products’ use by government employees. It is examining smartphones made by Xiaomi, which is China’s largest domestic smartphone maker. The issue is related to Xiaomi phones that automatically send user data back to the company’s servers, according to Gin-Shian Lou, a director at Taiwan's National Communications Commission. The agency is testing the phones, but has not yet released results. The company has also recently faced problems with alleged security leaks. The Taiwanese government has banned the use of non-Taiwanese IM applications, including Facebook, Line, WeChat, and WhatsApp. The government wants employees to use Juiker, developed by Industrial Technology Research Institute. The Singapore government announced in August it is investigating Xiaomi based on data theft allegations. A decision is expected within three months. Xiaomi declined to comment. (Reuters)(The Wall Street Journal)

PayPal Enabling Limited Bitcoin Payments

PayPal announced it is enabling specific retailers to accept Bitcoin through its payment service. It is working with three payments processors: BitPay, Coinbase, and GoCoin. The payments are being accepted on the PayPal Payments Hub. The companies have been working on this project for several months. Through the use of the service, merchants can use one or all three processors. Digital currency advocates say this could be an important stage in the mainstream adoption of Bitcoin. After the announcement, the value of Bitcoin on a US-based exchange rose from $395.29 to $450.00. PayPal notes it is moving carefully ahead with virtual currency transactions. “We’re proceeding gradually, supporting Bitcoin in some ways today and holding off on other ways until we see how things develop,” wrote Scott Ellison, senior director of corporate strategy, on the PayPal blog. No other virtual currencies will be accepted. The service is now only available to digital retailers based in North America. Some observers are hoping this collaboration signals the beginning of more of these types of partnerships. (BBC)(CoinDesk – 1)(CoinDesk – 2)

Online Educational Firm Gets $35 M in Funding

Udacity, the education website specializing in computer skills, has secured $35 million in new funding, which it is using to develop technical training designed for large companies. The company, based in California, has raised a total of $55 million. This latest round of funding includes investments from international investors such as Bertelsmann and the Japanese human resources company Recruit. The company wants to focus on the skills credentialing program it calls nanodegrees, which it is currently working on with AT&T. The program teaches specific skills that could qualify a student for a job in the field. Udacity was created by Sebastian Thrun in 2011. “The way we’re doing this, our education is really built by industry,” Thrun stated. “They give us their best staff, they give us money to build the content, and they really take a firsthand design of the curriculum. [For instance] Google built with us Android classes that define what an Android programmer should know, according to Google.” Udacity is meant to augment four-year degree programs and requires students to have some basic computer programming knowledge. Students work at their own pace and pay $400/month. A student will reach certification in six months to a year. The school has roughly three million students from 119 nations enrolled. (re/Code)(Silicon Valley Business Journal)(Tech Crunch)

Google Building Data Center in Netherlands

Google announced plans to build a $773.58 million data center in the Netherlands. The 44 hectares facility was selected based on the stability of energy supplies. It now uses a 20-MW data center in the city of Eemshaven, which is where this new facility will be built. The four-year long project should be operational in 2017 and will create 150 permanent jobs. The 120-MW facility will reportedly use cold air and greywater for cooling. The company currently has data centers in Finland, Belgium, and Ireland. (Reuters)(GigaOm)

 

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