Autonomous Cars in More Cities, Pushback Against Smart Cities, and More on Five For Wednesday

Google-Self Driving Cars

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, our weekly round-up of tech-focused news.

 

  1.  Dallas adds itself to the list of cities making autonomous vehicles available between city landmarks. Dallas is an incredibly car-dependent city, and the start-up bringing AVs in is hoping to alleviate congestion by offering self-driving shuttles during peak driving times between popular destinations.
  2. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is launching a self-driving competitor to Uber and Lyft. The project is a highly-guarded secret, and is thought to be sending it first fleet of cars into the Phoenix metro area in early December. We’ll be keeping an eye out on this!
  3. Last month, I told you about Sidewalk Labs’ (another Alphabet company) pilot program in Toronto to rethink the smart city. The ambitious undertaking has recently come under fire from multiple groups, citing surveillance and data privacy concerns. I think the idea of the public civic trust of data sounds great on the outside, but would be interested in the details of that trust, and it looks like others are wanting information as well.
  4. Speaking of surveillance, the “smart neighborhood” is a trend we identified to watch for 2019, and we’re starting to see the pushback when neighbors start using their doorbells to set up a passive (but very digitally present) “neighborhood watch.” The “sharing video with your neighbors” trend started with footage of cute animals in yards going viral, but now has grown to include entirely crime-focused footage sharing apps. Again, the key here is about balancing the surveillance aspect between “too intrusive” and “helpful for the community,” and the balance of those two purposes is not as cut and dry as we’d hope.
  5. Having houseguests for the holidays? Build them an Alexa skill to let them know how to use the finicky universal remote, where to find spare towels, or what creaky step to skip on the staircase.

And this week’s bonus, spend some time with the Emoji Builder online app that I can’t stop using – making Emoji more nuanced means I can fully express myself with icons such as “smiling angry surprised face with hand covering mouth.” smiling angry surprised face with hand covering mouth

Apple’s Latest Hardware Updates; “Downtown” Walmarts; Communications During Disasters; and More on Five For Wednesday

mac mini on desk with display and iphone

  1. Apple announced a bevy of newly updated hardware this week, including updates to their Mac Mini and MacBook Air computers and iPad Pro tablet. Apple is embracing augmented reality, touting their iPad Pro as the best AR device on the market. The coolest announcement, however, was that they’ve redesigned the Apple Pencil to make it far less awkward – instead of having to charge from the iPad’s lightning port, it now charges wirelessly when it snaps magnetically to the iPad itself. The MacBook Air and iPad Pro feature Apple’s push to standardizing USB-C, but the Mac Mini will still come with USB-A, Thunderbolt, and HDMI ports.
  2. Instead of heading to your city’s downtown, what if you headed to Walmart? The retail giant wants their parking lots to be your next shopping destination. Each Walmart Town Center would resemble an open air mall, and feature stand alone shops from Shake Shack, Chipotle, Orangetherapy Fitness, and others. This model would reflect the chain’s recent messaging about being a “one-stop shop” for consumers while still proving there’s plenty of innovation in retail still to come.
  3. IBM recently launched their first Call for Code contest, asking developers to build some disaster relief technology. The winning tech, called Project Owl, uses low-frequency Wi-Fi to allow for communications in a disaster. Project Owl is a network of LoRa (long range data communications) and Wi-Fi routers that work similarly to the pop-up windows you see when connecting to hotspots at places like Starbucks; but instead of asking you to agree to ToS, the popup window allows you to communicate with first responders.
  4. iBeacon technology never really took off; VentureBeat took a look at the reasons why. Don’t rule out the technology yet, but don’t expect more retailers to be using beacons in their establishments anytime soon.
  5. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how autonomous vehicles will shape how we design not only cars, but also roads – and even cities. We’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, and if you’re headed out to NAR Annual, you can check out the Emerging Business & Technology Forum, which takes a look at real estate and the future of mobility. Hear about not only driverless cars, but bike shares, ride-on-demand services, mobile offices, and more from a panel of experts in Boston on Saturday, 11/3, from 1:30-3:00P local time. Heads up – the WSJ article is behind a paywall, but if you subscribe, it’s definitely worth a read!

Rethinking Interactions on this Week’s Five For Wednesday

wireframing

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, our weekly roundup of interesting tech news. Today, the (accidental) theme is rethinking interaction.

  1. Amazon released new abilities for smart doorbells and cameras. Among the new features are motion sensing linked to routines – so, for example, if someone is approaching your house and your smart camera detects it, the lights could turn on. Developers can also use the new API to enable two-way conversation between a smart doorbell and an Echo device.
  2. Columbus, Ohio, adds to its smart city repertoire by adopting driverless shuttles. The shuttles are currently in a trial run, and should be accepting passengers by December. The shuttle route includes Center of Science and Industry, Smart Columbus Experience Center, Bicentennial Park and National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
  3. Toyota wants autonomous cars that know how you feel. The company’s CEO says they want people having more fun in their cars, and suggests autonomous vehicles should appeal to people’s emotions and interests. This can including suggesting stop offs at national parks for nature lovers, and other AI guided experiences while traveling by car.
  4. Sidewalk Labs (a division of Google), is working with the city of Toronto on several projects, and recently released a statement about urban data. Since the public is who contributes the data, they’ve decided that a public trust – not a private company – should own that data, and it should be accessible to all. This is a huge step on making sure private interests don’t benefit from the public’s data without informed consent.
  5. The Palm Phone is a new way to think about smart phone experiences. Instead of going bigger, what if your phone was smaller? I’m not sure I buy into what Palm is selling – firstly, in order to even use a Palm, you need to already have a smart phone (so its not replacing anything), but the conscious decision to try to minimize your screen time/use a phone more intuitively is definitely something I can get behind.

Bonus (I can’t seem to narrow down to 5 these days): If you’re interested in learning more about how design works, and hearing about use cases of human-centered design, check out the new podcast “Wireframe.” It takes a “This American Life” style approach to talking about design, and the first two episodes are out now. The first discusses the Three Mile Island disaster in terms of “bad” user interface design, and the second takes a look at the city of Boston’s efforts to create a 311 app.