Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

Self-driving vehicles have yet to hit the road in a major way, but Amazon already is exploring the technology’s potential to change how your packages are delivered.

Amazon is the nation’s largest online retailer, and its decisions not only turn heads but influence the entire retail and shipping industries, analysts say. That means any foray into the self-driving arena – whether as a developer or customer – could have a significant effect on the technology’s adoption.

Amazon has assigned a dozen employees to determine how it can use the technology as part of its business, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. It’s unclear what shape Amazon’s efforts will take or how far along they might be, although the company has no plans to create its own vehicles, according to the report.

Nevertheless, the Amazon group offers an early indication that big companies are preparing for the technology’s impact.

Transportation experts anticipate that self-driving cars will fundamentally alter the way people get around and the way companies ship goods, changes that stand to disrupt entire industries and leave millions of professional drivers without jobs. The forthcoming shift has attracted the money and attention of the biggest names in the technology and automotive industries, including Apple, Uber, Google, Ford, General Motors and Tesla, among others.

In particular, the technology could make long-haul shipping cheaper and faster because, unlike human drivers, machines do not command a salary or require down time. That would be important to Amazon, whose shipping costs continue to climb as the company sells more products and ships them faster, according to its annual report. Amazon even invested in its own fleet of trucks in December 2015 to give the company greater control over distribution.

Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

If Amazon adopts self-driving technology, it may push others to do the same.

 

“When Amazon sneezes, everyone wakes up,” said Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group, a transportation and logistics advisory firm.

The company said it shipped more than 1 billion items during the 2016 holiday season.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined a request for an interview, citing a “long-standing practice of not commenting on rumors and speculation.” The company’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

Amazon has become something of a pioneer in home delivery, in part by setting the standard for how quickly purchases arrive on your doorstep. The company has begun using aerial drones in an effort to deliver goods more quickly, completing its first successful flight to a customer in the United Kingdom in December. Like self-driving vehicles, drones will need to overcome regulatory hurdles before they’re widely deployed.

In its warehouses, Amazon has used thousands of robots that pull items from shelves and pack them. Last summer, Deutsche Bank analysts found the robots reduced the time to fulfill an order from more than an hour to 15 minutes, according to business news site Quartz. They also saved Amazon about $22 million per warehouse. Amazon acquired Kiva, the company that makes the robots, in 2012 for $775 million.

Firefox 54 Claims to Be Faster, Use Less RAM Than Earlier Version

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Firefox 54 is already available for download
  • The new version uses up to four content processes
  • New version allows browser to handle complex web pages better

Mozilla’s Firefox browser has had problems with memory management in the past and with the latest version – Firefox 54 – the company claims that it has finally achieved a breakthrough. Firefox 54, which was released on Tuesday, has been claimed by the company to bring efficient RAM management and speed improvements to the browser.

In order to achieve these improvements, Firefox 54 uses up to four content processes as part of Mozilla’s ‘E10s’ project, instead of one used by earlier versions. In simple terms, this means that a complex page, with extensive multimedia content, now ends up having less impact on responsiveness and speed of other tabs, said Nick Nguyen, Vice President, Product, Firefox, in a blog post.

“By separating the tabs into separate processes, we make better use of the hardware on your computer, so Firefox can deliver you more of the Web you love, with less waiting,” Nguyen wrote.

Nguyen adds that in company’s tests, Firefox 54 was found using significantly less RAM as compared to other browsers on Windows 10, macOS, and Linux.

Firefox 54 Claims to Be Faster, Use Less RAM Than Earlier Version

The Firefox 54 release has been described as a phase in Mozilla’s E10s initiative and going ahead, the company might very well increase the cap on the maximum number of processes used by the browser. The Verge points out that users can already customise the upper limit by entering “about:config” in the address bar and adjusting the settings themselves. Interested users can download the latest version of the browser from Mozilla’s official website or simply update their existing Firefox release to the latest version and check they are on Firefox v54.

Mozilla seems to be working to improve one aspect of its browser at a time. After introducing Quantum Compositor with Firefox 53 to reduce crashes, the company focused on RAM management and speed improvements with the next release.

As Google’s Chrome browser is used by a much larger chunk of users than Firefox, taking care of these issues one at a time might convince more people to give Firefox a try once again.

How to Use the Sharing Economy to Benefit Your Business

Running a small business has a lot of perks to it.

A huge budget usually isn’t one of them, so small businesses have to continually look for ways to stretch a dollar and make the most out of the operating budgets they do have. Finding ways to save on expenses while increasing profits is necessary to stay afloat.

One way for small businesses to save on costs associated with running a business is to utilize today’s economy of sharing.

With the nation’s workplaces being filled with Millennials, companies are changing the way they do business. Instead of larger corporations keeping their cubicles filled with life-long, dedicated employees, companies are now hiring employees who are more caring, sharing, and have a lower level of commitment than their older peers in the business world.

For smaller businesses with fewer employees, this millennial mindset and the sharing economy, sometimes called “collaborative consumption,” can save money on operating expenses and raise profits if done correctly.

Let’s look at a few ways that small businesses can utilize the sharing economy and make it benefit the bottom line:

Raising Capital

Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island for the last 5 years, you’ve likely heard of crowdsourcing, and the sites that aspiring entrepreneurs, those raising funds for medical expenses, and others use in their fundraising efforts.

Instead of going door-to-door selling wrapping paper or candy, or hitting up relatives for capital, small businesses can turn to crowdsourcing as a means for raising capital. Although video games and movies are the most funded projects in crowdsourcing, anybody can put an idea out there and offer special perks to those willing to invest in it.

Crowdsourcing can save time for businesses when raising capital, and also be an easier way to come up with funding than applying and qualifying for a traditional bank loan.

Business Trips

With business hubs in the United States being mainly on the east and west coasts of the country, there will most likely be a need for business travel now and then for small businesses.

Costs in transportation and lodging can really add up, and since ride sharing for airplanes hasn’t really caught on yet, businesses can save the most by using shared car rides and accommodations. Whether it be a ride to the airport, or to a meeting from the hotel, small businesses can save on transportation costs by using services like Uber and Lyft.

Small businesses can also save on local transportation by using these services instead of purchasing and maintaining a fleet of vehicles. Small businesses can save up to 50 percent of lodging costs by using services like Airbnb.

Outsourcing Small Tasks

Small businesses can outsource a lot of small tasks to outside providers. Handyman services, painting, cleaning, and maintenance can be outsourced to the lowest bidder on sites like AskforTask. You can also find the services of a logo designer, app developer, and writer from freelancers on sites like Fiverr.

Monetize Space

Do you have extra offices in your building that aren’t being used? Space for a cell tower? Unused parking spaces? You can turn all of these assets into money for your bottom line by utilizing the sharing economy to rent them out. In some cities, parking spaces are worth $50,000 a year.

Hiring Temps

Using a service like Wonolo, you can hire temporary employees to work just 3 hours, 3 days, or 3 weeks. You can even use these services to hire temporary to permanent employees. You can use a service like this just to find temps to perform menial tasks like sending out mailers, but more and more businesses are using them to fill longer term positions like web design.

When done properly, and small business can use collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy, to save money in the short term and the long run. Small businesses can also form relationships with individuals and other businesses that can be mutually beneficial to both.

Apple to Reportedly Use Micro-LED in 2017's Apple Watch 3 and Later iPhone Models

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Apple has been working with LuxVue to develop new micro-LED screens
  • Apple was granted patents related to LuxVue and micro-LED
  • The company is also looking to invest in Toshiba’s chip business

Apple’s plans to replace OLED with micro-LED in 2017 Apple Watch 3 and iPhones has raised concerns in Samsung as Apple’s expected use of Samsung OLED screens for a new iPhone model this year may only be temporary.

“Apple has been working with LuxVue (which it acquired in 2014) to develop new micro-LED screen production in the two years since the technology began gaining public attention in the 2015,” Apple Indiser reported on Wednesday, citing a Business Korea report.

Apple was granted patents related to LuxVue and micro-LED, that also explains the inclusion of sensing Infrared diodes with the ability to read fingerprints on the surface of the display.

In addition to the loss of a billion dollars worth of OLED screens, Samsung and LG are also increasingly concerned that Apple will start sourcing its RAM and cameras elsewhere, too, the report noted.

Aiming to secure a stable supply of memory chips for its iPhones, Apple may invest billions of dollars to obtain a substantial stake in struggling Japanese conglomerate Toshiba’s chip business, ending nearly two decades of being among Samsung’s largest RAM customers.

Apple to Reportedly Use Micro-LED in 2017's Apple Watch 3 and Later iPhone Models

Apple executives are also considering joining hands with chip manufacturer Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision, for taking a big stake in Toshiba’s semiconductor business.

Early this year, Foxconn announced that it is teaming up with Apple to set up a display-panel manufacturing facility in the US at an investment of $7 billion.

The facility could create between 30,000 and 50,000 new jobs and could include the production of TV screens in addition to smartphone displays.

Foxconn has most of its factories in China where it assembles Apple’s iPhones.

Windows 10 S review: faster, simpler … and incredibly painful to use

Windows 10 S is the latest version of Microsoft’s new and improved operating system, which is about to launch with the new Surface Laptop and a series of machines from third-party manufactures.

It joins Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro as the three versions of Windows aimed at consumers. However, confusingly it is not an upgrade to either, but a class of Windows in and of itself.

No tradition Windows apps means the desktop isn’t littered with program icons unless you actively choose to put files and shortcuts there. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Strictly speaking Windows 10 S is Windows 10 Pro but with some limitations that are designed to, in Microsoft’s words, “be streamlined for simplicity, security and speed”. In other words Windows 10 S is meant to be more secure, faster and have longer battery life, like-for-like on the same computer.

The biggest limitation is that it is restricted to using only apps downloaded from the Windows Store, of which there are about 700,000 available. The quantity is not the issue, but the quality is: the Windows Store is full of dross, from outdated and abandoned apps, to clones and useless junk – but the situation is improving almost monthly.

How do I get it?

You can’t buy Windows 10 S without a machine: it will only come on new computers – primarily those aimed at the lower-end or the education market, aside from the Surface Laptop.

If I don’t like it can I change it?

Users can upgrade from 10 S to Windows 10 Pro with a few button presses, as Windows 10 S is built on Windows 10 Pro. For many the upgrade will be free for a limited amount of time. Surface Laptop users can upgrade to 10 Pro for free until the end of 2017 – or face a fee of around £50 after.

What’s it like to use?

The Windows Store is full of the dregs of the app world. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Windows 10 S is the fastest version of Windows I have ever used – from switching and loading apps to booting up, it’s noticeably quicker than either Windows 10 Home or 10 Pro running on similar hardware.

If you only use the built-in Windows apps, such as Mail and Calendar, People, Skype, Edge and Office, Windows 10 S won’t seem any different – expect the speed. It behaves just like any other version of Windows 10. It has the normal Start menu and of course the same mix of new-looking Windows 10 interface hiding the ancient Windows XP-era Control Panel, if you dig deep enough.

It’s not restricted in any noticeable day-to-day way (you can even mess with drivers, disks and group policy, just not the registry), apart from where you can install apps.

I found Windows Store restriction to be more bothersome than I expected. About half the apps I use on Windows come from the Store, which is great and makes setting up machines easier and faster. But the other half I find it very difficult to live without. For instance, I haven’t found a good simple text editor in the Windows Store – although there are many – and as I do not use Adobe I struggle to find an image-editing program that will do what I need.

Photoshop Elements 14 is available via the Windows Store, so if you were to stick with Windows 10 S that would be your best bet – but it’s no full Photoshop. Photoshop isn’t available on the Windows Store, and neither are excellent image editors such as Affinity Photo and the free Gimp.

I’m also a Spotify user, and as the desktop app isn’t available in the Windows Store, I was confined to the Flash-based Spotify Web player in Edge, which was a terrible experience (I quit after it failed to play more than two songs sequentially before falling over). I also missed the WhatsApp Windows 10 app, the Signal Chrome extension and Steam and all the games I have.

While I can get by with alternatives most of the time, one of the biggest issues I had with Windows 10 S was the limited browser selection – you’ve got Edge and that’s pretty much it unless you want to deal with Internet Explorer 11. You can’t install Chrome, Firefox, Opera or any other browser; they’re not available in the Windows Store and are highly unlikely to be – though given that Apple’s iTunes is coming to the Windows Store, never say never.

Edge

Windows 10 S review
FacebookTwitterPinterest
Microsoft’s Edge browser is the worst thing about Windows 10 S. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Microsoft’s Edge is an interesting problem. Some will like it – a more stripped-down experience of the web that you can draw all over. It has some nice features, but I found that it just wasn’t up to scratch as the only browser you have access to.

It’s faster than Chrome, Safari and all the rest – according to Microsoft – but I didn’t find it to be. It choked on some of the more mundane sites, requiring a couple of reloads to get it to render them correctly, and it wasn’t anything to do with plugins or Flash.

It failed to load Microsoft’s Office install subscription page, meaning I had to switch to another computer using Chrome to deactivate an older install of Office to activate it on another one. Not even being able to render your own site fully is a bit embarrassing.

Edge will struggle with anything built with Chrome or Firefox in mind. Trying to use the Guardian’s editorial tools was a nightmare of jumping text cursors, copy and paste garbage and straight-up broken features, all of which work perfectly fine in Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

The Wire browser messaging app didn’t work properly, missing certain characters from pasted text. Not even tech site Engadget’s galleries worked as they’re meant to.

Should all these sites and web apps work in Edge? Probably, but unless Windows 10 S becomes a storming success and grabs Edge a greater slice of the worldwide browser market share (it’s currently claiming just 1.73% compared to Chrome’s 54.14% according to data from StatCounter) then it’s unlikely everything will become compliant.

Observations

  • If you’re setting it up in anywhere quiet, plug in headphones before you start it up the first time as Cortana shouts at you
  • Most peripherals work fine, but if you need a particular utility to run your printer or scanner or any other peripheral, you can forget it
  • It comes with BitLocker to encrypt your hard drive
  • If you upgrade to Windows 10 Pro there’s no going back
  • I couldn’t find a way to paste plain text or to keep formatting in Edge
  • Edge was incredibly vexing

Verdict

Windows 10 S review
FacebookTwitterPinterest
Windows 10 S running on a Microsoft Surface Laptop. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Windows 10 S is a nice attempt by Microsoft to create an easier to manage, faster Windows 10 experience. It feels like it is intended to become Microsoft’s default operating system – a step below Windows 10 Home – and that might be what happens unless consumers rebel.

It lives up to most of Microsoft’s promises. It is faster. It is more secure in that at least it won’t run anything that’s not downloaded from the Windows Store, and it is simpler. The underlying Windows 10 experience is great, so if all the normal applications people install were available through the Windows Store, it would be brilliant.

But they aren’t, and Edge simply isn’t ready to be your only browser – it is holding the whole of Windows 10 S back. The app situation may change, particularly if Windows 10 S becomes popular enough to be a draw for developers to get their programs into the Windows Store.

For now by all means try Windows 10 S, but be prepared to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro almost immediately.

Chrome OS is ready to use printers without the cloud

Despite decades of attempts to straighten out the connections between printers and computers, it’s a situation that always (at least for me) seems to have an extra complication. On Chrome OS, ever since launch it has by default relied on Google Cloud Print and compatible printers to get the job done, but now that version 59 has reached the Stable release channel, it’s a little easier to use.

That’s because it has a new ability for “Native Printing,” which basically means that it can connect directly to compatible printers on your network, without the need for any cloud connection at all. Some manufacturers and third parties have been getting around the cloud print requirement with extensions like this one, but now support is built in and available to everyone.

Chrome OS printer dialog box

You’ll need to know your printer’s IP address to make things work, as well as which protocol it supports. According to Google’s FAQ, for most printers that will be IPP, which is what allows many printers to connect to other devices like your phone or tablet. As Chrome OS spreads throughout schools and businesses, the ability to work with existing hardware has become more important, and at least now you’re probably not looking at a printer replacement along with your new operating system.

McDonald's to Use Snapchat to Hire Workers in the US

HIGHLIGHTS

  • McDonald’s will hire some US workers this summer through Snapchat
  • About 250,000 people will be hired across its US restaurants
  • The chain started accepting “Snaplications” in Australia last month

In its bid to attract young applicants, American fast-food chain McDonald’s will hire some US workers this summer through the photo-sharing app Snapchat.

The world’s largest burger chain said the company and its franchisees will hire about 250,000 people across its US restaurants for what is usually one of its busiest seasons of the year, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The chain started accepting “Snaplications” in Australia last month, allowing potential employees to make video submissions with a special filter that shows them wearing a McDonald’s uniform.

“We thought Snaplications was a great way to allow us to meet job seekers where they are – their phones,” Jez Langhorn, McDonald’s Senior Director of Human Resources in the US was quoted as saying.

McDonald's to Use Snapchat to Hire Workers in the US

The video audition could be submitted to McDonald’s Snapchat account after which McDonald’s would send back a link to the application and digital careers page for a formal application.

McDonald’s said that allowing applications through Snapchat will aid hiring efforts because many of its applicants are between the ages of 16 and 24.

This is incidentally the prime user group of the photo sharing platform. The company is also set to use other platforms like Spotify and Hulu to reach potential job seekers.