The “connected car” is going to be one of those insufferably buzzy expressions you’ll be hearing a lot in coming months and years. I say insufferable because like so many cutting-edge technological advancements the connected part will be more aspirational than actual.
Fortune and Time Inc.’s TheDrive web site hosted a panel at a dinner Monday night at the LA Auto Show to discuss how to keep cars from being hacked. The short answer: It won’t be easy. That’s because most cars have multiple points of entry for bad guys without a cohesive automotive “operating system” to govern it all. What’s more, the software developers writing code for cars, while capable, aren’t the best prepared to combat hackers. As Andy Gryc, director of the Connected Car Expo adjacent to the auto show, says: “The mindset that it takes to actually hack into the car and to pull off exploits is very, very different from the mindset of the person who has to build against that.” (Fortune’s Kirsten Korosec has a thorough write-up of the panel here.)
It’s an exciting time for the auto industry, and not only because it has rebounded robustly from the near-death experience of the financial crisis of 2008. Danny Shapiro, an executive with chip company Nvidia, framed the times well. He noted that cars started out as strictly mechanical devices. Then they incorporated electronics in various components of the car. Now, at least with Nvidia customer Tesla, cars have become computers themselves, with mechanical devices around them.
But that’s Tesla, which accounts for a miniscule percentage of the global auto industry. (I spoke to executives in Los Angeles who think Tesla never will make money in cars but that it will cash in on batteries to power home electricity.) The rest of the auto industry is still manufacturing vehicles the old-fashioned way—with a bunch of software cobbled on top.
Cars are getting connected. But slowly.
BITS AND BYTES
Mutual funds mark down more tech startups. DraftKings, Pinterest, and Lookout are just a few of the “unicorn” companies whose private shares have recently dropped in value in the eyes of fund managers The Hartford and T. Rowe Price. Last week, Fidelity Investments marked down its privately held investments in Dropbox, Snapchat, and Zenefits. The SEC is now reportedly trying to determine whether the valuation process that large funds use to appraise startup shares is fair. (Fortune)
Uber rivals raising funds. The ride-sharing service Lyft is reportedly raising $500 million at a $4 billion valuation. Ola, the ride-hailing company based in India, just closed a $500 million round at a reported $5 billion valuation. In contrast, private market investors have placed the valuation of Uber at more than $50 billion—although the head honcho “unicorn” startup is reportedly seeking a new $1 billion round of funding at a $60 billion to $70 billion valuation. (Fortune)
Microsoft prioritizes security. The tech giant has made a stunning about-face when it comes to computer security in recent years. Once an afterthought for the company, cybersecurity has become a central part of CEO Satya Nadella’s strategy, as he made clear during a presentation on Tuesday. Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest operating system, for instance, far surpasses Windows 7, its most popular operating system, in ability to catch malware. (Fortune)
Computer chip market consolidates. Chipmaker ON Semiconductor has agreed to buy Fairchild Semiconductor for $2.4 billion in order to gain more share of the car and smartphone markets. Companies in the chip market have been on a consolidation spree, announcing more than $100 billion in mergers and acquisitions this year. Intel recently bought the chipmaker Altera for $16.7 billion, for example. (Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
Andreessen Horowitz debuts “bio” fund. The Silicon Valley venture capital firm has launched a $200 million fund for investing in biology and medicine. The fund will be led by Vijay Pande, a former Stanford professor who taught chemistry, structural biology and computer science. The appointment makes him the firm’s ninth general partner. (Reuters)
SpaceX to win U.S. military contract. Elon Musk’s rocket company is poised to launch its first national security-related satellite. Rival United Launch Alliance, a venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, failed to make a compliant bid on the project after Congress mandated that the Pentagon phase out Russian rockets. (Fortune)
DJI to circumscribe drones. The Chinese drone-maker unveiled a “geo-fencing” system that will limit the boundaries’ of its robots’ flights. The system could help prevent the drones from flying over restricted areas, such as forest fires. (New York Times)
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Can electric “brain training” devices make you smarter?
If there were a system or a product that could make you, say, 10% smarter, you’d buy it in a second, right? That’s been the promise of the “brain training” field, which has grown to a $1.3 billion market through products like Lumosity, a series of online word games and mind twisters that has amassed 70 million users. And that’s just one of many options. There’s “neuroleadership” coaching, $15,000 intensive brain-training retreats, even coffee shops promising cognitive-enhancing joe.
Now, faster than the current coursing through your cerebellum, the field is burgeoning into what could be called Brain Training 2.0. The new generation consists of devices that promise to monitor or stimulate your brain to make you calmer, more focused—perhaps even smarter. Priced from $79 to $595, these wearable gadgets—with names like Melon, Emotiv Insight, Melomind, iFocusBand, and Narbis—aim to gauge your cerebral activity using electroencephalography (EEG) and then redirect your focus. Other companies, such as Thync, Fisher Wallace Laboratories, and Halo Neuroscience, use mild electric pulses that purportedly activate certain connections in your brain. Some—such as Halo, backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and Thync, whose lead investor is Khosla Ventures—even have the blessing of top venture capitalists. (Fortune)
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
ISIS Calls Anonymous ‘Idiots’ As Cyber War Heats Up by Don Reisinger
Google+ isn’t Dead…Yet by Kia Kokalitcheva
Why a New Paid Plan Won’t Save Pandora by Jeff John Roberts
The Number of Miles Cars Travel is About to Explode by Kirsten Korosec
Tesla Veteran Explains How Electric Motors Crush Gas Engines by David Z. Morris
ONE MORE THING
Here’s what you should buy this holiday season. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the corner, take some purchasing advice from a cognitive computer, IBM Watson. The data machine predicts that traditional cameras, like the Nikon DSLR, will make a comeback this year. (Fortune)