I returned Sunday evening from a tech-free long weekend to a virtual traffic jam of headlines about self-driving vehicles, signaling not just how far we’ve come, but how much longer this journey will be.
On the one hand, there are signs that innovation is accelerating. General Motors figures it will be first on the road next year with an in-cabin assistance system that “watches” where drivers are looking and nags them if they’re not alert enough. Meanwhile, Tesla is updating its Autopilot software with a revision that might have prevented that fatal accident in Florida—the technology will now use radar instead of cameras as the primary way of gathering data about a car’s surroundings.
But other companies are approaching apparent detours. Apple’s project may be taking an alternate route after dozens of layoffs, according to a report by The New York Times. The company is already testing fully autonomous vehicles, but the whole initiative has been so mysterious that it’s tough to tell if the effort is stalling or just switching lanes. Google’s project suffered a similar shakeup in August. It’s been experimenting since 2009 but still hasn’t managed to establish a demonstrable lead.
Just about the only thing anyone can say with certainty about self-driving cars is that it will completely upend the business model for auto insurance—a new projection from Aon suggests that premiums could be reduced by up to 40%. So, yes, insurers certainly seem to think robots will be more reliable drivers than humans.
But it’s important to remember that the car “upgrade” cycle is far longer than for smartphones or computers. U.S. car sales reached an important mile marker in 2015—growing to around $570 billion, a 5.7% increase over the previous year. Considering many Americans keep their cars at least 10 years when they buy them outright, maybe Apple and Google aren’t as behind as you might think.
BITS AND BYTES
HP Inc. seeks to print up more printer sales. The company is offering $1.05 billion for Samsung’s printing technologies unit, which will give it a stronger presence in Asia. Bloomberg reports HP is also angling for a larger piece of the copier market dominated by Xerox and Canon, a strategy it will talk up at a conference this week. (Fortune, Bloomberg)
Cisco won’t face charges after bribery investigation. A federal probe of the network equipment giant’s business in Russia and nearby countries has been closed. In a regulatory filing, Cisco said neither the SEC nor the DOJ plans “enforcement actions.” (Fortune)
Uber is negotiating another settlement with drivers. Roughly three weeks after a federal judge in California denied a $100 million settlement proposal, the ride-sharing company is negotiating a new arrangement. It wants until Nov. 10 to do so. The dispute is over how much drivers should be compensated for certain expenses. (Bloomberg)
Sanofi plans joint venture with Alphabet’s life sciences division. The French drugmaker is teaming up with Google’s sister company Verily on a startup called Onduo, which will specialize in using miniature devices and analytics to treat diabetes. (Reuters)
Huawei envisions future as big supplier of cloud computing gear. The Chinese company is challenging Cisco, Dell Technologies, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise as a supplier of computer servers and networking technology to cloud data centers. It plans to spend at least $1 billion of its annual research and development budget on this mission. (Wall Street Journal)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Airbnb is pointing a new way to tackling racism. The company created a permanent, full-time, team of engineers, data scientists, researchers, and designers whose only purpose is to “advance inclusion and root out bias.” (Fortune)
Here’s what Marissa Mayer’s golden parachute is worth. The Yahoo CEO stands to walk away with almost $44 million if she’s fired within a year after Verizon’s acquisition of the Internet media and search company is officially closed. (Fortune)
Best-selling author Michael Lewis won’t write about Silicon Valley again. It’s difficult to make many tech entrepreneurs sympathetic to readers, Lewis said during an interview at the Box conference last week. (Fortune)
Facebook agrees to reinstate iconic Vietnam photo after censorship backlash. The social network said that the historical importance of the image, which showed a 9-year-old girl running naked from a napalm attack, outweighed its responsibility to protect the community by removing it. (Fortune)
Meg Whitman’s next boss could by Hillary Clinton. The longtime Republican, currently the chairman and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, could be up for a cabinet post if the Democratic candidate is elected President. (Fortune)
How this technology in self-driving cars is paving a path beyond silicon. In the future, self-driving cars will require laser-based sensing tech, and these systems will need new types of high-speed transistors and chips that can beat out silicon.
Yes, silicon—the backbone of all things computing and the juice behind the rise of tech giants like Google and Apple—has a little-known competitor. It’s called gallium nitride, or GaN, and the semiconductor can create transistors (the things that go on chips) that are fast, small, energy efficient, and low cost. Lidar technology, which fires out a laser light beam around cars to create a high-resolution 3D map of the surrounding environment, is a perfect early application. Here’s why.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
An Apple a Day: How Everyone Reacted to the Arrival of iPhone 7, by Don Reisinger
Why Internet Privatization Scares Republican Leaders, by Chauncey L. Alcorn
ONE MORE THING
Are you ready for trash-eating drones? The Port of Rotterdam is testing aquatic robots that gobble up paper, plastic, and other debris floating in the water before it drifts out to sea. (Fortune)