Tech Round-Up: Toyota Invests in AI, EU Safe Harbor Invalidated, New Android Chip Designs

technology-news-335The tech world is always ablaze with interesting new developments, many of which we like to take an in-depth look at here on IPWatchdog. Whether it involves safety innovations in light of international tragedies, the growing discussion surrounding worker displacement caused by robotic automation or recent advances in medical bionics, we like to keep our fingers on the pulse of current development in the fields of technology and science.

Of course, that’s difficult to do given the incredible scope of those fields and the ever-increasing pace of innovation and development. So today we’d like to try a new feature in which we’ll provide readers with a Tech News Roundup, a collection of news items from around the world of innovation at which we’d like to take a closer look. From big news in the world of computer chips for smartphones to a recent governmental decision affecting international data transfers across the Atlantic, these topics should keep our readers abreast of the wider world of technology and innovation.


Alphabet’s Google to Design Its Own Android Smartphone Chips

Google, a division of the newly formed Alphabet, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), is getting set to undertake a major shift in Android’s smartphone development strategy by looking at designs for creating their own proprietary processors for devices, including the main processor for Android smartphones. It’s been suggested that Google is undertaking the push to develop its own processing chips in an effort to stem fragmentation of Android device development, which could hurt its ability to compete against high-end iPhone products made by Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)

Up to now, processor and chip design for Android devices was handled by separate semiconductor developers, most notably United Kingdom-based ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) and Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) Typically, these developers would design their own version of a semiconductor architecture for Android chips and farm the manufacturing of those chips out through licensing activities. Part of the speculation behind the new design process for Android chips surrounds issues with Qualcomm chips developed to respond to a switch by Apple towards 64-bit processing chips.

Chip design is no inexpensive undertaking but as Apple continues to gain ground on Android in the U.S. smartphone market, standardization may be what Google needs to maintain consumer satisfaction with the company’s mobile products. Apple’s iOS platform was the only mobile operating software that gained market share in the U.S. during the second quarter of 2015. The greater degree in control also gives Google the greater ability to introduce virtual reality and augmented reality systems onto Android devices.



Toyota Invests $1 Billion into Artificial Intelligence Research in Silicon Valley, MIT

The high tech world of Silicon Valley is getting a new, well-heeled neighbor when Japanese automaker Toyota Motors Corp. (NYSE:TM) realizes its plans of establishing a new five-year corporate venture focused on developing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies with facilities in both Silicon Valley and near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Toyota plans to begin operations on Toyota Research Institute Inc. in January 2016.

This recent announcement follows a few months after Toyota announced a $50 million investment into a five-year joint research initiative into AI with both MIT and Stanford University. This research follows a trend in autonomous vehicle technologies that we’ve been following closely this year. Developments in self-driving cars have been a major reason why patent filing activities in the auto sector have increased dramatically in recent years. As a result, traditional automakers like General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) are increasingly competing against high tech companies like Google which are developing self-driving cars.

Overseeing Toyota’s new AI initiative is Dr. Gill Pratt, a former robotics program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). We’ve previously covered DARPA’s innovations in bionics, which includes bionic arms and bionic touch. Pratt was previously the manager of DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, a competition in robotic tech development which was won this year by South Korea-based Team KAIST. Toyota expects that the new Toyota Research Institute will employ about 200 scientists and engineers.


European Union Invalidates Safe Harbor for U.S. Tech Sector

American business interests could be adrift at sea after the European Court of Justice invalidated the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement, which governs the transfer of data from European citizens to data centers outside of Europe. The court overturned the international agreement after a legal challenge from an Austrian data privacy activist, Maximillian Schrems, which argued that American businesses could no longer self-certify that their data privacy standards would comply with European Union standards in light of privacy concerns regarding the U.S. National Security Agency’s data surveillance techniques.

Although there is an amnesty period during which American tech companies will be able to conduct business as per usual, the decision does cast a dim light on the near future of their operations. Legal officers from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) have called for a new international agreement for data sharing that would allow the EU to have a definitive say in data privacy standards. A group of tech companies including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) sent a letter to Congress in support of a bill called the Judicial Redress Act, which the American companies believe will help re-establish trust in American data privacy practices.

The EU court’s decision gives the U.S. three months to hammer out a new, acceptable agreement. On Capitol Hill, tensions between business interests and data privacy standards caused an early November hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to flare up somewhat. The Judicial Redress Act, which seems to be gaining some legs in Washington, would give EU citizens the right to sue the U.S. government if personal data is intentionally disclosed by the government without permission.


BlackBerry Releases the Priv, Its First Android Smartphone

BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY), formerly known as Research In Motion, has been trying to chart a comeback as a tech giant since its rise atop the tech world and the rapid decimation of its market share by Android and Apple. The company is hoping that the release of its first Android smartphone, known as the Priv, will help start to tilt the scales back in its favor. BlackBerry started making Priv shipments on November 6th.

The Priv looks to be a contender in the high-end smartphone market, as it retails for about $700 in stores. The Priv has a 5.4-inch dual-curved touchscreen but still retains the physical keyboard that became a BlackBerry calling card; users have to slide out the keyboard for access. It also has an 18 megapixel camera, 22.5 hours of battery life on a full charge and a 32 gigabyte flash memory.

A high level of security was another feature that drew consumers to BlackBerry devices about a decade ago and the company has issued a promise to customers that it will provide monthly updates for any identified security vulnerabilities. It also plans to stay ahead of Android by providing its own hotfix patches as they discover critical issues with Android’s network. If the phone sells well, it will help BlackBerry pick itself out of the doldrums of a current 0.5 percent market share, placing it fourth in the mobile platform world behind Android, iOS and Windows Phone.


Boeing Protests Defense Contract Awarded to Northrop Grumman

It had seemed to be a good month for military contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) of Falls Church, VA, after the U.S. Air Force decided to sign a contract for a long-range strike bomber that could be worth from $80 billion to $100 billion over the entire life of the contract. Nearly 2,000 engineering and program management employees will be hired for Northrop’s facilities in Florida’s Brevard County.

That is, however, if the contract isn’t nullified from a protest over the contract award process being waged by Chicago’s Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) of Bethesda, MD. Those two, which partnered in the development of a competing technology, have pointed at what they see as flaws in the selection process leading to Northrop’s award. Boeing filed the protest in late October with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), charging that flaws in the cost evaluation portion of the selection process failed to take into account Boeing and Lockheed’s ability to break historically upward-spiralling costs incurred by defense acquisitions, something Boeing believes Northrop cannot accomplish.

The GAO will issue a ruling within 100 days of the petition but the protests have already hurt Northrop’s operations. Northrop has already paused work on the stealth fighter craft after the protest was filed. The selection process has been kept highly secret compared to other military contract bids so specifications on the bomber which the Air Force intends to replace it’s B-1 and B-52 bombers are light at this time.


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