NASA’s Cassini Probe Set to End 20-Year Journey

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004, is about to begin the final chapter of its remarkable story this month.

On April 26, the spacecraft will make the first in a series of dives through the 2,400-kilometre gap between Saturn and its rings as part of the mission’s grand finale, NASA said.

“No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end,” Zurbuchen added.NASA's Cassini Probe Set to End 20-Year Journey

During its time at Saturn, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan.

Now 20 years since launching from Earth, and after 13 years orbiting the ringed planet, Cassini is running low on fuel.
In 2010, NASA decided to end the mission with a purposeful plunge into Saturn in 2017.

Using expertise gained over the mission’s many years, Cassini engineers designed a flight plan that will maximise the scientific value of sending the spacecraft toward its fateful plunge into the planet on September 15.

Cassini will transition to its grand finale orbits, with a last close flyby of Saturn’s giant moon Titan, on April 22.

As it has many times over the course of the mission, Titan’s gravity will bend Cassini’s flight path.

Cassini’s orbit then will shrink so that instead of making its closest approach to Saturn just outside the rings, it will begin passing between the planet and the inner edge of its rings.

When Cassini makes its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, it will send data from several instruments – most notably, data on the atmosphere’s composition – until its signal is lost, NASA said.


Life and Technology April 23rd


Listen to the full show podcast for April 23rd

Shout Outs

  • Netgear’s Arlo security updated with rechargeable battery, alert siren
  • Google is launching a new version of Google Earth next week
  • TPG to build fourth mobile network in Australia with intent to cover 80% of the population


  • Alfred Boyadgis

This week on Life and Technology, Charlie spoke to CEO & Co-Founder of Forcite, Alfred Boyadgis about their new smart motorcycle helmet that has integrated technology.

  • Markus Kemetter

This week on Life and Technology, Charlie found out more about Suunto’s robust HR and multisport GPS watch from Suunto’s product manager, Markus Kemetter.

  • Paul Reid

This week on Life and Technology, Charlie got to know about Panasonic’s newest product launches for TV, Audio and Blu-ray players from Managing Director, Paul Reid.

Apple has reportedly hired AR and VR expert Jeff Norris from NASA

Apple has hired NASA augmented and virtual reality expert Jeff Norris, Bloomberg reports, to build AR and VR projects for the company. Norris apparently joined Apple’s augmented reality team earlier this year, Bloomberg says, as a senior manager reporting to former Dolby Labs executive Mike Rockwell.

It’s not clear exactly what Norris will be doing at Apple, but Rockwell’s team is supposedly working on AR glasses that may function like a new version Google Glass, and won’t be revealed until 2018 at the earliest. But that’s not the only bit of AR technology that Apple is working on. Tim Cook has repeatedly talked of AR’s potential, saying last July that the company was “high on AR in the long run,” and confirming this year that he saw it as a “big idea like the smartphone.”

Indeed, Norris’ is one of a wave of experts hired by the company in recent months, including people poached from VR and AR competitors like Oculus and Magic Leap. Earlier this month, a UBS business note indicated that Apple may have as many as 1,000 engineers working on AR technology, while other reports suggested that it may even appear as a standard feature in the next generation of iPhones.

Norris had worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the last 18 years, founding and directing the agency’s Mission Operations Innovation Office, as well as its Ops Lab during that time. Among the projects he worked on at NASA included OnSight — an ambitious program for Microsoft’s HoloLens that used Mars mission data to allow people back on Earth to explore the red planet in virtual and augmented reality. Speaking to The Verge while working for NASA, Norris said that he saw huge potential in both AR and VR tech, describing the programs he worked on as “a new tool in the toolbox of explorers.”

Golf takes step back in reducing technologys role


During Wednesday’s matinee between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants infielder Eduardo Nunez was thrown out trying to steal second base in the bottom of the first inning.

Although Nunez was originally called out, after an official review the call was reversed thanks to the latest in video technology. The play was studied numerous times in high definition and in slow motion. It was also watched at an exposure at least five-times the normal magnification.

The same scenario unfolds every day in sports, from the NHL to the NBA and Major League Baseball, technology and video replays are now an integral part of the athletic landscape. After decades of trial and error, officials have come to the realization that there is no limit to video review to assure the correct call.

Every sport, that is, except golf.

How the new decision issued by the USGA and R&A on Tuesday will be applied remains to be seen, and by most accounts the new standards are a step in the right direction. But there is something distinctly archaic about a move that limits technology.

Under the new “naked eye” standard, officials will continue to use video reviews to determine if there’s been a violation – and the same standard was already being used in some situations – but the difference now is that officials will need to determine how much technology is too much technology.

“Video technology, especially the use of methods such as high resolution or close-up camera shots that can be replayed in slow motion, has the potential to undermine this essential characteristic of the game by identifying the existence of facts that could not reasonably be identified in any other way,” the new decision reads.

Officials will now need to determine if a possible violation could “reasonably have been seen with the naked eye.”

Put another way, it’s not simply a review of the facts that officials will need to address, but also whether the level of technology used to determine a possible violation fits with the naked eye standard.

A great example of this standard came at the 2014 Players Championship when Justin Rose was assessed a two-stroke penalty – one shot for the ball moving at address and one for not replacing it after it had moved – on Day 3.

This ruling was the result of numerous reviews of the incident using high-definition cameras and highly magnified images, but the next day PGA Tour rules officials rescinded the penalty based on the original naked eye decision and the Englishman began the final round two strokes closer to the lead than he was when he left the golf course on Saturday.

While most agreed that Rose’s situation was exactly what the rule makers were hoping to remedy with the naked eye standard, no one can say exactly where that line should be drawn.

Is standard-definition video and images slowed to half speed where things remain clear to the naked eye, or are there scenarios where a more detailed review would be considered appropriate?

Originally, Tour officials said the naked eye standard shouldn’t apply to Rose’s situation in ’14 at TPC Sawgrass because he’d backed away from the shot.

“He saw something,” the Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions Mark Russell told at the time.

A more recent incident involving Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration would be a more legitimate standard, but because neither Thompson nor anyone in her group was questioned about the incident it is unknown if the penalty would have been reversed under the new standard.

Because officials used ultra-high definition and magnified video to determine that Thompson had not replaced her golf ball in the same spot after marking it during the third round it would be a legitimate litmus test going forward. It’s also worth pointing out that most who watched the replay of the Thompson situation agree there was a violation of Rule 20-7c (playing from wrong place).

If the consensus is Thompson ran afoul of the rules, however innocent the incident might seem, should the issue be what level of video technology remains within the new naked eye decision, or whether the Rules of Golf need to be adjusted to account for such seemingly harmless acts?

Technology – and to a lesser degree viewer call-ins and emails, but that’s a column for another day – has been made out to be the problem here, and yet every other professional sport is heading in the opposite direction of golf on the information super highway.

The rule makers are blazing new paths in what has been billed as a “modernization” of the Rules of Golf, but this new decision – which is entitled “limitations on use of video evidence” – feels like a step in the wrong direction.

No one is pleased with the the Thompson situation – neither the outcome nor that it took some 20 hours to unfold – and the desire to avoid similar incidents in the future is understandable, but sports have rules that must be applied no matter how much technology is needed to assure the proper outcome.

Technology is transforming societies more deeply than the political vibrations of 2017


Official posters of the candidates for the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, left, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and Marine Le Pen, of French National Front (FN), are displayed in Saint-Josse, northern France May 5, 2017.

Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

On Sunday, French voters will choose between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron — politicians with radically different visions. Macron is for globalization and European integration. Le Pen is a nationalist, representing the kind of discontent that led to ‘Brexit’ and the Trump election.

It’s a stark choice, but the outcome may actually be less important to the future of Western democracy than, well, the screen you’re reading this on.

That’s because the epochal change created by technology is transforming societies more deeply than the political vibrations of 2017. That’s according to David Rothkopf, CEO of Foreign Policy and author of “The Great Questions of Tomorrow.” He says it’s easy to miss the bigger picture.

“Facebook’s goal is five billion members by 2030. That will be the biggest community ever,” says Rothkopf. “On a level of power, we have to acknowledge that Facebook is going to be significantly more influential in the world, and touch more lives, than all but a couple of nations.”

Facebook now has 1.94 billion users, according to an earnings report released this week. The company also said it plans to hire 3,000 new employees to manage and screen all its content. That would bring its global team to 7,500 people. Getting to five billion users depends on people all over the world buying mobile devices.

Mark Zuckerberg may not be in public office, but he wields a lot of social and economic power, Rothkopf says. Not only does Facebook profit from its users, it also has the power to knit them together, and apply algorithms to decide the news they read. Facebook can also share information about them with governments, corporations and other non-state actors. Not to mention, decide what is acceptable speech and advertising.

And how does Facebook’s power compare to, say, President Donald Trump’s?

“I would argue that the reason we have the president we do is that someone, somewhere, wrote an algorithm that said, ‘Stories with the following characteristic will appear at the top of a news feed.’ Somewhere there’s an algorithm writer with a heck of a lot of power who is not accountable to any public institution or been anticipated by any system of law,” says Rothkopf.

Much was made of Trump’s first 100 days. It’s a classic, journalistic yardstick. And there’s worthwhile debate about what the first months of the Trump Administration can tell us about the next four to eight years. But what about longer term? Rothkopf says we keep looking backwards.

“We’ve spent the last 20 to 30 years looking backward at the last threats of the 20th century … instead of a change in the world on an epochal scale, like the fact that in the next 10 years or so every human being on the planet is going to be connected in a manmade system for the first time in history, which means anyone, anywhere can reach out and touch and communicate with anyone anywhere else, anytime. And that does change: ‘Who am I? What is community? What is a government? What is an economy? What is money? What is war? What is peace? It changes the answer to all of those questions.”

This story first aired as an interview on PRI’s To The Point with Warren Olney.


How Silicon Valley and the Circle Help Explain Our Love-Hate-Can’t-Live-Without Relationship With Technology


If it hadn’t happened in real life, the HBO comedy Silicon Valley surely would have invented Juicero. Pitched as “Keurig for juice,” the Wi-Fi-enabled product collected over $120 million in venture capital with the promise that tech-savvy health nuts would shell out $400 for the hardware and $5 to $8 for disposable, pre-cut “produce packs.”

But in mid-April, Juicero turned into a folly for the ages, after two Bloomberg reporters discovered that they could get close to the promised eight ounces of juice simply by squeezing a produce pack for 90 seconds. Social media was abuzz with Juicero jokes when Alec Berg, a frequent writer and director on Silicon Valley, called to discuss the real-life quirks and anxieties the show so scrupulously reflects.

“In general, venture capitalists don’t know the difference, going in, between a $10 billion idea and something that’s going to blow out in three months,” Berg says. “But Juicero has raised hundreds of millions of dollars, so there is a sweet, delicious irony to the idea that there’s a version of the Juicero machine that’s free, and it’s called ‘your hands.’”

Less than a week after Silicon Valley premiered its fourth season, The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, hit theaters nationwide. Based on Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel about the diabolical corporate culture at a Facebook-like tech behemoth, The Circle would seem to have little in common with Silicon Valley, save for a corporate campus that resembles one of those state-of-the-art, candy-colored playgrounds for engineers and “visionaries.”

One is an affectionate parody of Valley excess, the other a Snowden-era updating of ’70s paranoid thrillers such as The Conversation and The Parallax View. Yet each captures the tenor of uncertain and rapidly changing times, as the Valley’s vaunted ideals are getting squeezed like so much hand-pressed juice.

Consider one of President Donald Trump’s early legislative victories, a rollback of privacy protections for internet users. Under the new law, Internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T will have an easier time collecting and selling the browser histories and app usage of its subscribers.

For many, including the protesters who raised $200,000 to buy the private data of members of Congress – which is not possible, incidentally – the involuntary giveaway of personal information seemed like the Information Superhighway in reverse. Instead of users having a window on the world, the world would have a window onto us. This perverse twist on “transparency” is a core theme of The Circle.How Silicon Valley and the Circle Help Explain Our Love-Hate-Can't-Live-Without Relationship With Technology

“I think Silicon Valley has roots in social justice and disruption and democratic” principles, says James Ponsoldt, director of The Circle. “I think that’s the perception, anyway. The snag for most, I think, is that if someone wants to send something to outer space or map the mind or give away free apps, that’s all well and good. But why does our data have to be acquired, stored and, in some cases, potentially monetized? The simplest answer is, to sell to us and make us better consumers, but there’s many more paranoid answers, too.”

In The Circle, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is initially thrilled to get a job in customer service at the eponymous company, which its co-founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), has promoted as a limitless provider of high-tech solutions to the planet’s most vexing problems. With his casual dress and stirring corporate oratories, Bailey is not unlike Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) on Silicon Valley, a messianic Steve Jobs type with the values of an Industrial Age robber baron. After some coercion, Mae agrees to make herself fully “transparent,” allowing her every waking moment to be broadcast to millions of “Circlers” worldwide.

It might sound like an oppressive and invasive experience – and, spoiler alert, it is – but Mae’s experiment is an extreme version of a trade-off that many make on social media every day: In exchange for community and the dopamine rush of likes and retweets, we give away information about ourselves for free.

“My hope would be that people will come out of (the film) and ask themselves how they are living their lives, if they’re intentional and thoughtful about what they share, if they’re even aware of what information they’re giving away for free,” Ponsoldt says. “The reality is that most people I know don’t even really care.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Ponsoldt insists that he and his film are not technophobic, and so does Berg with Silicon Valley, which jabs mercilessly at the Valley’s capitalist hypocrisies but roots for its underdog characters to find a toehold in the industry. The tension on Silicon Valley arises from the push-and-pull between Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), who wants to change the world with a “revolutionary” compression engine, and CEOs such as Belson and Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), who literally want to put his dream in a box.

Even for a show renowned for its verisimilitude, the fourth season of Silicon Valley hits reality in stride. The newly appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has released a plan to undo net neutrality regulations, a move that would give internet providers more power to control the flow of information, at the expense of a more open internet. Having failed to turn his compression engine into viable platform, Hendricks pivots to the moonshot idea of a “new Internet” that would be totally decentralized, working around the sorts of corporate gatekeepers the FCC plans to reward.

Berg talks about Richard’s “pie-in-the-sky” idea with such enthusiasm, it sounds as though the technology actually exists. “There is a world where, if this works correctly, no one would ever have to pay data fees again because no one would need a cell,” Berg says. “Every phone would talk to every other phone, so you’d pay nothing for data, and the entire internet would just come through a massive mutual network of everyone’s devices.”

“Government control and net neutrality and corporate greed and who controls what and the NSA – all of those things play into it,” Berg says. “There is this ‘freedom frontier’ of taking everything out of the hands of our corporate overlords that seems like Richard’s ethos.”

If The Circle and Silicon Valley have anything in common, it’s the concern that turtleneck-wearing idealists such as Eamon Bailey and Gavin Belson have fallen short of their ideals, and real disruption is necessary, whether it’s as personal as Mae paddling a kayak to the middle of the San Francisco Bay or the large-scale fantasy of Richard blowing up the internet as we know it and starting again. But Berg is quick to emphasize the genuine optimism that’s as evident in Silicon Valley as the sarcastic barbs.

“The reality is that this is a show about dreamers, underdogs and people who are trying to do something that can bring a lot of positive change to the world. If we’re saying the business is (expletive), then our guys wanting to thrive in that business becomes an empty goal.”

LeEco Said to Plan Sale of $420-Million Beijing Real Estate Amid Cash Crunch



  • LeEco is trying to raise funds amid a severe cash crunch
  • The company recently scrapped a $2 billion deal to acquire Vizio
  • Sale would allow LeEco to revert focus to its core businesses

Chinese tech conglomerate LeEco is in talks to sell a prized property asset in the heart of Beijing it acquired in a $420 million deal last year, the latest effort by the electric car-to-smartphone behemoth to raise funds amid a severe cash crunch.

The company plans to sell either all or a majority of its Shimao Gongsan retail property in a popular area on the east side of Beijing by divesting from two firms it owns, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said. LeEco has been in talks with potential investors for some months now, the first person said.

Reuters could not immediately ascertain the identity of the potential investors or the likely deal price, but one of the people said the discussions are in an advanced stage and the price likely will be higher than what LeEco paid for it.

LeEco, centred around a Netflix-like video platform operated by its listed unit, has been one of China’s boldest tech firms, ambitiously pushing into the US market and looking to take on Elon Musk’s Tessla Motors in high-end electric vehicles.

The firm’s wide spread, however, led its billionaire founder and Chief Executive Jia Yueting to admit in November that it was facing “big company disease” and battling a cash crunch after expanding too fast.

The firm is now reining in its spending, looking to sell property in the United States and scrapping this month a $2 billion deal to acquire US TV maker Vizio.LeEco Said to Plan Sale of $420-Million Beijing Real Estate Amid Cash Crunch

The two people said LeEco hoped to sell the 50,000 square metre Beijing property in the Sanlitun district by divesting from two firms it owns – Beijing Fortune Times Property Co Ltd and Beijing Baiding New Century Business Management Co Ltd.

LeEco bought the firms, which control the property, for a combined CNY 2.92 billion ($424.15 million) in May last year from Shimao Property Holdings Ltd.

The planned sale would free up funds to allow LeEco to revert focus to its core businesses, particularly its smartphones, TV, LeSports unit, and auto segments, the two people said.

LeEco declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Back to the core
CEO Jia has pledged to pay more attention to the listed business, Leshi Internet Technology & Information, which operates entertainment platform LeTV, and would look to integrate other parts of the business into that unit.

The second person said the plans to sell the Beijing property were “part of rationalizing the core businesses”.

Both sources asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

LeEco has investments from sports rights to taxi hailing platform Yidao Yongche as well as business units focused on smartphones, online entertainment to household appliances.

Earlier this week Yidao’s founder Zhou Hang said he had left his managerial role of the ride-hailing unit and alleged LeEco, which owns a 70 percent stake in Yidao, had “misappropriated” CNY 1.3 billion ($188.84 million) of Yidao’s funds to cover its debts. LeEco later denied the allegation in a statement.

In February LeEco’s sports unit also lost the television rights to the Asian Football Confederation matches, after reports that it had fallen behind on payments. The firm said then it had “let down” its users.

The second person said the firm would still look to expand internationally, but would do so with “more discipline”.

LeEco has also cut staff in China, the United States and India. Local media said it was scaling back plans in Russia.

Trading in shares of the listed unit, which posted a 3 percent drop in 2016 net profit on Wednesday, is currently halted.

Why technology is addictive and what to do about it


Do your palms get sweaty palms if your phone is out of reach? Author Adam Alter explains how technology is making and keeping us addicted. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

A buzzing phone, glowing tablet or the sound of a favourite video game can be a powerful temptation many can’t resist.

Now new research shows the cravings we have to connect to our devices can in fact be a real addiction.

“Seventy-five per cent of people now say they can reach their phones 24 hours a day without having to move their feet,” says Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.

He tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti that the average person spends 3 hours and 42 minutes staring at screens each day, and that number is rising.

Most people generally underestimate how long they are on their devices. Alter includes himself in this category and suggests several apps that can be used to track actual screen time use. (See below for apps)

Alter explains the success of social media platforms are that they have many ingredients that make it irresistible — the biggest being that a reward is within reach but yet never guaranteed, much like gambling.


The average person spends almost four hours a day on devices. How addicted do you think you are to technology? (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

“Paradoxically when you guarantee someone a reward they get bored and they stop doing something quite quickly. Whereas when you build in just a small dose of uncertainty … especially where the reward devices is driven by humans, we’re really fascinated by how humans think of us — is very hard for humans to resist.”

While it’s too early to know the longterm impact of our technological consumption, Alter says there is evidence that children who spend a lot of time on screens early in life have language delays and are not skilled communicators.

He tells Tremonti that a lot of nuances are lost when a person who would normally use precise language to communicate something funny like LOL when texting can’t factor in facial expressions or a lilt in a laugh.

“Everything is a cue. And we don’t even think about that if we’re skilled communicators who have spent a lot of time face to face,” Alter says.

“But if your early use of communication is spent LOL’ing and you don’t acquire those nuances, it’s very hard to acquire them later on.”

When it comes to toddlers, Atler refers to the quote, “never get high on your own supply” and suggests the best way to maintain distance from the “drug” of screen time is to “keep them away from your family.”

Alter says even Steve Job’s believed in some restrictions, pointing to a speech where Jobs publicly shared that his kids have limited technology use and there is no iPad in the home.

Alter’s advice to curb addiction to technology is to pick a time every day to be screen-free. He also puts his phone on airplane mode on Saturdays and uses his phone just as a camera.

“People at first find that’s difficult, they have a bit of withdrawal like they might from a drug. But over time it makes them feel like happier, healthier people.”

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.


Checklist of Essential Small Business Technology in 2017


A growing number of small businesses rely on technology to increase efficiency, manage expenses, grow profitability and improve performance.

According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study (PDF), 29 percent of all small businesses view technology as helping them to improve outcomes significantly.

Keeping up with the fast pace of technological change can be difficult for the business owner already burdened with the many tasks required to keep his or her company afloat day in and day out.

To help, Small Business Trends compiled this list of nine technology categories that small businesses need to incorporate as principle applications in 2017.

They cross a broad range of functions, including mobile, marketing automation, business intelligence and social media. Some represent newer technologies while others are more established. Together, they encompass nearly everything a small business would need to gain a competitive edge in 2017 and beyond.

1. Massive Growth Makes Mobile a ‘Must-have’ Technology

Perhaps no technology has gained greater adoption or grown more quickly than mobile.

In 2016, more than six billion people worldwide used at least one mobile device, a number that is expected to increase to nearly seven billion by 2020.

Also significant, SimilarWeb’s State of Mobile Web US 2015 report found that approximately 56 percent of consumer traffic to the leading U.S. websites came from mobile devices.

That makes mobile a “must have” technology in 2017, and businesses should incorporate its use in at least four ways: Website design, apps, payment and use of all-in-one devices.

Mobile-friendly Websites

With more and more people accessing the web via mobile, small businesses can no longer avoid making a mobile-friendly version of their website available to consumers, for two reasons:

  • Bing now rewards more mobile-friendly websites with an increase in ranking;
  • Companies that lack a mobile version of their website could lose business as consumers opt for those that do.Checklist of Essential Small Business Technology in 2017

(Note: Bing even offers a testing tool to help business owners determine whether or not their website is mobile-friendly.)

Mobile Apps

In his Small Business Trends article “Mobile App Strategies Boost Revenues for Small Business Owners,” Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University, wrote, “In an increasingly mobile world, having a well-developed and well-tested mobile app turns out to be a highly effective marketing strategy that gets results.”

In the past, mobile app development required someone with specialized skills. Nowadays, platforms such as Microsoft PowerApps allow non-technical users to create apps easily, so there is no excuse to do without this important technology.

Payment Methods

The use of mobile payments is on the rise, thanks to apps such as Microsoft Wallet, so it makes sense to incorporate their use as an option. Also, companies like Microsoft partner Merchant Account Solutions have made mobile credit card readers readily available to small business users.

All-in-one Devices

Another aspect of mobile technology moving forward has to do with what constitutes a mobile device versus its desktop counterpart. That line is blurring thanks to devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, a 3-in-1 desktop, laptop and mobile tablet. It also comes with pen and touch screen capability, a new innovation.

2. Marketing Automation Increases Efficiency

Marketing automation software has made it easier for small businesses to conduct marketing activities with greater efficiency, removing the need to hire dedicated marketing professionals.

Among its advantages are the ability to score leads, segment messages and set up processes that trigger specific responses based on actions taken by the customer.

Also, automation software links seamlessly with CRM platforms, bringing marketing and sales together, providing each with a 360-degree view of the customer or prospect.

CRM platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 do much of the heavy lifting that previously would have been handled using manual processes.

3. Businesses are Heading to the Cloud (and Not Coming Back)

The use of on-premise software and hardware is going the way of the albatross with the availability of cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Office 365, and for good reason. Cloud-based solutions offer greater scalability, security, efficiency and flexibility regarding access than their on-premise counterparts.

(Read the Small Business Trends article “Thinking About Migrating Your Business to the Cloud? Consider This Checklist First” to learn more about why moving to the cloud is a must for 2017.)

4. Collaboration Tools Bring Remote Workforce Together

The rise of the virtual workforce means that tools which facilitate collaboration will grow in popularity.

A 2015 survey conducted by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60 percent of office-based workers would regularly work from home by 2022.

Platforms such as Microsoft Teams make collaboration between disparate work groups more accessible and efficient. Teams establishes a virtual, chat-based workspace that allows team members to chat, call, save documents and collaborate in real-time, without restraint.

5. Chatbots Facilitate Customer Service, Other Uses

A significant shift is taking place in Internet communications due to the advent of chatbots, computer programs that use artificial intelligence to facilitate conversation with humans.

Companies large and small are beginning to latch on to the power of chatbots for customer service and other uses, such as finding products, providing shipping notifications, pinpointing business locations and more.

Internet communications pioneer Jeff Pulver declared in a blog post that 2017 will be the year of the chatbot and said they would be the “new interface for business to business, business to consumer, and consumer to business communications.”

Technologies like Microsoft’s Bot Framework let companies build and connect bots to interact with users not only on Facebook Messenger but also on websites, text/SMS, Skype, Office 365 mail, Teams and other services.

6. Business Intelligence Brings Better Decision-making

Business intelligence (BI) used to be the sole purview of enterprise corporations. However, the software-as-a-service revolution means that small businesses can now afford to tap into the treasure trove of information available with the click of a mouse too.

The capabilities BI provides to track, store, process and analyze data can lead to smarter decision-making regarding cutting expenses, finding new business growth opportunities and improving overall performance.

Platforms like Microsoft Sharepoint make garnering insights more affordable and make it easier to harness the power of big data and predictive analytics.

7. Email Remains Tried-and-True Marketing Technology

Email is a tried-and-true internet marketing technology in use since the 1990s. Despite predictions to the contrary, it continues to find favor as a cost-effective promotional medium for small businesses. In fact, email marketing was ranked as the best channel regarding return on investment — a trend that should not change in 2017.

What will change, however, is the approach. Marketers will do away with “batch and blast” for more targeted messaging that takes into account the unique needs of each customer.

Also, “mobile-first” will be the mantra in 2017 when it comes to designing email campaigns. With more people accessing email via mobile devices, messages have to ascribe to the limitations imposed by mobile devices with their small screens. Marketing solutions from Microsoft Dynamics 365 can also help develop email marketing campaigns to target specific customers.

8. Live Chat Provides Real-time Customer Service

In 2017, successful companies will shift their focus away from customer service to customer success — helping customers reach their goals as quickly as possible. They will do so online, using a variety of digital technologies that include text/SMS, social media, chat bots and live help. Platforms like Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service facilitate such omnichannel support.

One component, live help, has been in use for several years. The technology remains a familiar one. A widget resides in the lower-right-hand corner of the website with an agent on standby who can engage with customers in real-time at the moment of need, to answer questions, provide guidance and recommend products or resources tailored to the individual customer.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI), a prevalent trend, will make live help smarter, transforming customer support into a self-service mechanism. AI will work seamlessly with customers and learn from them as the interaction progresses. It can also assist human agents by giving them time to address more complex issues that AI alone cannot solve.

9. Cyber Security Ranked Number One Challenge

As small business reliance on technology grows, the need to secure and protect sensitive information becomes even more critical. The SMB Group study referenced above found that small businesses rank cyber security as their number one challenge.

Meeting that challenge requires the use of holistic, end-to-end, rules-based solutions. Microsoft builds such comprehensive security into all its cloud-based products, to protect a company’s endpoints better, detect threats faster and respond to security breaches quicker. It prevents identity compromise, secures apps and data and safeguards infrastructure.


Baidu in Self-Driving Car Tech Tie-Ups With Bosch, Continental


Chinese Internet company Baidu announced two separate partnership deals on Thursday with top German auto suppliers Robert Bosch and Continental AG to co-develop autonomous driving technology and smart mobility services.

The two deals underscore the wave of global partnerships being formed in the fast-moving autonomous vehicle sector, which requires both the competencies of traditional auto suppliers and those of technology companies seasoned in artificial intelligence, robotics and other highly technical software.

The collaborations also point to the importance of partnerships between Western carmakers and automotive suppliers and companies based in China, the largest automotive market in the world. China issued a self-driving “roadmap” last year, aiming to have highly or fully autonomous vehicles for sale as early as 2021.Baidu in Self-Driving Car Tech Tie-Ups With Bosch, Continental

Also on Thursday, Daimler and its Chinese joint venture partner BAIC Motor Corporation agreed to upgrade the Mercedes-Benz factory in Beijing to make electric cars. Baidu and Bosch will explore business models and accelerate the commercialization of technologies, Baidu said in a statement. The cooperation “will give the Chinese automotive industry a voice in the development of core technologies of automated driving,” Baidu said.

Continental, which announced its partnership with Baidu on Wednesday, said both partners intend to develop technologies, products and business models that will provide solutions for automated driving, connected vehicles and intelligent mobility services.
ALSO SEEMercedes Joins Forces With Bosch to Develop Self-Driving Taxis

In April, Bosch said it was working with Baidu and domestic mapping firms AutoNavi – owned by Alibaba – and NavInfo on mapping projects for self-driving cars.

Baidu said on Thursday that it would continue to work with more manufacturers through cooperative models.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Tags: Baidu, Self Driving, Transportation, Science