February will soon be known as National Regulation Proposals Month, as the Federal Aviation Administration has finally proposed its new rules for commercial drone operation. If adopted, the new rules would allow commercial flights of unmanned aircraft up to 55 pounds, once the operator applies for approval and passes a written exam on FAA rules. The new rules would also keep commercial drone flights to below 500 feet in the air and flights must be taken during daytime hours and within sight of the operator. Google and Amazon are probably not too happy, though, as the restrictions would keep Google’s Project Wing and Amazon’s hoped-for Prime Air delivery service out of the skies. As with other federal rule-making parties, members of the public can comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.
The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules have made AT&T very unhappy and CEO Randall Stephenson has hinted that his company may have to get litigious if Internet service is reclassified.
Meanwhile, when not throwing shade at the FCC, AT&T is throwing down against Google Fiber in Kansas City and plans to finally launch its own Gigabit Internet service for the same price as Google — $70 a month for all that delicious speed. AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower service has one little condition for that low, low price, though. You have to participate in the company’s “Internet Preferences” program, which lets AT&T track “the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter.” You can opt out of the program, but it’s going to cost you an additional $29 a month.
Apple has been accused of making a lot of future products, and one of the latest rumors has the company working on a self-driving electric car. Apple if course, isn’t commenting in rumors and speculation. Google, of course, has been all over the self-driving car thing for years and the Financial Times reports Sony is working on a robot car of its own. Some naysayers have pooh-poohed the Apple car rumors and note that long-awaited iOS-powered smart television set would make more sense for the company.
The New Yorker magazine this week has a long profile of Sir Jonathan Ive and his approach to design. The article even reports that Sir Jony had dinner with J.J. Abrams at one point to discuss lightsaber design. (Will the “flat” look be coming to our favorite energy weapons?)
And two last Apple bites: Apple’s is said to have ordered more than five million Apple Watches from its overseas suppliers ahead of the product’s planned debut this spring. Sensor problems have forced Apple to drop some of the initially planned features like blood pressure and heart-rate monitoring, though. And CEO Tim Cook spoke a White House-sponsored cybersecurity summit last Friday. In his remarks, Mr. Cook voiced his support for protecting the privacy of users and not letting governments have a free back-door key to personal data.
And speaking of government surveillance, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian security firm, says it’s discovered spyware buried deep in the firmware on hard drives made by several top manufacturers, The programs were found on computers in more than 30 countries. Although the company didn’t name names and the National Security Agency declined to comment on the matter, some former NSA employees did confirm the existence of the programs as intelligence-gathering tools.
IBM’s supersmart Watson software —which once aced the questions on Jeopardy! — could be headed for the toy shelves if a current Kickstarter campaign catches fire. Elemental Path is gearing up to produce a “cognitive toy” that puts the brain of Watson into a small plastic dinosaur to interact with and entertain small children. The Green CogniToy Dino would cost about $100 and be suited for kids aged 4 to 7. It can also tell knock-knock jokes.
Those clever boffins at Oxford University are experimenting with a new form of wireless networking that can deliver data at 100 gigabits per second by converting the light from a fiber-optic network backbone into an electronic signal and beaming it across the room. Read all about it in the paper called “Beyond 100-Gigabits per second Indoor Wide Field-of-View Optical Wireless Communications” published in Photonics Technology Letters, IEEE, Volume 27, Issue 4.
Google Glass may have flopped and given some people pause about Internet-connected eyewear, but Sony just announced that it’s taking pre-orders for its own SmartEyeGlass product. Good luck with that, Sony.
The Rosetta spacecraft has a close encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko this past Valentine’s Day and like any dedicated follower, took some pictures. The European Space Agency has posted the detailed photos of the comet’s surface, which were taken from just six kilometers away. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has also transmitted sharper pictures of Ceres.
The Brand Finance consultant group has done its annual analysis of the world’s most powerful brands. This year’s report finds last year’s winner Ferarri, dethroned by Lego. (Oh, snap! Snap! Snap!)
And finally, speaking of familiar brands — Oscar Mayer. The meat-maker’s beloved Wienermobile spun out of control this weekend and smashed into a pole on an icy Pennsylvania road near the state’s Harrisburg capital. There were no reported injuries, but the hot-dog shaped vehicle did suffer a busted-up front end and a shattered windshield. Just remember: winter driving is treacherous for everyone, so let’s be careful out there.