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A $629 Ultrasecure Phone Aims to Protect Personal Data

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 16:30

With a heavy emphasis on encryption and strong controls over all data from your phone, Blackphone launches amid intense interest at Mobile World Congress.

A phone touted as the first to put privacy and security ahead of all other considerations launched at a packed event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, today.

Augmented Reality Gets to Work

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 00:00

Augmented reality hasn’t yet lived up to its promise, but it could catch on in situations where it makes employees more efficient.


Marginally Useful

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

Bitcoin itself may fail as a currency, but the underlying technology is beginning to suggest valuable new applications.

Bitcoin, a purely digital currency, is backed by no commodity and governed by no central bank, but it exists because a small number of humans have chosen to believe in its legitimacy.

Driving Innovation

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

The electric car company’s CTO explains what’s going on under the hood.

Car companies have struggled to sell electric cars. Tesla Motors is the exception. Last year, the first full year of sales for its Model S luxury sedan, Tesla sold more than twice as many cars as either Nissan or GM did when they introduced their battery-powered vehicles, the Leaf and the Volt. Tesla did this even though it’s a startup with no dealer network, selling a car that’s more than twice as expensive as the electric cars from the major automakers.

Why Illumina is No. 1

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

After outflanking and outlasting competitors, it is on top of the genome-sequencing business—just as that market is about to soar in importance.

Almost 25 years after the Human Genome Project launched, and a little over a decade after it reached its goal of reading all three billion base pairs in human DNA, genome sequencing for the masses is finally arriving. It will no longer be just a research tool; reading all of your DNA (rather than looking at just certain genes) will soon be cheap enough to be used regularly for pinpointing medical problems and identifying treatments. This will be an enormous business, and one company dominates it: Illumina. The San Diego–based company sells everything from sequencing machines that identify each nucleotide in DNA to software and services that analyze the data. In the coming age of genomic medicine, Illumina is poised to be what Intel was to the PC era—the dominant supplier of the fundamental technology.

50 Smartest Companies 2014

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

These businesses are setting the pace of innovation. They’re shaking up markets or creating new ones.

Storing the Sun

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

Aquion manufactures cheap, long-lasting batteries for storing renewable energy.

A new kind of battery invented by Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of the startup Aquion Energy, could make renewable electricity more practical and economical around the world. Aquion is about to start full-scale production of the batteries at a new factory in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

An Artificial Hand with Real Feeling

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

A new nerve interface gives a sense of touch to a prosthetic limb.

Igor Spetic’s hand was in a fist when it was severed by a forging hammer three years ago as he made an aluminum jet part at his job. For months afterward, he felt a phantom limb still clenched and throbbing with pain. “Some days it felt just like it did when it got injured,” he recalls.

Google’s Quest

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 00:05

It may have finally found the missing piece it needs to move beyond relying solely on advertising.

When it comes to developing software, few companies can match Google’s prowess. It doesn’t just have the most popular search engine. Chrome is the most widely used Internet browser. Gmail, Calendar, Spreadsheets, Docs, and Presentations are legitimate alternatives to Microsoft Office. Picasa, Google’s free photo management software, might be as good as anything from Apple. Android dominates the phone and tablet landscape. Google Maps is becoming the best navigation program on any device.

Glass, Darkly

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 00:00

For its wearable computer to be accepted, Google must convince people that the device isn’t creepy.

Google Glass shares much of its electronics and software with the smartphone, but it’s a very different machine.

Show Me the Bitcoins

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 00:00

Though still volatile, Bitcoin is surging in value and being spent more freely; it’s also inspired a legion of competitors.

The World’s Most Powerful 3-D Laser Imager

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:00

A new military LIDAR chip shows promise for faster and more precise aerial mapping—doing in minutes what used to take days.

Airborne laser scanning has produced stunning maps and insights in the last few years, such as revealing the faint outlines of a vanished medieval city street grid obscured by the jungle surrounding Cambodia’s Angkor Wat (see “Laser Scanning Reveals New Parts of an Ancient Cambodian City”). The feat required 20 hours of helicopter flight time to map 370 square kilometers to a resolution of one meter.

Samsung’s Tizen Will Hit the Ground Running with Android Apps

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 00:00

As the world’s leading smartphone maker prepares to launch its own OS, new software will automatically port as many as “hundreds of thousands” of Android apps.

If app availability is the make-or-break factor in the success of any smartphone operating system, then Tizen—the secrecy-cloaked OS that Samsung is expected to unveil on a new device this month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona—could leap from the gate fairly strongly.

Genome Surgery

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 00:00

Precise and easy ways to rewrite human genes could finally provide the tools that researchers need to understand and cure some of our most deadly genetic diseases.

Over the last decade, as DNA-sequencing technology has grown ever faster and cheaper, our understanding of the human genome has increased accordingly. Yet scientists have until recently remained largely ham-fisted when they’ve tried to directly modify genes in a living cell. Take sickle-cell anemia, for example. A debilitating and often deadly disease, it is caused by a mutation in just one of a patient’s three billion DNA base pairs. Even though this genetic error is simple and well studied, researchers are helpless to correct it and halt its devastating effects.

Yahoo Expands Research Labs in Search of Personalized, Mobile Experiences

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 00:00

The rejuvenated research labs at Yahoo are investigating ways to predict what users want and new forms of mobile hardware.

There are many conflicting opinions about what troubled Web giant Yahoo must do to turn itself around, but critics and company leaders at least agree on one thing: fresh ideas must be part of the solution. As a result, Ron Brachman, head of the research division Yahoo Labs, finds himself working closely with new CEO Marissa Mayer, who took charge of the company in 2012. “There is a lot of two-way dialogue with Marissa and her senior staff,” Brachman says. “They expect us to be the thoughtful leaders in innovation that can tell you where the world and technology are going.”

Phones, Browsers, and Search Engines Get a Privacy Overhaul

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 00:00

Small companies are showing that the technology we rely on can be redesigned to protect our data—and that consumers are interested.

As the reach of the Internet has grown, so has the medium’s favored business model: targeted advertising. Signals recording our activity are harvested as we browse the Web and, increasingly, as we use our smartphones. That information is used to build profiles that help advertisers target ads, and opting out is rarely easy.

Zynga Hopes to Breathe New Life into Flat Games Characters

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 00:00

Zynga is switching strategy with animation technology that makes characters move more naturally.

The future of troubled gaming company Zynga may owe more to a charming, if clumsy, ninja than to the pixelated cows of the company’s breakout hit FarmVille.

A Robotic Hand, This Time with Feeling

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 14:30

A man with a robotic hand can now feel varying degrees of pressure thanks to an implant that connects with the nerves in his arm.

A Dutch man who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident nine years ago is now able to feel different kinds of pressure on three fingers of a prosthetic, robotic hand. The work involved a new kind of implanted device that delivers feedback directly to the remaining nerves in the man’s arm. The implant was left in place for 31 days, allowing the man to feel gradations of touch pressure, depending on the amount of electrical stimulus delivered.

Why Google Kept Motorola’s Research Lab

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 15:45

Motorola Mobility’s sale to Lenovo only looks like a loss—the patents were cheap, and Google might yet advance wearables, home devices, and modular phone hardware.

Google’s $2.9 billion sale of Motorola Mobility to Chinese PC maker Lenovo might seem like lousy business, given Google’s $12.5 billion purchase in 2012 and losses of $1 billion in the interim. But it leaves Google with a mobile research unit and a war chest of patents arguably bought at a very good price. And it gives a boost to Android in developing countries.

Burning the U.K.’s Plutonium Stockpile Could Fast-Track New Reactors

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 00:00

GE’s nuclear waste-burning PRISM reactors get a new chance at commercialization.

Pressure to reduce the U.K.’s plutonium stockpile, along with generous premiums for new nuclear power generation, is breathing new life into a decades-old reactor design—GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Power Reactor Innovative Small Module, or PRISM, technology. PRISM is a fast reactor, whose speedy neutrons can break down waste from spent nuclear fuel.