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Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Why the EPA Regulations Go Easy on Coal States

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 00:00

Huge differences in renewable energy and natural gas potential influenced the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations.

Last week the EPA released a plan to significantly reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions over the next 15 years (see “EPA to Take Biggest Step Ever to Fight Climate Change” and “EPA Issues Proposed Carbon Emissions Rules”). It turns out that some of the states faced with making the biggest changes to meet that goal aren’t the ones that rely heavily on the biggest source of emissions—coal power.

Imposing Security

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 00:00

Computer programmers won’t stop making dangerous errors on their own. It’s time they adopted an idea that makes the physical world safer.

Microsoft’s “3-D Audio” Gives Virtual Objects a Voice

Wed, 06/04/2014 - 10:57

Headphones that make sounds seem to come from specific points in space could be the perfect counterpoint to virtual reality goggles.

Just as a new generation of virtual reality goggles for video games are about to hit the market, researchers at Microsoft have come up with what could be the perfect accompaniment—a way for ordinary headphones to create a realistic illusion of sound coming from specific locations in space.

The Robots Running This Way

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 00:00

Some of the machines acquired recently by Google represent a giant leap forward for robot-kind.

EPA Issues Proposed Carbon Emissions Rules

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 17:36

The EPA’s emissions targets will accelerate the use of natural gas in states that have resisted alternatives to coal.

The Obama administration took its most forceful step yet on climate change with an EPA proposal to curb greenhouse gases from existing power plants. The most likely impact from the rules, if they survive legal challenges, will be an accelerated shift to natural gas and more energy efficiency measures in coal-heavy states.

Lazy Humans Shaped Google’s New Autonomous Car

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 14:50

Google came up with a new approach to its self-driving car project because humans trusted its previous prototypes too much.

The fact that Google’s bubble-like self-driving car, unveiled this week, lacks a steering wheel might be seen as evidence the company’s software is close to mastering the challenges of piloting a vehicle. But the car’s design is just as much a consequence of what Google’s existing fleet of automated Lexus SUVs revealed about human laziness.

Military Funds Brain-Computer Interfaces to Control Feelings

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 13:06

A $70 million program will try to develop brain implants able to regulate emotions in the mentally ill.

Researcher Jose Carmena has worked for years training macaque monkeys to move computer cursors and robotic limbs with their minds. He does so by implanting electrodes into their brains to monitor neural activity. Now, as part of a sweeping $70 million program funded by the U.S. military, Carmena has a new goal: to use brain implants to read, and then control, the emotions of mentally ill people.

Google’s Experimental Smartphone Captures a Future Mapped in 3-D

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 00:00

Early testers are building a range of prototypes from drones to immersive video games using Google’s 3-D mapping smartphone.

Four months after Google unveiled Project Tango—a prototype Android smartphone with cameras and sensors that capture the phone’s environment in 3-D—developers are using the device to make cheap drones for surveying zones, more immersive video games, and even a system for finding a better-fitting suit.

10-4, Good Computer: Automated System Lets Trucks Convoy as One

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 14:12

A recent demonstration involving two trucks tethered by computer control shows how automation and vehicle-to-vehicle communication are creeping onto the roads.

A pair of trucks convoying 10 meters apart on Interstate 80 just outside Reno, Nevada, might seem like an unusual sight—not to mention unsafe. But the two trucks doing this a couple of weeks ago were actually demonstrating a system that could make trucking safer and much more efficient.

Wireless Power from Across the Room

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 00:00

A startup called Energous aims to let you charge your gadgets without plugging them in.

“Do you want us to charge your phone?” George Holmes asks. Normally, that would be an odd question. But Holmes is the vice president of sales and marketing for Energous, a company that is developing technology called WattUp that will allow you to charge smartphones, tablets, and other small gadgets from across a room without wires.

GE’s $1 Billion Software Bet

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 00:00

To protect lucrative business servicing machines, GE turns to the industrial Internet.

To understand why General Electric is plowing $1 billion into the idea of using software to transform industry, put yourself in the shoes of Jeff Immelt, its CEO.

The Lowly Thermostat, Now Minter of Megawatts

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 00:00

How Nest is turning its consumer hit into a service for utilities.

Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs in January put the Internet of things on the map. Everyone had vaguely understood that connecting everyday objects to the Internet could be a big deal. Here was an eye-popping price tag to prove it.

Silicon Valley to Get a Cellular Network, Just for Things

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 00:00

A French company plans to build a wireless slow lane for small, low-power devices.

San Francisco is set to get a new cellular network later this year, but it won’t help fix the city’s spotty mobile-phone coverage. This wireless network is exclusively for things.

Business Adapts to a New Style of Computer

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 00:00

Are companies ready for billions of everyday objects to join the Internet?

The technology industry is preparing for the Internet of things, a type of computing characterized by small, often dumb, usually unseen computers attached to objects. These devices sense and transmit data about the environment or offer new means of controlling it.

We Need a MERS Vaccine, but High Costs, Regulations Make One Unlikely

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 15:47

New technologies give vaccine developers a boost in early development, but large-scale testing and production are bogged down by high costs and lengthy trials.

Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, is spreading across the globe, and while a vaccine could be developed, there’s little commercial incentive to make one.

Jawbone’s Vision: Activity Tracking Now, Remote Control Tomorrow

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 00:00

Fitness bands like the Jawbone Up are in an unusual and enviable position in the electronics business: people rarely take them off.

If you wear a Jawbone Up24 around town, people might ask what it is. The wristband looks like a piece of futuristic jewelry, skinned in a rubbery plastic with a wavy pattern. Even in matte black, the most unexciting of available colors, it stands out.

How Much Will It Cost to Solve Climate Change?

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 16:40

Although major reports conclude that avoiding climate change is affordable, costs could skyrocket without smart, immediate action.

Major reports are concluding that stabilizing greenhouse-gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change is possible and can be done at a relatively low cost. But the details of the reports make it clear that when you factor in real-world issues—such as delays in developing and implementing technology and policy—the cost of solving climate change gets much higher. Switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon sources of energy will cost $44 trillion between now and 2050, according to a report released this week by the International Energy Agency. That sounds like a lot of money, but the report also concludes that the switch to low-carbon technologies such as solar power—together with anticipated improvements in efficiency—will bring huge savings from reduced fossil-fuel consumption. As a result, the world actually comes out slightly ahead: the costs of switching will be paid for in fuel savings between now and 2050.

A Smart Watch Controlled by Twists, Tilts, and Clicks

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 00:00

A movable smart-watch screen makes it easier to read a map or play a game.

The first time I tried out a smart watch with a touch screen, I quickly went from feeling excited to feeling clumsy. Tapping or swiping the small display on my wrist often failed to yield the response I expected. It might have been the quality of the screen, but it may have also been simply that the screen was too small and my fingers too big.

Intergalactic Entrepreneurs Prepare for Blast-Off

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 14:00

A unique gathering of 13 companies showcases a coming year of launches.

It was a rare meeting of minds. Representatives from 13 commercial space companies gathered on May 1 at a place dedicated to going where few have gone before: the Explorers Club in New York.

Alibaba’s Big Rivals May Have a Mobile Edge

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 00:00

Other big Chinese e-commerce companies, including, merge social networking, payments, and mobile.

The planned initial public offering of the world’s biggest e-commerce site—China’s Alibaba—will do more than mint a hoard of new millionaires. It will draw attention to other Chinese e-commerce sites, many with homegrown technology, that are itching to gain the eye of American investors.