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“Gartner: Global PC shipments fell 3.7% in Q4 2016, fifth consecutive year of decline” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“Gartner: Global PC shipments fell 3.7% in Q4 2016, fifth consecutive year of decline” plus 29 more VentureBeat


Gartner: Global PC shipments fell 3.7% in Q4 2016, fifth consecutive year of decline

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 01:32 PM PST

Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4

The PC market has now been in decline for five years in a row, per at least one research firm. Not all 20 quarters were in the red, but the most recent nine were. For Q4 2016, both Gartner and IDC found PC shipments were down globally.

Gartner estimates worldwide PC shipments fell 3.7 percent to 72.6 million units in Q4 2016, marking the ninth quarter of PC shipment declines. According to the firm’s numbers, PC shipments have declined annually since 2012. Another perspective: “2016 shipment totals were at the same levels as shipments in 2007.”

In Q4, the top six vendors were Lenovo, HP, Dell, Asus, Apple, and Acer. As you can see in the chart below, Gartner found that only Asus and Acer experienced a decrease in PC shipments. The rest of the market was down 18.8 percent.

gartner_pc_shipments_q4_2016

For the whole year, the situation looked even more grim. Dell was the only company in the top six that managed to grow its shipments:

gartner_pc_shipments_2016

IDC, meanwhile, estimates worldwide PC shipments slipped 1.5 percent to 70.2 million units in the fourth quarter. The top five vendors in IDC’s results were Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, and Asus.

IDC agrees with Gartner that Asus was down and that the remaining smaller companies suffered a double-digit drop, but found that Apple was also down slightly. The exact numbers, for your perusal:

idc_pc_shipments_q4_2016

As for the whole year, IDC agrees with Gartner that Dell did well, but also found that HP saw growth:

idc_pc_shipments_2016

Gartner and IDC analysts have pointed to a variety of factors causing this steady decline, but there’s only one that remains every quarter. The PC simply isn’t in the same demand as it once was.

“Stagnation in the PC market continued into the fourth quarter of 2016 as holiday sales were generally weak due to the fundamental change in PC buying behavior,” Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement. “The broad PC market has been static as technology improvements have not been sufficient to drive real market growth. There have been innovative form factors like 2-in-1s and thin and light notebooks, as well as technology improvements, such as longer battery life. This end of the market has grown fast, led by engaged PC users who put high priority on PCs. However, the market driven by PC enthusiasts is not big enough to drive overall market growth.”

IDC was a little more optimistic.

“The fourth quarter results reinforce our expectations for market stabilization, and even some recovery,” IDC analyst Loren Loverde said in a statement. “The contraction in traditional PC shipments experienced over the past five years finally appears to be giving way as users move to update systems. We have a good opportunity for traditional PC growth in commercial markets, while the consumer segment should also improve as it feels less pressure from slowing phone and tablet markets.”

Samsung and LG both reportedly launching foldable phones in second half of 2017

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 01:04 PM PST

fold

After years of rumors and false starts, both Samsung and LG are preparing to unveil portable devices with folding screens later this year, according to a report in the Korea Herald (via XDA).

Samsung is likely to produce 100,000 of the smartphone-cum-tablets in the third quarter, the Herald claims, while LG may manufacture the same quantity in the fourth quarter. The report cautions that neither company has finalized its plans yet.

Most of the report focuses on the Samsung device, likely the same product revealed last year under the codename Project Valley. While the device was initially designed to open like a book with both screens inside, according to the Herald, Samsung decided that consumers don’t want to constantly be opening and closing their phones, and thus moved the displays to the outside of the unit, when closed.

The device will reportedly be a seven-inch tablet when open.

Bloomberg reported last spring that Samsung might unveil its first foldable device as early as next month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, but that timetable looks to have slipped, if this latest report is accurate.

Facebook makes it harder to notice when posts are edited

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 12:26 PM PST

Facebook headquarters.

Facebook appears to have quietly done away with a feature that tells you if a particular post has been edited. As it stands now, the only way that you’ll be able to determine something has changed is by clicking on the edit history option, which will only show if an edit has been made and is available in the post menu option.

Reports of this missing element first surfaced in late December, around the time when there was discussion about whether Twitter should implement an editing feature. Honolulu Civil Beat social media manager Anthony Quintano and former Uber developer evangelist Chris Messina noticed the lack of an editing notifier. Previously, if you edited a Facebook post, there would be a label affixed telling readers that there had been a change.

Screenshot Twitter conversation between Anthony Quintano and Chris Messina about the missing Facebook edit tag.

Above: Screenshot Twitter conversation between Anthony Quintano and Chris Messina about the missing Facebook edit tag.

Image Credit: Screenshot

As mentioned earlier, while the “Edited” tag has been removed, if you know that a Facebook post has changed, you can click on the drop-down menu on the individual update and select “Edit History.” You’re only going to see this if the post has been modified in some way. However, it’s interesting that there is an edit history to begin with.

Where to find the edit history link for Facebook posts.

Above: Where to find the edit history link for Facebook posts.

Image Credit: Screenshot

Comments appear to be unaffected by this, as any updates still include an “Edited” label. This seems to be an issue on both the web and Facebook’s mobile app, regardless of whether you’re verified.

It’s unclear why Facebook has removed this tag from its social network. It could cause some significant issues when you factor in how brands, government officials, celebrities, and other personalities may use this. What impact could it have if you didn’t know if something had been changed?

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if we hear back.

How AI will help with work tasks like setting meetings and reviewing resumes

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 12:10 PM PST

AI.shutterstock_500228107

Warning: Artificial intelligence will soon enter your computer and begin automating your work.

Does this statement make you nervous? It shouldn’t. The realities of AI are a lot different than what Hollywood has conditioned you to anticipate.

First we need to understand that AI is already being incorporated into software. Recently we have seen Salesforce’s Einstein taking shape, Oracle has begun marketing its Adaptive Intelligent Applications, and IBM’s Watson is beginning to pop up everywhere. Each of these tools are defined as AI and might automate some of your daily work. But what will the software actually do to affect your professional life?

Automate scheduling

The first key function of AI will be to automate simple tasks, which will become more complex over time, freeing the worker to focus on higher value activities. For example, Jane and Bill need to have a meeting. Both of their calendars are accessible via the internet. AI compares both calendars, applies each individual's preferences and other variables, and sets the meeting.

The part that makes this particularly exciting is that the AI will be able to implement self-improving output from your preferences to prioritize meeting times. So if you prefer to skip lunch and cut out around 4:30, then your AI agent will be more likely to offer a noon conference call. In other words, machine learning will simplify your mundane work tasks. This automated scheduling functionality is already available from x.ai.

Aid decision-making

A second area where AI promises early benefits is in providing decision support with large data sets. We can all agree that complex data sets cause decision-making to be more painstaking and difficult. AI will help to simplify the decision-making process by managing the data for us.

For example, physicians manage large sets of data from the many tests run on a patient, as well as their medical history. A complete blood count is a common front-line test that normally measures red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and platelets. Abnormalities in any of these counts could indicate thousands of different afflictions. More tests are needed to begin navigating and eliminating possibilities. Public health information from hospitals and physicians around the world must also be factored in, creating a massive data set. Managing the rapidly growing tomes of information is a daunting task.

However, an AI agent has the ability to manage the information through an electronic medical record, apply known medical science, and learn to anticipate next steps. As health care continues to evolve, so can the software with machine learning. However, the software doesn’t replace the physician’s interaction with the patient, physical exam, intuition, or ability to diagnose.

Support judgment calls

In the business world, we are beginning to see AI taking hold, and many different professions are becoming early benefactors from the software. In human resources, AI is beginning to assist with reviewing resumes, automating portions of the annual review process, and coordinating employee training. Sales teams will start to benefit from AI’s ability to apply machine learning to anticipate needed intelligence about a prospect, a deal, inventory, staffing, order status, and other information. And won’t it be great when AI begins identifying when remote machinery needs maintenance or is on the verge of needing repairs, thus increasing the efficiency of a production facility?

The best part of AI making its way into business applications is that it will live in a familiar place. Users won’t have to use additional software to overcomplicate matters — instead, it will be embedded inside the products they already use. It will work as a convenient feature that simply makes life easier. Eventually, the AI functionalities will become as unnoticed as the vast vocabulary built into your spell-check software.

Artificial intelligence is the next evolution we are seeing in the software industry. While many people are concerned that this is the beginning of robots replacing humans, the reality is that AI will simply make humans more efficient and effective in the working world.

This article appeared originally at G2 Crowd.

How Restream.io is freeing live video content from YouTube and Twitch

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 12:05 PM PST

Restream.io is one of the easiest ways for small video creators to reach multiple content platforms.

You have a lot of options when it comes to broadcasting live video to the Internet. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others want your content in their ecosystems. But you typically have to choose one because of bandwidth and processing limitations — unless you use Restream.io.

Restream.io cofounder Alexander Khuda.

Above: Restream.io cofounder Alexander Khuda.

Image Credit: Restream.io

In 2015, Alexander Khuda cofounded Restream.io to give livestreamers a way to send out one video feed that would then get cloned to multiple channels. Using this tech, a typical broadcaster can go live on Twitch, YouTube, Hitbox, and more without having to use extra bandwidth. For online personalities that have a presence on these various video platforms, this is a crucial tool to reach out in real time to their audiences without having to leave anyone out. As we begin 2017 — and with Twitch introducing its IRL category for non-gaming-related content — Restream.io wants to expand its reach to more gamers and every other kind of online video creator.

GamesBeat caught up with Khuda to talk about where Restream.io came from and where its headed in a chat late last year, and you can read that interview right here.

GamesBeat: Tell me what it was like getting to this point.

Alexander Khuda: Since launch, we've delivered about five million broadcasts for our users. Right now, we support more than 30 streaming services around the world. We've done partnerships with many local streaming services — like VK in Russia, one of the biggest Russian social networks. They just started livestreaming. We've also done partnerships with some Chinese streaming services. Right now, we're working on Periscope implementation.

GamesBeat: Can you run through how the technology functions? It seems like an impossible demand on bandwidth.

Khuda: It's simple. You stream to us, deliver to us something like three megabits per second, and we redeliver it to a few destinations. All this bandwidth goes through our service. But we don't handle all the load of the viewership. That load goes to the streaming services. YouTube, for instance, covers it on their own side. For us, it doesn't matter how many viewers you have at the same time as a streamer because all of that is managed by the streaming services. They distribute the content. But for us, it's simple. We receive one stream and restream it, on average, to about three destinations.

GamesBeat: So, there's no magic happening. It's not that tough to do what you're doing — or at least not super expensive.

Khuda: It's much cheaper than doing what a streaming platform does, yes. We're still in prototype, but we think we've done a great job. It's hard to make this scalable. Right now, for instance, we deliver more than five percent of all live content on YouTube. That's a thousand concurrent livestreams, which is a huge load for our servers, but we've done a great job with our infrastructure.

Restream recently added Periscope.

Above: Restream recently added Periscope.

Image Credit: Restream.io

GamesBeat: Beyond YouTube, how many people are using Restream? How many output streams are you creating?

Khuda: We've achieved more than 100,000 registered users. Talking about concurrent live streams per day, it's hard to count. We deliver around one billion watched minutes per month. As far as how many streams in total, though, I don't have that information.

GamesBeat: What are the biggest challenges today, then?

Khuda: Right now, we're trying to integrate with more hardware and software solutions. We've already done this with [capture-card company] Elgato. Our idea is to implement to all devices around the world — mobile devices, hardware, software, it doesn't matter. We want to be the biggest cloud for distributing live streams.

GamesBeat: So, you're working with software and hardware vendors so that when people boot up their Elgato and go through the documentation, they see Restream is an easy way to reach all these different platforms?

Khuda: Right. It's a partnership because we help them provide a great feature to their audience, and we get access to their audience. They promote us, and we promote them.

Our idea was to focus on one thing, the streaming option. We try to build smaller features around that. Our idea was to focus on one thing, rather than doing 100 different features simultaneously. That's our main benefit and value. For Elgato and other encoders, it's hard to reproduce what we do. They need to have a whole additional team to do that. Instead, it's easy to create a partnership with us.

We had the idea of implementing to PlayStation and Xbox, by the way, but we haven't signed any deals there yet.

GamesBeat: Right. But you're talking to them, trying to see if you can make that work?

Khuda: We've tried to reach them. We've had conversations. But it's a very early stage for us. The idea is that we help streaming services as well. We deliver them content — to YouTube or other services like DailyMotion — but we also deliver content from YouTube to Twitch, say. All the streaming services get to generate revenue through advertisement because they put pre-rolls before these videos and so on. We help streamers at the same time because they can multiply their audience and generate more revenue through their brand partnerships.

GamesBeat: Do you have a road map of any of those extra features you'd like to add down the line?

Khuda: Right now, our system consists of three parts. One of them is restreaming, delivering the content. Another is Restream Chat, natively for Windows. We started in the gaming space, and gamers who are streaming are mostly on PC. It's a very powerful application. It helps streamers communicate with their audience across all streaming services. It's very useful. So, on the one hand, we deliver the content, and on the other, we receive communications and the streamer has the ability to immediately communicate with their viewers. The third part, which is in development, is our analytics tools. We want to provide features there that could be very useful, allowing streamers to analyze the behavior of their audience. We're focusing on growth, trying to grow our audience and build our community. We haven't spent any money on advertising so far. All the users we've acquired, they are from social media like Reddit and other streaming communities.

GamesBeat: What are your plans to expand in those three areas in the future?

Khuda: We're trying to accelerate growth in the next year. We may start offering some premium features like transcoding options. Most streaming services have different requirements for incoming video — different bitrates, things like that. You can stream to Twitch with 3.5 megabits per second if you're not partnered with Twitch, but YouTube doesn't have limits. Periscope has a very small resolution, something like five times smaller than Twitch. If you want to deliver the highest quality to every streaming destination, you have to adapt your video to every service. We'll be providing that feature.

You can add most of the biggest livestreaming sites do your Restream account.

Above: You can add most of the biggest livestreaming sites to your Restream account.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: Yeah, I was wondering if you have to set everything for the lowest common denominator. With Facebook the best you can do is 720p and 30 frames per second. So, you're saying you're working on a way to adapt to the best settings for everything I use?

Khuda: Correct, correct. On our side. But honestly, it's not easy to do. It requires a lot of CPU usage. Right now, we're trying to figure it out. I hope it will be done within a week or two. The goal is close for us. But we don't try to plan for years ahead right now.

We've been collecting feedback from our users, and we know what we want to achieve. But a clear road map with weekly sprints and things like that, we don't have that. We have a month or a little more ahead planned but not more. We want to implement for all software solutions everywhere, and we want to continue to improve our service, providing useful features like transcoding and analytics tools. Maybe we'll come up with more features to help streamers generate revenue. But it's not something that's happening in the next six months.

Augmenix Announces Positive Three-Year Long-Term Data Highlighting Benefits of SpaceOAR® Hydrogel Spacer for Patients with Prostate Cancer

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 11:34 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

Results published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology and Physics show on average no long-term declines in bowel and urinary quality of life for patients and 78% reduction in late rectal toxicity.

WALTHAM, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 11, 2017–

Augmenix, Inc., a medical technology company that develops, manufactures, and sells proprietary absorbable hydrogels that separate and protect organs at risk during prostate radiotherapy, announced that the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology and Physics (IJROBP), also known as the Red Journal, has published long-term outcomes data from the company’s Phase 3 clinical trial for SpaceOAR System, the first absorbable hydrogel spacer designed to separate the rectum and prostate during prostate cancer radiotherapy.

This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170111006040/en/

SpaceOAR separates the prostate and rectum during radiation treatment, reducing rectal injury (Graph ...

SpaceOAR separates the prostate and rectum during radiation treatment, reducing rectal injury (Graphic: Business Wire)

The Red Journal publication reports three-year post-treatment data in the Phase 3 prospective, randomized, multi-center, patient-blinded clinical trial of the SpaceOAR System. The study evaluated radiation dose to critical structures (prostate, rectum, bladder, penile bulb), rectal and urinary toxicity and quality of life (QOL) impact on prostate cancer patients treated with and without SpaceOAR System during radiotherapy. For QOL, the Expanded Prostate Cancer Index Composite (EPIC) was utilized. The SpaceOAR System is the only product that is FDA cleared to provide a barrier between the prostate and rectum to decrease toxicity and minimize changes in QOL following prostate radiotherapy. It is injected as a liquid and then solidifies into a soft hydrogel that pushes the rectum out of the high-dose prostate radiation field for three months during radiation therapy. The hydrogel is absorbed by the body in the months following treatment.

During radiotherapy the spacer resulted in a 73.5% reduction in rectal V70 radiation dose, and a 49% reduction in median penile bulb radiation dose in patients treated with SpaceOAR (SpaceOAR) compared to men who did not receive SpaceOAR hydrogel (Control). In the three years following radiation treatment the SpaceOAR group demonstrated a 78% reduction in late rectal toxicity complications, compared to Control patients. No patients in the SpaceOAR group (0%) experienced grade two or worse rectal toxicity, compared to 5.7% in the Control group. Results also showed a 75% reduced risk of mild urinary incontinence among patients treated with SpaceOAR compared to Control. At three years, the average SpaceOAR patient bowel and urinary QOL measure was the same as before radiotherapy, while the Control patients QOL measures had significantly declined.

Overall patient wellness at three years was also assessed by looking at the percent of patients with clinically significant declines in all three QOL areas (bowel, urinary and sexual). Fully 20% (one in five) of the Control patients had clinically significant QOL declines in all three QOL areas compared to only 2.5% (one in forty) of the SpaceOAR patients.

“These results further validate the safety and efficacy of the SpaceOAR System and highlight the long-term benefits it can provide to prostate cancer patients who are treated with radiotherapy,” said Daniel Hamstra, MD, PhD, radiation oncologist at Texas Center for Proton Therapy. “By creating a space between the rectum and prostate, SpaceOAR can help prevent risks of injury to surrounding healthy tissue during radiation, representing an important advantage for thousands of men treated for prostate cancer each year.”

“Following radiation therapy, patients often experience a decline in urinary, bowel and sexual function which in some cases can be extreme. These data show that the benefits seen in the use of SpaceOAR are durable and support the use of SpaceOAR hydrogel spacing during radiotherapy for prostate cancer with the potential to help many patients return to and maintain pre-treatment quality of life,” said John Pedersen, CEO of Augmenix.

About SpaceOAR System

Radiation therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer can cause unintended radiation injury to adjacent healthy tissue (organs at risk). This injury can lead to a range of bowel, urinary and sexual symptoms that can affect patient health and quality of life during radiotherapy, and for years afterward. In recent years, radiation oncologists have considered use of “spacing” techniques to reduce the risk of radiation injury to surrounding tissue during radiotherapy. SpaceOAR System is intended to temporarily position the anterior rectal wall away from the prostate during radiotherapy for prostate cancer and in creating this space it is the intent of SpaceOAR System to reduce the radiation dose delivered to the anterior rectum. The SpaceOAR System is injected as a liquid into the space between the prostate and rectum where it pushes the structures apart and then solidifies into a soft hydrogel. The hydrogel remains stable for three months and then liquefies and is completely absorbed by the body after radiation treatment is over. The SpaceOAR System is FDA cleared and is currently being used in the majority of leading cancer centers in the United States. It is also CE marked, approved in Australia and licensed in Canada. See the Instructions for Use for complete information on potential risks, warnings and precautions.

About Augmenix, Inc.

Augmenix, Inc. is a privately held company based in the Boston area focused on the development and commercialization of radiation oncology products using its proprietary hydrogel technology. Focusing initially on protection during prostate radiation therapy, the Augmenix next-generation products will address spacing and marking applications throughout the body to improve radiotherapy and interventional oncology procedure outcomes. The company was founded by Incept LLC in 2008 and is funded by several leading venture capital groups. More information about Augmenix and the SpaceOAR System can be found at http://www.Augmenix.com.

SpaceOAR is a registered trademark of Augmenix, Inc.

Augmenix
Eileen Gardner, RN, 781-902-1625
egardner@augmenix.com

Rocket League cements itself as an indie sensation with 25 million registered players

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 11:05 AM PST

The breakout hit of 2015 is still going strong in 2017.

Running automobiles into giant soccer balls has become a favorite pastime for millions of people all around the world.

Rocket League now has 25 million registered (not active) players. That makes it one of the best-selling games on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This is an astonishing milestone for the indie game that has you playing soccer as a car. Developer Psyonix also confirmed that Rocket League has hosted more than 1 billion individual matches since its launch in summer 2015. Half of those games are part of the ranked competitive mode, which is likely a major key to its success. Rocket League has attracted an enthusiastic esports community, and that keeps fans engaged and coming back for more.

But it’s not just long-time fans of the game that are keeping Rocket League going (even if I do own it on three different platforms). Valve revealed last week that Rocket League was one of the best-selling releases on the Steam PC gaming platform in 2016. Sony also revealed that it was the most downloaded PlayStation 4 game on the PSN Store in 2016 for North America and Europe. That performance on PS4 is especially notable because Rocket League debuted as a free download for members of Sony’s PS Plus premium subscription service in 2015. Yet, in the following year, more people downloaded it on PS4 than any other game.

And none of this even touches on Rocket League’s retail presence, where it has stepped into the $30, impulse-purchase price range that was previously dominated by Minecraft.

Y'all have played a lot of Rocket League.

Above: Y’all have played a lot of Rocket League.

Image Credit: Psyonix

Rocket League’s sales clearly demonstrate that it is a mammoth, ongoing hit, but its engagement rate is probably the most impressive metric by which you can judge its success. On Steam, it’s almost always in the top-10 in terms of simultaneous online players. Today, according to Valve’s data, Rocket League has had a peak concurrent number of players of nearly 54,000. That makes it the No. 7 most-played Steam game, and it puts it ahead of games like Fallout 4, The Division, and Civilization VI. This speaks to Rocket League’s lasting appeal, which puts it on par with perennial favorites like Team Fortress 2, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Warframe.

Konami’s mobile push continues with Hearthstone competitor Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links coming West

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 10:31 AM PST

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links.

Yu-Gi-Oh’s second mobile game has expanded to new markets outside of Japan.

Konami today made Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links available to download in North America for iOS and Android devices. The Yu-Gi-Oh franchise encompasses a card game (which has sold over 25 billion cards) and anime shows, and the free-to-play mobile release allows players to create digital decks and fight their friends or other Yu-Gi-Oh fans.

Duel Links came out in Japan in November, where it already reached 9 million downloads. It is the No. 12 ranked game in Japan’s Apple App Store, according to App Annie. Expanding to these new markets will give it a better chance at taking advantage of the $36 billion mobile games market. Digital card games have become popular on mobile, with Blizzard’s Hearthstone leading the pack.

This isn’t the first Yu-Gi-Oh game Konami has created for mobile. The publisher released Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Generation in 2014. Duel Links is a faster game than its predecessor, having players use smaller decks and starting with less health.

Konami used to focus on console gaming, but the publisher has shifted to mobile and pachinko (a kind of Japanese gambling game). The change happened amid drama in 2015 as Konami had a public falling out with Hideo Kojima, the man in charge of the popular Metal Gear franchise. This all happened as Konami was preparing to release Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

The tantalizing promise of augmented reality games

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 10:01 AM PST

Jeri Ellsworth (left) of CastAR and Nick Beliaeff of Spin Master at CES 2017.

CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week, was loaded with augmented reality smartglasses, which layer digital animations and information on top of the real world. They promise us wonderful connections between the digital and physical worlds, and games where we can chase cartoon characters through our own furniture.

Mainstream venture capitalists pumped up startups in virtual and augmented reality in the third quarter, with a record $2.3 billion invested in the last 12 months, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital. And the company predicts that AR will be a $90 billion market by 2020.

I talked about this great promise of AR on a panel at CES with Jeri Ellsworth, cofounder of CastAR, and Nick Beliaeff, vice president of production at Spin Master Studios, a toy company that recently launched its Air Hogs Connect: Mission Drone game.

Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.

Nick Beliaeff: I'm the VP of production at Spin Master Studios. That's a division of Spin Master, which is a 20-plus-year-old toy company. My job is to bridge the gap between physical play patterns and digital play patterns as connected devices become more accessible to the kids of today. They've stopped playing with toys, because it's such a compelling medium. It's my job to re-engage them and go from there.

One thing we love about AR is how it's such a natural pair with physical play. We've been investing in it since 2014. We released our first product late last year, called Mission Drone, where you transform your room into an AR sci-fi universe and fly a real physical drone while you fly rescue missions and battle aliens. Our next one, which we're showing over at Luxor, is Nitro Boost, with multiplayer RC car racing on different circuits. What's cool about AR and connected toys is we can do stuff with a physical RC car crashing into an AR virtual car and spinning out. There's a certain magic to the experiential nature of AR. We're huge fans.

Air Hogs Connect: Mission Drone

Above: Air Hogs Connect: Mission Drone

Image Credit: Spin Master

Jeri Ellsworth: I'm an inventor. I've been an inventor my entire life, and also an entrepreneur. I got my start building and driving race cars in my first career. I opened up retail computer stores after that, at the height of the internet boom in 1995. Eventually I moved into electrical engineering and product design, and toy design as well, which is a very fun field.

I ended up at Valve Software running their hardware department, putting the team together that created the HTC Vive. We were tasked with exploring how to bring new gamers into the Steam platform. Just recently, in the last few years, I founded a company called CastAR, where we're making AR glasses that allow you to blend virtual graphics with real-world objects on your table.

GB: There are predictions from Digi-Capital, a market research company, that AR is going to be a $90 billion market by 2020. Three times the size of virtual reality, goes their prediction. They're very bullish on AR. I wonder what, as far as the backdrop goes, or how far back the thinking around AR goes in history — what sort of science fiction dreams inspired you to think about AR and get into AR?

Beliaeff: The one that spurred us at the toy company came from the head of our Air Hogs division, the RC division. He's also a very big Star Trek fan. He wanted a holodeck experience with his toys. That's where Mission Drone came from.

Ellsworth: I'm another huge Star Trek nerd, and Star Wars of course. When I saw holo-chess as a kid, I didn't know what the gameplay was, but I wanted to experience that someday. All the sci-fi didn't necessarily push me directly to AR, though. It was all the combined inputs and outputs and the blending of your digital experience. That excites me. Where are we going in the next 10 years? It's going to be a blend of all our digital content into the real world in a seamless way. Science fiction predicts that for us.

CastAR wants you to play tabletop games in mixed reality.

Above: CastAR wants you to play tabletop games in mixed reality.

Image Credit: CastAR

GB: We have that very bullish forecast right now, but that wasn't always the case. Where do you think we got this turn for optimism about AR?

Beliaeff: There are a few different touch points. Some things you don't necessarily think of as AR that are technically AR, like the weather person doing the weather in front of a green screen. It's been fairly pervasive, but it just hasn't been labeled. There's a bit more awareness there.

Meanwhile, the technology you guys all have in your pockets or in your laps — your smartphones and tablets and even PCs — have gotten powerful enough that there's enough horsepower to run this technology. The software has also advanced a lot as well. SLAM, simultaneous localization and mapping, is getting more accessible. As hardware and software mature, awareness is driven by wonderful things like Pokemon Go. That's not the perfect implementation of AR, but it drove awareness like nothing else.

Continue Reading ...

Enseo brings your movies and TV shows into the hotel room

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 09:15 AM PST

Enseo knows that Netflix is a lot more popular than paid porn on hotel TVs.

Pay TV services like LodgeNet, Guest-tek, and OnCommand once ruled the hotel room TV. But now they’ve been disrupted by Enseo, which is taking over-the-top video services, such as Netflix and Hulu, into guests’ rooms. And it’s a story of porn versus Netflix.

It’s a battle that has been brewing for a while. Richardson, Texas-based Enseo was founded 17 years ago by Vanessa Ogle, who created one of the first electronic TV guides on broadcast television. She transformed it into a systems integrator that provided the single source for equipment used for TVs for in-room entertainment. For quite a while, that meant pay TV, such as porn and movies.

But as over-the-top services like Netflix became popular, it became obvious that what people wanted to watch in hotel rooms was changing. About three years ago, the company rolled out new services geared toward people’s changing expectations.

“We realized the most important content is what the guests can carry with them into the hotel room,” Ogle said in an interview with VentureBeat at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week.

Jessica Ogle, CEO of Enseo, at CES 2017.

Above: Jessica Ogle, CEO of Enseo, at CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Enseo says that only 1.5 percent of guests order paid video on demand, and most of that is porn. In hotel rooms with Enseo’s new in-room entertainment boxes, about 45 percent of the guests use Netflix.

“We know that Netflix and the OTT services are always in the top three most-watched channels at any time on any day,” Ogle said.

More than 20 million people have used Netflix on Enseo, and the services are growing every month. Hotels hire Enseo to install entertainment boxes, and then they renew their contracts for multiple years at a time. One of Enseo’s big new hotels is the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

In 2014, Enseo rolled out the services to 2,000 rooms. In 2015, that became 20,000 rooms. In 2016, the company introduced the services to 150,000 rooms. The company has also grown during this period. In 2015, Enseo had 35 employees; now it has 125 people. And revenues have been expanding quickly, as well. In 2013, the company brought in $8 million. And in 2016, it was more than $40 million.

“Now we have millions of hours on the system every single month,” Ogle said. “It’s like we’re an overnight success 17 years later.”

Ogle hasn’t raised any money in all those years. But the growth is happening so fast that she is considering raising a round of funding.

“The business is growing so much right now that it’s a great time to consider it,” Ogle said.

CES2017

Google Cloud Platform launches Key Management Service in beta

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 09:00 AM PST

At a Google office in San Francisco.

Google today is announcing the launch of a Key Management Service for its Google Cloud Platform (GCP) portfolio of public cloud services. The tool, which is available now in beta, offers developers a cloud-hosted system for dealing with and monitoring encryption keys. While it’s integrated with some of Google’s existing Cloud Platform services, such as Identity Access Management, it can also be used to handle encryption keys for non-Google systems.

This is in addition to the existing option to bring your own encryption keys, which Google introduced in 2015.

“As an alternative to custom-built or ad-hoc key management systems, which are difficult to scale and maintain, Cloud KMS makes it easy to keep your keys safe,” Google product manager Maya Kaczorowski wrote in a blog post.

The launch comes more than two years after public cloud market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced its Key Management Service. Cloud storage software company Box subsequently introduced a key management service built on top of it. Public cloud infrastructure providers Microsoft and IBM (through Bluemix) have also launched cloud-based key management services.

The Google tool offers a companion application programming interface (API), which lets developers programmatically create, use, rotate, and destroy keys, Kaczorowski wrote.

While Google competes on features, it also challenges other clouds when it comes to pricing and geographical availability. Google is active in both of those areas. In March, Google committed to opening 12 new regions of data centers for operating cloud infrastructure.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day fulfills “I’ll be back” promise … with casino games

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 08:55 AM PST

Terminator 2: Judgement 2.

Casinos have a new trick to make sure that you’ll be back.

GameCo, which creates video game gambling products for casinos, has released three machines based on the iconic 1991 action film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. GameCo’s products aren’t just slot machines themed around familiar movies. Rather, they are short games (45 seconds to 90 seconds long) that give players a chance to win money. The new machines will show up in casinos sometime in early 2017.

Many casinos attract an older crowd with familiar games like slots and blackjack. GameCo argues that it can bring younger people to gambling facilities by having experiences familiar to the shooting, puzzle, fighting, and racing games they play at home.

GameCo machines are playable at Caesars Entertainment locations in Atlanta City, New Jersey. Having the Terminator 2 license can attract more players to its machines. The film’s focus on action works well with familiar gaming tropes like shooting and driving.

“T2 is a world-famous classic film known for action, visual effects, and memorable characters, so it’s a great fit for the fast-paced experience we want to bring to casinos across the globe,” said Rich Maryyanek, head of global business development for GameCo, in a press release sent to GamesBeat.

The invasion of the selfie drones

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 08:15 AM PST

Hover Camera at CES 2017.

We’re living in a selfie world, and anything that helps us take more selfies is sure to make a mint.

Drone makers seem to have figured out that, instead of taking pictures of our neighbors’ backyards, what we really want to do is find new ways to take pictures of ourselves.

You may laugh. But the drone makers aren’t dumb. At CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week, there were 39 exhibitors in the Drones Marketplace, up 56 percent from a year earlier. I walked through the marketplace, which had an incessant buzzing noise.

Drones are expected to generate $1.2 billion in revenue in 2017, up 46 percent, according to Shawn Dubravac, chief economist at the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on CES. Unit sales of drones are expected to hit 3.4 million units, up 40 percent.

I came across a woman in a cage at the Hover Camera booth. She had a chirpy voice and went on to describe the Hover Camera Passport, “your foldable, self-flying personal photographer.” You can simply press a button and toss it up, and it flies. It automatically recognizes your face and follows you around, tracking your movements based on the location of your phone.

The Hover Camera Passport can take close-ups or pull out. It can record 4K video or take 13-megapixel still photos. The $600 drone itself has a cage that protects you in case it collides with you. The protective cage also stops the rotors from getting damaged.

Keyshare's Kimon self drone.

Above: Keyshare’s Kimon self drone.

Image Credit: Keyshare

Keyshare Technology also debuted its Kimon selfie drone at CES. The Kimon is easy to use, portable, has a replaceable battery, and is capable of taking quality photos with a high-definition camera. All of its features are tailored to provide a great selfie-taking experience, including a 16-megapixel camera that supports 4K 25 frames per second video recording. You can control it with a smartphone app that has one-touch takeoff, hovering, landing, and return maneuvers. It sells for $400 and operates for 15 minutes on a charge.

Polaroid also created four selfie drones, ranging from $60 to $270. These drones can do 720p or 1080p high-definition video streaming. There was another $400 selfie drone, the Rova, which only weighs about half a pound.

This mermaid was hawking PowerVision's underwater drone.

Above: This mermaid was hawking PowerVision’s underwater drone.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

And if you seriously want to do something different, you can get the PowerVision PowerRay, which was being hawked by a woman dressed as a mermaid. This drone swims underwater, and it has a 12-megapixel camera that you can control with a smartphone from above. OK, it’s not really meant for underwater selfies. It’s actually more like a fish finder. But if you are scuba diving, you can probably get it to take pictures of your undersea adventures.

CES2017

Uber integrates with your calendar to see where you want to go

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 08:00 AM PST

Office sign at Uber's San Francisco headquarters.

Uber promises that its latest update will get you to your destination faster — you can now integrate your calendar directly with the on-demand ride hailing service. When you do, Uber will automatically display locations or people you’re scheduled to meet so you won’t have to fidget around for an address.

Calendar integration support was first introduced in November, when the company rolled out a major redesign. Today it’s expanding to riders around the world, enabling anyone to sync their phone’s native calendar with the Uber app so that "shortcuts" will automatically appear at the bottom of the screen when the app is opened.

Syncing your phone's calendar with Uber will surface locations where you need to go.

Above: Syncing your phone’s calendar with Uber will surface locations where you need to go.

Image Credit: Uber

This is the most recent instance of Uber tapping machine learning to further its mission of taking care of the first and last miles. The company is using multiple data sources to find out more about riders, with the aim of providing a smarter and streamlined experience — or at least that’s what Uber wants us to think. Uber has data about everything from our normal travel patterns and usage to our contact list, and now our calendars, which it can use to predict when and where we’ll need a ride.

Having an integrated calendar may be beneficial if you’re in a rush and don’t want to dig through emails, appointment notifications, or search online for an address. This could be useful if you’re heading to the airport or a meeting, or have a deadline you need to make. The only thing you have to worry about is whether your calendar event has an associated address — otherwise it won’t be much help.

To opt in, go to Settings and then Calendar Events in the app’s menu. There you’ll be able to complete the process. You can also select the car in the Uber feed. This new feature is available only for those on iOS, but Android support is expected "soon."

Will Japanese VR sex simulation with dolls fly in the U.S.?

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 07:15 AM PST

Let's Play With Nanai

Simulated sex in virtual reality is popular both in the U.S. and Japan. And one Japanese company is hoping that its adult VR game will make the leap into the West.

Let’s Play With Nanai is one of those weird young girlfriend erotic simulations where you can have VR sex on the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. Not only do you immerse yourself using the VR headset, you can also simulate sex using the torso of a sex doll that is synchronized with the VR animation.

The producers of the game hope it will be a hit at AVN, the big adult trade show in Las Vegas where a growing number of VR porn creators will hawk their wares. The AVN Adult Entertainment Expo takes place from January 18 to January 21 in Las Vegas.

Ayaka Hahn, CEO of ImagineVR, a Los Angeles company with Japanese investors, said that her company distributes the title on its VR content platform.

Let's Play With Nanai is a VR porn title that lets you interact with a physical sex doll.

Above: Let’s Play With Nanai is a VR porn title that lets you interact with a physical sex doll.

Image Credit: ImagineVR

You can use your smartphone’s gyro sensor syncs with the app and the animated figure in the VR app, Hahn said. Players join Nanai in her room and have sex with her, using the torso of a physical doll to simulate the feeling of having sex. The players can change her outfit and underwear using gaze controls.

The controls for this game are simple. You attach a smartphone to a surrogate body, and Nanai will react according to the movements of that body. You can have “simulated sex” with the virtual character using a variety of positions. Hahn said the “sex action is pretty ‘soft’ as the game theme is a ‘sweet first-time sex with your girlfriend.'”

The developer, an indie group dubbed VRJCC, created the game as they reminisced about the times when they went through college without girlfriends. So they figured they would create a virtual girlfriend. The game debuted in Japan in the summer of 2016.

Now it is available for download in English and Japanese. New updates are coming this spring. ImagineVR previously created the VR porn title BeachHouseSex.

Instagram Stories will now feature auto-playing video ads

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 06:52 AM PST

Instagram Cake

If you’re one of the millions of Instagram users who likes the service’s recently added “Stories” sharing feature, get ready to see more ads inserted between your friends’ clips in the near future. Instagram announced on Wednesday that it is rolling out full-screen, auto-playing video ads to the Stories feature starting this week.

The Facebook-owned service said the roll-out will start with a trial involving about 30 corporate partners and brands — including McDonald’s, Airbnb and Nike — and then the new offering will be offered globally to any advertiser. The Stories feature allows users to collect videos and photos and share that collection with friends who follow them on the service, which Facebook bought in 2012.

There were reports this week that Instagram was already testing video ads in Stories, but director of product marketing Jim Squires said in an interview with Fortune on Tuesday that the tests have not officially begun. He said Instagram plans a two or three-week test period before it offers the new feature to all 500,000 of its active advertisers.

Instagram says more than 70% of users follow at least one business, and businesses have posted a third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories since the new feature was launched. That suggested video ads might be well received by both users and advertisers, Squires said.

A demonstration of the new offering showed how the ads appear as users scroll through their Instagram Stories, and how they look and behave very much like a regular video story, except for the fact that they come with a brand name attached. Like any Instagram Story, they are short videos that run full-screen and can be liked, commented on, and shared.

Advertisers can also take any video from their regular Instagram stream and turn it into a Story ad. And Instagram will be offering a full suite of analytics and metrics for that content, including the number of times a video ad is viewed and commented on.

Instagram also announced on Wednesday that just five months after launching its Stories feature, it now has 150 million daily active users using it, out of a total Instagram user base of about 600 million. That means the number of daily active users for Stories has grown by about 33% since October, when the service said the total was 100 million.

The most recent figure also means that Instagram is roughly neck-and-neck with the last public estimate of daily users of Snapchat, which has a similar Stories feature. Bloomberg reported in June that the company had 150 million daily users, although the number has likely increased since then, given how quickly Snapchat has been growing.

Snapchat and Instagram’s Story features share more than just a name. Instagram’s version is virtually a carbon copy of the Snapchat feature, which the latter has had since it launched in 2011. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom freely admitted to copying it when he announced Instagram’s version in August, telling tech news site TechCrunch that Snapchat deserved all the credit for coming up with the idea first.

Although Squires said he didn’t know much about Snapchat’s metrics, the two services are clearly going head-to-head when it comes to social video. And Instagram’s debut of video ads is just the latest piece of Facebook’s aggressive expansion strategy for its video business, a strategy that has consisted in part of copying Snapchat.

Snapchat has been offering full-screen video ads similar to the ones that Instagram is premiering for some time, under a program it calls 3Vi, for “vertical video views, interactive.”

Squires said one of Instagram’s competitive advantages is that its ads will come with “precise targeting from Facebook, based on demographic and interest-based signals that have been built up over many years,” which he said is something that brands won’t be able to get anywhere else.

In addition to the recent introduction of Stories and video ads inside Instagram, Facebook has also created multiple apps and features over the years in an attempt to compete with its smaller competitor, including its Poke app and a disappearing message format. Snapchat turned down a Facebook acquisition offer in 2013, and now has a market value that is estimated at $25 billion.

Facebook is also said to be close to rolling out its own video ads, according to a number of recent reports. The social network has been promoting its Facebook Live feature for some time, in part by paying media companies like the New York Times and BuzzFeed to produce video, but it has yet to create as many money-making opportunities as more established players like YouTube.

The social network will soon roll out “mid-roll” ads that will automatically appear during videos uploaded to the service, according to a report in tech news site Recode that was based on anonymous sources with knowledge of the offering. The company plans to share 55% of the revenue with media companies, matching the revenue split that YouTube offers.

Facebook has also reportedly promised advertisers that ads won’t show up in any videos that are shorter than 90 seconds, and they won’t appear until a user has watched a video for at least 20 seconds. In the past, Facebook has counted a video as “viewed” if a user spent three seconds or more watching it, something that advertisers have criticized as too short.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

How game hardware inspires PC design at Dell

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 06:15 AM PST

Bryan de Zayas, director of gaming strategy at Dell.

Dell bought Alienware years ago for a purpose. The gaming hardware division designs its edgy products for hardcore gamers. But those designs have found their way into mainstream computers that Dell sells to all consumers and businesses.

It turns out that cutting edge design is something that everybody likes, and so Dell has found that it can experiment with Alienware and then cull the designs for what it can use in its larger array of Dell products.

I caught up with Bryan de Zayas, director of game strategy at Dell, to talk about this at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week. At CES, Dell introduced four new gaming laptops, including three Alienware models and one new Inspiron-branded game laptop. All are ready for virtual reality games.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Dell Alienware notebook computers

Above: Dell Alienware notebook computers

Image Credit: Dell

GamesBeat: When it comes to innovation in PC gaming, what's new at CES this year?

Brian De Zayas: What we're talking about for Dell and Dell Gaming—from the Alienware side, we're continuing to push the limits when it comes to performance. We've just refreshed our entire notebook lineup.

But the innovation part of what we're doing with Alienware right now revolves around two things. It's about the experiences. One is the VR experience, the experiences gamers are getting with Oculus and HTC, pushing on that high end. We're partnering with them, making sure all of our platforms are VR-ready out of the box. All of our laptops are VR-ready, no matter what configuration, for both HTC or Oculus.

Another one we're doing from the Alienware side, I'm sure you're familiar with Tobii eye tracking. We've incorporated their camera into our Alienware 17. It's at the bottom, doing all the eye tracking built into games and so on. We're still pushing the limits on performance, getting the most we can in there, wrapping the right thermal solution around the box. We still have our steel-reinforced keyboard with the most key travel we can, things like that that are mainstays for Alienware. But our real focus around innovation has to do with what experiences our customers want to have with the system and the games they're playing.

GamesBeat: You also do an Inspiron gaming laptop. It seems like that inherits some design values from Alienware.

De Zayas: That's another piece we're talking about heavily here at CES. We just announced and launched the Inspiron 15. We're solving a very specific need. As you know, for years Alienware has been driving that top end of the market, pushing the high end on performance. But gamers have been asking Dell, and a lot of other folks, for a very long time, for a box that can hit 1080p, somewhere between 30 and 60 frames per second, starting around $799. That's the Inspiron 15.

We've selected the components, so you have a 1050 or a 1050TI, i5 and i7 quad cores. We've built the thermal solution so it's built around the max capacity of those components. It's what you would expect from a real gaming box. It takes in air from the bottom and expels it out the back. It's all built around the thermal solution, versus just putting parts into a box with the cheapest thermals and being done with it. We built the Inspiron 15 from the ground up so it would be a real innovative box at the price point.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series (Model 7567) notebook computer, codename Firelord, featuring KBL processor.

Above: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series (Model 7567) notebook computer, codename Firelord, featuring KBL processor.

Image Credit: Dell

GamesBeat: If you look at some of the things from last year and what's elevated into the mainstream, it seems like VR is everywhere here at the show. Everybody has some kind of VR imagery or products or demos they're showing. It seems like it's breaking through into a higher consciousness.

De Zayas: I think so too. There's a couple of reasons. One, gaming is the nirvana usage model that people will be able to sit in an experience. They can experience some cool stuff. That helps get people engaged and wanting to see what it's about. But why I think it's starting to make its way – VR in general, not just VR gaming – is you're starting to see it pop up in movie experiences. Assassin's Creed is an example. We partnered with AMD and Assassin's Creed to deliver their VR experience. Now, when people go to a movie theater and see that movie, they'll have an opportunity in some theaters to experience themselves as a character. You're going to start seeing that across different movie titles, which will bring it more into the mainstream.

VR is going to play a significant role in so many other things across our society. If you think about where it's going to help in travel, in the medical fields—doctors can now put on VR headsets and see what their experience will be like in an operation or get closer into the body of a patient. They can assist somebody a world away. These kinds of usage models are helping mainstream consumers understand VR as a significant thing that will play a role in our society long-term. Over this next year we'll see a lot more of it as those stories filter their way down.

GamesBeat: Intel has their Project Alloy coming, the stand-alone wireless headset. Yesterday they said they're going to try and productize it by Q4. It's the second generation of VR.

De Zayas: I have to check it out. I know Microsoft has announced they're working on head-mounted displays. We're working with them to figure out what the right specs are. We haven't defined specs, pricing, timing, but we're working closely with them to figure out what the right solution will be.

Looking at it beyond just computers for a moment, things like PS VR are going to help mainstream consumers get a better understanding. It'll still be the gamer convincing their parents to buy them something like PS VR or Oculus, but once it's in the house the parent's going to try it on. All those things will continue to help the VR industry grow and become more mainstream.

One thing that's a bit outside VR–innovation in gaming overall has a lot to do with esports. One thing you'll see this year is the industry in general doubling down on esports. For Dell overall, we've signed on with Turner and IMG's ELeague. We'll be their exclusive PC hardware provider for all of their events. We want to be at the forefront of that. It'll enable us to figure out how Alienware can help innovate in that space for the professional gamer and the viewer.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich shows off Project Alloy.

Above: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich shows off Project Alloy.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

We're not announcing any plans, but we want to figure out how to help the professional gamer be better at their craft. If you make a comparison to something like NASCAR, there isn't really any other sport where the professional athlete is as closely tied to their technology as a race driver and their car. It's the same in esports, a professional gamer with their gaming rig and their peripherals and the team around them. There's a lot of synergies between those. This year, we'll help enable and figure out, with these teams and brands and so on, what are the right solutions. How can we help make that better from the technology side?

For us it's an important innovation statement. We're helping drive a lot of things in VR. We're helping drive things like Tobii. But outside what most folks are thinking about with technology innovation, we're going to figure out we innovate and enable these professionals to get better at what they do. That's a big innovation point for us.

Dell Alienware 17-inch Tobii notebook computer

Above: Dell Alienware 17-inch Tobii notebook computer

Image Credit: Dell

GamesBeat: It seems like it's going to be a much more competitive year for chips. AMD has Ryzen and Vega architectures coming. The other guys aren't going to sit still. Does that look like a good thing for OEMs?

De Zayas: Any time there's a lot of options and a lot of solutions, it's going to be a great thing for the consumer. That's the way we think about it. I know you're familiar with the AMD/Nvidia wars on graphics. Seeing that across the entire industry, no matter what it is, for us and for the consumer it's a great thing. It'll push competition right across the board, whether it's chips or panels or anything else.

From an Alienware perspective and a Dell perspective, we want the consumer to have that choice. We'll work with our partners to inform them as best we can and let them choose. That's been our mantra.

GamesBeat: I talked to the Synaptics people yesterday. They were saying how hard it is to train consumers to do anything new with things like touch pads and eye tracking. It seems like gamers are the ones who lead that.

De Zayas: They do. Gamers are very willing to try new things. Gamers aren't scared of that next thing. Gamers want to be the early adopters. That's the difference. If there's this cool new trackpad or other input device, let us get our hands on it first.

GamesBeat: Is that why your structure makes sense? You have the leading edge with Alienware and gaming, and then it filters down to the mainstream.

De Zayas: That's exactly right. That's the strategy of what we're doing with Dell Gaming. We push innovation in technology with Alienware, make sure what we have in there is exactly what the gamer needs to have the best experience possible. That's Alienware's brand promise, to deliver the ultimate gaming experience.

Once costs come down on those technologies over the years, once sizes of components come down, then we can bring that to a product line like Inspiron that will deliver a great gaming experience at more affordable price points, like we're doing with the Inspiron 15. That's the strategy. We've been employing that pretty successfully and we'll continue to do that

Bubble Witch 3 Saga launches for mobile and Facebook

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

Bubble Witch 3 Saga.

King has released a sequel for its oldest mobile series.

The mobile developer best known for Candy Crush Saga has released Bubble Witch 3 Saga for iOS, Android, Amazon mobile devices, and Facebook. This new, free-to-play puzzle game could be another hit in the $36 billion mobile games industry.

King’s better-known puzzle series, Candy Crush Saga, helped turn it into one of the biggest developers in mobile. That success resulted in Activision Blizzard buying the company for $5.9 billion in February 2016.

The original Bubble Witch Saga was King’s first mobile game, releasing in 2012 after the Facebook version launched in 2011. It’s similar to the Bust-A-Move series for arcades and consoles in the mid-to-late ’90s, having players shoot bubbles from a launcher in order to match three colors and make other bubbles hanging from the ceiling fall. Bubble Witch 2 Saga followed in 2014, and it’s currently the #370 ranked game in U.S. Apple App Store, according to App Annie. Releasing a new entry could attract new players and bring back fans who downloaded the previous apps.

“Players will need to help an older and wiser Stella overcome Wilbur, who is possessed by an evil spell and has captured the fairy queen,” King detailed in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “To break the curse and defeat the feline who always lands on his feet, players must keep their wits about them and shoot their way through the game to solve a variety of bubble puzzles.”

Bubble Witch 3 Saga features similar gameplay as its predecessors, but includes a new aiming tool that will make it easier to shoot bubbles. You can also help the witch Stella rebuild and customize her house.

Amplifying Voices trains diverse professionals to be great speakers and leaders

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 05:15 AM PST

Amplifying Voices is about creating more diverse voices in tech.

You could think of it as Toastmasters for diverse professionals. Amplifying Voices is a program where veteran professionals in the game, virtual reality, or augmented reality industries train new people who are up and comers.

Last year, the group of six coaches quietly trained 36 people among the developer, artist, and programming communities, giving them a little more polish and poise when speaking publicly or to the media.

The organizers think that Amplifying New voices is even more important in the current political climate. The workshop takes place on February 26 in San Francisco, just a few days before the Game Developers Conference.

ANV's goal is to cultivate and train applicants in how to be spokespeople and role models in the industry.

Specifically the participants will work with mentors to hone their PR, public speaking and presentation skills. They will also be introduced to many members of the industry and will be encouraged to work on their community building.

If your application is accepted, besides attending the workshop, you will also get a pass to the Game Developers Conference, and you will be given a stipend to help pay for your flight and hotel.

In order to be eligible for acceptance into the workshop, you will need to meet the following criteria:

  • Create games that focus on aspects of diversity or identity OR you personally identify as being a part of an underrepresented group in the games or AR/VR industry.
  • Are involved in developing games (artist, designer, engineer, producer, sound designer, writer) and want to grow as a public role model.
  • Are mid-career in the industry, having worked in the field for three to eight years, and having at least one shipped title is preferred.

The applications or nominations are January 30, 2017.

Superflex unveils powered super clothing created by designer Yves Béhar

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 04:30 AM PST

Superflex has designed a suit that helps people move more easily.

Superflex has unveiled its “powered clothing” to help elderly people stand and walk more easily with the assistance of its science-fiction-like powersuits.

Superflex took ideas for futuristic military armor, which enables soldiers to carry heavy packs or jump through the air, and applied them to the challenges faced by elderly or disabled people who are too weak to go up stairs or to even get up out of a chair.

Yves Béhar and his industrial design team at Fuseproject — creators of projects such as the Ouya game console and One Laptop Per Child — collaborated with Superflex to design the clothing, which was unveiled in concept form at the London Design Museum's exhibit devoted to design innovations in aging.

Superflex's suit is designed to help people get out of chairs.

Above: Superflex’s suit is designed to help people get out of chairs.

Image Credit: Superflex

"Superflex's new powered clothing technology means that people will lead fuller, healthier, and more rewarding lives," said Rich Mahoney, cofounder and CEO of Superflex, in a statement. "We are honored to share our vision for powered clothing and our exciting collaboration with Béhar and Fuseproject at the London Design Museum."

The prototype suits will be turned into consumer product and debut in 2018. The company spun out of the robotics lab at think tank SRI International a year ago and raised $9.6 million in a funding round led by Japan’s Global Brain.

Superflex's suit was designed by famous designer Yves Behar.

Above: Superflex’s suit was designed by famous designer Yves Béhar.

Image Credit: Superflex

The company said today that Béhar is also joining Superflex as an official advisor.

Superflex's suit concept is on display at the New Old exhibit in London in the company's first public presentation of its vision for powered clothing — as a “powered suit” to improve wearers’ confidence in performing everyday activities. Lightweight, connected, and outfitted with electric "muscles," the suit is designed to provide "core wellness support" to a wearer's torso, hips, and legs, and it gives an extra boost to one's strength when getting up, sitting down, or staying upright.

Led by an internal team of textile specialists and fashion designers, the suit form has been in development for the past year, with Béhar and Fuseproject recently joining to provide world-class usability and industrial design. Superflex designed the suit, while Béhar focused on the aesthetics and usability.

Mahoney previously served as the director of robotics at SRI International.

Superflex's suit is both functional and pretty.

Above: Superflex’s suit is both functional and pretty.

Image Credit: Superflex

"When we talk about designing for an aging population, the standard approach has been to provide aid in the home — completing tasks, welfare modules, accommodating lack of mobility, which results in a life lived more statically,” said Béhar, in a statement. “But what if technology could help us continue to move about the world and engage with it, physically, socially and emotionally? This is the question Superflex is answering with the concept of Powered Clothing: to empower us by enhancing our physical ability so we can continue to live actively. I'm thrilled to join the team creating that vision.”

Many of Béhar’s works are included in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Béhar is a frequent speaker on design, sustainability, technology, and entrepreneurship. He has garnered over 300 awards, including the Design Miami/ 2015 Design Visionary Award, the London Design Museum's Design of the Year, Cooper Hewitt's National Design Award, IDSA Design of the Decade Award, IDA Design of the Year, and Conde Nast Traveller Designer of the Year. He was named a Top 25 Visionary by Time Magazine, and was recently named "Most Influential Industrial Designer in the World" by Forbes.

Superflex's suit has wires designed into it.

Above: Superflex’s suit has wires designed into it.

Image Credit: Superflex

Here’s Béhar’s full statement on designing the Superflex suit:

When we talk about designing for an aging population, the standard approach has been to provide aid in the home– completing tasks, welfare modules, accommodating lack of mobility, which results in a life lived more statically. While these efforts to address ADLs – activities of daily living – are important, they fail to take on the greatest challenge: mobility outside the home. But what about if technology and design could help us continue to move about the world and engage with it physically, socially and emotionally? This is the question Superflex is answering with 'Aura Powered Clothing' being presented for the first time at the breakthrough 'New Old' exhibition at the London Design Museum.

Powered Clothing is the brainchild of Superflex – a start-up that was birthed in the Robotics Lab at SRI in Palo Alto. We partnered with the Superflex team on the design and application of their groundbreaking technology. The result is a wearable powered suit with function and details that showcase the technology within. The design emphasizes wearability, beauty and details, while integrating the complexities and ingenuity of the system.

Older people and the disabled can stand and move better in a Superflex suit.

Above: Older people and the disabled can stand and move better in a Superflex suit.

Image Credit: Superflex

Our goal in designing for the New Old exhibition at the Design Museum is to show what technology can do for an aging population right now.

The New Old exhibition is the perfect setting for presenting this new concept. Designing to solve for the lack of mobility due to muscle weakness, balance issues, and coordination problems that all too often makes the elder population a captive of their own homes is an important challenge. With motors, sensors, and artificial intelligence embedded into a lightweight and flexible fabric, Superflex's Aura Powered Clothing provides support for the user's torso, hips and legs. It reacts to the body's natural movements, adding muscle power to naturally complement the user's strength in getting up, sitting down or staying upright. In fact, Powered Clothing amplifies an individual's ability to move freely in the world. Over time, the potential is to actually improve muscle strength, balance and coordination for the wearer. Movement begets progress. The suit, including its embedded hardware, will be insignificant in weight and deliver an exponential amount of strength.

While most robotic technology and AI bring up dystopian notions, we have specifically designed the Aura Powered Suit to be easily adoptable and promote daily use for the elderly.

Using biomimicry, the suit configuration is anatomically aligned with the natural muscular composition of its wearer. With maximum comfort in mind, the hard technology components such as motors, batteries and control boards are designed into hexagonal low-profile pods. These pods are attached to fabric origami fold-ins that allow movement in 3 dimensions, permitting the hardware to expand, contract and move with the wearer. This enables a modular and scalable system that adapts to different user muscular needs and heights. The hardware pods are removable to make the garment cleanable.

While the technology inside of the pods is complex, the actual fabric itself is designed with beautiful intricacies to enhance its functionality. For the suit to deliver its assisted movement, it has to grip the body while being comfortable. Within the soft, engineered fabric, there is a V-shaped band that holds tightly around certain points on the body in order to maximize ergonomics and lumbar support. While the concept on display highlights this band as well as the mechanics connecting each of the main muscle points, the final suit will be designed with all these elements integrated – an elegant, minimal looking undergarment that hides its technology and intelligence within.

Fuseproject and Superflex are continuing to develop this concept: ensuring it is seamless for older adults to use, easy to clean and put on, and accessible in price. The design and style framework we are building stands apart from the typical aesthetic for the aging market marked by a clinical and "sickroom aesthetic". Instead of the design and aesthetic framework of products for the aging market that is stigmatizing and reinforces increased marginalization, the materials and design details of the Superflex design are about comfort, performance and style.

Powered Clothing has the clear ability to expand and extend our human potential, providing strength and confidence to participate fully and richly in the world.

Expanding the social lives of an aging population – extending the window during which they can remain independent, active, and connected – is what Superflex and Fuseproject are enabling in the immediate future. We believe that we are on the cusp of liberating a generation from a fate that consigned its predecessors to a life of diminishing expectations. Superflex is innovating a new category of Powered Clothing – smart yet friendly – and invisible – connected wearables that represent, in our view, the future of movement, with profound physical and emotional benefits.

Superflex helps strengthen your muscles so you can move better.

Above: Superflex helps strengthen your muscles so you can move better.

Image Credit: Superflex

FarmLogs raises $22 million to help farmers improve crop yield with big data

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 04:00 AM PST

FarmLogs

Data-focused crop-management startup FarmLogs has raised $22 million in a funding round led by Naspers Ventures, the VC arm of South African media giant Naspers, with participation from existing investors Drive Capital, Huron River Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners, SV Angel, and Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

FarmLogs: Android App

Above: FarmLogs: Android App

Founded out of Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2011, Y Combinator alumnus FarmLogs uses data science and machine learning smarts to help farmers garner insights into what’s happening in their fields in order to maximize their yield, reduce waste, and increase profitability. The platform monitors metrics such as crop health, rainfall, nitrogen levels, and more, while enabling users to record and share scouting notes with photos from specific locations in a field. Farmers can access this data through native mobile apps for Android and iOS.

Today, FarmLogs claims its platform is used by more than a third of row crop farms in the U.S.

Prior to now, FarmLogs had raised $15 million, and with its latest cash injection the company says it plans to expand its team and expedite product development.

“This additional funding will enable us to further grow our team, to accelerate product innovation, and to continue investing aggressively in creating a better future for farming," said Jesse Vollmar, CEO and cofounder of FarmLogs. “We're gaining an incredible partner with Naspers Ventures, and we're thrilled to have the support of world-class investors as we keep the momentum building and continue to tackle huge challenges in agriculture.”

Agriculture technology (AgTech) companies are ripe for investment, with big data increasingly used to improve crop yield. Tel Aviv-based CropX, an AgTech company that builds software and sensors for farmers, has raised around $10 million from notable investors, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt's VC firm Innovation Endeavors.

Elsewhere, fellow Israeli AgTech startup Prospera has raised $7 million for its artificial intelligence-based farming system, while San Francisco-based Granular, an analytics platform for farmers, has nabbed $25 million from some big-name investors, including Google Ventures (GV) and Andreessen Horowitz.

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VC investments in U.S. startups fell 12% in 2016 but remain at historic levels

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 03:15 AM PST

venture_capital.shutterstock_362843972

In terms of venture capital, 2016 was a great year to determine whether you’re a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of person.

According to the latest PitchBook report from the National Venture Capital Association, released today, venture capital firms invested $69.11 billion in U.S. startups last year.

Now, either that’s a big letdown for you because the numbers represent a drop of 12 percent from the $79.3 billion invested in 2015, or it’s still pretty awesome because it represents the second largest year in at least the past decade.

"As companies stay private for longer than ever, the venture capital markets are maturing accordingly," said PitchBook founder and CEO John Gabbert in a statement. "After a couple years of frenzied investments and lofty company valuations, the venture capital ecosystem is moving away from a financing peak and returning to a normal, healthy investment climate."

Naturally, the NVCA takes the optimistic view of the $69.1 billion invested across 7,751 companies. And it notes that venture firms, even if they paused to take a breath last year, still raised $41.6 billion across 253 funds. That’s the most in the past decade. Firms raising funds above $1 billion last year included Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Greylock Partners.

On the pessimistic side of the ledger: The number of funding deals was 8,000, down 22 percent from the previous year. In part, that was a sign of VCs trying to be a bit more cautious. But it was also driven by a 30 percent drop in first-round fundings. It’s another sign that big players continued to suck up VC investment for later rounds, perhaps at the expense of newcomers.

Looking ahead, with VC firms reloading and renewed hope that the IPO market may show signs of life in 2017, the NVCA remains confident that this is promising to be another big fundraising year.

"The large amount of capital raised for deployment to the ecosystem, as well as optimism surrounding the IPO pipeline, are all positive signs as we look ahead,” said Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of NVCA, in a statement. “Given the 2016 election results and the venture industry's return to normal, 2017 will prove a pivotal year for venture investors and the startups they support."

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European mobile payments company iZettle raises $63 million

Posted: 11 Jan 2017 01:35 AM PST

iZettle

European mobile payments processor iZettle has raised €60 million ($63.3 million) in equity funding from existing investors, which include Intel Capital and Zouk Capital, and debt funding from Victory Park Capital.

Founded out of Sweden in 2010, iZettle is a similar proposition to Jack Dorsey’s Square, as it targets small to medium-sized businesses with easy-to-use hardware and software, including a physical bank card reader and an app that allows merchants to accept card payments from customers through mobile devices.

While Square has hitherto been focused largely on the U.S. market — though it is also available in Canada, Japan, and Australia — iZettle has been chiefly focused on Europe, including its native Sweden, Germany, Spain, and the U.K., but it has also launched in Mexico and Brazil.

The Stockholm-based startup had previously raised around €140 million ($148 million), including another €60 million round in late 2015, and with this latest cash bounty it plans to expand its product offering and “prepare the company for next stages of growth,” according to a statement.

“We have been following the impressive growth of iZettle since its inception,” said Gordon Watson, partner at Victory Park Capital. “iZettle is an innovator and a clear market leader in Europe, and we want to be part of its next chapter of growth.”

In addition to its fresh cash influx, iZettle has also announced the appointment of a new chief financial officer (CFO), Maria Hedengren, who formerly served as CFO of Swedish gaming company NetEnt AB.

There are still no plans to launch in North America, as a spokesperson told VentureBeat, “We're firmly focused on the markets where we are already live.”

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Regulators criticize banks for lending Uber $1.15 billion

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 09:43 PM PST

A photo illustration shows the Uber app logo displayed on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph in central London, Britain October 28, 2016.

(Reuters) – Federal regulators criticized several Wall Street banks over the handling of a $1.15 billion loan they helped arrange for Uber this past summer, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Led by Morgan Stanley, the banks helped the ride-sharing network tap the leveraged loan market in July for the first time, persuading institutional investors to focus on its lofty valuation and established markets rather than its losses in countries such as China and India.

The Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which are trying to reign in risky lending across Wall Street, took issue with the way in which the banks carved out Uber’s more mature operations from the rest of the business, the people said, declining to be named because talks with the regulators are private.

This so-called “ring-fencing” of certain markets makes companies appear a safer bet because it strips out the parts of their business that are loss-making.

Scrutiny of the Uber loan by regulators was not a surprise because it is rare for young, unprofitable technology firms to tap the leveraged loan market which is traditionally restricted to companies with long histories of generating cash.

Regulators have said that loans with more than six times leverage may receive a closer look. Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Barclays PLC and Citigroup also helped arranged Uber’s loan. Representatives of the banks declined to comment. Uber was immediately not available to comment.

Representatives for the Federal Reserve and the OCC declined to comment.

Uber does not disclose its financials but Chief Executive Travis Kalanick has said that the company is profitable in its most developed markets in the United States and Europe. The company is losing money in regions such as China, where it has been locked in a battle with rival Didi Chuxing. Last August, Uber said it would sell its China operations to Didi.

Uber spends millions of dollars to attract riders and drivers and lost more than $800 million in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg. But Uber proved a popular draw for investors because of their familiarity with its business and because it had recently closed a $3.5 billion round of financing from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, giving it a valuation of $62.5 billion, dwarfing that of blue-chip companies such as General Motors Company.

Debt investors usually focus on a company’s ability to generate cash, or EBITDA, relative to its debt when they are deciding whether to lend money. Uber, however, was analyzed on a loan-to-value metric, which focused on its equity valuation relative to its debt, investors said. This is not the first time that regulators have scrutinized Wall Street banks for leveraged loan transactions. Regulators have been clamping down on risky lending in the wake of the financial crisis.

Last year, regulators cautioned Goldman over risks involved in two loans totaling $1.8 billion that backed a $4 billion buyout of Ultimate Fighting Championship. Regulators had focused on accounting adjustments that inflated the mixed martial arts group’s future profitability.

So far, these warnings have not resulted in any fines but banks may avoid riskier lending in the future to avoid the possibility of any punishment from regulators.

“Increased scrutiny from the federal regulators could certainly prompt banks to reduce the supply of credit in the leveraged loan markets,” said Shawn Thomas, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s business school who has written about leveraged lending.

Banks are often willing to help raise debt for high profile companies, even if the deal risks regulatory scrutiny, because they hope to land a role in their eventual initial public offerings.

(Reporting by Olivia Oran and Jonathan Schwarzberg in New York; Additional reporting by Patrick Rucker in Washington, DC. Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Bernard Orr)

Dragon’s Watch remixes the mobile role-playing game style of Asia for the West

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 07:35 PM PST

Dragon's Watch is a Western take on Asian role-playing games.

The $36 billion mobile market is brutal. Hundreds of games appear every month, and it takes the brand power of Pokémon to knock the long-lived games from the likes of Supercell, King, and MZ from the top spots. The Secret Police hope dragons have a fraction of the power of Pikachu.

The London-based startup announced that it’s working Dragon’s Watch, what it terms as a “battle RPG.” It’s geared for one-handed play (so you can engage in combat and other activities while standing on a bus or subway), and it also has support for online and offline play (a rarity in the free-to-play mobile gaming market). It will come out for mobile platforms some time in 2017.

Your goal is to rebuild the Dragon’s Watch, a group that watches over the realm of Kagria. You’re seeking lost dragons and heroes. And as you fight your way to your goal, you collect heroes, craft potions, and (of course) take on bosses.

You can see the influence of the team’s inspirations in this formula.

"We're huge fans of social RPGs like Summoner's War, Puzzle and Dragons, and Brave Frontier," Secret Police cofounder Harry Holmwood said. "And wanted to make a game which looks and feels great, is accessible to a wide audience but still has the depth of play and strategy to appeal to hardcore players. We're really excited to be revealing Dragon's Watch for the first time, and look forward to launching later this year."

Secret Police’s backers include Ian Livingstone (a vet of Games Workshop and Eidos) and Hayo Nakayama, who worked at Marvelous and Sega.

Samsung: Over 96% of Galaxy Note7 phones returned to date

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 07:16 PM PST

The front of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone with an extra camera for the iris scanner.

Samsung said today that over 96 percent of all Galaxy Note7 phones have been returned following a recall that started in September.

First introduced in August, the latest Note7 smartphone received positive reviews until reports surfaced that some devices caught fire after their batteries exploded. After a “thorough inspection” of its phones, Samsung opted to issue a mandatory recall, but only after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued its own recall notice.

In October, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned passengers from bringing the Note7 on board any aircraft, even if the device had been powered down. This restriction applied to all flights in the U.S. and was in response to a Note7 exploding after a passenger boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in October.

If you’ve boarded a plane in the past several months, you may have heard flight attendants warning that if you had a Note7, you could not bring it aboard the plane. But Samsung claims that because of the “exceptionally high rates of participation” in the recall, the U.S. Department of Transportation no longer requires airlines to issue specific pre-boarding notifications.

Achieving a 96 percent return rate took about four months, but it wasn’t all done organically, as Samsung revealed in December that it would issue a software update to permanently disable charging on the outstanding Note7s. Until that point, the company had received 85 percent of affected devices.

During the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Samsung America’s president and chief operating officer, Tim Baxter, made reference to the Note7 at the opening of the company’s keynote, saying that Samsung would release a report about what had happened to the device “very soon.” He said, however, that the electronics maker remains undeterred and will not stop “nor will we stop innovating.”

Hackers steal data from 1.5 million user accounts after esports company refuses to pay ransom

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 06:12 PM PST

ransomware give me money

Hackers continue to use ransomware to attack and extort businesses and other organizations, highlighting the dangers of failing to put up adequate cyber defenses.

E-Sports Entertainment Association, a company that hosts competitive video game tournaments, is among the latest to be hit. The gaming company said this week that hackers had released stolen data about its users, including emails, private messages, and phone numbers after it refused to pay $100,000.

ESEA did not say how many users were impacted, but according to the LeakedSource, a website that tracks and stores stolen databases, roughly 1.5 million ESEA users have been compromised.

"We do not give in to ransom demands and paying any amount of money would not have provided any guarantees to our users as to what would happen with their stolen data," the ESEA said in a statement.

The cyber attack on the ESEA is the latest wave of ransomware attacks that appear to be a growing problem. A report by Cisco in July said that ransomware attacks are rising, with nearly 10,000 people and businesses paying extortion money each month to avoid having their sensitive data released or scrambled. Cisco said that the average ransom is around $300 and that hackers, overall, could make $34 million annually carrying out the attacks.

ESEA said that hackers first contacted the organization on Dec. 27 to say that they had broke into its computer networks, stole user data, and wanted payment with the threat that they would leak the information or sell it on the black market. Over the following weeks, ESEA communicated with the hackers via emails, sought legal counsel, notified users, and informed the FBI about the attack.

The company said that it investigated the data breach and has remedied the problem, which resulted in its computer systems going offline periodically over the past few days.

ESEA told its users that they should update their passwords as well as any security questions and answers they used on other online accounts that used the same information.

Also this week, hackers breached a community college in the Los Angeles area and demanded a $28,000 ransom to keep from destroying data from the school that they had stolen. In this case, the college chose to pay the extortion fee to get the data back, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Additionally, hackers have breached over 25,000 online MongoDB databases stored in places like Amazon Web Services over the past month and then demanded payment. Many companies use the popular open-source database to store data that doesn't fit into the conventional rows-and-columns-format. However, companies that fail to set up their databases properly leave them vulnerable to hacking.

Cybersecurity firm Flashpoint said that it now appears that hackers in the MongoDB case are intercepting each other's extortion payments in an effort to steal the proceeds of their hackings. This has resulted in "a catastrophic volume of global data loss," because some victims end up paying off the wrong hackers, Flashpoint said in a blog post.

MongoDB has posted an online tutorial to help those affected by the ransomware attacks troubleshoot the problem.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

Cloudflare posts redacted National Security Letter it received in 2013

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 05:20 PM PST

Cloudflare

Content distribution network and web security startup Cloudflare today published a redacted version of a National Security Letter (NSL) the FBI served the company in 2013, requesting information about an account holder. A few weeks ago, the FBI told Cloudflare that it had chosen to lift the gag order pertaining to the NSL, thus allowing for publication of the document, albeit with certain details removed.

When served, Cloudflare challenged the request, and the FBI subsequently “withdrew the request for information,” so Cloudflare never had to give up information about the account holder in question, Cloudflare counsel Kenneth Carter wrote in a blog post. Cloudflare’s transparency report reflects that in the first half of 2013 it received 0-249 national security orders, but it now has a footnote acknowledging the aforementioned NSL.

The NSL is a tool the FBI can use to gather information under the auspices of national security, and it’s one that has become more powerful, and also more common, particularly following the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001. This is not the first time an NSL has been published, but it’s nonetheless telling that Cloudflare — which counts more than 10 million customer domains — was at one point viewed as a potential data source by the U.S. government.

This letter, addressed to Cloudflare cofounder and chief executive Matthew Prince and signed by the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, specifically tells Cloudflare not to suspend the account of the particular customer, as that “may alert the subscriber(s)/account user(s) that investigative action being taken.” The letter said Prince, whose company is based in San Francisco, must personally deliver the requested documents to the FBI’s San Francisco division within 14 business days of receiving the NSL.

The document makes a request for several types of information, including the subscriber’s name, account number, payment details, associated addresses, email addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, screen names, and URLs, along with “the names of any and all upstream and downstream providers facilitating this account’s communications.”

On December 19, Cloudflare received the letter lifting the gag order, also from a special agent in FBI’s Washington field office. The letter states that the FBI decided to lift the gag order “consistent with the requirements of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 and the Termination Procedures for NSL Nondisclosure Requirement.”

Cloudflare’s investors include Baidu, Capital G (formerly Google Capital), Fidelity Management and Research Co., Microsoft, and Qualcomm.

Update at 5:56 p.m. Pacific: Corrected the year Cloudflare received the NSL; while it is dated December 17, 2012, the company received the letter in February 2013, a spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

2017 will see intelligent highways, a global bank, and more

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 05:05 PM PST

intelligent-highway

It's hard to believe this is my 10th annual predictions piece for VentureBeat. VentureBeat founder Matt Marshall asked me write my first prediction piece in 2007 for the year 2008.

The tech landscape has changed a lot since then. In 2008, Microsoft offered $44.6 billion for Yahoo, and now Verizon could acquire Yahoo for $4.8 billlion. Cloud computing made its mark in 2008, back when no one could have imagined Amazon would be leading the space. Apple's iPhone was just a year into its debut, but many people knew by then the world had changed forever.

Over the past 10 years I’ve gotten older, though not necessarily wiser. With that caveat, here are my predictions for 2017:

1. We’ll see intelligent highways emerge

We’ve heard talk of intelligent highways for years, and the 2002 movie Minority Report gave us a great depiction of how they could be implemented. With Uber's recent trial of self-driving cars in San Francisco, Waymo's launch with Fiat Chrysler in late January, and other pending launches, it is inevitable that we’ll see the first major intelligent highway trial synced with one of these autonomous vehicles by the end of 2017.

Together with autonomous cars and trucks, intelligent highways will assist in dramatically decreasing the huge number of traffic fatalities we see each year — 35,000+ in the U.S. and 1.2 million+ globally in 2015.

2. A new, global bank will launch

No, I'm not a doomsayer and I don't believe in the Illuminati. This is not a global bank that will control our worldwide monetary system and be ruled by the "Gnomes of Zurich." I'm predicting the launch this year of a new online bank that will initially be confined to one nation. I believe the trends in finance and the rise of FinTech will give birth to a new online-only effort that will be in a better position than prior efforts to impact the commercial banking sector. I assume this will be launched from either the US or UK.

3. "CyberSecurity" will be the carpool karaoke of tech

In 2015, I predicted there would be an "outflow of security-related startups," and by year-end over $2.5 billion was invested into this space. So I'm doubling down and predicting that cybersecurity will be discussed so heavily that even USAToday and Perez Hilton will be talking cybersecurity like the morning after a segment of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke. It will not be like a product of a hype machine like Ronda Rousey or a passing fad like those mannequin challenge clips but a core aspect of our technology landscape — like carpool karaoke has become to late night TV viewers. The presidential election and the DNC hacking has put this more front and center than all the prior credit card theft stories combined.

4. China will invade the U.S. TMT sector

This is not a Trump-like fear mongering statement. It can be a good thing for US Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) sectors to see BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) and others active as investors and acquirers. Tencent has already been active over the years, while Alibaba (through Ant Financial) made is first acquisition of a US company, EyeVerify, this past September. The three leading Internet companies in China have a combined market cap of over $470 billion and over $20 billion in revenues. Another player is Wanda Group, which recently closed its acquisition of Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion and in January 2016 acquired Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion. I expect this activity to increase as more and more Chinese companies look to expand become truly global companies.

5. Artificial intelligence will be anywhere and everywhere

AI is the new hotness. AI-powered virtual assistants, AI-powered data analytics, AI-powered coffee makers, AI-powered toothbrushes, AI-powered everything! AI will be the two most ubiquitous letters in tech and online ads. Everything will be powered, driven, decided on by AI. We won't even need to plan our family vacations, weekend bar hops, or kids' summer camps! Everything will soon be decided for us, leaving us begging to make simple decisions at work … "Please let me decide which color toner use for our copy machine!"

All joking aside, the AI hype machine will be in full force in 2017, so be prepared. Even as a venture capitalist, I see so many "AI" and "machine learning" startup pitches that don't have an ounce of AI in them, I have started to assume none of them do. Marketers have caught on that this is a good thing to milk, so I predict AI will be in 20 percent of any tech-related product or service in 2017.

What are your predictions for 2017? Let me know what you think of mine. Have a great 2017!

Bernard Moon is cofounder and General Partner at SparkLabs Global Ventures, a global seed-stage fund, and cofounder of SparkLabs, a startup accelerator in Seoul, Korea. Follow him on Twitter

Microsoft wants to build the city of tomorrow, starting with cars

Posted: 10 Jan 2017 04:10 PM PST

AT&T and connected cars

Forget what you know about autonomous cars for a moment. In the future, that’s only one small piece of the puzzle. The real money is on data-driven cars, a vast array of connected vehicles that feed rich data to a central server in hopes of improving more than just traffic flows. We’ll save time in traffic, avoid accidents, save fuel, find better nav routes, and much more.

Even in the next decade or two, there’s a slim chance most of us will own a brand new autonomous car or even one that’s retrofitted. That 2017 Subaru Outback is still going to be on the road, and someone — a second- or third-hand owner — will still drive it.

Yet what will happen is that cars will be connected to one another, the roadway, the infrastructure, and even beyond — to the Internet of Things, to the office, and to your home. This is a future Microsoft envisions, one that operates in the cloud. Even older cars could connect to the cloud, not just those that have self-driving features. And it could happen sooner than you think.

One big step forward is the recently announced Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, which provides the tools and algorithms automakers and any company in the automotive space needs to build the technology, analyze the data, and help drivers.

Doug Seven, the principal program manager for Microsoft Azure IoT-Things That Move, told me that the platform is a bit like having a set of Lego blocks. The platform can help with things like electronic payments in the car, or traffic reporting, or collision avoidance.

He gave a really good example. Let’s say you are sitting at home, wondering when you should head to work. Cortana on your laptop chimes in — you better leave for your meeting across town. The bot knows this because of a traffic delay. You decide to delay a bit, and when you finally climb into your Honda Accord, Cortana lets you know that you’ll be late and offers to conference you into the meeting. Because wireless congestion is a problem in your city, Cortana then picks a route that optimizes the call quality. You’re also low on fuel, so Cortana picks a station that’s along the route and one you normally like. You sit back and drive, letting the bot do the thinking.

This is distinct from autonomous driving. It’s data-driven driving, and it makes perfect sense given our hectic lives. (One side benefit to having a bot provide these services is that we won’t be as distracted — a problem that has created a rise in traffic fatalities for the first time in years.)

Seven gave another example of how this might work for safety purposes. As you drive, your car might connect to the cloud and look for roadway problems. Since many cars are connected to the cloud, you’d know that a ladder fell off of a truck a few miles ahead, based on reports from other cars. (Normally, it takes a long time before actual roadway incidents like this show up on traffic reports.) You decide to take a different route, avoiding any potential driving mishaps.

One of the benefits is that a computer can scan ahead multiple steps beyond what any driver could see. We notice problems just ahead, but data fed into the cloud could analyze many more steps ahead — that there’s black ice on one part of the road, an abandoned car, an unexpected weather condition, and several other issues, analyzing them all at once.

This will all lead to smarter cities where — as Seven explained — the data is all fed into a traffic management system and fed back out to drivers. It wouldn’t quite work like an air traffic control center, but the rich data would help city planners with load balancing and routing. Maybe parts of the highway system would be expanded or adjusted, or speeds changed, or lights adjusted in real time. As Seven noted, this could be the first step to a smart city that knows about every car on the road, the available routes, all traffic incidents, and even the optimal speeds.

After that, smart cities could start looking into parking, building locations — anything that can be connected and managed. Workers could all arrive around the same time to a perfectly preconditioned building with heating and lighting all preset. It’s all coming soon.

Here’s a good explainer video on how it all works:

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