Why has Google spent $2bn on a smoke alarm company?

Google is expanding its tech empire with the £2bn ($3.2bn) purchase of Nest – a home technology company.

The staggeringly expensive purchase is bound to cause a stir in the race to use gadgets to enhance and make our lives easier.

Nest is currently leading the way in developing products to automate the home. It has two products on the market and hundreds of filed patents for future development.

The company claims its flagship thermostat is intuitive and will learn your habits after you set it manually a few times – it could intelligently warm the house before you get home from work.

Google’s buy is the latest in the ever-lucrative ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) movement, which is seeing automation of everyday tasks in an attempt to make our lives easier.

In the run up to acquisition the search giant will have looked at its competitors and realised it was falling behind in the automation stakes.

LG is already ahead of the curve having released its smart fridge, which will send a text message if you are out of milk. Meanwhile Microsoft has been working on a project since 2010 that aims to simplify connections between the management of electronic gadgets in the home.

For Google it is important to be seen as at the forefront of home technology and innovation. The willingness to stump up £2bn for a company not many people will have heard of shows how much value it places on automating our lives.

Products such as Google Glass, the wearable headset, give an indication of its ambition to embed technology into everyday life.

But the latest innovation isn’t the only consideration for customers when they’re deciding on what level of responsibility to give computers. Privacy issues continue to be raised about the amount of data we are giving companies about our lives.

Telling Google and Nest what time the heating is turned on (and off) lets them know about our routines, tells them how much time we are spending out of the house and indicates how much energy we are using. The more data about our lives the companies have the easier it is for them to target us with advertising.

While we are all for technology making our lives easier it’s reassuring that Nest co-founder Matt Rodgers quickly jumped to address privacy concerns writing on the company’s blog: “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”


Image courtesy of Nest.


The sky could soon be filled with electric sky taxis

An electric jet has been successfully tested in Germany, but Lilium, the company behind it, says it has plans to launch a five-seater driverless sky taxi service. "The sky has a lot more capacity than the ground, and we don't have to build additional infrastructure,," said Lilium's co-founder, Daniel Wiegand

Source: BBC

IBM's Watson lends its brain to hospitals and offices

IBM's Watson Internet of Things (IoT) unit has teamed with audio giant Harman's Professional Solutions group to create an AI – dubbed Called Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms – that is able to respond to voice commands and questions based specifically on the context of the room its sensor is located in.

Source: Ars Technica

Scientists think pacemakers for the brain can help memory

Scientists have reported that well-timed pulses from electrodes implanted in the brain can enhance memory in some people. The claims amount to the most rigorous demonstration to date of how a pacemaker-like approach might help reduce symptoms of dementia, head injuries and other conditions.

Source: BBC

Mastercard unveils credit card with a fingerprint sensor

A payment card featuring a fingerprint sensor has been unveiled by Mastercard, the credit card provider. Mastercard's chief of safety and security, Ajay Bhalla, said that the fingerprint technology would help "to deliver additional convenience and security. It is not something that can be taken or replicated."

Source: BBC

Alphabet enlists 10,000 volunteers to find out why people get sick

Verily, which used to be Google Life Sciences, and is part of Alphabet, is launching a four-year study called Project Baseline to find out why people get sick. 10,000 participants from diverse backgrounds will take part in the study at half a dozen study sites in California and North Carolina.

Source: Wired

India's space agency plans to mine energy from Moon by 2030

The Indian Space Research Organisation , plans to mine Helium-3 rich lunar dust, generate energy and transport it back to Earth. This lunar dust mining plan comes after India revealed plans to cut the nation's dependence on imported hydrocarbons by 10 percentage points by 2022.

Source: Live Mint

Want to learn how to be an office don? Start playing World of Warcraft

A new study has found that gamers who work well in a team during “raids” while playing World of Warcraft (WoW) develop qualities that allow them to excel in the workplace.

Basically, all that time your parents said was wasted playing video games, you were actually training to become a better worker than the guy who spent his internship fetching coffee.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, surveyed WoW players from across a multitude of servers.

Those surveyed were diverse in age, race, sex, class, occupation and location, and on average played WoW eight hours a week  and worked 38 hours a week, a factor which was of particular interest as the researchers wanted players with full-time jobs requiring teamwork.

“What we wanted to look at was virtual teamwork and what kind of characteristics a person had in-game that would translate to real life and the workplace,” said Elizabeth Short, a graduate student in industrial-organizational psychology who compiled data for the study.

The skills provided by managing to properly work together to bring down the Lich King are obvious in some aspects – computer-mediated communication skills and technology readiness were highlighted by researchers for example – but a more notable discovery was how WoW raiding develops, what the study refers to as, the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, openness,  conscientiousness and neuroticism.

The survey’s respondents were each asked 140 questions about motivation, communication skills, preferences for teamwork and personality, with most questions relating to the Big Five personality traits.

By comparing the players’ survey answers to their characters’ statistics, players gained group achievement points based on how much group gameplay they participated in and how successfully the researchers were able to find small but “statistically significant” correlations.

Fairly predictably, the correlation that stood out as one of the strongest was that of “technological readiness”.

It’s fairly obvious using tech to play WoW would stand you in good stead in a modern workplace, and it’s probably no surprise that desperately trying to keep your DPS alive while people determinedly attempt to lone wolf an entire raid is going to give you a certain resilience when it comes to dealing with technology.

“The more technologically ready you are, the more resilient around technology you are, the more adaptable you are, the more achievement points you have (in WoW),” said Short.

“The more achievements you have in game, the more technology savvy you are in real life. And that’s a good thing, especially in virtual communication teams and workplaces.”

The research stemmed in part from Short’s own past experience as a member of the WoW community and she has stated that she hopes to take the positive growth she took from the game and use those transferable skills to help others in the workplace.