Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
Google testing Project Wing, its drone delivery project

Google X – the lab responsible for Google Glass, Google's self-driving cars and Google's smart contact lenses – has announced its latest endeavor: self-flying delivery drones.

Under the name Project Wing, Google is testing drones that can be pre-programmed with a destination and then fly themselves automatically to deliver goods. The Mountain View, Calif., company posted a YouTube video of one test in Queensland, Australia, that shows a drone drop-delivering a small box of dog food to a rural customer. 

In the future, Google may want to use Project Wing drones as part of its new Google Shopping Express same-day delivery service. But Google X projects typically take years to develop, so it'll likely be a while before consumers can request Project Wing deliveries. 

Late last year, Amazon announced a similar project called Prime Air, drones that could be used to deliver packages of five pounds or less. 

Follow me on Twitter for more Google news: @sal19

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Apple patent application details smartwatch wireless charging

For years, companies such as Samsung, Nokia, LG and others have sold smartphones with wireless chargers, meaning the devices can power up by simply being laid down on charging pads using components that are built into the devices. 

Wireless charging, though, has failed to take off because of one major holdout: Apple, which has never outfitted its products with the parts necessary for wireless charging. But that could soon change.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Thursday published an application filed in early 2013 by Apple for a patent on wireless charging technology that shows how it could be used on a smartwatch or other Apple products.

Analysts offered reasons why Apple has never used wireless charging for the iPhone but may want to use it on a wearable device. 

Van Baker at Gartner said Apple has kept wireless charging off the iPhone because it would require more internal components, which would lead to a thicker design and higher manufacturing costs. 

"It's for a feature...

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When Instagram is down, it's time for 'Instagram is down' jokes

Photo-sharing app Instagram had an outage Thursday that lasted more than an hour, and people turned to Twitter in droves to lament and joke about the situation.

"Instagram is down! Such a shame because I'm hungry but now there's no point in eating until it is back up," MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey said.

"Instagram must have taken the ice bucket challenge," said YouTube personality Claire Marshall.

"What's happening with your food? Are your dogs and cats okay?" TV producer Elan Gale posted.

"Instagram is down. Great. Well, there's no point in ordering dessert now," entertainer Lilly Singh said, immediately following it up with: "Instagram is down? Hell yeah! Time to rewear all my past outfits."

"Instagram isn't working. Thanks Obama," tweeted an account named Thanks Obama.

Ricky Gervais claimed responsibility: "I can't believe I crashed Instagram. Really sorry."

The app's makers acknowledged the problem. "Instagram is experiencing some technical issues. We're aware and working on a...

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Apple announces Sept. 9 event; iPhone 6, iWatch coming?

Apple made it official: The company Thursday issued media invitations to a Sept. 9 event in Cupertino, Calif., where the company is expected to unveil the latest iPhone 6 and maybe more.

Rumors – consistent in detail but not officially verified – suggest Apple will announce a 4.7-inch screen iPhone and a 5.5-inch model. At those sizes, they'd be larger than any of their predecessors, and on par with Android smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Rumors also suggest Apple will introduce an "iWatch," a wrist-worn computer capable of connecting to the iPhone via Bluetooth.

One thing for sure: Apple plans to announce something on Sept. 9.

Wanna chat? Send me a tweet at: @sal19

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Yekra's embeddable movie player gains blockbuster titles

Like many aspiring producers, Lee Waterworth learned quickly that getting movies into theaters and then getting people to go to screenings is tough.

His idea to make it easier: A digital theater that can be embedded onto any website. On Thursday, Waterworth’s start-up Yekra announced that it’s improving the player and adding to its library a series of major films from studios such as Warner Bros. Pictures, including “The Dark Knight,” “The Great Gatsby” and  “The Lord of the Rings.”

Yekra's 15-employee team is based in an apartment space turned industrial-like office in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo community. About $3.8 million is backing Yekra, with Allegiant Air’s Chief Executive Maurice Gallagher as the principal investor.

After signing up for a Yekra account, people who run websites can select a film or a customizable playlist of films that they want to embed on their sites. It’s similar to taking a video off YouTube and embedding it on a personal blog. The difference is that Yekra can...

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Ex-NFL star Warren Sapp joins fantasy sports start-up Rivalry Games

Football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp has invested in and accepted a position at a fantasy sports start-up located in Santa Monica.

A friend of a friend introduced the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle to Rivalry Games, said Justin Bauer, the chief executive of the start-up.

Sapp has promoted or offered social-media advice to other tech companies, including video app Viddy, image-sharing app Momentage and education nonprofit Code.org. But the role of co-founder and vice president of business development at Rivalry will be his deepest involvement yet. His stake in the company is similar to that of co-founders Bauer and Nathan Leland.

“I knew the moment I met Justin that together we could bring Rivalry Games to the next level by developing cutting-edge fantasy sports products that make every game better,” Sapp said in a statement announcing his role Wednesday.

Rivalry’s app is aimed at fantasy sports players who care more for the thrill...

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Google buys Zync, a cloud-based visual effects rendering firm

Google beefed up its cloud-computing platform Tuesday by acquiring Zync Inc., a Boston-based firm that specializes in visual effects rendering through the Internet.

In the visual effects industry, rendering is the process of taking computer generated 3-D models and turning them into the realistic 2-D visuals that we see in movies. But rendering requires a lot of computing power, and as a result most visual effects companies build out entire "render farms" to create their scenes. 

Zync's technology, called Zync Render, enables companies to render visuals through the cloud, letting artists create imagery without having to own and maintain a render farm. Since Zync formed nearly five years ago, its technology has been used for numerous movies, including "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

Google did not disclose a purchase price but said Zync would be integrated into the Google Cloud Platform, which is used by companies to host their work on Google's servers...

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Honest Co. hauls in $70 million from investors as it eyes IPO

As the Jessica Alba-founded start-up Honest Co. eyes a listing on the stock market, it's picking up an additional $70 million in funding.

The investment values the company in the high hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a source not authorized to publicly speak about the transaction.

Honest Co. generates most of its revenue from shipping bundles of eco-friendly, toxic-free diapers, bath products and cleaning goods to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. It also sells its more than 85 products online and at retailers such as Target, Costco and Whole Foods. Sales have been growing, but the latest round of funding should help the company more quickly develop new products.

Anything that touches or rests near the skin is of interest, said Sean Kane, the company's president and co-founder. But on the immediate radar are items such as baby formula and cosmetics.

He called the new funds "further validation that customers are paying more attention to what they put in and around their...

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Snapchat funding rumors return. Could its valuation hit $10 billion?

Snapchat's millions of users and the intriguing possibilities that the mobile messaging app offers advertisers have made the Los Angeles start-up an object of desire among investors.

The latest rumors of who's courting Snapchat emerged Tuesday with reports saying that Kleiner Perkins Caufield

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Apple to release 12.9-inch iPad in 2015, report says

Looking to spark iPad sales, Apple is developing a 12.9-inch model that will go into production early next year, a report Tuesday by Bloomberg said

Apple remains the leader in the tablet market, but it has seen year-to-year iPad sales decline the last two quarters. Earlier this year, the Cupertino, Calif., giant said it would target the enterprise market to boost iPad sales, and in July it announced a partnership with IBM to develop business-centric apps for its devices.

With an iPad larger than any before it -- Apple currently sells 9.7- and 7.9-inch models -- Apple appears to be eyeing the enterprise market, said Jefferson Wang, a senior partner at IBB Consulting

“The under-10-inch tablets are great for consuming content in your lap, but when you’re actually trying to do work on it, you would need a bigger screen to see schematics, to input data or to manipulate spreadsheets," Wang told The Times. "A business-ready tablet, if you will, at a price point lower than a thousand dollars...

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Instagram releases Hyperlapse, a video-recording time-lapse iPhone app

Instagram threw a bone to creative types on Tuesday by releasing Hyperlapse, a new app for the iPhone that makes it easy to record time-lapse videos.

The new app records video at a lower frame-rate than normal then plays it back much faster. "Thus motion that takes a long time, like a flower blooming, appears to happen in real-time," Instagram said in an email to The Times.

Hyperlapse also comes equipped with stabilization software, making videos recorded while moving or without a smartphone stand appear less shaky. Hyperlapse videos are saved into the iPhone camera roll and can be uploaded to Instagram and other apps.  

The app is available now in the Apple App Store. There are no plans to bring Hyperlapse to Android due to technical limitations with Google's mobile operating system. 

Follow me on Twitter for more mobile app news: @sal19

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Tablet video game revenue to top $13 billion by 2019, report predicts

The growth in sales of computer tablets is slowing down, but tablet video game revenue is exploding.

Worldwide revenue for tablet video games could reach $13.3 billion in 2019, according to a Juniper Research report -- more than three times the $3.6 billion expected this year.

Improvements in storage capacity and better graphical capabilities will lure more gamers to tablets, according to the report, released Tuesday. Other reasons include the portability of tablets and the vast number of people who play video games. According to the Entertainment Software Assn., 59% of Americans are players.

"Technology is going to advance to where tablet games are going to rival those of video game consoles," said Patrick Scott Patterson, a video game industry expert.

Patterson said tech titans like Google, Apple and Amazon, which this week paid $970 million to acquire video game streaming website Twitch, consider video games as important as other forms of entertainment.

"Video games are peers of the...

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