technology

‘World’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners’ can be easily hacked

Posted by | Apps, Bluetooth, Gadgets, hardware, pen test partners, Security, technology, telecommunications, United Kingdom, wireless | No Comments

Here’s a thing that should have never been a thing: Bluetooth-connected hair straighteners.

Glamoriser, a U.K. firm that bills itself as the maker of the “world’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners,” allows users to link the device to an app, which lets the owner set certain heat and style settings. The app can also be used to remotely switch off the straighteners within Bluetooth range.

Big problem, though. These straighteners can be hacked.

Security researchers at Pen Test Partners bought a pair and tested them out. They found that it was easy to send malicious Bluetooth commands within range to remotely control an owner’s straighteners.

The researchers demonstrated that they could send one of several commands over Bluetooth, such as the upper and lower temperature limit of the device — 122°F and 455°F respectively — as well as the shut-down time. Because the straighteners have no authentication, an attacker can remotely alter and override the temperature of the straighteners and how long they stay on — up to a limit of 20 minutes.

“As there is no pairing or bonding established over [Bluetooth] when connecting a phone, anyone in range with the app can take control of the straighteners,” said Stuart Kennedy in his blog post, shared first with TechCrunch.

There is a caveat, said Kennedy. The straighteners only allow one concurrent connection. If the owner hasn’t connected their phone or they go out of range, only then can an attacker target the device.

Here at TechCrunch we’re all for setting things on fire “for journalism,” but in this case the numbers speak for themselves. If, per the researchers’ findings, the straighteners could be overridden to the maximum temperature of 455°F at the timeout of 20 minutes, that’s setting up a prime condition for a fire — or at very least burn damage.

It’s estimated that as many as 650,000 house fires in the U.K. are caused by hair straighteners and curling irons left on. In some cases it can take more than a half-hour for these heated devices to cool down to safe levels. U.K. fire and rescue services have called on owners to physically pull the plug on their devices to prevent fires and damage.

Glamoriser did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication. The app hasn’t been updated since June 2018, suggesting a fix has yet to be put in place.

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Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple store, Apple Watch, Companies, FaceTime, iOS, iOS 10, iPhone, Mobile, privacy, Security, TC, technology, vulnerability | No Comments

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.  We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty. This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

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YouTube lands on Fire TV and Amazon Prime Video arrives on Chromecast, Android TV

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, Android TV, Apps, chromecast, Cube, Gadgets, Google, Media, Multimedia, prime, prime video, smart tv, streaming, streaming video, TC, technology, telecommunications, YouTube | No Comments

It’s nice when people can come together and work through their differences to make it easier to watch stuff. That’s exactly what happened today, when the long-standing detente between Google and Amazon over streaming video services came to an end, with YouTube arriving on Fire TV and Prime Video making its way to Chromecast and Android TV.

Amazon’s second-generation Fire TV Stick, their Fire TV Stick 4K, the Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick Basic Edition and Fire TV Edition smart TVs made by partner OEMs will all get support for the official YouTube app globally starting today, and Amazon intends to extend support to even more of its hardware in the future. YouTube TV and YouTube Kids will also come to Amazon Fire TV devices later this year.

On the Google side, both its own Chromecast devices, as well as partner TVs and hardware that support Chromecast built-in, or that run Android TV, will gain support broadly for Prime Video. Plus, any Chromecast Ultra owners will also get access to Prime Video’s 4,000-title library normally reserved for Prime members, at no additional cost, as part of the new tie-up between the two companies.

Prime has been available on some Android TV devices to date, but it’s expanding to a much broader selection of those smart TVs and streaming boxes from today.

This has been a long time coming — several years in fact, with the most recent spat between the two coming as a result of Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show. Then, in May, the companies announced they’d reached an agreement to put the feud behind them in the interest of consumers, which is what resulted in this cross-platform launch today.

Let the streams flow!

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Twelve South’s HiRise Wireless is a super versatile wireless smartphone charger

Posted by | AirPods, Apple, computers, Gadgets, inductive charging, iOS, iPhone, mobile phones, PIXEL, pixel 3, Reviews, smartphones, TC, technology, usb, wireless charger, wireless chargers, Wireless Charging | No Comments

Wireless charging has been a wonderful addition to mainstream flagship smartphones including the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and Google’s Pixel phones. But there hasn’t been a really great option for bringing the benefits of wireless charging with you on the road, while keeping your desktop setup tidy until now, with TwelveSouth’s recently released HiRise Wireless.

The HiRise Wireless builds on the good reputation of the existing HiRise line from TwelveSouth, which includes the Duet, a great combo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch. The Wireless version, as implied by the name, includes wireless charging of up to 10W, which means you get the fastest cable-free charging rate available for devices that support Qi charging, including the iPhone X, XR and XS, as well as the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10.

The HiRise is unique in that it provides a charging puck that can both mount in the frame (which has a nice weighted base to stay rock solid on your desk) and pop out to either provide a lie-flat wireless charger (which will work with the new wireless AirPods charging case, for instance) or pack away in a bag.

The upright angle the wireless charger provides when mounted in the frame is perfect for registering Face ID unlocks when used with an iPhone X or later, and positioned on your desk. That’s a great way to give yourself access to phone notifications without distracting too much from your desktop work. And the puck itself is a lot smaller than most wireless chargers, which isn’t idea for typical at-home charging, but which is terrific for stowing it in a gadget pouch.

The puck also has a rubberized ring bordering the charging pad to prevent your device from slipping around, and it works with a detachable USB-C to USB-A cable that comes in the box which adds to the portability, and means you can easily use it with whatever USB-C charging cables you already have on-hand for your Mac or other devices.

If you’re in the market for a wireless charger and travel a decent amount, it’s hard to beat the value of the HiRise Wireless. It’s $79.99, which is more than you’ll pay for a lot of quality wireless chargers, but Twelve South’s unique design is worth the premium in this case for people looking for its unique flexibility.

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Higher Ground Labs is betting tech can help sway the 2020 elections for Democrats

Posted by | america, Barack Obama, Betsy Hoover, Brad Parscale, Brandwatch, breitbart news, Cambridge Analytica, campaign manager, Chris Sacca, Civis Analytics, communication tools, computing, CRM, democratic party, donald j trump, Facebook, Forbes, Google, greylock, Higher Ground Labs, Hillary Clinton, Insight Venture Partners, LinkedIn, mitt romney, Mobile, ngp van, online tools, paris, PayPal, president, presidential election, Reid Hoffman, republican national committee, republican party, republicans, Ron Conway, Shomik Dutta, social media, social media tools, Software, sv angel, TC, technology, Uber | No Comments

When Shomik Dutta and Betsy Hoover first met in 2007, he was coordinating fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and she was a deputy field director for the campaign.

Over the next two election cycles the two would become part of an organizing and fundraising team that transformed the business of politics through its use of technology — supposedly laying the groundwork for years of Democratic dominance in organizing, fundraising, polling and grassroots advocacy.

Then came Donald J. Trump and the 2016 election.

For both Dutta and Hoover, the 2016 outcome was a wake-up call against complacency. What had worked for the Democratic party in 2008 and 2012 wasn’t going to be effective in future election cycles, so they created the investment firm Higher Ground Labs to provide financing and a launching pad for new companies serving Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations.

As the political world shifts from analog to digital, we need a lot more tools to capture that spend,” says Dutta. “Democrats are spending on average 70 cents of every dollar raised on television ads. We are addicted to old ways of campaigning. If we want to activate and engage an enduring majority of voters we have to go where they are (and that’s increasingly online) and we have to adapt to be able to have these conversations wherever they are.”

Social media and the rise of “direct to consumer” politics

While the Obama campaign effectively used the internet as a mobilization tool in its two campaigns, the lessons of social media and mobile technologies that offer a “direct-to-consumer” politics circumventing traditional norms have, in the ensuing years, been harnessed most effectively by conservative organizations, according to some scholars and activists.

“The internet is a tool and in that sense it’s neutral, but just like other communication tools from the past, people with more power, with more resources, with more organization, have been able to take advantage of it,” Jen Schradie, an assistant professor at the Observatoire sociologique du changement at Sciences Po in Paris, told Vox in an interview earlier this month.

Schradie is a scholar whose recent book, “The Revolution That Wasn’t,contends that the internet’s early application as a progressive organizing tool has been overtaken by more conservative elements. “The idea of neutrality seems more true of the internet because the costs of distributing information are dramatically lower than with something like television or radio or other communication tools,” she said. “However, to make full use of the internet, you still need substantial resources and time and motivation. The people who can afford to do this, who can fund the right digital strategy, create a major imbalance in their favor.”

Schradie contends that a web of privately funded think tanks, media organizations, talk radio and — increasingly — mobile applications have woven a conservative stitch into the fabric of social media. The medium’s own tendency to promote polarizing and fringe viewpoints also served to amplify the views of pundits who were previously believed to be political outliers.

Essentially, these sites have enabled commentators and personalities to create a patchwork of “grassroots” organizations and media operations dedicated to reaching an audience receptive to their particular political message that’s funded by billionaire donors and apolitical corporate ad dollars.

Then there’s the technology companies, like Cambridge Analytica, which improperly used access to Facebook data for targeting purposes — also financed by these same billionaires.

“The last six years have witnessed millions and millions of dollars of private Koch money and Mercer money that have gone to pretty sophisticated data and media efforts to advance the Republican agenda,” says Dutta. “I want to even the scale.”

Dutta is referring to Charles and David Koch and Robert Mercer, the scions and founder (respectively) of two family dynasties worth billions. The Koch brothers support a web of political advocacy groups, while Mercer and his daughter were large backers of Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, two organizations that arguably provided much of the policy underpinnings and online political machinery for the Trump presidential campaign.

But there’s also the simple fact that Donald Trump’s digital strategy director, Brad Parscale, was able to effectively and inexpensively leverage the social media tools and data troves amassed by the Republican National Committee that were already available to the candidate who won the Republican primary. In fact, in the wake of Romney’s loss, Republicans spent years building up profiles of 200 million Americans for targeted messaging in the 2016 election.

“Who controls Facebook controls the 2016 election,” Parscale said during a speaking engagement at the Romanian Academy of Sciences, according to a report in Forbes.

Parscale, now the campaign manager for the president’s 2020 reelection campaign recalled, “These guys from Facebook walked into my office and said: ‘we have a beta … it’s a new onboarding tool … you can onboard audiences straight into Facebook and we will match them to their Facebook accounts,’ ” according to Forbes .

During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton’s team made 66,000 visual ads, according to Parscale, while the Trump campaign made 5.9 million ads by leveraging social media networks and the language of memes. And in the run-up to the 2020 election, Parscale intends to go back to the same well. The Trump campaign has already spent more than $5 million on Facebook ads in the current election cycle, according to The New York Times outspending every single Democratic candidate in the field and roughly all of the Democrats combined.

Reaching higher ground

Dutta and Hoover are working to offset this movement with investments of their own. Back in 2017, the two launched Higher Ground Labs, an early-stage company accelerator and investment firm dedicated to financing technology companies that could support progressive causes.

The firm has $15 million committed from investors, including Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock; Ron Conway, the founder of SV Angel and an early backer of Google, Facebook and Twitter; Chris Sacca, an early investor in Uber; and Elizabeth Cutler, the founder of SoulCycle. Already, Higher Ground has invested in more than 30 companies focused on services like advocacy outreach, polling and campaign organizing — among others. 

Screen Shot 2019 07 01 at 5.36.26 AM

The latest cohort of companies to receive backing Higher Ground Labs

“It is vitally important that Democrats learn to do their campaigns online,” says Dutta. “The way you recruit volunteers; the way you poll sentiment; the way you target and mobilize voters has to be done with online tools and has to improve in the progressive movement and that’s the job of Higher Ground Labs to fix.”

For-profit companies have a critical role to play in election organizing and mobilization, Dutta says. Thanks to government regulation, only private companies are allowed to trade data across organizations and causes (provided they do it at fair market value). That means advocacy groups, unions and others can tap the information these companies collect — for a fee.

The Democratic Party already has one highly valued private company that it uses for its technology services. Formed from the merger of NGP Software and Voter Activation Network, two companies that got their start in the late 1990s and early 2000s, NGP VAN is the largest software and technology services provider for Democratic campaigns. It’s also a highly valued company, which received roughly $100 million in financing last year from the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners, according to people familiar with the investment. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Our vision has been to build a platform that would break down the painful data silos that exist in the campaigns and nonprofit space, and to offer truly best-in-class digital, fundraising and organizing features that could serve both the largest and the smallest nonprofits and campaigns, all with one unified CRM,” wrote Stu Trevelyan, the chief executive of NGP VAN + EveryAction, in an August blogpost announcing the investment. “We’re so excited that others, like our new partners at Insight, share that vision, and we can’t wait to continue innovating and growing together in the coming years.”

Can startups lead the way?

Even as private equity dollars boost the firepower of organizations like NGP VAN, venture capitalists are financing several companies from the Higher Ground Labs portfolio.

Civis Analytics, a startup founded by the former chief analytics officer of Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, raised $22 million from outside investors, and counts Higher Ground Labs among its backers. Qriously, another Higher Ground Labs portfolio company, was acquired by Brandwatch, as was GroundBase, a messaging platform acquired by the nonprofit progressive advocacy organization ACRONYM.

Other companies in the portfolio are also attracting serious attention from investors. Standouts like Civis Analytics and Hustle, which raised $30 million last May, show that investors are buying into the proposition that these companies can build lasting businesses serving Democratic and progressive political campaigns and corporate businesses that would also like to rally employees or personalize a marketing pitch to customers.

These are companies like Change Research, an earlier-stage company that just launched from Higher Ground Labs accelerator last year. That company, founded by Mike Greenfield, a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was the first data scientist working on the problem of fraud detection at PayPal, and Pat Reilly, a communications professional who worked with state and local Democratic politicians, is slashing the cost of political polling.

“I wanted to do something for American democracy to try and improve the state of things,” Greenfield said in an interview last year.

For Greenfield, that meant increasing access to polling information. He cited the test case of a Kansas special election in a district that Donald Trump had won by 27 points. Using his own proprietary polling data, Greenfield predicted that the Democratic challenger, James Thompson, would pose a significant threat to his Republican opponent, Mike Estes.

Estes went on to a 7% victory at the ballot, but Thompson’s campaign did not have access to polling data that could have helped inform his messaging and — potentially — sway the election, said Greenfield.

“Public opinion is used to ween out who can be most successful based on how much money they’re able to raise for a poll,” says Reilly. It’s another way that electoral politics is skewed in favor of the people with disposable income to spend what is a not-insignificant amount of money on campaigns.

Polls alone can cost between $20,000 to $30,000 — and Change Research has been able to cut that by 80% to 90%, according to the company’s founders.

“It’s safe to say that most of the world was stunned by the outcome [of the presidential election] because most polls predicted the opposite,” says Greenfield. “Being a good American and as a parent of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, providing forward-thinking candidates and causes with the kind of insight they needed to win up and down the ballot could not only be a good business, but really help us save our democracy.”

Change Research isn’t just polling for politicians. Last year, the company conducted roughly 500 polls for political candidates and advocacy groups.

“The way that I’ve described Change Research to investors is that we want to simultaneously move the world in a better direction and having a positive impact while building a substantial business,” says Greenfield. “We’re only going to work with candidates and causes that we’re aligned with.”

Being exclusively focused on progressive causes isn’t the liability that many in the broader business community would think, says Dutta. Many Democratic organizations won’t work with companies that sell services to both sides of the aisle.

For Higher Ground Labs, a stipulation for receiving their money is a commitment not to work with any Republican candidate. Corporations are okay, but conservative causes and organizations are forbidden.

“We’re in a moment of existential crisis in America and this Republican party is deeply toxic to the health and future of our country,” says Dutta. “The only path out of this mess is to vote Republicans out of office and to do that we need to make it easier for good candidates to run for office and to engage a broader electorate into voting regularly.”

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LTE flaws let hackers ‘easily’ spoof presidential alerts

Posted by | amber alert, Emergency Alert System, Government, hawaii, LTE, Mobile, mobile phones, president, Security, technology, telecommunications, text messaging, United States | No Comments

Security vulnerabilities in LTE can allow hackers to “easily” spoof presidential alerts sent to mobile phones in the event of a national emergency.

Using off-the-shelf equipment and open-source software, a working exploit made it possible to send a simulated alert to every phone in a 50,000-seat football stadium with little effort, with the potential of causing “cascades of panic,” said researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in a paper out this week.

Their attack worked in nine out of 10 tests, they said.

Last year the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent out the first “presidential alert” test using the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system. It was part of an effort to test the new state-of-the-art system to allow any president to send out a message to the bulk of the U.S. population in the event of a disaster or civil emergency.

But the system — which also sends out weather warnings and AMBER alerts — isn’t perfect. Last year amid tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, an erroneous alert warned residents of Hawaii of an inbound ballistic missile threat. The message mistakenly said the alert was “not a drill.”

Although no system is completely secure, many of the issues over the years have been as a result of human error. But the researchers said the LTE network used to transmit the broadcast message is the biggest weak spot.

Because the system uses LTE to send the message and not a traditional text message, each cell tower blasts out an alert on a specific channel to all devices in range. A false alert can be sent to every device in range if that channel is identified.

Making matters worse, there’s no way for devices to verify the authenticity of received alerts.

The researchers said fixing the vulnerabilities would “require a large collaborative effort between carriers, government stakeholders and cell phone manufacturers.” They added that adding digital signatures to each broadcast alert is not a “magic solution,” but would make it far more difficult to send spoofed messages.

A similar vulnerability in LTE was discovered last year, allowing researchers to not only send emergency alerts but also eavesdrop on a victim’s text messages and track their location.

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Two years after Essential’s launch, still no Home hub or second phone

Posted by | andy rubin, Apple, Essential Phone, Google, hardware, Honeywell, Mobile, mobile phones, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, technology, The New York Times | No Comments

This morning’s Moto Z4 news was good cause to go back and reassess the state of the modular phone. Three years after the line launched, the concept hasn’t exactly ignited the market — in fact, there are really just a handful of scattered competitors to show for it. Essential is among the most prominent, with the PH-1’s clever two-pin connector.

By sheer coincidence, it turns out today is the two-year anniversary of the company’s debut. Founder Andy Rubin took to the stage at Code 2017 with big ideas and two products. One, the PH-1, has come and gone, launching a couple of months late in August 2017 before being discontinued late last year. The other, the Essential Home hub, never appeared at all.

The day the products were announced, then COO Niccolo de Masi (who appears to have since moved on to Honeywell spin-off Resideo), spoke of the company’s 10-year plan. It was an acknowledgement that it had a tough road ahead, as it planned to take on big names like Apple and Samsung. But the company certainly had the money. A $300 million raise helped the startup achieve unicorn status not long after taking the stage at the conference.

But the intervening two years have been plagued with bad news. In spite of positive reviews, the company reportedly only shipped 88,000 phones in 2017. The PH-1 got a massive price drop and its first modular accessory, a 360 camera, was discounted to $19, down from $250.

Last May, rumors surfaced that the company had gone up for sale and its follow-up phone had been canceled. And in October, it laid off nearly a third of its staff. Founder Andy Rubin has been laying low in the meantime. That same month, The New York Times published an explosive story about a $90 million Google payoff in the wake of sexual misconduct claims, causing him to take leave from Essential.

All the while, however, the company has firmly denied claims that it’s going away. I spoke to a rep at the company recently who said things are in the works, without revealing any specifics. There have been a ton of patent filings that appear to point to some future handset. It announced a new mod for the PH-1 in June and even acquired a company in December. Hell, earlier this month, it issued a new security patch, holding to its promise of monthly updates — a hell of a lot more than many more successful smartphone makers have offered.

That’s part of what makes the Essential story so frustrating. The PH-1 was a novel device, among the first to go with a camera notch display. Its $699 price (later reduced to $499) also predated Samsung/Apple/Google’s move into budget flagships. But even with a unicorn valuation, hardware is hard. And Essential may have entered the market at the worst possible time, as smartphone sales were beginning to flag for the first time ever.

Two years after launch, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Essential’s time may have come and gone. For now, however, the company appears to simply be biding its time before announcing what comes next.

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Xprize names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

Posted by | Android, bangalore, california, carnegie mellon, carnegie mellon university, cci, Education, Elon Musk, Google, kenya, machine learning, musk, New York, pittsburgh, Seoul, south korea, Speech Recognition, Tanzania, TC, technology, transhumanism, United Kingdom, United States, XPRIZE | No Comments

Xprize, the nonprofit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning Xprize.

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

Xprize set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists, including New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company, which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning and human computer interactions; and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field-tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write, and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary and secondary school levels. Some research, cited by Xprize , indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning Xprize field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15-month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of Xprize, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, Xprize said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.

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Google and Qualcomm launch a dev kit for building Assistant-enabled headphones

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Bluetooth, computing, Developer, Google, hardware, headphones, Headset, jaybird, Qualcomm, TC, technology | No Comments

Qualcomm today announced that it has partnered with Google to create a reference design and development kit for building Assistant-enabled Bluetooth headphones. Traditionally, building these headphones wasn’t exactly straightforward and involved building a lot of the hardware and software stack, something top-tier manufacturers could afford to do, but that kept second- or third-tier headphone developers from adding voice assistant capabilities to their devices.

“As wireless Bluetooth devices like headphones and earbuds become more popular, we need to make it easier to have the same great Assistant experience across many headsets,” Google’s Tomer Amarilio writes in today’s announcement.

The aptly named “Qualcomm Smart Headset Development Kit” is powered by a Qualcomm QCC5100-series Bluetooth audio chip and provides a full reference board for developing new headsets and interacting with the Assistant. What’s interesting — and somewhat unusual for Qualcomm — is that the company also built its own Bluetooth earbuds as a full reference design. These feature the ability to hold down a button to start an Assistant session, for example, as well as volume buttons. They are definitely not stylish headphones you’d want to use on your commute, given that they are bulky enough to feature a USB port. But they are meant to provide manufacturers with a design they can then use to build their own devices.

In addition to making it easier for developers to integrate the Assistant, the reference design also supports Google’s Fast Pair technology that makes connecting a new headset easier.

“Demand for voice control and assistance on-the-go is rapidly gaining traction across the consumer landscape,” said Chris Havell, senior director, product marketing, voice and music at Qualcomm. “Combined with our Smart Headset Platform, this reference design offers flexibility for manufacturers wanting to deliver highly differentiated user experiences that take advantage of the power and popularity of Google cloud-based services.”

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Once a major name in smartphones, LG Mobile is now irrelevant — and still losing money

Posted by | Asia, Earnings, Facebook, G7, LG, LG Electronics, Mobile, Motorola, smartphone, smartphones, technology | No Comments

LG was once a stalwart of the smartphone industry — remember its collaboration with Facebook back in the day? — but today the company is swiftly descending into irrelevance.

The latest proof is LG’s Q1 financials, released this week, which show that its mobile division grossed just KRW 1.51 trillion ($1.34 billion) in sales for the quarter. That’s down 30% year-on-year and the lowest income for LG Mobile for at least the last eight years. We searched back eight years to Q1 2011 — before that LG was hit and miss with releasing specific financial figures for its divisions.

To give an indication of its decline, LG shipped more than 15 million phones in Q4 2015 when its revenue was 3.78 trillion RKW, or $3.26 billion. That’s 2.5 times higher than this recent Q1 2019 period.

Regular readers will be aware that LG mobile is a loss-making division. That’s the reason its activities — and consequently sales — have scaled down in recent years. But the losses are still coming.

LG put Brian Kwon, who leads its lucrative Home Entertainment business, in charge of its mobile division last November and his task remains ongoing, it appears.

LG Mobile recorded a loss of 203.5 billion KRW ($181.05 million) for Q1 which it described as “narrowed.”

It is true that LG Mobile’s Q1 loss is lower than the 322.3 billion KRW ($289.8 million) loss it carded in the previous quarter, but it is wider than one year previous. Indeed, the mobile division lost 136.1 billion KRW ($126.85 million) in Q1 2018.

LG said Mr. Kwon is presiding over “a revised smartphone launch strategy,” which is why the numbers are changing so drastically. Going forward, it said that the launch of its G7 ThinQ flagship phone and a new upgrade center — first announced last year — are in the immediate pipeline, but it is hard to see how any of this will reverse the downward trend.

LG Mobile is increasingly problematic because the parent company is seeing success in other areas, but that’s being countered by a poor-performing smartphone business. Last quarter, mobile dragged LG to its first quarterly loss in two years, for example.

Just looking at the Q1 numbers, LG’s overall profit was 900.6 billion KRW ($801.25 million) thanks to its home appliance business ($647.3 million profit) and that home entertainment business, which had a profit of $308.27 million. Its automotive business — which is, among other things, focused on EVs — did bite into the profits, but that is at least a business that is going places.

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