Technology Enhances Food Delivery Experiences

Self-driving technology is making online shopping a more convenient, more cost-effective experience. One new startup in San Jose, California, is launching a fully driverless delivery service, which many predict is something customers will be seeing a lot more of in the future. Faiza Elmasry takes a look at how these driverless cars are making people’s lives easier, in this report narrated by Faith Lapidus.

Facebook to Drop On-site Support for Political Campaigns

Facebook Inc. said Thursday that it would no longer dispatch employees to the offices of political campaigns to offer support ahead of elections, as it did with U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2016 race.

The company and other major online ad sellers, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc., have long offered free dedicated assistance to strengthen relationships with top advertisers such as presidential campaigns.

Brad Parscale, who was Trump’s online ads chief in 2016, last year called on-site “embeds” from Facebook crucial to the candidate’s victory. Facebook has said that Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was offered identical help, but she accepted a different level than Trump.

Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests to comment on whether they also would pull back support.

Facebook said it could offer assistance to more candidates globally by focusing on offering support through an online portal instead of in person. It said that political organizations still would be able to contact employees to

receive basic training on using Facebook or for assistance on getting ads approved.

Bloomberg first reported the new approach.

Shaping communications

Facebook, Twitter, and Google served as “quasi-digital consultants” to U.S. election campaigns in 2016, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Utah found in a paper published a year ago.

The companies helped campaigns navigate their services’ ad systems and “actively” shaped campaign communication by suggesting what types of messages to direct to whom, the researchers stated.

Facebook’s involvement with Trump’s campaign drew scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers after the company found its user data had separately been misused by political data firm Cambridge Analytica, which consulted for the Trump campaign. 

In written testimony to U.S. lawmakers in June, Facebook said its employees had not spotted any misuse “in the course of their interactions with Cambridge Analytica” during the election.

EU Getting ‘Impatient’ with Facebook Over Consumer Data Use

The European Union’s consumer protection chief said Thursday she’s growing impatient with Facebook’s efforts to improve transparency with users about their data, warning it could face sanctions for not complying.

EU Consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova turned up the pressure on the social media giant, saying she wants the company to update its terms of service and expects to see its proposed changes by mid-October so they can take effect in December.

 

“I will not hide that I am becoming rather impatient because we have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years and I really want to see, not the progress — it’s not enough for me — but I want to see the results,” Jourova said.

 

The EU wants Facebook to give users more information about how their data is used and how it works with third party makers of apps, games and quizzes.

 

“If we do not see the progress the sanctions will have to come,” she said. She didn’t specify punishment, saying they would be applied by individual countries. “I was quite clear we cannot negotiate forever, we just want to see the result.”

 

The EU has been pressing the U.S. tech company to look at what changes it needs to make to better protect consumers and this year Facebook has had to adapt to new EU data protection rules. The concerns took on greater urgency after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal erupted, in which data on 87 million Facebook users was allegedly improperly harvested.

Jourova said she hopes Facebook will take more responsibility for its nearly 380 million European users.

 

“We want Facebook to be absolutely clear to its users about how their service operates and makes money,” she said.

 

Facebook said it has already updated its terms of service in May to incorporate changes recommended at that point by EU authorities.

 

The company said it “will continue our close cooperation to understand any further concerns and make appropriate updates.”

 

Jourova also said U.S.-based property rental site Airbnb has agreed to clarify its pricing system in response to complaints that it could mislead consumers.

 

Airbnb has promised to be fully transparent by either including extra fees in the total price for a booking quoted on its website or notifying users that they might apply, she said.

 

The company is complying with EU demands spurred by concerns that consumers could be confused by its complicated pricing structure, which could add unexpected costs such as cleaning charges at the end of a holiday.

 

Airbnb is also changing its terms of service to make it clear that travelers can sue their host if they suffer personal harm or other damages. That’s in response to complaints that its booking system can leave tourists stranded if the rental is canceled when all other arrangements have been already made.

 

Airbnb said “guests have always been aware of all fees, including service charges and taxes, before booking listings,” and will work with authorities to make it even clearer.

 

 

 

For My Birthday, Please Give: Facebook Feature Raises Cash for Causes

When Behnoush Babzani turned 35, she threw a party. She also used her birthday to ask friends to donate to a cause she cares about deeply: helping people who need bone marrow transplants.

She herself received a bone marrow transplant from her brother.

“It’s not that my body was making cancerous cells, it was that my body was making no cells,” she said. “So think about the boy in the bubble. I had to be isolated. I didn’t have an immune system to protect me.”

Using a new feature on Facebook, Babzani in a few clicks posted a photo of herself in a hospital gown when she was receiving treatment and she asked her friends to help raise $350.

 

WATCH: Facebook’s Birthday Fundraiser Feature Brings Smiles to Charitable Causes

New way to raise money for causes

Facebook has always been a convenient way to send birthday wishes to friends. Now users have started taking advantage of a new feature introduced a year ago by the popular social networking site to turn birthday wishes into donations to help a favorite cause.

It’s turned into a huge success for charities. In its first year, Facebook’s birthday fundraiser feature raised more than $300 million for charities around the world. With a new revenue source, some charities are rethinking some of their standard fundraising activities.

The success of the Facebook birthday feature comes as social media users have begun to question how internet services connecting friends and family around the world have also become a mechanism for some to spread hate or influence foreign elections.

​Networks used to spread hate

Along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, testified in the U.S. Senate recently about steps the company has taken to identify and remove posts that violate the company’s terms of service.

“We were too slow to spot this, and too slow to act. That is on us,” Sandberg told the Senate committee.

Yet, the birthday fundraiser feature shows the power of using social media for good, says Facebook spokeswoman, Roya Winner.

“It gives people who are celebrating a birthday, a chance to turn that day into something that’s bigger than themselves,” she said.

Some of the biggest recipients have been St. Jude, the children’s hospital, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, No Kid Hungry, which focuses on child hunger in the U.S., and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In the days that followed, Behnoush surpassed her goal, raising more than $1,700. Her social network became an army pulling together to do good.

Rescuing sea lions

Two weeks before his 65th birthday, Stan Jensen, retired from working in sales at a Silicon Valley firm, received a message from Facebook asking if he wanted to mark the occasion of his birthday by dedicating the day to a cause. He did.

He turned to 1,400 Facebook friends to help raise money for the Marine Mammal Center in Northern California, where he volunteers once a week helping injured sea lions.

He raised $2,300. 

“It surpassed my wildest dreams,” he said, and he let his friends know they made a difference.

“You’ve bought a ton of fish,” he told them. “You are feeding all the animals we have on site for several days.”

His birthday is coming up again, and the sea lions are always hungry. He’s perfecting his pitch: “I know I’m special to you, but I’d like just the cost of a Starbucks coffee. Just $5. Please.”

Facebook’s Birthday Fundraiser Feature Brings Smiles to Charitable Causes

Facebook has always been a convenient way to send birthday wishes to friends. But many users have started taking advantage of a new feature introduced a year ago by the popular social networking site to turn birthday wishes into donations to help a favorite cause. And it’s turned into a huge success for charities. In its first year, Facebook’s birthday fundraiser feature raised more than $300 million for charities around the world. Michelle Quinn has more.

Amazon’s Use of Merchant Data Under EU Microscope

EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.

Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.

“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.

“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”

Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.

Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.

Audi Launches Electric SUV in Tesla’s Backyard

German luxury car brand Audi this week staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.

The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.

All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab a share of that market from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.

“I want Audi to be the No. 1 electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Audi dealers, particularly those from California, where Tesla has made significant inroads, cheered the e-tron at Monday night’s crowded event.

Analysts on Tuesday expressed concern that the vehicle’s driving range may not measure up to that of the Tesla Model X. Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under U.S. testing procedures. They said the vehicle should achieve a range under less rigorous European testing standards of roughly 250 miles or 400 kilometers.

Keogh told attendees at Monday’s event that an e-tron had made a 175-mile journey over the mountains east of San Francisco with range to spare. He also emphasized that the e-tron is designed to recharge more rapidly than rival electric vehicles.

UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said in a note on Tuesday that the e-tron “fails to set new benchmarks in the premium EV segment, even though we consider it better than the Mercedes EQC.” The EQC is a rival electric SUV the Daimler AG brand plans to launch in 2020.

The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.

The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the U.S. government.

​Recharging

Audi and Volkswagen are using the U.S. launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales: the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.

Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.

Amazon’s partnership with Audi marks the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.

“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.

Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.

Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.

At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of U.S. diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.

Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America.

Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.

“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.

​Lifting the curtain

Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.

The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.

In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by U.S. regulators.

However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.

The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.

Will Flying Cars Take Off? Japan’s Government Hopes So

Electric drones booked through smartphones pick people up from office rooftops, shortening travel time by hours, reducing the need for parking and clearing smog from the air.

This vision of the future is driving the Japanese government’s “flying car” project. Major carrier All Nippon Airways, electronics company NEC Corp. and more than a dozen other companies and academic experts hope to have a road map ready by the year’s end.

“This is such a totally new sector Japan has a good chance for not falling behind,” said Fumiaki Ebihara, the government official in charge of the project.

Nobody believes people are going to be zipping around in flying cars any time soon. Many hurdles remain, such as battery life, the need for regulations and, of course, safety concerns. But dozens of similar projects are popping up around the world. The prototypes so far are less like traditional cars and more like drones big enough to hold people.

A flying car is defined as an aircraft that’s electric, or hybrid electric, with driverless capabilities, that can land and takeoff vertically.

They are often called EVtol, which stands for “electric vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft.

The flying car concepts promise to be better than helicopters, which are expensive to maintain, noisy to fly and require trained pilots, Ebihara and other proponents say.

“You may think of ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Gundam,’ or ’Doraemon,’” Ebihara said, referring to vehicles of flight in a Hollywood film and in Japanese cartoons featuring robots. “Up to now, it was just a dream, but with innovations in motors and batteries, it’s time for it to become real.”

Google, drone company Ehang and car manufacturer Geely in China, and Volkswagen AG of Germany have invested in flying car technology.

Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. said they had nothing to say about flying cars, but Toyota Motor Corp. recently invested $500 million in working with Uber on self-driving technology for the ride-hailing service. Toyota group companies have also invested 42.5 million yen ($375,000) in a Japanese startup, Cartivator, that is working on a flying car.

The hope is to fly up and light the torch at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but it’s unclear it will meet that goal: At a demonstration last year, the device crashed after it rose to slightly higher than eye level. A video of a more recent demonstration suggests it’s now flying more stably, though it’s being tested indoors, unmanned and chained so it won’t fly away.

There are plenty of skeptics.

Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc., says even toy drones are noisy and blow a lot of air, which means anything that would be “1,000 times heavier” isn’t practical.

“If you want a flying car, just put wheels on a helicopter,” he said in a recent interview with podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan on YouTube. “Your neighbors are not going to be happy if you land a flying car in your backyard or on your rooftop.”

Though the Japanese government has resisted Uber’s efforts to offer ride-hailing services in Japan, limiting it to partnerships with taxi companies, it has eagerly embraced the U.S. company’s work on EVtol machines.

Uber says it is considering Tokyo as its first launch city for affordable flights via its UberAir service. It says Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas, and locations in Australia, Brazil, France and India are other possible locations.

Unlike regular airplanes, with their aerodynamic design and two wings, Uber’s “Elevate” structures look like small jets with several propellers on top. The company says it plans flight demonstrations as soon as 2020 and a commercial service by 2023.

Uber’s vision calls for using heliports on rooftops, but new multi-floored construction similar to parking lots for cars will likely be needed to accommodate EVtol aircraft if the service takes off.

Unmanned drones are legal in Japan, the U.S. and other countries, but there are restrictions on where they can be flown and requirements for getting approval in advance. In Japan, drone flyers can be licensed if they take classes. There is no requirement like drivers licenses for cars.

Flying passengers over populated areas would take a quantum leap in technology, overhauling aviation regulations and air traffic safety controls, along with major efforts both to ensure safety and convince people it’s safe.

Uber said at a recent presentation in Tokyo that it envisions a route between the city’s two international airports, among others.

“This is not a rich person’s toy. This is a mass market solution,” said Adam Warmoth, product manager at Uber Elevate.

Concepts for flying cars vary greatly. Some resemble vehicles with several propellers on top while others look more like a boat with a seat over the propellers.

Ebihara, the flying-car chief at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, says Japan is on board for “Blade Runner” style travel — despite its plentiful, efficient and well developed public transportation.

Japan’s auto and electronics industries have the technology and ability to produce super-light materials that could give the nation an edge in the flying car business, he said.

Just as the automobile vanquished horse-drawn carriages, moving short-distance transport into the air could in theory bring a sea change in how people live, Ebihara said, pointing to the sky outside the ministry building to stress how empty it was compared to the streets below.

Flying also has the allure of a bird’s eye view, the stuff of drone videos increasingly used in filmmaking, tourism promotion and journalism.

Atsushi Taguchi, a “drone grapher,” as specialists in drone video are called, expects test flights can be carried out even if flying cars won’t become a reality for years since the basic technology for stable flying already exists with recent advances in sensors, robotics and digital cameras.

A growing labor shortage in deliveries in Japan is adding to the pressures to realize such technology, though there are risks, said Taguchi, who teaches at the Tokyo film school Digital Hollywood.

The propellers on commercially sold drones today are dangerous, and some of his students have lost fingers with improper flying. The bigger propellers needed for vertical flight would increase the hazards and might need to be covered.

The devices might need parachutes to soften crash landings, or might have to explode into small bits to ensure pieces hitting the ground would be smaller.

“I think one of the biggest hurdles is safety,” said Taguchi. “And anything that flies will by definition crash.”