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Building the intelligent car of the future

REDMOND, Wash. — May 7, 2013 — In the 1920’s, carmakers started offering an accessory that would revolutionize the driving experience: the radio. While tooling down the road you could tune into the nightly newscast, a live jazz performance or the seventh game in the series. It provided a connected experience that replaced the steady drone of the four liter under the hood with the soaring notes of Duke Ellington’s bugle or the crack of Babe Ruth’s bat as the ball hurtled toward the right-field stands.

Since then, the notion of the connected car has changed. Features such as streaming music from your smartphone and using voice commands to control the stereo and environment are standard equipment in many models. And Microsoft has a vision for in-car technology that takes us beyond the confines of the cockpit to what they call the intelligent car — a scenario in which telematics data can help improve the driving experience, and the design of the vehicle.

Led by Group Program Manager Pranish Kumar, the Windows Embedded Automotive team is focused on fulfilling this vision and, in the process, developing an upgradeable technology solution that extends the useful life of the vehicle.

Says Kumar: “The automotive industry faces a lot of unique challenges, perhaps first of which is that cars must be supportable for much longer than consumer electronics devices — 10 or 20 years, in most cases. I think we’ve developed a solid understanding of some of these challenges and how technology can address them, while providing drivers with a better experience.”

A relationship built on experience and trust

Microsoft’s involvement in the automotive industry stretches back 15 years to 1998 when the company partnered with Clarion to announce the Auto PC, a first-of-its-kind solution that gave drivers access to email, driving directions, paging and traffic alerts, and their entertainment system. And in 2003 Microsoft developed the Microsoft TBox, a telematics device that went on to power infotainment systems for a variety of carmakers.

When it came to working directly with carmakers, Kumar says it was an uphill battle to gain their trust. Many had tried to design their own infotainment system and were convinced that it couldn’t be done in a shorter time than seven or eight years. Microsoft has since proven itself by reducing development time down to just two to three years.

Kumar’s team also adopted the same level of rigor and many of the testing methodologies that carmakers use when conducting customer road tests. Making this change gave the team a “greater degree of confidence” that their development and reporting processes met the carmaker’s need and that the finished product would meet or exceed the driver’s expectations.

From the connected car to the intelligent car

For carmakers, the Promised Land lies in giving drivers the ability to access information and services anywhere they live, whether an app on their smartphones, a music file on their tablet at home, or customer contact information on their computer at work or in the cloud. Over time, members of the Windows Embedded Automotive team have earned a reputation for providing solid insight to help make these experiences a reality.

Together with Kumar, Creative Director John Hendricks, Principal Program Manager Jay Loney, Partner Development Manager David Kelley, and Experience Designers David Walker and Melissa Quintanilha are part of a larger team developing and designing the future of Microsoft’s automotive technologies.

In doing so, they are moving away from a focus on creating in-dash technologies, such as the entertainment or navigation systems, to an emphasis on creating a solution that would power these technologies as part of an overall user experience. Taking this approach has given carmakers the ability to provide periodic updates that refresh the driving experience and extend compatibility to the latest consumer devices.

In the future Microsoft wants to take that experience a step further. Whereas today consumers demand a car that’s more connected — to their phones, their music and their services — Windows Embedded Automotive is focused on designing intelligent cars that respond to the driver’s needs.

One example that Kumar cites involves the difficulty of pairing new phones, which is one of the most frequent problems facing car owners. According to IDC, 722 million smartphones were shipped globally in 2012, a 46.1 percent increase over the previous year.[1] As demand for smartphones continues, ensuring compatibility between new models and infotainment systems will remain a challenge.

A Windows Embedded-based system could transmit data about the unsuccessful pairing to Microsoft and overnight a solution could be identified and downloaded to the car. When the owner gets in his car the next morning, his phone would automatically pair. Over time, that same data could be used to design a user experience that’s not only easier to use but that performs tasks on your behalf, such as tuning to your favorite station or rescheduling a meeting due to traffic delays.

Drivers also stand to gain from the availability of data. Many vehicles contain sensors that monitor factors such as speed, braking, fuel consumption, tire pressure and environmental conditions. Drivers can already use this information to assess their performance and get recommendations on how to improve fuel efficiency or vehicle maintenance.

Using the same data, carmakers could augment the existing battery of tests that are part of their proving process. So in addition to putting a vehicle through the environmental extremes of Northern Sweden or California’s Death Valley, they could evaluate its performance in day-to-day conditions. Engineers and product planners could get a head start on the next year’s model through insights around where design improvements are needed or where a car has been over-engineered. They could even fine tune an engine over-the-air to improve fuel economy of the current model year.

Kumar believes that many of the systems are already in place to make this vision a reality. Using technologies such as Windows Update, cars could be automatically updated — in much the same way as smartphones automatically update when you activate them. And the combination of big data and machine learning could lead to cars that develop an understanding of your preferences and driving behavior to become more responsive to your needs.

“We’ve come a long way in terms of creating a product that works reliably and meets the quality standards of the automotive industry. And we’re continuing our work with carmakers to reach the full potential of in-car technology,” says Kumar. “Through a combination of software, hardware and user-centric design, we believe that car owners will experience driving like never before possible.”

[1] IDC Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, Jan. 24, 2013

Great gadget gifts for moms, dads & grads

REDMOND, Wash. — May 6, 2013 — Browse through the slideshow below for great gifts that will make your mom, dad or grad happy on their special day and beyond.

'Guccifer' hacks Sex and City author

10 May 2013 Last updated at 06:27 ET

Sex and the CityCandace Bushnell is best known for writing Sex and the City, which became a big TV and cinema hit, starring Sarah Jessica Parker (above)

The first 50 pages of a new book by author Candace Bushnell have been leaked by a hacker known as "Guccifer".

After accessing her email, the hacker uploaded screenshots of the draft manuscript onto Google Drive and tweeted them via her Twitter account.

Also uploaded were emails between Bushnell and her publisher, Grand Central Publishing, about the new work.

Matthew Ballast, of the publishing company, confirmed to Reuters that the leaked document is the author's work.

The company is owned by publishing giant Hatchette, and Bushnell's new book is provisionally titled Killing Monica.

Bushnell's website was also compromised, with links to blog posts about the multiplayer games World of Warcraft and Diablo 3.

She told The Smoking Gun website she was surprised to be targeted by the hacker because "my emails are pretty tame" and said she had been locked out of her account this week.

Guccifer also claims to be behind hacks of the email accounts belonging to former US President George W Bush and his family in February, taking personal emails and photographs.

US orders removal of 3D-gun designs

10 May 2013 Last updated at 04:46 ET

3D gun partsThe US government wants all design files for the 3D gun removed

The US government has demanded designs for a 3D-printed gun be taken offline.

The order to remove the blueprints for the plastic gun comes after they were downloaded more than 100,000 times.

The US State Department wrote to the gun's designer, Defense Distributed, suggesting publishing them online may breach arms-control regulations.

Although the files have been removed from the company's Defcad site, it is not clear whether this will stop people accessing the blueprints.

They were being hosted by the Mega online service and may still reside on its servers.

Also, many links to copies of the blueprints have been uploaded to file-sharing site the Pirate Bay, making them widely available.

The Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance wrote to Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson demanding the designs be "removed from public access" until he could prove he had not broken laws governing shipping weapons overseas by putting the files online and letting people outside the US download them.

"We have to comply," Mr Wilson told news magazine Forbes in an interview.

But he added the State Department's fears were ungrounded, as Defense Distributed had been set up specifically to meet requirements that exempted it from the arms-control regulations.

And he welcomed the US government's intervention, saying it would highlight the issue of whether it was possible to stop the spread of 3D-printed weapons.

Cyber gang 'stole $45m' from ATMs

9 May 2013 Last updated at 19:53 ET

Debit card withdrawal at an ATM

A gang of cybercriminals stole $45m (£29m) by hacking into a database of prepaid debit cards and draining cash machines around the world, US prosecutors say.

Seven people have been charged in New York over the heist, which allegedly stretched across 26 countries.

An eighth suspect is thought to have been murdered in April.

The network used fake cards to target banks in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, court documents said.

Prosecutors said law enforcement agencies in Japan, Canada, the UK, Romania and 12 other countries were involved in the investigation.

Arrests had been made in other countries, they said, although details were not released.

'Laptops not guns'

"The defendants and their co-conspirators participated in a massive 21st Century bank heist that reached across the internet and stretched around the globe," Loretta Lynch, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

"In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organisation used laptops and the internet."

Members of the scheme allegedly hacked computer systems to steal data on prepaid debit cards. The cards are pre-loaded with funds rather than being linked to a bank account or a line of credit.

They cancelled withdrawal limits and distributed information to accomplices referred to as "cashers" around the world.

The cashers then loaded other magnetic stripe cards, such as gift cards or old hotel keys, with the stolen data and used them to withdraw huge sums.

The first alleged raid took place at the Rakbank in the UAE in December. Criminals were able to conduct 4,500 transactions worth $5m across about 20 countries.

Prosecutors believe the group broke into the Bank of Muscat based in Oman in February. In the space of 10 hours, casher cells withdrew $40m from ATMs.

According to the indictment of the New York defendants, they quickly moved to launder their cash, opening a Miami bank account and pouring money into cars, including a Porsche and a Mercedes, and Rolex watches.

Seven people have been arrested and face charges of conspiracy to commit access device fraud and money laundering.

The accused ringleader of the cell was reportedly murdered in the Dominican Republic just weeks earlier, prosecutors said.

"Our message is clear. Law enforcement should not stand by as cybercriminals target our global financial system for their own ends," Ms Lynch told reporters.

She added that the attack was the "largest theft of this type that we have yet seen".

YouTube launches subscription fees

9 May 2013 Last updated at 16:16 ET

YouTube logoYouTube says it has about one billion unique users to its service each month

YouTube has launched a trial scheme for paid channels on its website.

Under the pilot programme, a small number of content makers will offer the channels for subscriptions starting at $0.99 (£0.64) a month.

Each channel will offer a free 14-day trial and many will have discounted annual rates.

Although the initial 53-channel line-up is fairly niche, one expert suggested the move might ultimately squeeze some smaller rivals out of the market.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, said the launch was part of an effort to enable "content creators to earn revenue for their creativity".

For example, the children's television favourite, Sesame Street will offer full episodes on its pay channel when it launches.

Subscribers can pay using either their credit cards or through Google's own Wallet service.

The paid channels involved in the pilot are diverse.

They include National Geographic Kids, Acorn - which provides episodes from several British TV series -and Fix My Hog Premium, which is aimed at Harley Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts.

"This is just the beginning", YouTube said on its blog.

"We'll be rolling paid channels out more broadly in the coming weeks as a self-service feature for qualifying partners.

"And as new channels appear, we'll be making sure you can discover them."

Traditional TV turn-off?

The advent of paid channels on YouTube means Google joins Netflix, Hulu and Amazon in offering subscription-based alternatives to traditional pay-TV.

"The wider picture here is that the internet and TV worlds are colliding," Ian Maude, an online media expert at consultants Enders Analysis told the BBC.

"The YouTube move will make it much harder for smaller standalone online subscription-based platforms because Google has the infrastructure to make it easy for content to be hosted, delivered and billed for.

"But it was always inevitable that Google was going to do this."

One billion viewers

Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65bn. The service is believed to generate a small amount of revenue from advertising, but the vast majority of its content has been free-to-watch.

To make itself more attractive to potential advertisers, YouTube has gradually added professional content, such as full-length films and TV shows, to its vast library of amateur videos.

YouTube says a billion people around the world use the service every month.

"If YouTube were a country, we'd be the third largest in the world after China and India," the company said in March.

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