Alibaba will let you find restaurants and order food with voice in a car

Competition in the Chinese internet has for years been about who controls your mobile apps. These days, giants are increasingly turning to offline scenarios, including what’s going on behind the dashboard in your car.

On Tuesday, Alibaba announced at the annual Shanghai Auto Show that it’s developing apps for connected cars that will let drivers find restaurants, queue up and make reservations at restaurants, order food and eventually complete a plethora of other tasks using voice, motion or touch control. Third-party developers are invited to make their in-car apps, which will run on Alibaba’s operating system AliOS.

Rather than working as standalone apps, these in-car services come in the form of “mini apps,” which are smaller than regular ones in exchange for faster access and smaller file sizes, in Alibaba’s all-in-one digital wallet Alipay . Alibaba has other so-called “super apps” in its ecosystem, such as marketplace Taobao and navigation service AutoNavi, but the payments solution clearly makes more economic sense if Alibaba wants people to spend more while sitting in a four-wheeler.

There’s no timeline for when Alibaba will officially roll out in-car mini apps but it’s already planning for a launch, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Making lite apps has been a popular strategy for China’s internet giants operating super apps that host outside apps, or “mini-apps”; that way users rarely need to leave their ecosystems. These lite apps are known to be easier and cheaper to build than a native app, although developers have to make concessions like giving their hosts certain level of access to user data and obeying rules as they would with Apple’s App Store. For in-car services, Alibaba says there will be “specific review criteria for safety and control” tailored to the auto industry.

alios cars alibaba

Photo source: Alibaba

Alibaba’s move is indicative of a heightened competition to control the operating system in next-gen connected cars. For those who wonder whether the ecommerce behemoth will make its own cars given it’s aggressively infiltrated the physical space, like opening its own supermarket chain Hema, the company’s solution to vehicles appears to be on the software front, at least for now.

In 2017, Alibaba rebranded its operating system with a deep focus to put AliOS into car partners. To achieve this goal, Alibaba also set up a joint venture called Banma Network with state-owned automaker SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen, which is the French car company’s China venture, that would hawk and integrate AliOS-powered solutions with car clients. As of last August, 700 thousand AliOS-powered SAIC vehicles had been sold.

Alibaba competitors Tencent and Baidu have also driven into the auto field, although through slightly different routes. Baidu began by betting on autonomous driving and built an Android-like developer platform for car manufacturers. While the futuristic plan is far from bearing significant commercial fruit, it’s gained a strong foothold in self-driving with the most mileage driven in Beijing, a pivotal hub to test autonomous cars. Tencent’s car initiatives seem more nebulous. Like Baidu, it’s testing self-driving and like Alibaba, it’s partnered with industry veterans to make cars, but it’s unclear where the advantage lies for the social media and gaming giant in the auto space.

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Windows 7 message alerts users to the end of security updates


Jon Fingas/Engadget

Microsoft really, really wants you to know that Windows 7’s security updates will end soon. A newly deployed update will warn users that Microsoft will stop providing security updates for the operating system after January 14th, 2020, with a not-so-subtle reminder that the software has been around for 10 years. The updates should start appearing on April 18th. The alert will be hard to miss when it arrives the first time, though you’ll thankfully have the option of disabling future reminders.

Many people are likely to see the notice. Net Applications data suggested that Windows 7 represented nearly 40.2 percent of desktop usage as of February, or slightly more than were using Windows 10. Whether or not they can heed the message is another story. Many of those people are either on PCs that would struggle with Windows 10 or are using corporate machines where OS updates might be out of their control. Microsoft is no doubt hoping that the message will persuade at least some of those holdouts, though.

There is a strong incentive to make the jump, at least for businesses and institutions. Once official support ends, Microsoft only provides consistent security updates to companies that pay for extended support, which ends in 2023. It’ll make very rare exceptions for instances like the WannaCry ransomware outbreak. Although a Windows 10 upgrade won’t necessarily guarantee protection against security threats, it’ll at least prevent attacks where solutions have existed for years.

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Microsoft warns Windows 7 users of looming end to security updates

Microsoft has rolled out a patch that will warn Windows 7 users that security updates will soon come to an end.

The patch rolled out Wednesday warning users of the impending deadline, January 14, 2020, when the software giant will no longer roll out fixes for security flaws and vulnerabilities. The deadline comes some 10 years after Windows 7 first debuted in 2009, more than half a decade before Microsoft’s most recent operating system Windows 10 was introduced.

Microsoft’s move to stop issuing security updates is part of the company’s ongoing effort to push users to its latest software, which stands on a greater security foundation and improvements to mitigate attacks.

Starting April 18, users on Windows 7 will begin receiving warnings about the approaching cut-off.

Windows 7 still commands some 40 percent of the desktop market, according to Net Applications. With exactly 300 days before the deadline, the clock is ticking on consumer security support.

Enterprise customers have the option to pay for extended security updates until 2023.

For years, Microsoft allowed Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 10 for free to try to encourage growth and upgrades. With those incentives gone, many only have the lack of security updates to look ahead to, which will put business data and systems at risk of cyberattack.

It’s almost unheard of for Microsoft to patch end-of-life software. In 2017, Microsoft released rare security patches for Windows XP — retired three years earlier — to prevent the spread of WannaCry, a ransomware strain that piggybacked off leaked hacking tools, developed by the National Security Agency.

The ransomware outbreak knocked schools, businesses and hospitals offline.

Windows 7’s successor, Windows 8, will continue to receive updates until January 10, 2023.

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Toyota doubles down on Nvidia tech for self-driving cars

Toyota is deepening its relationship with Nvidia as the automaker, and its research arms in Japan and the U.S., ramps up its autonomous vehicle development program.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang announced Monday during his keynote at the 2019 GPU Technology Conference that Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development — the automaker’s Japan-based research arm — is using the chipmaker’s full end-to-end development and production to develop, train and validate its autonomous vehicle technology. The partnership builds on an ongoing collaboration with Toyota and is based on development between engineering teams from Nvidia, TRI-AD in Japan and Toyota Research Institute in the United States.

This new agreement means Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for training deep neural networks, testing, validation and eventual deployment for its cars. Toyota is also using Nvidia’s newly released AV simulator Drive Constellation, which is now available to customers. Toyota is the first customer to use Constellation, a cloud based platform that enables autonomous vehicle developers to test their technology in the virtual world. 

In short, Toyota is going to use Nvidia’s technology for the entire workflow or process to develop autonomous vehicles.

“Close collaboration is really our business model,” Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive said Monday. “It’s our way of developing jointly and building the Nvidia drivers platform.”

Nvidia and Toyota have been collaborating for several years now. Toyota announced in 2017 it would use Nvidia’s Drive PX supercomputer, a platform with a processor called Xavier, to power the autonomous driving systems inside its future cars.

Toyota, and its research arms TRI and Japan-based TRI-AD, are taking a dual approach to autonomy.

Toyota intends to eventually deploy fully autonomous cars that would serve elderly and disabled people under its so-called Chauffeur system. The automaker is also working on “Guardian,” a system for production vehicles that will operate in the background and step in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems. 

It’s unclear if Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for the development of the Guardian system or fully autonomous vehicles.

“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” TRI-AD CEO James Kuffner said in a statement. “Our technology collaboration with Nvidia is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”

Toyota is just one of several automotive partnerships Nvidia has locked in since 2015 when it introduced its original architecture for autonomous vehicles, a supercomputer platform called Drive PX. The original platform was designed to process all of the data coming from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors and then use an AI algorithm-based operating system and a cloud-based, high-definition 3D map to help the car understand its environment, know its location, and anticipate potential hazards while driving. 

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Huawei confirms it has a backup OS in case it's cut off from Android


Engadget

In the event that tensions between Huawei Technologies and the US reach a boiling point, Huawei has a backup plan: its own operating system (OS) for phones, tablets and computers. The OS has been rumored for years, but Huawei confirmed its viability with the South China Morning Post, saying it could be used if the company were cut off from Android or Windows. It’s seen as a last resort, but given the current discord between the US and Huawei, it’s not entirely surprising that the company has a plan B.

Huawei began building the OS in 2012, after the US banned Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE from using American products and services. This was reportedly seen as a way to prepare for “worst-case scenarios.” Now, with Huawei suing the US government and the US saying it might punish Germany if the country works with Huawei on its 5G networks, those worst-case scenarios might not be too far-fetched.

At the moment, this doesn’t change much. Android and Windows are still the company’s first-choice. “We fully support our partners’ operating systems — we love them and our customers love them,” a company spokesperson told South China Morning Post. Still, given the state of the US-Huawei relationship, this contingency plan could be significant.

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