Posts tagged Keeps

The FAA Keeps Edging Closer To Broader Commercial-Drone Use

Little by little, the FAA seems to be unclenching from its strict regulatory limits on commercial-drone use.

Earlier this week, the agency said it would allow three companies to push past the boundaries of restrictive drone guidelines the FAA proposed earlier this year. Specifically, the FAA will allow these companies to test commercial drones that operate beyond their operator’s direct vision and, in one case, in urban areas.

Would-be commercial drone operators—particularly Amazon and its proposed Prime Air delivery service—have long chafed at the FAA’s unwillingness to allow broader testing and use of remotely piloted copters. The FAA’s proposed rules, for instance, would force all commercial-drone operators to obtain FAA certification, limit flights to daylight hours and altitudes of less than 500 feet, and require drones to remain within their operators’ lines of sight.

See also: The FAA Finally Suggests Drone-Use Rules—And They Don’t Allow Much

Now, however, the FAA says it will allow PrecisionHawk, a North Carolina-based remote sensing and data processing company, to use drones to survey crops in rural areas beyond visual range of their operators. BNSF Railroad, meanwhile, will do something with drone inspections of its rail infrastructure, again outside operator line-of-sight. 

In a separate effort, CNN will explore using drones for news gathering in populated urban areas.

“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for ways to expand non-recreational [unmanned aircraft systems] uses,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Unmanned Systems 2015 conference this week. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”

Drone enthusiasts find the FAA’s move heartening.

“It’s a very big development,” Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, said in an interview with ReadWrite. “Based on what they had been saying, the future of commercial drone use and even continued excitement around consumer drone use looked somewhat bleak. This represents a significant pivot on their part.” 

Photo by John Mills

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Technology Could Make Tax Day Easy; Lobbying Keeps It Complicated

This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

America has the technology to make Tax Day exceedingly simple. The IRS already collects financial information on what citizens earn throughout the year and can precisely estimate how much they owe automatically. All the IRS needs to do is send citizens the estimate, have them add in any optional deductions, and file it away with the click of a button.

In fact, when California piloted this exact idea in 2005 as ReadyReturn, citizens reported finishing their taxes in less than 30 minutes. Fully 97% percent of those who used ReadyReturn said they would happily use it again.

“THIS IS THE BEST SERVICE I HAVE EVER SEEN BY THE GOVERNMENT,” one enthusiastic user wrote on a comment board maintained by California’s state tax agency.

Of Course, It Couldn’t Last

Unfortunately, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, has banded with other tax-filing corporations to form a multi-million dollar lobbying machine to halt the government from rolling the technology out nation-wide. In 2010, the LA Times reported that Intuit spent $1,250,000 lobbying the state, at least in part to kill the pilot and prevent its spread throughout the country.

ReadyReturn no longer exists, although some of its features have been rolled into CalFile, a new tax service from the State of California. CalFile allows taxpayers to file their returns directly with the state, but does not appear to automatically estimate their tax liability in advance.

“People in other states who had been interested in it started saying, ‘We just don’t want to pick a fight with Intuit’,” Stanford Law School tax Joseph Bankman expert told the New York Times.

Of course, opposition to automatic tax filing is not entirely from the private sector. Tax companies have joined libertarian-leaning conservative think tanks who believe the government should not be involved in the tax-filing process at all. Perhaps it is a legitimate concern, but a few countries in northern Europe, including Sweden and Denmark, have similar systems without any major issues (at least issues that have been reported). For better or worse, the government is already involved in the tax process.

If citizens didn’t want to use an automated estimate produced by the IRS system, they could always choose TurboTax or any other private software company. For now, though, lobbying is taking that choice away from them.

Lead photo by Keith Cooper; graphic by the Ferenstein Wire

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New Bing Search Feature Keeps Context From One Query To The Next

In its continued drive to build a search platform based on entity and conversational understanding, Bing has launched a new feature that enables the site to keep the context of a search from one query to the next. Using presidential searches as an example, Bing explains how a user could search…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

View full post on Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

With Brendan Eich As CEO, Mozilla Keeps Its Focus On The Open Web

Mozilla has named Brendan Eich its new chief executive officer. Eich is the inventor of JavaScript and has been Mozilla’s chief technology officer since 2005. He was one of the co-founders of the Mozilla Foundation and instrumental in the launch of the Firefox browser in 2004.

Eich takes over for acting CEO and chief operating officer Jay Sullivan as the permanent replacement for Gary Kovacs, who resigned the CEO position in the spring of 2013. Sullivan will leave Mozilla after a transition period and be replaced by Li Gong.

Eich The Right Man For The Job

Eich has long been the heart of everything that Mozilla touches. He was the chief architect at in 1998 and on the Mozilla Foundation board of directors. He became CTO of the Mozilla Corporation 2005. Mozilla and Firefox are what they are today thanks largely to Eich. He is a staunch proponent of the open Web—as is everyone at Mozilla—and has been the leading force in getting Firefox OS off the ground for smartphones.

What makes Eich the perfect leader at Mozilla is that he is not a businessman. Yes, as CEO he’ll be responsible for Mozilla’s business partnerships, and that’ll include renewing a contract that keeps Google as the default search engine on Firefox—a deal, by the way, that serves as Mozilla’s primary source of revenue. But Mozilla has never been a corporation all that interested in money. It is, by definition, a non-profit company that focuses its energy on standards and development of the open Web.

By promoting Eich to CEO, Mozilla will remain a tech-centered organization focused on the Web. Mozilla’s strength is pushing the boundaries of what is possible through the browser using HTML5 and other open development practices and principles. The HTML5 Web APIs that Mozilla created for Firefox OS are a key example of that.

Eich ensures continuity of Mozilla’s mission which is important in a technology world that increasingly sees companies that want to lock consumers and developers into walled garden loops of devices and services like iOS, Android and Windows. 

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MyFitnessPal Keeps Flexing Its API Muscles

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

MyFitnessPal is a daily habit for me: Throughout the day—or at least before I go to sleep—I log all the food I consumed and all the exercise I performed. As I’ve added new fitness apps to my routine, I’ve noticed a trend: They all seem to be adding direct connections to MyFitnessPal, so I can track calories without all the extra work.

Just the other day, I got a notice from Pear Sports, my favorite heart-rate graphing app, that I could now pipe my calorie data directly into MyFitnessPal. And FitStar is in the process of adding MyFitnessPal support, both companies have confirmed to me.

When I remarked on this wave of connectivity to MyFitnessPal CEO Mike Lee on the phone recently, he was nonchalant: “It’s nothing shocking,” he said. “We’re the largest [fitness-tracking app] and we’re growing faster.”

You have to know Lee, as I have for years, to understand that this came across as a statement of fact, not a brag. 

It’s also something I’ve been asking Lee about since our first conversation in late 2010. Mostly I gushed to him about his app, which had helped me lose 83 pounds. But our conversation ended with a complaint: Why can’t all these fitness apps just get along? Why do I have to enter the same data so many times into all of these different apps?

The Rise Of Fitness APIs

That was in late 2010, when the digital-fitness space was just getting going. Lee’s company—then barely more than him and his brother Albert—was struggling just to keep up with the explosive growth of its user base. Back then, my workout-tracking app had no way to talk to MyFitnessPal, meaning I had to enter the calories I burned in the gym twice. GPS run-mapping apps were in a similarly noncommunicative state.

Things changed quickly. First RunKeeper launched its Health Graph API, or application programming interface, in 2011. Then MyFitnessPal unveiled its own API in the fall of 2012, inviting other apps to feed in calorie data. In less than six months, the number of API calls—requests made by apps to pull data from or feed data to MyFitnessPal’s servers—grew from nothing to 54 million by April 2013. (API usage has grown since then, Lee told me, though changes in tracking methodology make direct comparisons difficult.)

In August, MyFitnessPal drew $18 million in its first outside investment. And in November, Under Armour spent $150 million to buy MapMyFitness, which is known for its connectivity to other apps and devices (and also counts Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank as an enthusiastic user). You could say it’s proof of the value of having the right connections.

Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker featured MyFitnessPal’s API growth in her annual Internet Report.

Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker featured MyFitnessPal’s API growth in her annual Internet Report.

Mobiles + Wearables = Connections

What drove this API explosion? First came mobile apps. Once a company does the engineering work to have iOS and Android apps talk to its own servers, it’s not too much extra effort to open that up to outside developers.

But in the fitness space, the rise of wearable devices tracking steps, heart rate, and calories sparked a particular need for openness. Doing one-off integrations with every device out there—especially when there’s no clear winner in a crowded market full of Jawbone Ups and Nike FuelBands and Fitbits of every imaginable size and shape—would drain the resources of any app maker.

Now it seems MyFitnessPal is leveraging the growing size of its user base—more than 45 million, at last count—to spread its connections far and wide. It’s no longer limited to just tracking calories. Pact, an app which helps users place bets with themselves that they can stick to exercise and nutrition regimens, now pays you if you log your food religiously on MyFitnessPal.

Brains And Brawn

The next step for MyFitnessPal and other fitness apps is to go beyond tracking to making helpful suggestions. Lee says users have asked MyFitnessPal to have the app “nag” them—a request he’s mostly resisted, since MyFitnessPal’s unobtrusive approach has worked so far. (The mobile app recently added reminders to log my food around mealtimes, though the feature required me to opt in first.)

That may change, as MyFitnessPal gets more confident about what it can do for its users.

“We want to make the process of getting healthier easier,” Lee said. “When the motivation is higher than the barrier, that’s when consumers succeed. We’d like to get more proactive.”

The more that my apps do for me, talking to each other via APIs, the less work I have to do with my phone—and the more work I can do on my body.

I’m intrigued, for example, of the prospect of fitness apps like FitStar or RunKeeper forging tighter links with MyFitnessPal. What if FitStar boosted the time or intensity of a workout on a day after I overdid it on food? Or what if MyFitnessPal recommended that I get more carbohydrates in after a particularly grueling RunKeeper run, to replenish the glycogen in my muscles?

We’ve taken a giant leap since 2010, when fitness apps existed in their own silos and wearables were barely a glimmer. But we’ve just started to figure out where these new rails of connectivity can take us.

Photo by Shutterstock

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Facebook Rolls Out Donate Button, And Keeps Your Payment Information

Today Facebook announced “Donate”, a new feature that lets people give money directly through Facebook by clicking on a “Donate Now” button next to posts from nonprofit organizations. Facebook that 100 percent of your donation made through Facebook will go directly to the charity of your choice.

Of course, as Mike Isaac at AllThingsD points out, transactions will require a credit card, payment information that Facebook will keep on file and thus will have available to help tempt users into future non-charitable purchases. Assuming, of course, that users want to trust Facebook with their credit card information in the first place.

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