DMA TECH WATCH: Oscars Wrap, Google’s Crash & Microsoft’s VR

By Phill Powell

Welcome to DMA Tech Watch, where we review the biggest news events and tech trends now on the radar. Here’s what we’re watching as of February 29, 2016:

OSCAR WRAP-UP:SPOTLIGHT STEALS THE SPOTLIGHT

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Inside Out stunned – well, nobody – by winning Oscar gold last night. (It only earned $856 million.)

In yesterday’s DMA News post, “2016 Academy Awards: If Tech Picked the Oscars,” we amazingly predicted that little-seen, underdog contender Inside Out would pull a surprise, out-of-nowhere victory and nab the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. (Our other predictions proved less interesting.)

For the record, Spotlight, a drama about a team of investigative newspaper reporters starring Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, took home the Best Picture Oscar. A couple of big awards went to The Revenant, including Best Director (Alejandro Inarriu) and Best Actor (finally!) to Leonardo DiCaprio. Brie Larson won the Best Actress Oscar for her work in Room. Supporting performances awards went to Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.

Legendary film composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) and his score for The Hateful Eight narrowly edged out John Williams’ 50th Oscar nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Speaking of which, the Force (and the box office) may have been with J.J. Abrams’ first reimagining of the George Lucas universe, but the Academy was not. Despite five nominations, Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to nab a single Oscar. The Best Visual Effects award went instead to Ex_Machina.

THE iPHONE STANDOFF (THE LATEST)

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So far, neither side is blinking or backing down between Apple and the U.S Department of Justice.

The standoff between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice over iPhone encryption is continuing, with both sides eager to win the war of public opinion. There’s been no shortage of debate offered by public figures weighing in on the case’s data-privacy themes.

This past Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook told a gathering of Apple shareholders that their cause was just, saying, “We do these [things] because these are the right things to do,” and adding, “We are a staunch advocate for our customers’ privacy and personal safety.”

Not everybody is so sure, however, and there have been Apple shareholders quoted in support of Apple providing the requested “back door” hack to the FBI, as the DOJ originally requested. However, sources inside Apple have reported that even if the company complies with the request, the iPhone hack in question might require the services of 10 employees working for a full four weeks.

Apple’s critics have pointed out that the company has appeared to be far more accommodating to security requests from the Chinese government, and some industry voices predict that if the U.S. DOJ prevails in this case, it could lead to the Chinese government also requesting a similar “back door” hack.

MICROSOFT PUTS ON HEADGEAR, ENTERS VR WARS

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Wearing Hololens, you might see this pleasant vacation destination projected on your kitchen counter.

If you had any doubts that virtual reality was here to stay, check out the news from Microsoft, which is announcing its HoloLens mixed-reality hardware system. To say we’re very early in this product’s development cycle is an understatement; Microsoft is now only taking pre-orders for the development unit.

The $3,000 kit is fairly simple, including the HoloLens visual display headgear, carrying case, charger, cleaning cloth, nose pads and a clicker that lets you communicate with applications when a physical gesture doesn’t generate the app reaction you want.

The headgear weighs about 1.2 pounds and can be run cordlessly from a desktop computer. Microsoft says you can expect to be dazzled, thanks to the twin HD 16:9 light engines that create a “holographic” resolution from 2.3 million light points.

The kit becomes available in late March and Microsoft obviously hopes that developers will create games and apps specifically for HoloLens. More on this story as it materializes.

NASA: ENGINEERING A QUIETER BOOM

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One bad bird: The Concorde SST, which could haul you from NYC to London in 3 hours 20 minutes.

Everyone’s pitching in and trying to do their part to revolutionize travel, and that includes NASA. And while the nation’s space agency is focusing less time and resources to outer space exploration, it’s now trying to make commercial air travel better…by making it quieter.

NASA has a 10-year initiative called New Aviation Horizons, and part of its goal is to revive the use of supersonic planes, such as the legendary Concorde SST, which was the first commercial airliner to offer trans-Atlantic flights that were indeed faster than the speed of sound.

For all its muscle and speed, the Concorde was a PR disaster for any airport, because of the ear-splitting noise the plane used to generate. NASA is now heading up the project to find a quieter supersonic engine, and one that uses more sustainable fuels.

GOOGLE’S DEMOLITION DERBY

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Google’s now testing its self-driving vehicles. One recently flunked its “reading” exam.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. One of the self-driving vehicles Google is now testing on California roadways got into a tangle last month with a Mountain View, Calif. city bus, edging into it at a gentle 2 mph. (The bus was said to be zooming by at about 15 mph.) No injuries were reported and damage was limited to a bent fender.

But that’s not the newsy part, because there have been other incidents before as the information giant preps its autonomous auto. What is notable is that this is the first time Google has publicly admitted that its autonomous vehicle was to blame and that its AI was at fault for the incident.

“We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision,” said Google spokespersons. The real culprit for the crash? According to Google, there were sand bags in the road, which deceived the car’s many street-level sensors.

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