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Google making smartwatch in ‘ambient’ computing push

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This image courtesy of Google, shows a smart watch as part of the company's Pixel line
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Google on Wednesday said it is strapping a smartwatch onto its Pixel hardware line as part of an “ambient computing” vision to make its services available anywhere at any time.

The Alphabet-owned internet titan used its annual developers conference to showcase a Pixel line expanding to include a smartwatch and tablet as well as upgraded earbuds and a more affordable version of its flagship smartphone.

Backed up by artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and sophisticated custom mobile chips, the family of gadgets is intended to work seamlessly together to be conveniently available when desired, Google senior vice president of hardware and services Rick Osterloh said during a briefing.

“All these things work in concert on our vision of ambient computing,” Osterloh said.

“Providing the help people need, whenever they need it.”

The Pixel Watch will be released late this year, along with a new premium Pixel 7 smartphone, with pricing and other details to be disclosed closer to launch, Google said. 

The first Pixel smartwatch designed and built by Google will integrate health features from Fitbit, which Alphabet bought in a $2.1 billion deal that closed last year, and take on market leading Apple Watch.

“It just takes time to integrate a company with all the technology and people that Fitbit has,” Osterloh said of the Pixel smartwatch timing.

There will be a version of the Pixel Watch that synchs to Android-powered and one that has its own wireless internet connectivity, the internet giant said.

Google is also working on a Pixel tablet computer expected to be released next year, figuring their is an interest in large screen mobile devices even if that overall market has been lackluster.

“We’ve got a lot going on in the Pixel pipeline and it represents investments across all different kinds of technologies,” Osterloh said.

A smaller version of the Pixel 6 smartphone released by Google late last year will hit shelves on July 28 at a price of $449, along with new Pixel Buds Pro ear pieces priced at $199.

While smartphones powered by Google’s free Android operating software dominate the global market, the Silicon Valley company’s Pixel models have amassed scant share.

“We’re really investing a lot and expanding the mobile part of our vision,” Osterloh said.

“It’s like an iceberg and that you didn’t see a lot of what was happening underneath but now you can really see all these things coming to the surface.”

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Biden says ExxonMobil ‘made more money than God’

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US President Joe Biden said ExxonMobil made 'more money than God' in 2022
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President Joe Biden on Friday slammed ExxonMobil for not producing more oil, as soaring gas prices deplete Americans’ wallets and the US leader’s popularity ahead of midterm elections.

“Exxon made more money than God this year,” he said, advocating increasing taxes on oil companies.

ExxonMobil reported massive profits in the first three months of the year despite lower oil and natural gas volumes, as crude prices rose after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Oil companies “have 9,000 permits to drill. They’re not drilling. Why aren’t they drilling? Because they make more money not producing more oil,” Biden said in comments at the Port of Los Angeles hours after the government released a devastating inflation report reflecting soaring energy prices.

And with the higher profits, “they’re buying back their own stock, which should be taxed quite frankly. Buying back their own stock and making no new investments.”

After a dreadful 2020 amid Covid-19 lockdowns that devastated petroleum demand, oil companies returned to profitability in 2021 and have continued to see earnings skyrocket this year.

ExxonMobil’s first-quarter profits more than doubled to $5.5 billion, and revenues rose 52.4 percent to $87.7 billion.

The petroleum giant also increased spending on share buybacks by $20 billion, and while it has planned to increase capital spending in 2022, Exxon ruled out additional investment.

Biden, whose popularity has plummeted in the face of the highest inflation in four decades and sky-high gas prices.

Government data released Friday showed the consumer price index jumped 8.6 percent compared to May 2021, up from 8.3 percent in the 12 months ending in April and topping what most economists thought was the peak in March.

Energy has soared 34.6 percent over the past year, and fuel oil costs more than doubled, jumping 106.7 percent, the largest increase in the history of CPI, which dates to 1935.

Oil prices have mostly lingered above $100 a barrel after spiking to around $130 a barrel in early March shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. American drivers are facing new record gas prices daily, with the national average hitting $4.99 a gallon on Friday, according to AAA.

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Climate: Africa’s energy future on a knife’s edge

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Sun-rich Namibia is seeking funds for plans to become a green-energy giant. Solar farms would harvest hydrogen from water via electrolysis -- the gas would then be liquefied and exported
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With more than half its population lacking mains electricity and still using charcoal and other damaging sources for cooking, Africa’s energy future –- torn between fossil fuels and renewables — is up for grabs.

As nations discuss the climate crisis at the UN’s mid-year negotiations in Bonn, AFP spoke to Mohamed Adow, founder of think tank Power Shift Africa, about the forces pulling the continent in opposing directions. 

The stakes, he warns, are global.

Q. You have said rich nations owe the rest of the world a climate debt

“The prosperity they enjoy was, in effect, subsidised by the rest of the world because they polluted without paying the cost for doing so.

“Africa is home to 17 percent of Earth’s population but accounts for less than four percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and only half-a-percent of historic emissions. The continent emits less than 1 tonne of CO2 per person, compared to seven in Europe or China, and more than 15 in the United States.

“If the least-developed continent on our planet is going to leapfrog fossil fuels to renewables, rich nations must pay the climate debt they owe.”

Q. How will Africa’s energy choices impact the rest of the world?

“My continent is at a crossroads with two possible futures. Africa can become a clean energy leader with decentralised renewables powering a more inclusive society and a greener economy, or it can become a large polluter that is burdened with stranded assets and economic instability. 

“We have the opportunity to make a difference for Africa and for the world.”

Q. US envoy John Kerry says climate change in Africa could see “hundreds of millions of people looking for a place to live.” Is he right?

“Absolutely. It is important to acknowledge that climate-induced migration is a threat. As climate impacts increase, people in Africa — where almost all agriculture is rain-fed — will be forcefully displaced from their land. 

“In wealthy nations, that is seen mostly as a security issue. But this is a humanitarian disaster in which people are already losing lives, homes and livelihoods.

“The only way to prevent climate-induced migration in the long-run is to reduce carbon pollution at the scale needed.”

Q. Is the war in Ukraine affecting energy development in Africa?

“To attain energy security after Russia’s invasion, Europe is effectively pushing Africa to pour its limited financial resources into developing its fossil gas extraction and export industry, primarily for consumers in Europe.”

“Last month German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during a three-day tour of Senegal, said his country wants to ‘intensively pursue’ projects to develop and import Senegal’s huge gas reserves. Germany, of course, has been especially dependent on Russian gas.

“So now Europe wants to shackle Africa with new fossil fuel infrastructure that we know will be redundant within a few years, not to mention self-harming for the continent. And lest we forget: gas from Africa will emit the same amount of emissions as gas from Russia.”

Q. What is the balance of power in Africa between fossil-fuel interests and those striving to leapfrog to renewables?

“Last month, the Sustainable Energy for All summit in (Rwandan capital) Kigali issued a communique supporting ‘Africa in the deployment of gas as a transition fuel’.  But only 10 out of 54 African countries signed that statement. 

“I think the majority of African nations recognise the tremendous opportunity that renewables present for job creation, innovation, reduced air pollution and sustainable industrialisation. But this majority is a silent majority — they have not yet leveraged their moral voice to make a case for a cleaner, sustainable Africa.

“There are some leaders. My country, Kenya, is currently powered by 90-percent renewable energy and has set a target of 100 percent by 2030.”

Q. The trillions needed to engineer a rapid transition to renewables will not come from public sources alone. How do you mobilise private capital?

“We need to think about long-term investment security in Africa. This is the most expensive continent for securing loans or credit. We need to introduce payment guarantee schemes that are backed by international finance to facilitate safe investment in renewable energy.

“But you still need public money to leverage international investment and finance. We also have to unlock Africa’s domestic sources — public funds, sovereign wealth funds. And then there’s debt. If we could swap some foreign debt for the kinds of investment Africa needs, it could make a big difference.”

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Italy’s Pompeii tests new guard dog — a robot named Spot

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Spot's current mission at Pompeii is to monitor hard-to-access areas of the sprawling ruins
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Under the amused gaze of many tourists, a robot dog wanders the ancient stone alleys of Pompeii’s famous archaeological park.

Meet Spot, a friendly, yellow-and-black remote-controlled creature with a gangly gait who looks like a dog crossed with an insect — all wrapped up in a robot’s body. 

Spot’s current mission at Pompeii is to inspect hard-to-access areas of the sprawling ruins, to collect data and alert his handlers to safety and structural problems. 

“Particularly underground structures where safety conditions won’t allow (staff) to enter, such as in the park’s many very narrow and dangerous tunnels,” Pompeii’s general director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, told AFP. 

His purvey includes surveying tunnels dug out in clandestine excavations, which Zuchtriegel said “unfortunately still take place in the area”. 

With its excavated ruins spread out over 44 hectares (109 acres), the archaeological site preserves the remains of the ancient wealthy city south of Naples, buried by ash after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. 

Spot — who weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and is about the size of a Golden Retriever — is controlled remotely with a tablet and better equipped than people to survey certain areas of the park.  

The robot is made by US company Boston Dynamics, which specialises in robotics, including for the military. The company’s website says Spot can be used in industries such as construction, mining and manufacturing, among others, carrying out inspections and capturing data.   

Controlling Spot this week in Pompeii was Valerio Brunelli, business developer for Leica Geosystem, which makes a 3D flying scanner, resembling a drone, that accompanies the robot in its rounds.

Brunelli made Spot bow and wiggle for the crowd.

“Spot is an amalgamation of technology that makes it a robot capable of exploring very complicated places, such as those found here,” said Brunelli.

“It’s a leap into the future for a thousand-year-old park”.

The robot is being used on a trial basis and comes with a $75,000 price tag.

Director Zuchtriegel said a decision on whether or not to buy Spot had not yet been made, but that rapid changes in the technology sector made choosing expensive, high-tech purchases difficult. 

“People are always needed, so there will never be a robot dog to be the guardian inside the Pompeii site. That is not the goal.” 

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