Tech springs forward

man_with_telescopeTechnology is 24/7/360. Like rust, it never sleeps. There’s always something new under the sun. It’s not happening only in America, it’s worldwide.

And, like Daylight Savings Time, some meaty tech stories are springing forward, impacting the world and us along with it.

This is another in our regular series of posts in which we survey the tech landscape. We do the legwork so you don’t have to.

The Apple Watch, announced today, is just one of many stories emerging from the tech universe.

The Mobile World Congress signals where we are and where we’re going in mobile technology. The answer: mobile is penetrating every aspect of our lives, creating new businesses, and reshaping existing ones.

And Samsung wants to prove it’s still relevant, recently announcing its new “next big thing,” the Galaxy S6 smartphone. My, does it look familiar!

The world of robots is very much alive and well, with the 2015 annual DARPA-sponsored competition heating up and slated for June. The winners take home a cool $3.5 million for their efforts.

Also very much alive and well, sadly, is hacking with news of the Freak exploit being recently revealed, and with a GAO report declaring the security of the FAA’s air traffic control system to be incredibly lax and extremely vulnerable to attack.

Apple Watch arrives today

Apple has been pushing hard and pulling out all the stops in hopes that the Apple Watch will follow the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad as an iconic device that ultimately dominates its market.digital_crown

Fresh off the company’s Apple Watch announcements today, I remain upbeat about this new product category for Apple, although I’m hesitant to predict a breakout hit that matches, say, the iPhone.

Certainly, some percentage of iPhone 6 users will be attracted to the Apple Watch. Indeed, you must have an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus to make full use of the Apple Watch.

The question remains if the pricing is right for the various Apple Watch flavors. There are three Apple Watch varieties—Sport, Collection, and Edition—and prices range from $349 to $10,000!

Mobile World Congress

It sounds like some government entity, but actually the Mobile World Congress is an annual event that is run in Barcelona, Spain. Each year, mobile manufacturers display their latest and greatest smartphones, tablets, watches, and other devices.

MWCThis year, connected living was one of the themes, as companies showed off mobile apps, cloud technologies, green technology, mobile money and wearables.

Even virtual reality emerged, with HTC showing off its SteamVR-powered VR headset, which apparently made VR skeptics into believers.

We’re really at the very beginning of VR and how it will impact our world. I, for one, am looking forward to VR advances, which will no doubt come fast and furious, with big names like Facebook, Google, and, now, even Apple getting involved.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S6

The Apple Watch notwithstanding, Samsung would like you to believe that its new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones, which the company announced at the Mobile World Congress this year, represent the Next Big Thing.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

For better or worse, however, the S6 models appear to be more of the same in the smartphone world—and ones that take a few cues from Apple’s iPhone 6.

Thin? Check. Metal casing? Check. No accessible battery compartment or microSD storage slot? Check. In fact, dedicated Samsung Galaxy users might be disappointed at the lack of the latter two capabilities, which had always been available with Samsung phones until the S6.

Still, with Android 5.0 and an impressive list of internal components, the S6 and S6 Edge may be just what Samsung needs to turn around its declining smartphone revenues.

Robots as life-savers?

Each year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, sponsors a robotics challenge. The organization’s mission is:

To develop human-supervised ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. Competitors in the DRC are developing robots that can utilize standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles.

In this year’s event, which will be held on June 5-6 at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., 25 teams from across the world will be participating, and must demonstrate robots that are semi-autonomous in situations approximating natural disasters and other dangerous situations.

For example, as shown in the following rendering, robots could be sent into an energy plant to troubleshoot and fix problems that would not be safe for humans.

DARPA image

DARPA image

The contestant robots are more and more approximating the human form. In the challenge, they must be able to do things like climb ladders, operate equipment, and use hand tools.

The winning team will receive a $2 million first prize, the runner up $1 million, and the third-place team $500,000.

From my viewpoint, the rate at which robotic technologies are being developed is growing exponentially. In 5-10 years, we are going to be seeing robots that are every bit as dexterous and capable as humans, but stronger and more durable. Exciting stuff, indeed.

Vulnerabilities present and future

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, researchers announced a new SSL/TLS vulnerability called the FREAK attack, which makes virtually all modern web browsers unsafe.hacker

The vulnerability potentially allows an attacker to intercept HTTPS connections and force them to use weakened encryption, which the attacker could then break to steal or manipulate sensitive data.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and other developers are reportedly working on updating their browsers to fix the FREAK vulnerability. You should definitely keep a lookout for browser updates from your vendors of choice and install them as soon as they become available.

In related news, the U.S. General Accounting Office released an eye-opening report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control system. According to the report:

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken steps to protect its air traffic control systems from cyber-based and other threats, significant security control weaknesses remain, threatening the agency’s ability to ensure the safe and uninterrupted operation of the national airspace system (NAS).

Reportedly, the FAA, which is responsible for thousands of aircraft in the skies at any given time, is using some outdated, unsupported equipment. And some of this equipment has had a number of security patches available, which the FAA has not yet made.

The GAO has made 168 separate recommendations for modernizing and protecting the air traffic control system, and the FAA concurs, and “is working on it.”

Small consolation.

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