Wass Up Tech: Facebook flies Solar, VCR dies Solo

|July 22, 2016 0
Aquila has passed its test, Dell and EMC have passed merger nod and VCR has passed its tenure. As that happens, Microsoft is clinking glasses with IBM on one side and getting parking tickets on the other one

Pratima H

INDIA: Many things are on their way, some in, some out.

The top most amongst the former category this week was hands-down (literally for Zuckerberg) the test flight of Aquila, Facebook’s Internet-through-drone dream that took off in the solar realm.



At a military installation near California, Aquila, an unmanned solar-powered aircraft proved its initial mettle for 96 minutes, albeit on low altitudes. Reports suggest that it was still impressive as this was three times longer than what Facebook had worked out and it navigated winds, turbulence, as well as helped galvanize data and helped engineers get more grip on its batteries, radios and other gear.

This one has a wingspan of a Boeing 737, is whipped up from carbon fiber, but would still have to fix gaps around solar panels, communications payload, batteries with enough density and storage for higher altitudes, Internet antennas, and problems around landing as well as working on still trickier heights like about 60,000 to 90,000 feet.

The idea is that Aquila floats up the stratosphere, and conveys signals to rural areas or Internet-dark nooks in a way that is faster and cheaper than earth-bound landlines by beaming Internet service to terrestrial base stations and ahead. It can leverage laser-beam technology for shipping fast Internet to remote areas and can manage a radius of 60-miles as initial assessments hint.

With the solar angle, the power and cost for a scale that is on the drawing board for Internet to Earth would be substantially different. Hence the test flight.

The question is how soon the test becomes a reality for others in the wings like Google’s balloon idea Loon, or Elon’s Space X or the collusion of OneWeb and Airbus Defense and Space; also harbor similar ambitions of flying above the heights of commercial aircraft, and beaming wireless networks into remote corners of the world, thus wiping the need for expensive and cumbersome cables or cell towers.

Interestingly, initial vibes tell that Facebook may not be a direct stake here and could share the blueprints of such drones with other more direct players in the industry.

The big thing to thicken the plot would be if balloons or satellites do it earlier than drones can, and whether regulators can get their heads and laws around the very concept of drones in our skylines at the right time.

Speaking of regulators, Windows 10 would have to watch its steps in terms of privacy. Microsoft has been instructed by the France’s data protection commission for stopping collection of excessive user data and tracking of web browsing of Windows 10 users when a consent is missing. Microsoft has been urged to guarantee users’ security and confidentiality, specially after things have changed under the Safe Harbor agreement with EU’s new outlook at it. Microsoft would have to comply with these orders in three months.

It is also busy inking new partnerships for the enterprise play (which is palpable with the way it is pushing tools of productivity, Cortana etc), and strangely or not, IBM appears amongst its new friends.

It has cemented a deal with IBM for new business applications for Surface tablets and using IBM’s analytics and enterprise applications expertise for industry-specific solutions for financial services and consumer packaged goods (CPG)/retail companies. Reminds you of Apple and its partnerships for the same enterprise playground with new equations being forged with IBM, SAP, and Cisco etc.

Partnerships are indeed on the fast pedal.

EMC shareholders have given assent to the $62.4bn bid for the Dell merger, clearing ground for making it the biggest infrastructure gear player in the industry and in strong competition with giants like HP Inc.

Competition can create new bedfellows and new coffins too. The good old VCR has finally kissed the dust after a brave time in the ring against new technologies.

The VCR, or Video Cassette Recorder, was, to the surprise of many, still around – even after companies like Panasonic side-stepped them. Japanese Companies like Funai Electric managed to keep manufacturing on but the lines are finally closing down by August, as some media reports indicate.

There were apparently still buyers like Sanyo, or Sony that was until last year, still selling VHS rival – Betamax video cassettes and hence the survival of VCRs, or players for such tapes, subsisted.

It has been quite a run though since their advent in 1970s as one after the other technology kept displacing VCRs strongly – whether it was the early attack of DVDs or a modern-day Netflix breed.

From as many as 15 million a year that VCRs used to enjoy, the sales understandably shrunk to a mere 750,000 last year. Still, quite considerable, as some would appreciate.

Would they manage to find some relevance? More so as VHS cassettes are still not so hard to spot in Japanese stores and even Star Wars box set finds these format buyers or as people cling to nostalgic reminders like vinyl or gramophone long after their write-offs? As vintage collection or as an archival option, VHS and consequentially VCR may still be salvaged.

Internet – thanks to the Sun, VCR – thanks to museums. Who knows?

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