All posts by John Skrhak

John Skrhak | Gadgets, Sports and Toys Fanatic | Read about them all here.

SiriusXM buys Automatic Labs to expand connected-car offerings

You might associate SiriusXM with that service you never activated in your new car, but it’s clearly working to grow beyond that, as its latest acquisition shows.

SiriusXM just purchased Automatic Labs Inc., a San Francisco-based company that focuses on connected-car hardware. The deal reportedly cost SiriusXM more than $100 million.

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OBDII dongles are a hot business right now, as safe drivers clamor to prove their risk-averse ways to save a few bucks on insurance.

Automatic Labs

Automatic Labs sells connected car adapters. They plug into a car’s OBDII (on-board diagnostics) port, and can provide services like vehicle tracking, diagnostic alerts and fuel monitoring. Insurance companies can use its products, for example, to help coach new drivers or monitor how well someone drives, adjusting rates as necessary.

“The acquisition of Automatic is a natural fit for SiriusXM as we continue to expand and improve our connected vehicle services,” said Jim Meyer, CEO of SiriusXM, in a statement. “Automatic’s innovative products have brought safety and intelligence data and analytics to the forefront of vehicle connectivity. We are excited to welcome the talented employees at Automatic to SiriusXM as we expand the possibilities of connected vehicle offerings and services for manufacturers, drivers, and enterprises.”

SiriusXM doesn’t just deliver satellite radio to cars — it delivers data. Certain infotainment functions rely on SiriusXM’s services, like weather updates and traffic maps. It makes sense that SiriusXM would want to greater capitalize on data-driven car hardware.

Automatic Labs won’t just be lumped in under the SiriusXM umbrella, though. Automatic’s brand, as well as its products, will continue to function as normal. But now, SiriusXM will be able to leverage its relationship to provide new offerings and — as businesses are wont to do — make more money.

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Gboard on Android makes it easier to type and tweak your text

If selecting, cutting and copying text have never been an issue for you, you may find Gboard’s other new feature more useful. You’ll now be able to resize and reposition the keyboard for when you’re typing with one hand on a big phone or for any other scenario when it’s needed. Simply press G and then tap the triple-dot icon to see the option to choose one-handed mode. That’s where you can customize your keyboard.

In addition to these two changes, Google has added support for 22 Indic languages. The Gboard team even worked with native speakers across India to get enough samples for the more obscure languages of the lot to train its machine learning models. As a result, you can not only type in any of those languages in their native script, but also in the English alphabet. The keyboard has transliteration support for all of them that can convert what you type on the QWERTY keyboard to their native script.

[Image credit: Mariella Moon/Engadget]

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‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ has 2 finished sequel scripts already

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Fans haven’t seen the last of the Mad Max universe.

Warner Bros

Fans went mad for “Mad Max: Fury Road” back in 2015, and if director George Miller has his way, they’ll be mad for a long time to come.

In an interview with The Independent published on Wednesday, Miller talked about how he and co-writer Nico Lathouris have two completed scripts for further Mad Max stories.

“We dug down deep into the subtext, the backstory of all the characters, and indeed the world… and without really thinking about it, we wrote two other screenplays just as part of the bible of the stories,” Miller said. “Somewhere, if the planets align, there will be two other films.”

The first film is currently titled “Mad Max: The Wasteland,” and star Tom Hardy is committed to return, the Independent reports.

And another familiar character will be the Doof Warrior (played by Australian musician iOTA), the blind musician with the flamethrower guitar from “Fury Road.” “I know who his mother was,” Miller said. “I know how it was that a man who is mute and blind survived the apocalypse. I know his story very well! If we get to make another movie, the Doof Warrior will be there!”‘

Although Miller said in the interview he’ll make another movie before returning to Mad Max, the enthusiasm for the characters and setting is obvious.

“These characters and these worlds tend to swirl around in the back of your brain like imaginary friends,” he said. “It’s easy to go back to them.”


Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you’ll find in CNET’s newsstand edition.

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Google experiment promises clean nighttime shots from your phone

As for the results? They’re not perfect (you’re looking at one example up top), but they’re miles above what you’re used to from your handset. Google’s Nexus 6P and Pixel could take well-exposed, color-accurate and largely noise-free photos in extremely dark situations. Kainz even managed a decent photo of the night sky using nothing but starlight. The approach can compensate for motion, too, so you might not need a tripod to stabilize your phone.

Right now, the approach isn’t practical for most people. It requires a lot of after-the-fact processing on a computer, and the pictures still aren’t as high-resolution as what you tend to get out of DSLRs. Also, you certainly wouldn’t want to use this for fast-moving objects. However, Kainz believes that a phone could handle everything by itself with the appropriate app. If the experiment translates from Google’s labs to real-world code, you could take many nighttime photos that are virtually impossible today.

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Giant bunny dies on United, and Twitter hops right to the jokes

Simon was no ordinary bunny. The 10-month-old continental rabbit was 3 feet long (90 cm), and he was heading for a golden life. His owner told the Associated Press that he’d been purchased by an unidentified celebrity (surely TMZ is working busily to reveal the person’s name).

Simon was on his way to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from London Heathrow when he mysteriously died. While traveling, the rabbit was carried in the plane’s cargo hold, but ABC is reporting that he did not die onboard, but in the airline’s kennel.

The airline? Much-beleaguered United Airlines, of course, which recently came under social-media attack when horrifying video footage showed Dr. David Dao being dragged off a plane.

British tabloid The Sun reports that Simon was the son of Darius, the world’s largest rabbit, and was expected to grow large enough one day to take the record from his dad.

Simon’s death is still being investigated, United says, but if there’s ever an airline that didn’t need another public-relations black eye, it’s this one. Twitter naturally had some thoughts.

This latest United debacle might have finally done what nothing else could — it has some social-media users feeling a little sympathetic for the world’s third-largest airline.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you’ll find in CNET’s newsstand edition.

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Twitter is gaining more users, losing less money

Twitter’s also had a problem with perma-stagnant user growth, with the number of monthly users hovering around the 310 – 320 million mark for the last year. Not so this quarter, which saw the number of daily users spike in the last three months, taking the total to 328 million.

User numbers are up, losses are down, but Twitter can’t yet make its advertising service work, and that’s a problem. The company saw ad engagement fall, as well as the amount of money advertisers spent with the service. But, as a counter to that, Twitter beat its own estimates, raking in $548 million when it expected to earn $511.9 million.

In his remarks, CEO Jack Dorsey says that he is “encouraged by the audience growth momentum,” and believes that profitability is coming. He does concede, however, that the company will face “revenue headwinds,” as the service struggles to carve out an identity for itself in the face of so much competition.

Twitter doesn’t speculate on why, suddenly, user numbers are up so high, but we can, and it’s probably down to you know who. Since the current incumbent of the White House uses the service as his own personal megaphone, people are likely to tune in.

Another reason for optimism is that Twitter lost a lot of cash last quarter thanks to restructuring charges and severance costs. In October, the company let around 350 employees go in the hope of trimming costs, as well as shutting down the 6-second video platform Vine.

Not to mention, of course, that Twitter has started to make some changes to its platform to address its abuse problem. It has instituted automatic blocking of abusive accounts and has moved to restrict users who misuse the platform to spread hate speech. Oh, and it blocked noted assholes Martin Shkreli and Tila Tequila, so it’s clearly doing something right.

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