This is The Download, a weekday recap of the top technology headlines.
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Uber stops development of self-driving trucks to focus on self-driving cars; Uber Freight unaffected
Uber is killing off its self-driving trucks unit that was originally borne out of the company’s controversial acquisition of Otto nearly two years ago.
The company said on Monday that Uber Advanced Technologies Group will instead focus its efforts on self-driving cars.
“We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward.”
Eric Meyhofer; Uber Advanced Technologies Group head, in a statement
Uber Freight, a business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is unaffected by the news.
Meyhofer explained Uber’s reasoning for this decision in a separate email to employees.
“Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team. I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country. But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.”
Uber’s self-driving trucks unit is based in San Francisco, while the self-driving cars team is located in Pittsburgh. According to Uber, it will pivot employees focused on self-driving trucks to other works that supports its ongoing development of self-driving technology. If there isn’t a comparable role, Uber will offer relocation to Pittsburgh or a separation package to support the transition.
The Advanced Technologies Group is going to continue investigating approaches to highway driving using the car platform, and is going to keep its relationship with truck manufacturers intact.
The group will continue its in-house development of light detection and ranging radar known as LiDAR. The technology measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the world.
US Sen. Warner policy letter lays out 20 ways to address issues posed by big tech platforms
US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has written a policy paper that highlights some of the bigger problems facing online platforms today and potential ways to address them.
According to Axios, who obtained the 23-page document, it focuses on three main issues – misinformation, data privacy, and competition.
“The hope is that the ideas enclosed here stir the pot and spark a wider discussion – among policymakers, stakeholders and civil society groups – on the appropriate trajectory of technology policy in the coming years.”
Mark Warner; US Senator (D-VA), in a policy letter
Among the suggestions on how to improve online platforms and regulate internet companies are requirements to label bots and authenticate accounts and posts. Warner also brings up the possibility of an inter-agency task force focused on election interference, a public media literacy initiative, and comprehensive GDPR-like legislation. The paper also suggests revisions to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that would require internet companies to take down audio and video content that’s found to be manipulated.
According to Warner, this list doesn’t answer all the questions currently faced by online platforms and classifies some of its proposed ideas as potentially ineffective.
“In many cases, there may gibe flaws in each proposal that may undercut the goal the proposal is trying to achieve, or pose a political problem that simply can’t be overcome at this time.”
WhatsApp group calling for voice and video goes live globally on iOS & Android
WhatsApp has launched its group calling feature for both voice and video on iOS and Android. The feature supports up to four people simultaneously, regardless of location.
According to the company, the feature was engineered to work under less-than-stellar network conditions so you can video chat a friend or family member from a far-flung locale as long as you can get a signal. Calls are also end-to-end encrypted, like all chats on the platform.
Google officially launches Chrome browser on Daydream VR with voice search, incognito mode, cinema
Google is bringing Chrome to the Daydream VR platform, where users can access any page in VR. To provide a better VR experience, the new version of Chrome has a cinema mode that optimizes web videos for VR along with other Daydream-specific features.
The Daydream version is fully functional with voice search and incognito mode along with providing access to your saved bookmarks. Nodding to the reality that users can prefer to pop on the VR headset only for specific content Google notes that users can begin a browsing experience on the phone, then switch to the headset for viewing there.
Chrome is available now on Google Play as an integrated feature of the Android version of Chrome. Once you’ve updated the regular Chrome app, it’ll be launch able through the Daydream home screen.
YouTube adds support for different aspect ratios on web player
YouTube will now display vertical videos on desktop without black bars on the side of the video player. An update rolled out to the desktop player on Friday that automatically adjusts the video’s aspect ratio to suit the computer’s screen size.
Videos in standard 16:9, vertical videos, and 4:3 will all be affected. The update makes YouTube’s support for other aspect ratios besides the standard 16:9 more friendly and more in line with its rival platforms where shooting vertically doesn’t lead to black bars.
In other news…
- T-Mobile US has named Nokia to supply it with $3.5 billion in 5G network gear, the world’s largest 5G deal so far.
- Washington State, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Oregon, Maryland, and the District of Columbia announced that they would jointly sue the Trump administration in an effort to block the public from being able to download blueprints for 3D printable guns.
- Twitter is partnering with two groups of academic researchers to figure out how to measure the health of conversations on its platform.
- Seattle’s City Council has passed legislation to bring more bike share programs to Seattle and more bike lanes into the city’s downtown neighborhood.
- OnePlus has confirmed that both the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T will receive Android P, reversing the company’s previous stance that Oreo was going to be the phone’s last update.