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Are… are our devices about to start whispering data to each other?

(TECH NEWS) Bluetooth has been around for years, but will smartphones and other devices soon use audio to transmit data?

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Wireless technology has branched off into several different avenues over the past couple of decades, with wireless Internet, cellular data, and Bluetooth all providing similar means of information delivery. Thanks to work by Lisnr, a startup based in Cincinnati, we may soon be using a new option: sound.

Principally, delivering information via sound isn’t as bizarre as it—well, sounds. Things like dial-up have been transcoding digital information into perceptible sound and then back into information since the 90s, and the practice itself most likely goes back farther than that.

More recently, the process of pairing your phone with a Chromecast device is also reliant on data-over-sound.

The key difference between dial-up and Lisnr’s approach is that, unlike the majority of past instances of information over sound, information will be transmitted over the air rather than through a hardwired connection.

This approach would make things like scanning a card at a restaurant or a pass at a venue much more efficient, as people wouldn’t have to worry about their phones failing to use properly the Bluetooth NFD feature. Similarly, the process would likely be as quick as using Bluetooth, and it might even be more ubiquitous.

Transmitting data via sound would be a relatively cost-effective solution as well, since the bulk of card readers that can handle Bluetooth also come equipped with external microphones that would allow for audio reception if given a minor set of tweaks. This means that the average business wouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars upgrading their equipment just to meet an upcoming trend.

Two large concerns come to mind when considering this technology, the first of which is the security aspect. It’s easy to understand why people might be skeptical about sending information—encrypted or otherwise—across radio waves, though preliminary assessments concluded that transmitting data over sound is as secure as (if not more so than) using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

As with any emerging technology, we’ll have to see how quickly the world can respond and adapt to its nuances.

The other concern is that data-over-sound transmissions will be too simple to differentiate between different devices, but Google’s Chromecast pairing is definitive proof that this won’t be an issue – data transmission via audio has already been proven to be more accurate than Bluetooth recognition.

Audio data transmission is still a ways off, but don’t be too surprised if you find yourself paying for your meal with radio waves instead of Bluetooth in the not-too-distant future.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Tech News

App turns your phone into an intercom, great for remote teams

(TECH NEWS) Turn your phone into an intercom with one quick switch without having to install anything on any wall. #NewSchool

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Growing up, I lived in a blended family home. It was essentially like The Brady Bunch just without Alice and the general merriment.

Us kids would often keep to ourselves in our bedrooms and would sometimes communicate with our parents via phone – even though we were under the same roof. While I’m acknowledging that it was incredibly lazy, it was convenient.

It helped to cut out the fruitless, across-the-house conversations that would often result in miscommunications. In those times, I wished there had been an intercom system in the house.

This is no longer a problem for people to have as an app has been created that sets up an instant voice network. It was designed for work use or communication with people outside of the home, but this piece of machinery would’ve been very helpful in the Leddin household.

The app is called Switchboard and it creates an intercom for your friends and colleagues. Like a phone, there is a friend/contact list available or you can dial using voice command.

The nice thing about this compared to a regular phone call is that there are availability settings. You can control interruptions by “switching off” to go on Do Not Disturb mode, and it will not list you as available for calls.

Switchboard uses Slack integration that allows users to leave voice messages and automatically have them sent to Slack with a transcript.

“Switchboard is your instant voice network. It gives you a hands-free intercom between close friends and colleagues to let you chat more spontaneously, as though you’re in the same room,” explains developers.

“You control your availability so that you’re easy to reach when you want and you can focus when you need.”

The idea is to make it easier to communicate more efficiently, rather than using text messaging; though most smartphones do have a voice messaging component. While they refer to the app as an “intercom” it definitely reminds me more of walkie talkies, (similar to Voxer which is a walkie talkie app for team communication).

Switchboard is an interesting concept, and is something that could benefit teams that work remotely (or are too lazy to yell down the hall to another office).

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Uber has secretly set up tip limits for drivers #classy

(TECH NEWS) Uber has had a shaky year, but their latest move proves that perhaps a new leader doesn’t mean a new culture.

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After frequent requests from drivers, Uber finally added a tipping option to their ride-sharing app this June. But, after a few months to try it out, riders and drivers alike have been disappointed to discover that Uber puts an upper limit on how much a rider can tip.

Lyft has allowed riders to tip for almost five years, but Lyft too has a tipping maximum. In many cases, Lyft and Uber drivers aren’t aware that there’s a limit to tips until they have a generous customer who finds that they can’t tip as much as they’d like.

Initially, these apps were seen as a convenient, tip-free alternative to traditional cab services. However, because fares are calculated in mileage and not time, tips can be especially appreciated when rides take a long time but have low mileage, such as in dense traffic, or when the driver has to make multiple stops. And of course, tipping is always a great way to say thanks to a driver who goes the extra mile (no pun intended) to help out the rider or make the ride especially pleasant.

Unfortunately, some riders have found that they can’t tip as much as they’d like. Uber told CNET that they placed a maximum on tips to help avoid “fat fingers” typos, such as when a customer means to type $10, but accidentally types $100 instead – a problem that could seemingly be solved by adding a secondary confirmation before withdrawing the payment.

Uber limits tips to 200 percent of the cost of the ride, or $100. Lyft also limits to 200 percent of the fare, but also blocks tips above $50. Of course, riders can always tip in cash – but not having to carry cash was one of the perks of ride-sharing apps in the first place.

Generally, drivers for Lyft get more tips than Uber drivers. That’s because Lyft riders receive a prompt to tip upon reaching their destination, whereas Uber drivers have to reopen the app and rate the driver before tipping. Since few Uber riders take the time to rate their driver, even fewer ever make it to the tip screen.

Granted, an extra big tip is a rare and precious thing. But it shouldn’t be up to the company to cap tips if riders feel compelled. Says Denise, a Los Angeles Uber driver, “Generosity should be something that you have no limit on.”

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Tesla to build largest ‘virtual power grid’ on this round Earth

(TECH NEWS) Tesla teams up with Australia to create a virtual power grid, cutting energy costs and preventing blackouts.

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Tesla’s teaming up with Australia to provide an energy efficient solution to blackouts and price surges in the Southern Australian state.

Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill announced a new partnership with Tesla that will provide solar panels and batteries to homes in the southern state. Since the area consistently struggles with adequately powering homes, Weatherill and Tesla hope to create a “virtual” power grid to stabilize electricity infrastructure.

In the extreme wilderness area of South Australia, nearly half of all power comes from wind farms. Last September, issues with wind farms caused a statewide blackout. Sure, tornadoes were to blame too, but backup generators also failed, so the whole system collapsed.

To address this issue, a combination of solar panels and Tesla batteries will eventually be installed in 50,000 homes in the state. Any surplus energy generated by the home’s solar panels can contribute back to the larger grid.

Excess energy can be routed back to a centrally controlled grid to provide energy to the rest of the state as needed.

For the initial test, 1,100 public housing properties will receive the batteries and solar panels free of cost, using the sale of electricity to cover expenses. An additional 24,000 more public houses will get added to the program as well.

If the trial runs succeed, private homes will be included by 2019. Eventually, the plan is to have batteries and panels installed in 50,000 homes, creating a 250MW Virtual Power Plant.

Participating homes will have 5kW solar panels and Tesla Powerwall 2 13.5kWh batteries installed, providing a more reliable source of power, and potentially lowering power bills by thirty percent.

Installation is proposed to take four years, and according to Tesla, the virtual power plant will have as much capacity as a coal plant or large gas turbine.

Funding comes from a $2 million Australian ($1.6 million USD) grant, and a loan from the state’s Renewable Technology Funds for $30 million Australian ($23.8 million USD).

While the plan seems well-meaning, Austalian Prime Minister Malcomlm Turnbull called Weatherill’s previous strategies as “reckless” experiments, leading to excessive energy costs. Partnering with Tesla may give Weatherill some street cred for the upcoming South Australian election, proving he has a game plan for curbing energy costs.

According to the South Australian government, the virtual power plant could provide around twenty percent of the state’s daily average energy requirements. Tesla plans to review all properties to determine if the homes can support their systems and be able to participate.

If you happen to live in South Australia and are reading this, you can register to participate in the program. Registration doesn’t guarantee participation, but if initial interest exceeds original estimates, the government may consider extending the program.

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