Technology

Xconomy Report: Don't You Want (to Buy) Me, Baby?

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Thursday, July 5, 2012
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July 6, 2012

mobile shopping
Ads, ads, everywhere. (Jumptap)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There’s a lot of activity in mobile advertising again. Jumptap, a Boston-area mobile tech company, has raised a new venture round that brings its total funding to over $120 million. The rumor around town is that the company will either go public or get acquired by someone like Amazon.com. In the past 5 years, Boston has seen a number of big mobile-ad acquisitions, such as AOL buying Third Screen Media, Apple buying Quattro Wireless and PayPal buying Where.
 
Speaking of mobile ads, we’re keeping an eye on a new crop of local startups in the sector, including Session M, Adelphic Mobile, Celtra and CraveLabs, which helps businesses create mobile ads through Facebook status updates.
 
Our two deals of the week have to do with building the data center of the future. Burlington-based DynamicOps, an IT spinout from Credit Suisse, is being acquired by virtualization giant VMware. And on the networking side, Nashua, N.H.– and Cambridge-based startup Plexxi has raised a total of almost $50 million in VC funding as it goes after big players like Cisco and HP.
 
Finally, Avid, the Burlington audio and video tech firm, is selling off its consumer product lines to companies in R.I. and Canada. Counting a round of layoffs, Avid will lose 20 percent of its staff, or about 350 employees.



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

This Year, Weather Service Will Begin Pushing Notifications To Cellphones

By Eyder Peralta   |   Saturday, June 30, 2012
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June 29, 2012

alt title

What the alerts may look like on your phone. (NWS)


The National Weather Service says that this year, it will begin pushing text notifications to cellphones that alert users to hazardous weather conditions.

The text notifications will be sent to those people within the location of the severe weather. The Weather Emergency Alerts could also be used for local emergencies that require evacuation, AMBER alerts and presidential alerts "during a national emergency," the Weather Service said.

Tech site The Verge reports:

"The Wireless Emergency Alerts system will notify people of approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, flash floods, extreme winds, blizzards and ice and dust storms by sending an up-to-90 character message to their smartphone. The system is only compatible with newer devices, and will not be available in all areas, but the NWS says that "millions of smartphone users" will start receiving messages soon. Apple intends to support the service this fall, but it's not clear whether the support will be limited to new hardware, or if all its devices will receive an update."

The Weather Service says users can opt out of the service.

The CTIA says that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all participating in the system. They have more information on whether your phone is supported at their website.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A Ride in a Cab That's Optimized for the Blind

By Cristina Quinn   |   Friday, June 29, 2012
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July 2, 2012



jim denham

Jim Denham tests out the taxi technology in action. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

 
BOSTON — Everyone knows what happens once you’re inside a taxi. You might gaze out the window, check your phone or watch what’s on the little television screen. Every now and then, you lean over to take a peek at the meter to get an idea of what the tally is.

Now think about that taxi ride experience as a blind passenger.

In God we trust; all others pay fare

Jim Denham described the problem: Finding a cab that knows the route, trusting a cab driver ... You have to really trust them because you can’t read that meter."

Denham is blind. He is also the director of assistive technology at the Perkins School for the Blind. He’s got all sorts of smartphone apps and gadgets that help him get around. But even with all those apps and gadgets, he still needs to rely entirely on the cab driver to know what his fare is.

Making sure that they are taking you the same route that you think you should take, that they’re not going to drive around the block just to run up their meter a bit — it’s just something to be cautious about," Denham said.

The bigger benefit is that it’s a step closer to independence. Even something as simple as knowing your fare is empowering. And soon, in the City of Boston, blind passengers will get some help. Thanks to new technology, that television screen in the back of the cab will soon be talking to the visually impaired.

The technological solution

CMT taxi card
A CMT card for blind taxi passengers. (Danielle Dreilinger/WGBH)

“We said let’s take the existing technology and see if we can extend it and come up with a solution for the visually impaired," said Jesse Davis, CEO of Creative Mobile Technologies, a New York–based company that makes those TVs that are in the backseats of taxis in major cities all over the country.

“When you hear the frustration out of the community about something as simple as going to the ATM or how intimidating it can be if you are in a cab to make sure that you really are paying the proper amount — I mean, it’s an extremely unnerving position to be in," said Davis.

In collaboration with advocacy group Lighthouse International, CMT devised a way to turn those televisions into touch screens with audio capability for the blind. Here’s how it works: Lighthouse International issues cards that look like credit cards, with a magnetic strip. Inside the cab, the passenger swipes the card through the credit card slot. That activates the TV screen, turning it into a touch screen, and the audio prompt greets the passenger and tells the rider how to operate the device.

I asked Denham to go for a ride to test out this new technology.
 
The system in action

Once we step inside the cab, Denham feels around and immediately finds the credit card machine. He swipes the card through, and the TV screen suddenly greets us with a wobbly automated voice: “Welcome. You’ve entered Cab B0321.” On the screen, four large squares replace the weather forecast and stock market figures. The voice prompt instructs us on how to control volume settings by tapping certain sections of the screen.

So far, Denham is pleased.

I like how they’re using the corner of the screen to quickly identify things. And it makes it easy to find the different pieces of information, but the speech is a little difficult to understand. They could use a better speech synthesizer. But still, it’s not horrible. It’s nice getting the fare — it’s nice to be able to quickly identify that," Denham says.

I think the automated voice sounds British, but Denham disagrees, contending, "I don’t know if that’s a British voice. I think that’s just one of the synthesizers that’s out there."

The screen after a passenger has swiped the CMT card
The screen after a passenger has swiped the CMT card. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

While Denham and I politely avoid a debate over the dialect of the software, he feels his way around the screen.

I’m surprised there’s not a headphone jack. But it’s really nice that when I swiped the card, it immediately started talking. That’s a really nice feature. I mean just to know, ‘Hey, the system is working,’" says Denham.

The screen is connected to the meter so as our ride continues, the voice states the fare increases. When we pull into the parking lot at Perkins, it tells us how much we owe and the prompt allows Denham to decide how much he wants to tip and guides us through the payment process.

CMT’s software gets an overall thumbs-up from Denham: That was some neat technology. I think it is a great thing. It fosters independence. Minor improvements could be made; I think the speech could be a little clearer. But I think it’s a great system, and I’m really happy that it’s going into more cabs.”

With the technology down, the logistics

But the next part is pretty tricky: how to distribute all those cards out to the blind community. This is something Kim Charlson, first vice president of the American Council of the Blind, is concerned about.

“It is a challenge to reach people blind or visually impaired because they don’t use the traditional newspapers and mail and things like that," said Charlson. At her office inside the Talking Book Library at Perkins, her guide dog German Shepherd Dolly rests at her feet, under her desk.

We have to use alternative ways to communicate — through agencies and organizations of the blind, including information in newsletters, audio, Braille, large print so that we can get the word out to people," Charlson said.

The technology is already up and running in New York City and San Francisco. Currently there are 1200 cabs in the city with CMT technology. It will be a few months before it’s launched full-scale in Boston: City officials here want to work out the kinks. When they do, it’ll be a major step toward greater independence for the blind community and a life with fewer boundaries.
 
 

Xconomy Report: Shopping in Public

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 29, 2012
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June 29, 2012

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Companies are going public in Massachusetts. In fact, the first IPOs to list on the Nasdaq since Facebook are Bay State companies Tesaro, a cancer drug developer, and Exa, a maker of design software for vehicles. Both had modest debuts this week. But meanwhile, another recently minted public company is trying to create the future of retail. Burlington-based Demandware makes software designed to help brands and retailers reach more shoppers online. The company, which is valued at over $700 million, is going after fashion and luxury brands — avoiding low-end commodities, where Amazon is dominant.
 
In other innovation news …
 
A new report shows that in the first quarter of 2012, venture investing by corporations hit its lowest dollar sum in over a year. Massachusetts saw the majority of corporate VC money go to its health care startups.
 
Our deal of the week goes to Cambridge-based Seaside Therapeutics. The company has a new partnership with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche to develop drugs for autism spectrum disorders.
 
And fellow Cambridge startup Nara Logics has launched a website that’s designed to work like the human brain. It adapts to consumers’ preferences to help them discover new restaurants. Sounds like it could ­help us all branch out a bit this weekend.
 


 


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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Xconomy Report: When Health's a Game

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 22, 2012
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June 22, 2012

wii sports


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Can playing video games make you healthier? That’s the idea behind the “gamification” of health care, a big trend we’re seeing in the Boston tech scene and beyond. Companies and apps are using techniques from the gaming world to help people improve their health and fitness. For example, GymPact uses cash to motivate people to exercise. Healthrageous helps companies provide personalized fitness advice. And MeYou Health uses social-gaming rewards to help employers promote healthy behaviors. If all else fails, of course, you can try eating right and working out more.
 
Speaking of health care, the Biotechnology Industry Organization reports that the number of life sciences jobs in Massachusetts rose 3.4 percent from 2007 to 2010, even as national employment in the industry fell by 1.4 percent during the recession.
 
Our deal of the week is a $30 million funding round for Rethink Robotics, formerly known as Heartland Robotics. The Boston startup has raised more than $60 million to develop a new type of robot for manufacturing.
 
And finally, a N.H. company called Juliet Marine Systems claims to have built the world’s fastest underwater vehicle. The ship uses “supercavitation” — a big bubble around its hull — to reduce friction and glide through the waves. Sounds like a pretty good way to beat the heat this week.

 


 


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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Want to Go to UMass? Get in the Lab

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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June 20, 2012

test tubes

 
BOSTON — Massachusetts high school students will soon be required to take at least 3 years of lab-based science classes to get into the state's public universities. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education announced the new entry requirements on June 19.
 
Currently, students looking to get into a four-year university in Massachusetts have to take 3 years of high school science but only 2 of them need to be lab-based. And those classes have to be in biology, physics or chemistry.
 
Starting in 2017, high school seniors will need to have 3 years of lab-based science courses instead of 2. And classes in computers, engineering and technology will count.
 
Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville said the new entry requirements would better prepare Massachusetts college grads to compete in key industries.
 
“Engineering and technology should be a prominent part of our curriculum and part of our admissions requirements," he said. "Because that’s where the future is in terms of jobs that are coming to Massachusetts."
 
He added that the emphasis on experimentation and problem-solving would persuade more kids with scientific inclinations to stay in the sciences:
 
"We have what I call an 'inspiration gap' in Massachusetts. We do better than any other state on average in terms of student test scores in math and science. And yet when our students expressed what they’re interested in majoring in college, we are well below the national average in terms of interest expressed in STEM majors. Kids aren’t excited."
 
Reville said he worries traditional science education shuts out too many kids at a time when the state needs more scientists and lab technicians.
 

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Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.

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