New Alexa feature in testing could be really good news for podcasters

6 Jul 2018

An Amazon Echo Dot. Image: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock

A new Alexa feature could significantly boost the bank balances of podcasters, while Baidu is now mass-producing self-driving buses.

An interesting development in the internet of things (IoT) space, and specifically connected devices, was seen this week as part of a collaboration between the Science Foundation Ireland-funded software research centre Lero, and University College Dublin.

The groups revealed a prototype device that could make communication between deaf and non-deaf people a lot faster.

The device itself is based on the commercially available HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset developed by Microsoft, which partnered with Lero on the project.

When a non-deaf person wears the headset, an avatar will appear on screen translating the person’s sign language into speech, but it can also be used by deaf people to translate voice into Irish sign language.

Hey, Alexa. Donate to my favourite show

Podcasting is a time-consuming and costly business, which is why on many of the independent productions you listen to, you’ll likely hear either regular advertising or a call for financial support from listeners through services such as Patreon.

Now, in an effort to help raise some more funds, Seattle-based media groups NPR and KUOW are developing a new feature that would allow listeners to donate through Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa.

According to Current, Amazon reached out to NPR last year to begin piloting the technology to trial it among its member stations whereby the listener could donate to a particular station.

The situation is currently a bit tricky however, because if someone asks Alexa to donate to NPR, the donation will need to go into a specific general NPR account.

The media group is now looking to find the simplest way of being able to take a donation and then send it to one of its station, based on details such as the location of the donor.

Baidu’s autonomous buses enter mass production

Looking quite a bit smaller than your average bus, Baidu’s latest autonomous vehicle could be one of the first mass-produced public transport vehicles with Level 4 autonomy.

According to the BBC, Baidu made the announcement at the marking of the completion of its 100th Apolong bus at its factory in the country’s south-eastern Fujian province.

“2018 marks the first year of commercialisation for autonomous driving,” said Baidu’s chief executive, Robin Li.

“In the past, China exported cheap commodities to the world. In the future, China will export artificial intelligence technology to the world.”

The electric bus can hold up to 14 people and can travel a distance of 100km at a speed of 70kph.

The company hopes to see the buses used as connecting vehicles between transport hubs such as airports and tourist sites, with Japan’s SoftBank set to receive a number of them in early 2019.

Vodafone and Dell look to develop IoT software for energy usage

According to the Newcastle Chronicle, UK energy consultancy firm Utilitywise is partnering with Vodafone and Dell to develop IoT software for businesses to better manage their energy usage.

Using the new software, companies could monitor energy-intensive devices in multiple sites through a single hub for the purpose of finding where the biggest areas of energy waste are occurring.

“This is a great example of how IoT is being used to disrupt and innovate. IoT is helping to create smarter buildings, and to change the level of control and insight companies can get about their energy performance that unlocks new savings and potentially lowers their carbon footprint,” said Vodafone’s director of IoT, Stefano Gastaut.

An Amazon Echo Dot. Image: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic