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People will buy more smart devices, fewer TVs: Consumer Technology Association

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The CES 2019 gadget show is revving up in Las Vegas. Here are the latest findings and observations from Associated Press reporters on the ground as technology’s biggest trade event gets underway.

What gadgets will Americans buy this year? Lots of “smart” devices for their home, according to projections from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

If that sounds a lot like last year, you’re right, but sales are still expected to grow again in 2019.

The association expects nearly 37 million Amazon Echoes, Google Homes and other smart speakers to be sold this year in the United States, a 5 per cent increase from a year ago. Meanwhile, more than 29 million smart doorbells, thermostats and switches are expected to be sold, a 23 per cent increase from the previous year.

The numbers were released Sunday, two days before the CES 2019 gadget show opens to attendees in Las Vegas. CTA runs the show, which is technology’s largest trade gathering.

The group warned that its projections could change significantly if a trade war with China escalates. Much of the world’s electronics are assembled in China, and the CTA has said that steeper tariffs could hurt the industry by making smartphones or TVs more expensive for consumers.

Other gadgets expected to sell well in 2019: wireless earbuds, smartwatches and drones. Fewer TVs are expected to be sold, however — 42 million units, a one per cent decline from 2018.

Total U.S. tech revenue, which includes video and music streaming services like Spotify, is expected to rise 3.9 per cent to a record $398 billion US this year, the CTA said.

Byton CEO Carsten Breitfeld unveiled the new driver interface system Sunday at the CES 2019 gadget show in Las Vegas. (John Locher/Associated Press)

Steering wheel touchscreens 

Ready for a smartphone-like touchscreen on your car’s steering wheel?

That’s the future, according to Chinese electric carmaker Byton, which is planning to sell its first vehicles in China this year and in the U.S. in 2020.

Byton CEO Carsten Breitfeld unveiled the new driver interface system Sunday at the CES 2019 gadget show in Las Vegas. He says the wheel-mounted touchscreen on the company’s first model, called the M-Byte, “will stand still while the steering wheel rotates.” The crossover SUV also features a long digital screen across its dashboard.

Byton executives say they’ve met with legal authorities in various countries to ensure the entertainment and control system meets safety standards. They say it’s safer than dashboard touchscreens because the wheel’s already in a driver’s field of vision.

The vehicles are expected to sell starting at $45,000.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao speaks during a major infrastructure investment announcement at transportation headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

Government shutdown

Even the world’s largest tech conference is feeling the effects of the U.S. government shutdown.

Organizers of the CES gadget show said Saturday that some scheduled government speakers have cancelled their travel plans. The sprawling consumer-electronics show opens to attendees on Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Cancelled speakers include Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and at least nine other officials from agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

CES organizers say Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is still planning to deliver a keynote talk Wednesday on federal initiatives to advance drone technology and self-driving vehicles.

The partial shutdown began Dec. 22, but some federal workers remain on the job if they perform essential activities that “protect life and property.”

Elephant in the CES showroom

Apple stopped attending the CES show years ago, but it’s still making its presence known.

The biggest may be the huge sign it splashed across a high-rise hotel overlooking the Las Vegas conference centre where other tech companies are gathering to show their wares this week.

The sign says, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” It’s a not-so-subtle dig at the looser privacy practices of data-hungry rivals like Google and Amazon.

What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.– Apple sign splashed across hotel overlooking Vegas conference centre  hosting CES

But Apple also has news to share at CES. It’s just letting some of its partners do the talking.

Samsung announced Sunday that its TVs will start offering Apple’s iTunes movies and TV shows beginning this spring. It’s a shift for Apple, which typically hasn’t allowed its services to run on non-Apple hardware. (The big exception: iTunes on Windows PCs.)

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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