In China, lowly vending machines are transforming into smart storefronts

Fruit and vegetable vending machine.

A man uses a refrigerated vending machine that stocks fruits and vegetables. Customers can pay by using QR codes on their phones.

AFP/Getty Images

A man walks up to a vending machine in a Shenzhen subway station to grab a bite. But instead of a can of soda or bag of chips, his options are far more exotic. Yes, the basic snack items are available, but so are pastries, tofu, and chicken feet — a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. If he wants more variety, another machine offers fresh food items that includes cooked noodles, prepared eggs, fresh vegetables, and french fries diced from potatoes. To wash it all down, he can grab freshly squeezed orange juice or fresh coconut water poured from a real coconut.

Forget newspapers and pop. In China, vending machines are full-service convenience stores.

“Before, customer demand was simple: they just wanted water, cola,” said Larry Song, a sales manager at the Thintop Technology Company, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of vending machines, digital signage, and other commercial products. “But now they buy all kinds of things.”

”Customer demand was simple: they just wanted water, cola. But now they buy all kinds of things.”

The vending machines offer more than just food. Customers can purchase toys, books, cosmetics, electronics, and pet identification tags. Machines at Chinese universities offer HIV self-test kits. And in the future, e-commerce giant Alibaba wants to bring automotive vending machines to market that “will make buying cars as easy as buying a can of Coke,” Alibaba representative Yu Wei was quoted as saying.

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While the goods are varied, the idea remains the same as with vending machines of the past: put some money into the machine, and out comes the product. But what’s different is the vending machines themselves — they are smart and sophisticated. Modern, energy efficient machines are network connected, which enables operators to monitor inventory. Sensors track foot traffic and consumers’ buying patterns based on time of day, day of week, and corresponding weather conditions.

They are also more social. Customer engagement is enhanced by interactive audio, video, and touchscreen functions. Based on demand, prices are adjusted remotely in real-time. And via apps, frequent shoppers earn free drinks and other rewards.

“The technology is becoming more mature,” Song said. Founded a decade ago, Thintop, which employs more than 100 people, makes these smart vending machines for clients in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, and Romania, in addition to its home market.

Thintop smart vending machine

A smart vending machine from Thintop. Besides food and beverage, the company makes vending machines that dispenses various goods.

Thintop Technology Company

But what’s notable is the payment method — indicative of the shifting habits of the Chinese, from cash to digital. Paying is seamless: Machines only need to accommodate the two top mobile wallets, Alipay and WeChat Pay.

“There is no need to take cash, we just use our cell phone,” Song said. In the U.S., because there is no dominant mobile payment system, machines there must still accommodate cash and credit cards.

Ease of payment will increase as manufacturers continue improving biometric capabilities such as fingerprint, facial, and voice recognition. KFC in China is experimenting with facial recognition technology that customers use when paying for their orders. Similar technologies are migrating to vending machines.

Jeff Orr, research director at ABI Research, said technology changes the buying experience. When sampling beauty products, for example, smart vending machines will take the customer’s picture and then virtually apply various makeup and color combinations to the person’s face.

how china is revitalizing the vending machine crab vanhalligan flickr

Yes, you can purchase live crabs from vending machines in China.

“You want to be able to have a closer relationship between the brand and end-user,” Orr said.

Smart vending machines also exist outside mainland China. In Taiwan, on Taipei’s historic Dihua Street, tourists can buy engraved chopsticks from a vending machine. In Chinese, Japanese, or English, customers select materials for the handle – wood or plastic. They type in words to be engraved, which can be translated into other languages when produced. Three minutes and $6.60 later, customized chopsticks are dispensed.

And of course, there’s Japan, where smart vending machines have long existed and has been at the forefront of building some of the world’s most unique and advanced vending machines. Like in China, Japanese vending machines are also going cashless and incorporating interactive displays and other smart features.

While smart vending machines aren’t as prevalent stateside, they exists. Swyft is one company that creates hardware and software for “automated retail stores” that incorporate artificial intelligence that not only monitor stock, but can also collect data on how users shop. Those Best Buy kiosks you see at airports? They’re made by Swyft.

Vending is no longer just for goods, it also addresses service needs. Orr said this is “re-envisioning the vending machine, what it carries, and what its purpose is.” For example, 3D printers could make it possible to vend customizable products such as stuffed animals, jewelry, trinkets, and placards. Customers will select colors, styles, sizes, components, and quality. Ready-to-eat foods will also be tailored toward individual customers, who select ingredients and portion sizes.

“That could shape the future of vending,” Orr said.

According to Orr, corporations could also use vending machines to simplify mundane, repetitive IT and inventory management tasks inside their offices. Traditionally, an employee needing a new phone charger, computer cable, or mouse has to file a procurement request via telephone call or email. The IT staffer then responds to the request, logs it into the system, signs out the part, and delivers it. It’s a time-consuming process. Automated vending kiosks, however, could reduce the number of steps involved while also preventing office theft.

This re-establishes the value of IT departments. “It allows them to deal with higher human capital opportunities and needs rather than be a parts depot,” Orr said.

Cashing in on a $12 billion industry

By 2025, the global intelligent vending machine market is forecast to hit $12 billion. Orr said countries adopting next-generation machines are ones that have infrastructure that supports Internet of Things and are “connecting lots of disparate machines to a new network.”

Beyond the standard subway stations, bus depots, and waiting rooms, vending machines are popping up in more schools, airports, shopping malls, office buildings, apartment complexes, and outdoor areas.

Growth is projected to be particularly strong in China, where the GDP per capita is slightly above $8,000. Industry analysts expect demand to increase once it hits $10,000. China has one machine for every 7,600 persons. Compare that to the U.K., which has roughly one vending machine for every 142 persons; the U.S., which has one for every 45; and Japan, which has one for every 23.

Of course, China has a population that’s nearly three-times of the U.S., U.K., and Japan combined. Additionally, the Chinese have embraced on-demand services for umbrellas, sporting goods, phone accessories, and other electronics – all are suited toward vending distribution. With these stats, it’s easy to see why vending machines are a lucrative business in China.

[We’re seeing the] revitalization of the vending machine market.

And venture capitalists are seizing on the opportunities. In September, Blue Lake Capital, GGV Capital, Yunqi Partners, and Zhen Fund participated in a $15 million series-A funding round in Citybox, a Chinese vending machine operator backed by Alibaba. In recent years, Horizon Ventures and Carlyle also invested in the space.

In the eleventh century, the Chinese invented a coin-operated pencil vending machine. During the ensuing millennium, the industry hardly evolved. Today, though, manufacturers, startups, retail conglomerates, and investors are changing that.

“The market is still early, [but we’re seeing the] revitalization of the vending machine market,” Orr said.

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Apple could be announcing a new cheap iPad

According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple could be unveiling a new version of its entry-level iPad at its event next week. The company is holding a press event on March 27 in Chicago. And the only thing that we know is that the event is going to be focused on the education market.

Apple launched a cheap iPad in March 2017 without any press conference. This iPad looks like the iPad Air 2 with a 9.7-inch retina display and an A9 chip — the chip that first appeared in the iPhone 6S. More importantly, the entry-level iPad that is simply called “iPad” only costs $320 for the 32GB version.

And it sounds like Apple is ready to introduce an updated version of this iPad. Maybe you can expect a True Tone display and faster components for instance. Hardware is just one part as Bloomberg also says that there will be new iOS features for the classroom.

While the iPad seems to be a great device for the classroom, Google has convinced many schools with its Chromebooks. These laptops are cheap, secure and easy to maintain. You can currently buy Lenovo Chromebooks for $179 without taking into account educational discounts.

Even if Apple chooses to reduce its margins with its new entry-level iPad, this could be a smart bet. Tech companies rely more than ever on the ecosystem of services and devices that they created.

Chances are you’ll like Android phones and Google services if you’ve spent years using Google Docs and Gmail on a Chromebook. Students who use an iPad every day could then become loyal Apple customers in the future.

Rumor has it that Apple is also working on an updated MacBook Air with an affordable price. But Bloomberg thinks the new laptop won’t be ready in time for next week’s event.

Google Makes It Super Easy to Subscribe to Premium Content

Google on Wednesday launched Subscribe with Google and several other journalism-related initiatives.

Subscribe with Google lets consumers store credit card information with Google, which can be used to access participating publishers’ subscription services. Google takes care of billing, payment security and account management.

Subscribe with Google soon will be available for use with several launch partners, including The New York Times, USA Today Network, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, the Financial Times and McClatchy.

Subscribers can access content when signed in to their Google account without having to go through paywalls. They’ll remain logged in when switching from desktop to mobile. They’ll also be able to link subscriptions purchased directly from publishers to their Google account.

For publishers, Google has begun testing a “Propensity to Subscribe” signal that uses machine learning to make it easier to recognize potential subscribers and present them the right offer at the right time.

Further, Google has introduced News Consumer Insights, a dashboard built on Google Analytics, to help news organizations understand and segment their audiences and attract subscribers.

Locking In Ad Customers

“Once again, this is a way to leverage Google’s strength in search to sell not only advertising, but now new, fresh content,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“The next step in this process will be Google signing contracts with the various newspapers to provide advertising services, for which the paper receives revenue based on the click-through to their content,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

That could help. This year, Google will take in a little more than 37 percent of the United States digital ad market, to the tune of almost US$40 billion, eMarketer predicted. However, competition from players such as Instagram, Amazon and Snapchat, which heated up faster than expected, has eroded Google’s market share. It had 38.6 percent of the market last year.

The Impact on Publishers

Meanwhile, Google has been at odds with publishers for years, who contend it’s stealing their content.

Subscribe with Google “feels more like a response to both competitive concerns and concerns about effectively stealing content,” suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

It “gives Google even more control, and if you don’t trust Google in the first place, that wouldn’t be a good thing,” he told the E -Commerce Times.

It’s similar to Apple’s lock-in model, Enderle pointed out.

If a publisher should “take exception to a Google practice or out a Google executive,” he wondered, “will they be cut off from revenue?”

The closer ties between Google and the publishing industry could lead to a “near ultimate form of censorship,” Enderle warned, given that “Google controls so much of what people currently see. They could use their revenue control to materially impact coverage.”

However, many others — including launch participants McClatchy and The Washington Post, for example — have expressed optimism about the Subscribe with Google program.

It will offer publishers better targeted ads and make things easier for them, noted Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“Google has found a way to not only reduce the friction of creating and monetizing content, but to also address content quality,” he told the E-Commerce Times. This “not only improves ad rank but also helps identify fake news.”

Consumer Benefits

Readers will get a “one touch, easy-to-use content feed and the ability to subscribe to new services,” Wang remarked.

Still, “the whole notion of online newspapers is out of step with the younger generations,” Frost’s Jude pointed out.

“Millennials don’t really read newspapers,” he said, “and it seems a stretch that they’ll seek out such publications online.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

IBM breaks law by allegedly firing older workers for young ones, report says

An investigation into IBM’s hiring and firing practices revealed that the company reportedly violated discrimination laws by targeting older workers. The revelation stems from ProPublica, which reviewed internal company documents, public records, and legal filings while also gathering information from more than 1,000 former IBM employees through questionnaires and one-on-one interviews. 

ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years,” ProPublica reports. 

IBM’s goal, it seems, is to flush out its older workforce and fill the void with fresher faces to reflect its younger “fiercest competitors.” According to the findings, IBM supposedly laid off older workers due to “out of date” skillsets, only to re-hire them as contractors to perform the same duties at a lower pay and no benefits.  

Even more, older employees targeted for layoffs were encouraged to apply for other positions and train their replacements although managers from the other departments were advised not to even hire them. IBM also allegedly “took steps” to boost resignations and firings so they’re not counted as layoffs and fall under the required public disclosure.  

“[IBM] denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress,” the report states. 

One former IBM employee who came forward for ProPublica’s report is New York-based digital marketing strategist Marjorie Madfis. She worked at IBM for 17 years and found herself without a job for no apparent reason. She was 57 at the time of her layoff and joined by six other members of her nine-member team, all women in their 40s and 50s. The remaining two unaffected by the layoffs were younger men.

Another former IBM worker, Brian Paulson, served the company for 18 years. His performance as a senior manager was reportedly exemplary, but he was laid off due to “performance” issues without any real explanation. He also didn’t have any job-related connection to the executive who called and gave him the termination notice. 

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act came online in 1967 to protect workers over 40 years of age against discrimination related to “hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” 

But that hasn’t stopped corporations from age discrimination practices, especially over the last 20 years due to global competition and investor greed. Courts have reportedly weakened the law at the pleas of corporations to the point where age discrimination is a secret but common practice. 

“Everybody knows it’s happening, but often these cases are difficult to prove [because courts have weakened the law],” says Victoria Lipnic of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

An IBM representative said the company complies with federal laws and is “the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.” 

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Getty is using watermarks to create safe drinking water

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Watermarks help protect images from misuse but Getty is aiming to use the watermark for something bigger. On World Water Day, on Thursday, March 22, Getty launched Watermarks for Water, an image licensing platform that donates 10 percent of all proceeds to help communities in third-world countries obtain clean drinking water.

With the initiative, Getty said it is removing the watermark on the images while removing impurities from the water. The portion of the proceeds will go toward Charity: Water, a non-profit focused on providing safe drinking water.

The collection includes more than 300 images, some stock and some depicting the importance of having access to clean water. The campaign images feature an adjusted Getty images watermark designed for the initiative. Once the photo is licensed, that watermark is removed and ten percent of the proceeds head to Charity: Water.

The website also allows users to support the cause by sharing images on social media. When shared, the image includes both the watermark and a fact on clean drinking water to help raise awareness for the cause. Social media users are also invited to use the hashtag #watermarksforwater.

“At Getty Images, we believe in moving the world with images. Water is one of the most essential elements in our lives, so on World Water Day this year, we’re kicking off a movement to help bring awareness and raise funds for the global water crisis,” Getty Images Chief Operating Officer Craig Peters said in a statement.

Along with selling the images inside the collection, a gallery showing of 25 of those images launched in New York City. The proceeds from the sale of those gallery prints will also be donated to the cause.

The Watermarks for Water collection is made up of both images from Getty’s existing creative collections, as well as donated images from several photographers, including Brent Stirton and Tom Stoddart.

Getty worked with the ad agency FCB and parent company Interpublic Group to create the campaign. Watermarks for Water works toward one of the goals of the United Nations Global Goals campaign. Getty was one of the founding partners for that initiative when the campaign launched in 2015.

“One of the things that struck us the most when working with Getty Images on this campaign is that more people die from drinking impure water than from war,” Liz Taylor, chief creative officer of FCB Chicago, said in a statement.  “That insight led us to take one of Getty Images’ most recognizable assets, the watermark, and flip the idea on its head — what if, by removing watermarks, we could start a global movement to bring clean water to those around the world who lack it.”

The Watermarks for Water images are available for sharing and licensing at

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Hold this beam for me, friend robot, and let us construct a house together

Being a neophyte in the world of woodworking — I’ve made a shabby but sturdy shed — I can appreciate the value of a good partner who can help measure, cut, hold stuff and generally be a second pair of hands. The usual drawback with humans is you have to pay them or feed them in return for this duty. So imagine my delight in finding that ETH Zürich is pioneering the art of robot-assisted woodworking!

The multi-institutional Spatial Timber Assemblies DFAB House project is an effort to increase the efficiency not just of the process of framing a home, but also of the design itself.

The robot part is as you might expect, though more easily said than created. A pair of ceiling-mounted robot arms in the work area pluck and cut beams to length, put them in position and drill holes where they will later be attached.

Most of this can be accomplished without any human intervention, and what’s more, without reinforcement plates or scaffolding. The designs of these modules (room-size variations that can be mixed and matched) are generated specifically to be essentially freestanding; load and rigidity are handled by the arrangement of beams.

The CAD work is done ahead of time and the robots follow the blueprint, carefully avoiding one another and working slowly but efficiently.

“If any change is made to the project overall, the computer model can be constantly adjusted to meet the new requirements,” explained Matthias Kohler, who heads the project, in an ETHZ news release. “This kind of integrated digital architecture is closing the gap between design, planning and execution.”

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Human workers have to do the bolting step, but that step too seems like it could be automated; the robots may not have the sensors or tools available to undertake it at present.

Eventually the beams will also be reinforced by similarly prefabbed concrete posts and slot into a “smart slab,” optimized for exactly these layouts and created by sand-based 3D printing. The full three-story structure should be complete and open to explore this fall. You can learn more at the project’s website.

Water Abundance XPRIZE finalists compete in gathering water from thin air

Despite being a necessity for life, clean, drinkable water can be extremely hard to come by in some places where war has destroyed infrastructure or climate change has dried up rivers and aquifers. The Water Abundance XPRIZE is up for grabs to teams that can suck fresh water straight out of the air, and it just announced its five finalists.

The requirements for the program are steep enough to sound almost like science fiction: the device must extract “a minimum of 2,000 liters of water per day from the atmosphere using 100 percent renewable energy, at a cost of no more than 2 cents per liter.” Is that even possible?!

For a million bucks, people will try anything. But only five teams have made it to the finals, taking equal shares of a $250,000 “milestone prize” to further their work. There isn’t a lot of technical info on them yet, but here they are, in alphabetical order:

Hydro Harvest: This Australian team based out of the University of Newcastle is “going back to basics,” probably smart if you want to keep costs down. The team has worked together before on an emission-free engine that turns waste heat into electricity.

JMCC Wing: This Hawaiian team’s leader has been working on solar and wind power for many years, so it’s no surprise their solution involves the “marriage” of a super-high-efficiency, scalable wind energy harvester with a commercial water condenser. The bigger the generator, the cheaper the energy.

Skydra: Very little information is available for this Chicago team, except that they have created “a hybrid solution that utilizes both natural and engineered systems.”

The Veragon & Thinair: Alphabetically this collaboration comes on both sides of U, but I’m putting it here. U.K. collaboration has developed a material that “rapidly enhances the process of water condensation,” and are planning not only to produce fresh water but also to pack it with minerals.

Uravu: Out of Hyderabad in India, this team is also going back to basics with a solar-powered solution that doesn’t appear to actually use solar cells — the rays of the sun and design of the device do it all. The water probably comes out pretty warm, though.

The first round of testing took place in January, and round 2 comes in July, at which point the teams’ business plans are also due. In August there should be an announcement of the $1 million grand prize winner. Good luck to all involved and regardless of who takes home the prize, here’s hoping this tech gets deployed to good purpose where it’s needed.

Video of deadly Uber autonomous car crash raises more questions than it answers

Uber has put the brakes on its experimental autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto for an unspecified duration of time following a deadly collision Sunday evening between an Uber vehicle and a woman in Tempe, Arizona, according to TV station ABC15. Video footage taken by the car’s onboard camera and released by the Tempe police department raises more questions than it answers.

The incident likely marks the first pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous vehicle. The city’s police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle the preliminary investigation suggests Uber isn’t to blame in the crash.

49-year old Elaine Herzberg, who was struck while pushing her bike and later died from her injuries, was walking outside of the crosswalk, according to a Tempe police department statement. The car was operating in self-driving mode, the police said, but a vehicle operator was behind the wheel at the time. It was traveling at 38 mph in a 35 mph zone when it hit Herzberg and it made no attempt to brake or swerve. The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that it planned to open an investigation of the incident, noting “more to come.”

The footage highlights several important details. First, it shows Herzberg was already well into the roadway when the prototype hit her. This contradicts earlier reports claiming she darted across the road at the last minute. It consequently also raises the question of why the armada of sensors — including some that see at night — didn’t recognize a pedestrian and a bicycle on a dark but otherwise clear street.

Second, the video confirms the prototype’s operator took her eyes off the road for several seconds at a time in the moments leading up to the crash. We don’t know if that’s a violation of Uber’s operator guidelines. We’ve reached out to the company for clarification and we’ll update this story as soon as we hear back.

The video represents the most important piece of information in the investigation. “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” Sylvia Moir, Tempe’s police chief, concluded. But while Uber’s prototype might not be to blame, the operator behind the wheel could ultimately face charges.

“I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” Moir said. “I won’t rule out the potential to file charges against the (backup driver) in the Uber vehicle,” she added.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also tweeted his condolences about the sad news, noting that “we’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.”

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” an Uber spokesperson told Digital Trends. The company described the pause in its autonomous vehicle program as “a standard move.”

Arizona has seen an alarming number of pedestrian deaths this year. A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association released March 1 said Arizona had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the nation, based on available data from 2017.

Autonomous vehicles from Uber have been operating in Arizona since February 2017 as part of a national series of tests of self-driving vehicles.

USA Today reports that the vehicle operator, 44-year old Rafaela Vasquez, served almost four years in an Arizona prison in the early 2000s for an attempted armed robbery conviction. An Uber spokesperson declined to comment to the paper on the conviction or the company’s hiring policies, citing an active investigation.

The complete Tempe Police Department statement:

“We wanted to provide an update to the Uber accident that occurred overnight on Mill Ave. just south of Curry Rd. The vehicle involved is one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles. It was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a vehicle operator behind the wheel. The vehicle was traveling northbound just south of Curry Rd. when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle. She was transported to a local area hospital where she passed away from her injuries. Her next of kin has not been notified yet so her name is not being released at this time. Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation.”

Anthony Foxx, who served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Barack Obama, urged a greater emphasis on self-driving car safety in his own statement:

“There is still so much to know about the Tempe driverless car accident resulting in a loss of life. That said, this is a wake up call to the entire AV industry and government to put a high priority on safety.”

Updated on March 22nd: added video of the crash.

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Google may be looking to snap up VR camera company Lytro

Lytro, the company that first attempted to disrupt the consumer camera market with a light field camera but now uses that technology for virtual reality capture, could be looking for a buyer. Multiple anonymous sources recently told TechCrunch that Google is looking to acquire Lytro.

Neither of the two companies responded to Digital Trends’ requests for comments. Refusing to release an official comment prior to a sale isn’t uncommon, however.

Several of those unnamed sources suggested Google was looking to pay around $40 million for the light field company. Other sources, however, reported a lower price and some suggested Facebook and Apple as possible buyers.

The reported talks also suggested that the deal could involve staff cuts — the Lytro website, however, lists several open full-time positions.

Without an official confirmation from either company, the potential buy remains just that: potential. Technology for building a light field, virtual reality camera could potentially be integrated inside the tech giant in a number of different ways. Google’s current work in virtual reality ranges from Google Earth VR and Google DayDream to YouTube. Unlike a 360 camera that captures one perspective in every direction, Lytro’s VR cameras have six degrees of freedom, allowing actual movement to be built into the footage.

Lytro launched with an idea for a radically different camera that could capture light fields, and pushed out its original camera in 2011. Despite the ability to shoot first and refocus later, the Lytro cameras remained niche products and in 2015, the company decided to switch gears and repurpose the light field technology for virtual reality.

At the time of that change, the CEO said that light field could be both an affordable and easy solution for capturing virtual reality. The company’s giant 98-lens camera, however, is so large and expensive that the camera is generally rented out for different projects. Earlier this year, Lytro partnered with Limitless, a company that creates animated VR characters.

Despite the company’s challenges, the Lytro Immerge 2.0 appears to encompass technology that, like Lytro’s consumer cameras, are ahead of their time. The company said that they Immerge 2.0 is ready to go into 10K — once there are actually headsets that are capable of displaying that same resolution.

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Facebook Swelters in Cambridge Analytica Heat

CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday broke Facebook’s mysterious silence following news of several investigations into Cambridge Analytica’s access to personal data belonging to 50 million Facebook users.

Facing the wrath of everyone from U.S. and European regulators to shareholders, customers and employees, Zuckerberg conceded that Facebook must make several changes in how it protects data if it expects to be taken seriously in the future, and it pledged to take those necessary steps.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t we don’t deserve to serve you,” he wrote in a post on his own Facebook page. “I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Facebook earlier this week announced the suspension of Strategic Communication Laboratories and its Cambridge Analytica political data firm for harvesting the personal information of those 50 million Facebook users without their permission. The data gathering was accomplished by leveraging research that a former Cambridge professor, Aleksandr Kogan, had performed with Facebook’s approval.

Using his “thisisyourdigitallife” app, Kogan sent quizzes to more than 270,000 Facebook members. He then harvested personal data from millions of their friends as well. Kogan passed that information to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to target voters during the U.S. 2016 presidential election campaign, on behalf of Donald Trump.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that Kogan was given permission to conduct the quiz, but added that he had violated Facebook policy by passing on the data to a third party. Zuckerberg also said that after Facebook deleted the app, Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie — the former Cambridge Analytica employee who blew the whistle on the incident — had reneged on a certification they gave to Facebook that they would delete the millions of data records.

New Protocols

In a related post on Wednesday, Facebook promised to take steps to prevent any recurrence of this type of activity. The company said it would investigate all apps that have had large amounts of access to customer data, conduct full audits, and ban them if it should find violations.

It also plans to implement the following changes:

  • Facebook will disclose to members if their data has been misused by an app.
  • Facebook will turn off an app’s access to users who haven’t used it in more than three months.
  • Facebook will restrict Facebook login data to the user’s name, profile photo and email address.
  • Facebook will encourage members to manage the apps they use.

In addition, Facebook will expand its bug bounty program, which rewards people who report security vulnerabilities or misuse of data.

Several leading House and Senate committee leaders have fired off letters to Facebook seeking answers on its data policies. Zuckerberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and other executives have been urged to appear on Capitol Hill.

Arrangements for a staff briefing are under way, according to Frederick Hill, spokesperson for Sen. John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee.

Heavy Fallout

Several customer and investor lawsuits related to the data controversy already have been filed against Facebook.

Maryland customer Lauren Price filed a potential class action suit against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica in U.S. District Court in Northern California, which alleges that the failure to safeguard her private data and failure to disclose constitute negligence and violation of California’s unfair competition law.

Facebook, Zuckerberg and CFO David Wehner are named in Yuan v. Facebook, an investors lawsuit alleging failure to disclose.

“We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” said Paul Grewal, Facebook’s deputy general counsel. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has been seeking a warrant to enter the offices of Cambridge Analytica, which failed to respond to an earlier request to hand over documents to that office, confirmed spokesperson Helen Booth.

Cambridge Analytica on Tuesday announced that it suspended CEO Alexander Nix, naming Alexander Tayler as interim CEO. Nix was suspended after the airing of an undercover report by Channel 4 in the UK, which included hidden camera footage of Nix making statements regarding the firm’s use of sex workers to ensnare politicians.

The company’s board ordered an independent investigation into the comments.

Mozilla has launched a petition to get Facebook to change its app permissions.

“Individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional,” Mozilla said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Jenifer Boscacci. “With our petition to Facebook we’re sending a clear message to the company, take users’ privacy more seriously.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a Freedom of Information Request with the Federal Trade Commission, which has launched an investigation into the data disclosures to Cambridge Analytica, to find out if Facebook complied with a 2012 consent order that required it to report to the commission on whether it was maintaining proper privacy controls over data.

EPIC and other privacy groups had filed a complaint with the FTC over a previous data leak, which led to an agreement that compelled Facebook to maintain tight controls over third-party data disclosures.

Following Zuckerberg’s public comments, EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg told the E-Commerce Times that “it’s no longer for Facebook to decide what happens next.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.