Self driving cars and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

I have talked about self-driving cars before here and I am far from finished. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate driving. I actually enjoy it at times especially when I’m alone, singing along with Awolnation from my Google Play Music, blasting through the car speakers. But, with the proliferation of smartphones, I have increasing distrust of drivers around me. And don’t get me started on when people actually start using their Apple Watches on the road. Apparently, Google also thinks that people do stupid things while driving which is why they removed the steering wheel from their self-driving cars. Apparently, humans can’t be trusted. The Oatmeal aptly illustrated and talked about it here – saying that Google’s self-driving cars are timid (as compared to an average driver). Not exciting perhaps, but safety seldom is.

Image from The Oatmeal

Apart from Google, there are other companies getting into autonomous driving technology. And we may not have to wait for 2020. If you have the deep pockets to afford Tesla’s Model S, you could have it by this summer, as in Summer 2015. In an announcement this week, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said that software updates would give the Model S the “ability to start driving themselves, at least part of the time, in a hands-free mode.” If this is not another evidence of software eating the world, I don’t know what is.

Here are the most relevant news in tech and retail:

  1. Tesla’s latest software updates to the Model S addresses range anxiety and will include autopilot mode
  2. Google news: Google, Intel and TAG Heuer to work on Swiss smartwatch; Google Android Auto is now available in compatible cars in US, UK and Australia
  3. Pinterest valuation at $11B after $367M round
  4. Apple to introduce revamped version of Apple TV this summer
  5. Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group may invest $600M in India’s Snapdeal

In retail:

  1. Amazon expands 1-hour delivery in Miami and Baltimore; Amazon gets FAA approval for drone testing outdoors
  2. Zara owner, Inditex sales growth hits two-year high, will share profits with employees
  3. Other earnings: J. Crew reports quarterly loss as sales fall at namesake brand while Madewell brand grew 33%; H&M reports a better than expected 15% sales rise in February
  4. US Mall operator Macerich rejects unsolicited $16B bid from rival Simon Property Group Inc.
  5. Japanese online retailer Rakuten to buy US e-book company Overdrive for $410M

Elon Musk does AMA and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

This week, Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of SpaceX among other things, participated in Reddit’s famous AMA (Ask Me Anything). As expected, there’s a lot of starstruck comments and it is worth reading simply for those. Elon’s best responses include sharing a YouTube link of a cat in a shark suit riding a Roomba after being asked about AI safety. Apparently, he also has time to play video games, Kerbal Space Program in particular. He can probably do so because he only sleeps 6 hours a night. He also considers showering as one daily habit that has the largest positive impact in his life. Dude has a sense of humor. But the greatest gem in this AMA is this:

I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

This is a guy after all who educated himself about rocket science in order to launch SpaceX – a company which now owns a $1.6B commercial resupply contract for NASA. In fact, this weekend is SpaceX’s next launch attempt – its fifth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. You can watch a live webcast here starting at 4:47 AM ET tomorrow, January 10.

While we’re talking about Elon Musk, I had the most wonderful privilege of riding the Tesla Model S P85D last weekend. It IS an impressive car and I have a smile on my face right now thinking about it. So, get this: the acceleration can be adjusted between “Sport” and “Insane.” This being a test drive, of course we had to try “Insane.” I could imagine a bunch of engineers talking among themselves, “So, how do we call this feature again?” “Insane. Just. Insane.” And it certainly was. Think, the kind of force that would slam your head into the headrest like a rollercoaster going up fast if you were not ready. The car next to us did not know what just happened. Amazing.

With that, I give you this week’s roundup of relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris, the target, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo vows to publish 1M copies next Wednesday, gets $300K funding from Google, et. al.
  2. Facebook acquires voice recognition company Wit.ai and video compression startup QuickFire; terms of both deals were not disclosed
  3. Uber launches Uber Cargo in Hong Kong, further hints at Uber’s ambitions in logistics services
  4. Apple reports 50% increase in app store sales in 2014
  5. Google Capital invests in Indian real-estate platform CommonFloor and leads $160M round of funding for Glassdoor Inc.

In retail:

  1. Coach Inc. buys women’s luxury footwear company Stuart Weitzman in a deal valued at up to $574M; see my take here
  2. Clothing and gift chain C. Wonder, the brainchild of billionaire Chris Burch (former partner of Tory Burch)  will close all its stores
  3. Credit Suisse downgrades Michael Kors to “neutral” from “outperform”, citing concerns on level of promotions in upscale department stores
  4. J.C. Penney and Macy’s announce the closing of more than 50 department stores nationwide
  5. Fast Retailing reports 64% jump in profit with higher-than-expected sales at Uniqlo