Tech Retrospect: Google drones and Amazon phones

Miss a few stories this week? We'll bring you up to speed with this rundown of all the tech news.

If you're worried about all that information Google knows about you, the notion of Big G buying a company that builds automated, high-altitude drones might raise a few alarms. The company is called Titan Aerospace, and though we won't judge you if your mind wanders toward a creepy future of AdWords beamed from the sky, the truth is actually rather less sinister. It's noble, even.

The drones that Titan builds aren't designed to spy on you. Instead, they're intended to fly very high (upward of 60,000 feet or so) for very long periods, years even, thanks to their solar-powered nature. Up there they make for effective yet inexpensive sub-orbital satellites. Getting something out of the atmosphere and into a geo-stationary orbit is ridiculously pricey. Heaving one of these aloft is, relatively, cheap.

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Titan Aerospace

So what's Google going to do with them? It largely has to do with an effort called Project Loon, which is using balloons to spread internet connectivity to those areas that are currently lacking. Titan's high-altitude drones could serve as even more ideal airborne wireless repeaters. Turning them into mobile weapons platforms would have to be a later enhancement.

Amazon smartphone rumor redux

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About five minutes after the company launched its Kindle Fire tablet, a single question began making the rounds: "How long until Amazon launches a phone?" The answer, it seems, is "soon." We received new, supposed details this week of the thing, including a supposedly 3D-heavy interface that can be navigated simply by tilting the phone. Little else is known, much is speculated, but if the company's prior device history is anything to go by, expect it to be considerably cheaper than the competition's hardware.

Smartphone 'kill switch' becomes a (near) reality

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Facing the threat of a legislated "kill switch," CTIA, the trade group that covers the US wireless industry, has implemented its own alternative, called the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. Basically, it's a pledge made by US wireless carriers that they will provide an optional app that consumers can download and install. The app could be use to remotely disable the phone should it ever fall into the wrong hands.

Legislators who had been calling for a single, mandatory, industry-wide solution have said this is a step in the right direction, but its voluntary nature still falls well short of the goal. CTIA members, however, believe that having multiple options that provide the same solution will avoid the potential security risk of having a single kill switch system that applies to all phones. My take is still as it has been: security fears should not prevent us from doing the right thing. We should simply create a system that is secure enough. But, in the wake of Heartbleed, it's clear that doing so isn't always so easy.

Google Camera launches, puts your bokkeh where you want it

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Screenshots by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Depth of field, the effect of making the foreground of an image crystal clear while adding a soft blur to the background, is rapidly filling in the gap left by the now-passe, faux-vintage filters that plagued social media in 2013. Google's getting in the game with an Android app called, wait for it, Google Camera. It basically pulls the stock camera functionality out from being integrated into the operating system, enabling those with devices running Android 4.4 Kit Kat to experience dynamic focusing, photo sphere, panoramas, and lots of other photo fun. If your phone is running a suitable version of the OS and you want to get the best from the new app, check out our Google Camera overview.

2014 New York International Auto Show

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I spent much of this week hustling around the show floor at Javits, checking out the new models unveiled at this year's New York International Auto Show. There's a lot to go over, so check out our rundown of the highlights if you're interested -- or just check out the video above, featuring some of our favorite rides.

This Tron-style virtual-reality light cycle will blow your mind

Finally, a little eye candy. If you were a child of the '80s (as I was), you were probably enamored by Tron in your younger years and then entranced by the prospect of virtual reality as you got a bit more mature. Finally, those two things are coming together. Called "The RiftCycles Project" and created by Luis Sobral of Portugal, it provides a Tron-style riding experience combined with Oculus VR immersion. Enjoy the video above and try to not get derezzed this weekend.

 

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