Tech wrap: Bitcoin setback; Google vs. Uber; Calif. robot car move; 'Made in China' move
Research Triangle Park, N.C. — In today's Bulldog tech wrapup:
- A setback for bitcoin fund
- Google company takes on Uber over car tech
- California advances robotic cars
- China defends "Made in China" plan
- Winklevoss's lose bid for bitcoin trade fund
The irrepressible Winklevoss twins, known for having sued Mark Zuckerberg over the idea for Facebook, have suffered a setback from federal regulators in their push to expand the use of bitcoin to a wider universe of investors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission rejected Friday a proposed Winklevoss exchange-traded fund that could have opened the digital currency to larger numbers of ordinary investors.
The SEC said the proposal from Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss was inconsistent with rules for securities exchanges designed to prevent fraud and manipulation, and to protect investors.
Bitcoin, which is stored in encrypted digital wallets, allows people to buy goods and services and exchange money without involving banks, credit card issuers or other third parties. About 8 years old, it has yet to be broadly embraced and has been prone to wild price swings.
The value of a single bitcoin fell 7.6 percent to $1,101 on Friday following news of the SEC's rejection. Since 2013, its value has rocketed from $13 to a peak of around $1,300. On a given day, bitcoin can fluctuate by 20 percent or more. It's increased nearly 30 percent so far this year.
Currently the ways of buying and investing in bitcoin are fairly limited: on online exchanges or through a trust that charges premium prices.
- Google's self-driving car company escalates battle with Uber
A self-driving car company founded by Google is presenting new evidence to support allegations that a former manager stole technology sold to Uber to help the ride-hailing service build its own robot-powered vehicles.
Waymo, a project hatched by Google eight years ago, wove its tale of deceit in sworn statements filed Friday in a San Francisco federal court.
The documents try to make a case that former Waymo manager Anthony Levandowski conceived a scheme to heist key trade secrets before leaving the company early last year to launch an autonomous vehicle startup that he had been discussing with Uber.
It's the latest salvo in a battle that started last month when Waymo sued Levandowski and Uber for alleged theft of the technology for "LiDAR," an array of sensors that enable self-driving cars to see what's around them so they can safely navigate roads. Experts say an effective LiDAR system typically takes years to develop.
After leaving Waymo, Levandowski started a self-driving truck company called Otto that Uber bought for $680 million to accelerate an expansion into autonomous vehicles.
Uber brushed off Waymo's claims as "a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor."
- Driver-optional cars: Once-reluctant California opens a road
Cars with no steering wheel, no pedals and nobody at all inside could be driving themselves on California roads by the end of the year, under proposed state rules that would give a powerful boost to the fast-developing technology.
For the past several years, tech companies and automakers have been testing self-driving car prototypes in neighborhoods and on freeways. But regulators insisted those vehicles have steering wheels, pedals and human backup drivers who could take over in an emergency.
On Friday, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles proposed regulations that would open the way for truly driverless cars.
Under the rules, road-testing of such vehicles could begin by the end of 2017, and a limited number could become available to customers as early as 2018 — provided the federal government gives permission.
Current federal automobile standards require steering wheels, though the U.S. Transportation Department has encouraged self-driving technology and could look favorably on real-world pilot projects.
While a few other states have welcomed testing, the proposal released Friday is a major step forward, given California's size as the most populous state, its clout as the nation's biggest car market and its longtime role as a cultural trendsetter.
"California has taken a big step. This is exciting," said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who tracks government policy on self-driving cars.
- China tries to reassure foreign companies over industry plan
China's industry minister on Saturday defended a manufacturing development plan and rejected complaints foreign makers of electric cars and other goods might be pressured to hand over technology or forced out of promising markets.
Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology, tried to reassure foreign companies that the "Made in China 2025" industry plan treats all companies equally.
"The strategy and its related policies are applicable to all businesses in China, be them domestic or foreign," Miao told a briefing.
Miao was responding to a report by the European Union Chamber of Commerce earlier that said China is violating its free-trade pledges by inducing foreign firms to give up encryption and other technology to potential Chinese competitors.
Technology is a growing flashpoint in trade tensions with Washington and Europe, which worry their competitive edge is eroding as Beijing buys or develops skills in semiconductors, renewable energy and other fields. China has faced mounting complaints the government improperly shields its fledgling developers of robotics, software and other technology from competition.
The plan calls for China to be able to supply its own high-tech components by 2020 and materials by 2025 in 10 industries from information technology and aerospace to pharmaceuticals. A broad outline was issued in 2015 and officials have been gradually releasing details.
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